I love a good crime novel, mystery or thriller. The obsession began with Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven, moved through Agatha Christie and into Patricia Cornwell, PD James, Ruth Rendell. If I’m left to my own devices to choose a book to curl up with on a rainy day I wade straight into the murky world of corpses with secrets, fascinating forensics and crafty characters with issues.
This week I read Silent Fear by Katherine Howell. It’s the fifth in a series of novels centred around Detective Ella Marconi. Set in Sydney the novel has a strong sense of place, with the descriptions of steaming hot summer days, suburban streets and familiar landmarks combining to create an authentic Australian experience.
Paramedic Holly Garland attends a call-out to a collapsed man in a park, only to discover her estranged brother is on the scene. When the suspected heat stroke/heart-attack victim turns out to be wearing a bullet wound Marconi is called in to investigate.
The opening of the novel is strong with Howell’s own experience as a Paramedic resonating through the descriptions of procedure and treatment. The mystery is set up early. Why is Holly so dismayed to see her brother? What is his relationship with the victim? Are the innocent bystanders really innocent? Who would want to shoot a bloke playing touch footy? What role will Holly’s past have on this case?
Garland goes on to be a fascinating and complex personality and one of Howell’s strengths is drawing characterisations with depth and relatable human flaws. Although, as a newcomer to this series, I felt at times Garland overshadowed the character of Detective Marconi and I was a little confused over just who the star of the book was supposed to be. This two-lead alternating point-of-view between the Detective and the Paramedic does, however, give an interesting alternative to the traditional crime novel formula.
The storyline features a pleasing array of red herrings, which get sorted out nicely. There is also a complex arrangement of sub-plots with associated characters which sometimes seemed a little unnecessary but left me wondering if these would perhaps be developed in future novels. Overall the plot kept me guessing for some time and engaged in enough twists and turns to remain interesting to the very end.
I enjoyed Silent Fear for the strength of its lead female characters and the highly effective portrayal of time and place. I’m left with a keen interest in reading the earlier books in the series.
I read Silent Fear as part of the Morning Show Book Club on ABC Mid North Coast Radio.