James Joseph Donovan stares out his own window, watching as the rain soaks Manhattan and puts a damper on his thirty-ninth birthday. J.J. Donovan is a private consultant - an expert people turn to when they've run out of options. Before the day is out, Janet Fein, a social worker friend, will ask Donovan to help a little boy named Clifford Brice.
Clifford's mother Ruby - a prostitute and a heroin addict - has been brutally murdered. The police have a suspect in custody, but Janet and Clifford don't think it's the right man. The police don't seem to care. Janet wants Donovan and his eccentric partner, Doctor Boris Koulomzin, to find out the truth.
Neither man can abandon the bright young boy. As they are formulating a plan, there is a second murder... and an attempt on Clifford himself. Donovan finds himself going undercover at a dank manufacturing plant in Brooklyn, where the rats, the criminals, and the immigrant laborers all struggle to make ends meet. It is a place where the people, like the machines, are broken. In this place, there is little room for repair or redemption, but Donovan pushes on. In the process, he and Boris expose a fraud, catch a murderer, and manage to blow up the better part of a city block.
Broken Machines is a gritty mystery in the tradition of Robert Parker and Elmore Leonard.