Egg-shell Thin by Karen Harmon: A Short Review

Egg-shell Thin by Karen Harmon: A Short Review

A good detective novel is more difficult to write than one might think, especially when it’s a first novel. I’ve read the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke and enjoyed them, but until I read Egg-shell Thin by Karen Harmon (Publish America), there were few other detective novels I memorably enjoyed.  Designed to be the first in a series, the cover of Egg-shell thin indicates it is “A Fairplay Novel Featuring Private Investigator Adrienne Hargrove.”

Karen Harmon is the liberal arts coordinator and English professor at Louisiana Delta Community College in Monroe, Louisiana.  Monroe is also where she sets her novel, but instead of slavishly mapping out the town, she has created and added (or at least changed the names of) geographical details in Northeast Louisiana. It is obvious she has intensely studied the terrain of her setting and her writing reflects the nuances of life for several types of people.  Harmon’s writing is descriptive and rich in detail and reflects extensive research.

This is a psychological novel that forces you to think about, to define, and to fear the “pathological” condition. It is also genuinely a detective novel, describing the personal life, the work, and the inner and outer conflicts in the life of a female private detective.  The novel has a good pace with adequate complications and conflict to make it a great read, and the insights into “black market babies” are thought provoking.  The language of the novel feels “true,” and caused me to realize that no matter how normal things appear on the whitewashed surface, underneath even North Monroe society sadness, corruption, and pathology can fester.

The title is more significant than one might think at first glance, and as the reader moves through the P.I.’s world, the richness of the title develops each time the phrase “egg-shell thin” is used.  The back cover says, “Adrienne Hargrove has always been aware that humans are fragile creatures walking an egg-shell thin line between innocence and deviance.”  I think the novel also reveals the egg-shell thin lines in relationships (love and hate), hope and sanity (p. 186), and conscience.

Here are a few of my favorite lines/phrases from the novel:

“The terrifying coldness of the empty crib” (29)
There is a great quote by Thoreau: “I shall not looking back on my life discover that I never really lived at all” ( 86)
“Seconds away from missing each other again, she thought. It’s like a special hand is holding onto us, not letting us lose each other in the shadows” (101)
“Sometimes life’s too sad to cry” (151)

The novel begins with a beautifully worded poem written by Jaime R. Wood and entitled “eggshell thin” that serves as an epigraph. You can read more of Wood’s poetry here:

Here is the poem that begins the novel:

“eggshell thin”

the motions between
a parade and a massacre
and my mind’s ability to
tell the difference

the reality of your life
and mine, separated by
three small degrees
making us neighbors
with billions of people
we’ll never know

my marriage day
so close to death that
I stopped breathing
when I said I do
–the immense change
between closing my eyes
and enjoying my self-created darkness

our lives so full of illusions
some by choice are kept
cradled, some swept
away in search of the reality
we remember hearing about
in fairytales

it’s all so eggshell thin.

This is a novel that deserves to be considered as a movie. I understand that discussion for that to happen is actually under way.  Harmon’s second novel featuring Private Investigator Adrienne Hargrove will be published in the near future. I am sure I will enjoy that novel equally as much as Egg-shell Thin.  I think she has a good start for a good series. You can order Egg-shell Thin here: