Pros: Taut thriller with plenty going on
Cons: Tone-deaf approach to girls and sex, especially at this time
Rating: 4 out of 5
NOTE: free book provided for review by authors.
Lance and James Morcan’s Silent Fear (A novel inspired by true crimes) introduces us to First Class Detective Superintendent Valerie Crowther, who is called on to investigate the death-by-burning of a student at a university for deaf people. Valerie is the only detective fluent in British Sign Language (BSL) thanks to the fact that her mother is deaf, so she’s the obvious first responder. Unfortunately, as she gets drawn into the case she also gets caught in a quarantine: there’s a horrific flu epidemic going on in the world, and although Britain has closed its borders, one of the school’s students just became the first positive test result in the country. The Prime Minister is so desperate to keep the danger contained that she has the school boarded up, plastic-wrapped, and cordoned off by the army. It doesn’t take long to realize the killer is stuck inside the building with everyone else, leaving Val to try to catch her serial killer in a horrid heat wave with no air conditioning, dwindling food supplies, a gradually filling quarantine ward of the deathly ill, a handful of pain-in-the-ass characters (including two media figures who made it inside) and no obvious suspects. She’s connected via phone to her ex-husband and boss, Chief Bennett, but there isn’t a lot he can do from the outside.
This book starts out a bit self-consciously ponderous:
…as office workers and residents mingled over a few drinks of the alcoholic variety as they endeavored to assuage their thirst.
Thankfully it relaxes into a better, less thesaurus-driven rhythm as the book goes on, largely settling into its voice.
There are some little bits that don’t add up. Such as, the insistence that there’s no sign of “anything remotely sexual” about the deaths–despite the fact that one was found half-naked.
NOTE: Possible plot spoilers in this paragraph. Go to the next if you want to avoid them. There’s also a spot that got to me: “…about to rape the fetching Miss Kloss…” So someone’s about to be raped, and the detail the authors choose to focus on is that she’s attractive. Considering the current climate regarding sexual assault, that’s tone-deaf at best. Similarly, it seems like any young, attractive female student is into being dominated or hurt in sexual areas. And even though Val is at least supposed to be a good strong main character (and largely is), she needs to be rescued by her ex-husband not once but twice. To add to that, the bad guy’s self-avowed “masterstroke” meant to deflect suspicion away from him was actually what made it obvious to me that it was him, and I didn’t get the impression that was deliberate on the authors’ part. End spoilers.
There is a portion toward the end that slows and gets a little dull, but for the most part this is a tense, suspenseful thriller with plenty going on. The flu epidemic certainly ratchets up the tension, particularly the nice touch that it makes people blind before killing them–a vicious symptom for a bunch of deaf people. The exploration of deaf society is fascinating, and the students do develop a trait or two that keep them from being just stereotypes of the violent gang member, the violent proto-terrorist, the sex-obsessed American, etc. It’s a hard line to walk. Those extra traits are largely left to the end so that they don’t make the characters seem less suspect, but that does mean that for most of the book they come across more stereotypically.
Overall this is an interesting mystery that kept me hooked and was worth reading.