Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Breakaway is a sleuth mystery written by Valentine Cardinale. Richie Bianchi was gradually getting accustomed to trying life as a layperson. After 11 years in the priesthood, as well as all that time spent in the seminary, being Richie instead of Father Richard was kind of nice in a strange and new way. He had just moved into a small house in a suburban neighborhood in New Jersey while he was on his leave of absence to ponder this life-changing decision. Moving was a challenging experience, especially during a major snowstorm, and, while unpacking boxes, he was somewhat startled to find that someone was ringing his doorbell on only his second day in the house. Richie opened his door to find a somewhat bedraggled and snow-covered young teen burdened with a gym bag and several hockey sticks. She immediately asked if she could use his bathroom, and then, afterwards, she introduced herself as Dana, from across the street where she lived with her dad, Eddie Dvorak. Eddie didn’t like her to come home while he had company, which he had at the moment. Dana was a breath of fresh air for Richie, who had specialized in working with youth during his time as a priest. And while Eddie didn’t exactly approve of his daughter being the star player on the Owl’s all-boys hockey team, the father and daughter had a close family bond. On a visit to the house, Richie enjoyed getting to know Eddie, a former Navy man who was an expert mechanic and built model ships in his spare time. Several days later, however, Richie was alarmed to find police officers outside Dana’s house and Dana standing there, red-eyed and anxious. Her father had disappeared. He had hosted a meeting of his group the night before, and she hadn’t seen him since then. The blood stains and overturned furniture in the living room had Dana fearing the worst.
Valentine Cardinale’s contemporary fiction novel, Breakaway, follows Father Richie Bianchi as he wrestles with leaving the church and making a life with Tess, his childhood friend and soulmate, and her young son, Simon. Richie felt fulfilled by the work he had done with the church, especially the interactions he had had with young people in the community, and his parishioners loved him -- which made his decision a difficult one. I loved seeing how his concern for Dana and her missing father helps Richie adapt to life outside of the church and begin to explore possible new directions for his future life. Along with the mystery behind Eddie Dvorak’s disappearance, Cardinale keeps the reader on edge with his marvelous portrayal of the regional hockey tournament Dana and her fellow Owls are participants in. Cardinale’s descriptions of the play-by-play performances by the Owls and their opposing teams rank as some of the best sports-fiction prose I’ve come across yet. I felt as though I were actually watching the teams playing and found each game to be exciting and suspenseful. Breakaway, besides being a first-rate mystery and sports fiction novel, is also a most impressive coming of age story which follows not only Dana and her fellow teammates, but also Richie Bianchi, whose transformation from priest to layperson is a joy to behold. I’d love to see sequels starring Richie and some of the other characters I came to care about so much while reading this novel. Breakaway is most highly recommended.