Full review of Fraternity of Fractures
April 2016 Review Issue
By D. Donovan
Fraternity of Fractures opens with a girl called Phoenix, the white heat of a perfect crime in the making, and the smoky evening world of a St. Louis neighborhood about to serve as the backdrop for a clever event.
The first thing to note about Mark Pannebecker's writing is that it's as precisely attuned to creating atmosphere as the methodical crimes it describes: "In the distance a police siren sang, but Phoenix wasn’t concerned—as Justin was prone to say, “It’s the ones you don’t hear that get you.”
The second thing to note is that events often build to a seemingly-predictable conclusion, only to change mid-step, keeping readers on their toes. The cleverest of crimes may thus only result is a single coveted item being stolen, or the murky possibilities of attraction may occur between women as easily as between men. The sultry sounds of rock music from the 1980s are used to cement an atmosphere and sense of the times that revolves around places, personalities, and lifestyles teetering on the edge of disaster.
Don't expect a singular approach in Fraternity of Fractures. The story's not about a perfect crime, relationship, era, or location, but about the interrelationships of protagonists who are each searching for their place in the world. Such an atmosphere tends to be dark and brooding, pairing objectives and desires with observations which lead readers in unusual directions as past and present become interwoven with both social reflection and personal experience: "While waiting for Phoenix and Dylan, Justin looked at a newer, utilitarian building down the street and thought again about how it didn’t fit in. No connection to the past, he thought again. The newer building reminded him of his father and when he turned away to look at the aesthetically more pleasing architecture of an older building his thoughts turned to his mother. No respect for the past."
Because of these sifting, shifting scenes, Fraternity of Fractures is likely to stymie readers anticipating a one-dimensional crime saga or a story of changing relationships on the edge of society, so one of the novel's special strengths may also be a reason (for some) for setting it aside. Brooding atmospheres and twists of fate, changing concepts of love, loyalty, the appropriateness of stealing from the rich, and a sense of dancing passions, purposes, and changes that keep protagonists and readers on their toes will not produce a read attractive for many a general-interest follower of mystery and suspense genre formula writings.
Such complexity is better reserved for those who appreciate literary devices that move beyond formula productions to probe the alleyways and atmospheres of characters who examine their motivations for stealing, the influences on decisions which lead to higher levels of crime, and the relationships that evolve and dissolve as part of this evolutionary process.
To call Fraternity of Fractures a 'crime novel' or a 'novel of suspense' would be to do it an injustice. Embracing elements of different genres (mystery, suspense, crime) and yet rising above them all with a sense of purpose and atmosphere that satisfyingly wings its way above and beyond most genre reads, it's an involving and evolved piece that ultimately connects the changing courses of very different lives.
Not for the mild-mannered reader in search of light entertainment, Fraternity of Fractures not only invites its readers to think - it demands it. The smoky backdrop of 1980s St. Louis in the midst of a crime wave is only one facet of a story about of fractures, healing, and change: an exquisite standout in a world of fast and dirty crime scene whodunits that sketch their worlds without truly capturing their complexity.