Sunday 16 June 2019

Book Review: THE FRAGMENTS by Toni Jordan

Author: Toni Jordan
Publisher: Text Publishing
Read: June 2019
Expected publication: 10 September 2019 in US and CA, available in Australia now
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 all the stars!

Book Description:

INGA Karlson died in a fire in New York in the 1930s, leaving behind three things: a phenomenally successful first novel, the scorched fragments of a second book— and a mystery that has captivated generations of readers.

Nearly fifty years later, Brisbane bookseller Caddie Walker is waiting in line to see a Karlson exhibition featuring the famous fragments when she meets a charismatic older woman.

The woman quotes a phrase from the Karlson fragments that Caddie knows does not exist—and yet to Caddie, who knows Inga Karlson’s work like she knows her name, it feels genuine.

Caddie is electrified. Jolted her from her sleepy, no-worries life in torpid 1980s Brisbane, she is driven to investigate: to find the clues that will unlock the greatest literary mystery of the twentieth century.

My musings:

What an unexpected gem this book turned out to be! It contained a bit of everything I enjoy – a compelling mystery, an atmospheric setting, interesting historical elements, two enigmatic female protagonists and just a slight smattering of romance. And what book lover doesn’t like reading about a mystery surrounding an old classic book and famous author?

Caddie, a bookseller living in a shared flat in 1980s Brisbane is drawn into an age old mystery when she encounters a mysterious old woman at an exhibition featuring the “fragments”, charred pieces of an old manuscript written by  famous writer Inga Karlson, who perished in a terrible warehouse fire in New York in 1939. Caddie has long been a fan of Karlson’s writing, an obsession passed on to her by her dead father, and she is intrigued by the woman’s intimate knowledge of the story contained in the few pages that survived the fire. Is it possible that this mysterious stranger had read the manuscript before it was destroyed? Never one daunted by a mystery, Caddie sets out to make enquiries with some old university contacts, finding that countless academics have tried and failed to solve the mystery of Karlson’s death and her lost manuscript. But sometimes a new pair of eyes can see things that others have missed, and Caddie is sure that the mystery woman may have some answers – if only she can find her again.

I read and loved Toni Jordan’s first book ADDITION  a few years ago, and although her writing style in THE FRAGMENTS is very different, as befits the story and the characters, I was immediately hooked from the moment Caddie meets Rachel on the steps of the museum. It is rare to find a book that unfolds in two different time periods and through two separate POVs and yet be equally drawn to both lead characters and story lines. It must be one of the most difficult things to achieve for an author, and yet Jordan has mastered this wonderfully here. I was so fully invested in both women’s lives that the changing POVs did just what they had intended – ratchet up tension and suspense – rather than favouring one character over the other.

I love books that feature historical mysteries, especially ones that slowly unfold through investigations into the past by a protagonist living in the present, complete with the real-life frustrations and hurdles they encounter along the way. Maybe stemming from a time I had a job that involved research, which always resembles a treasure hunt of sorts, every unearthing of a new clue a minor triumph. Seeing that Caddie’s POV pre-dates the internet era, Caddie does a lot of old-style investigating, which for me added extra depth and intrigue to the story. We also have the bonus of getting glimpses into the time-period Caddie is investigating through the life of yet another feisty and enigmatic female protagonist, Rachel, whose life story will ultimately hold all the answers Caddieis looking for.

Jordan’s writing flows effortlessly, all pieces falling into place seamlessly, and she paints the setting so well that it almost felt like time travel into 1930s New York, which I loved. It’s almost impossible to categorise this book, as it contains so many elements, perfectly balanced to create a compelling and unforgettable story. And of course there is also one of my favourite elements in fiction – the “book inside a book” concept, as we get tastes of excerpts from Karlson’s famous novels.


THE FRAGMENTS is Australian fiction at its best. I loved every minute of it, and as the tension increased towards the end of the book I found it almost impossible to tear myself away – I may have even held my breath a few times as the story raced towards its heart pounding finale. Both readers of mysteries and historical fiction should enjoy this one, and if you are also a book lover you will be intrigued by this wonderful story that spans several decades and takes us from one side of the world to another in the pursuit of answers. Very highly recommended!

Thank you to Edelweiss and Text Publishing for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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  1. I loved this one too! A real treatto read. So atmospheric.

  2. It really was! Thanks so much for stopping by :)