Utilizing Chris Chibnall’s scripts from the hit television series, Erin Kelly brings Broadchurch’s characters to life on the page. Delving deep into their dark thoughts and actions, Kelly effortlessly transports us into their fictional world. During peak tourist season, a hazy summer morning begins along the lovely Dorset coastline. An eleven-year-old boy, Danny Latimer goes missing. His mother, Beth, awakened with nightmares in the wee hours, desperately searches for her son. Later in the day, Danny’s body is discovered below Harbor Cliff Beach, the cause of his death unexplained.
The mystery swallows this insular town where the bonds of trust are tested and broken. DI Ellie Miller has just returned from a sunny Florida vacation. As Broadchurch High Street shimmers in the early morning haze, Ellie takes comfort in knowing she’s happily married to Joe. However, she doesn’t reckon on arriving back at work to find she’s lost out on a promotion to newcomer DI Alec Hardy. While Ellie shakes with rage, barely containing herself, Alec, buffeted by life, takes over case after barely surviving the ensuing scandal when a previous murder investigation was bungled. The victim's parents continue to blame Hardy for the failure. Soon we learn there is more to Hardy’s past: a tragedy that drives him to solve this new case, despite its effect on his frail health.
From the outset, Ellie is in a difficult position. She’s a good friend to Beth, and her young son, Tom, was apparently Danny's best friend. But she dislikes Hardy’s constant cynicism, and she finds it difficult to cope with the investigation of her community, For his part, Hardy makes no secret of his dislike of Broadchurch. Reality bites hard as Hardy and Ellie gather on Cliff Beach. Danny obviously didn’t fall from the cliff, but was he abducted? Ellie tries hard to persuade herself the murder was perhaps committed by a random opportunist or an out-of-towner, while Hardy is convinced the perpetrator was someone local. Still, as the aftermath of the crime unfolds, Ellie feels the double responsibility of being both a friend and a police officer to Beth, her plumber husband, Mark, and their vulnerable teenage daughter, Chloe.
Like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripples spread out to engulf each person. All are consumed by the murder investigation which has shocked the townsfolk out of their cocoon of false security. Everyone is a suspect, a problem exacerbated by the fact that each has their own secrets. The investigation is further complicated by meddling news reporters, a rural police department unaccustomed to murder, and Hardy’s already shaky reputation.
From the Broadchurch Echo’s chaotic newsroom, where editor Maggie Radcliffe trains ambitious Olly Stevens, her latest protégé, to senior reporter Karen White, who discovers Dorset’s local newsfeed and comes from London to finally catch “marked man” Alec Hardy, Kelly witnesses the world go by, detouring into elegant loops of memory and self-doubt. While Reverend Paul Coates watches the television news feeds on his iPad, Jack Marshall, elderly proprietor of the local news agency, becomes Hardy’s first and prime suspect. But there are also the strange, suspicious activities of Susan Wright, who lives on the beach in a trailer and perhaps knows more than she’s letting on. Susan has strange relationship with Tom Latimer's employee Nigel Carter. Throughout, it appears that Danny may have been blackmailing these people; an undertow of darkness runs beneath Broadchurch.
As the sea stretches before them and the cliffs play mute witness to Danny’s murder, Hardy and Ellie discover a boat, prints at the murder scene, and an alibi that Tom Latimer apparently made up overnight. The search for Danny’s killer becomes the hottest story in the country, giving no rest to poor, beleaguered Beth. Danny is everywhere, his death sucking at Beth “like a dark star.” Soon her life is all about trusting men she doesn’t know—spilling confidences to Paul Coates, depending on Alec Hardy, and courting a strange and serious man who says he has a psychic line to Danny.
There are no surprises for those readers who have seen the series, yet Kelly succeeds in offering us a novel that still intrigues while delving into larger issues of life and death, chance and circumstance. Her intent is to flesh out the characters internal thoughts as they search for answers and explanations. What does Tom remember? Did Susan see something? Spiraling out of control emotionally, Beth is so broken that it is difficult to imagine her having another child or even caring for her remaining family one way or another. Since most folks are friends or relatives (Olly is Ellie’s nephew), it seems hard to keep a secret, yet secrets abound with these people.
Unfolding her acute psychological study of small-town life, Kelly crafts what is essentially a stream-of-consciousness tale. At the center is Alec Hardy (well-played by David Tennant in the series). References to Hardy’s dark past make us wonder about his brusque, almost pompous attitude, which heightens the tension between Ellie, the close-knit police force, and Broadchurch, a town that must learn to heal after witnessing the worst crime in its history.