Death and the Conjuror, by Tom Mead

When a wealthy psychiatrist is murdered in his locked study, who do the detectives call when they’re stumped? In another series, they’d call Sherlock Holmes. In Tom Mead’s Death and the Conjuror, Detective George Flint calls Joseph Spector, a semi-retired magician, to help him figure out how the hell someone managed to brutally murder someone and escape from a locked room without anyone seeing or hearing anything. This quick read will be a delight for fans of fair-play mysteries who like to pick apart seemingly impossible cases.

Death and the Conjuror opens in Agatha Christie fashion by introducing us to all the players just before the crimes start to happen. We meet two actresses at a not-so-high-class London theatre who hate each other and get a glimpse of Spector as the curtain is about to go up on the theatre’s latest Gothic horror. In another part of London is an author of gruesome stories who seems to be losing a battle against his paranoia. In yet another part of London is the study of a very exclusive emigre psychiatrist (soon to be murder victim), who we meet as he is listening to one of his three patients talk about his haunting nightmares. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist’s daughter is preparing to go to the theatre with her rich, obnoxious fiance. By the next day, the psychiatrist is dead, a valuable painting is missing, and a whole lot of people are under investigation by Scotland Yard. Unfortunately, Scotland Yard—in the form of Detective Flint—is stumped. There’s no possible way for the murder to have occurred without something to point to the murderer, motive, and means.

I enjoyed every chapter of Death and the Conjuror: racing the detective and magician as they try to figure out what happened and whodunnit, evaluating the motives and characterizations of the various suspects, watching everyone race around either investigating or incriminating each other, and the brilliant reveal at the end. Everything in this book is perfect, especially the vibrant portraits of the very believable cast of characters. I could actually see this book playing out in my head. This book is a great way to, ahem, kill an afternoon.

This review is shorter than what I usually write but that’s only because I don’t want to ruin anything for any of you readers out there who want to pick it up. No hints or spoilers from me; you’ll have to read it to figure out what happened and why.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and NetGalley, for review consideration.

Quantum Girl Theory, by Erin Kate Ryan

Erin Kate Ryan’s complicated novel, Quantum Girl Theory, begins with a preface that explains the eponymous theory in a stuttering series of images that offer possible endings to a story that begins with a girl putting on a red parka. In some of the endings, she lives. In most, however, she meets a frightening death because the world is full of people looking to take advantage of those they consider weaker. Our protagonist, once a missing girl herself, unfortunately gets flashes of these endings as she drifts across America in the early 1960s trying to save at least some of them.

We don’t know much about the woman who introduces herself as Mary Garrett when she arrives in rural North Carolina town other than that she has visions of missing girls, has very little money to her name, and that that name is not her real one. She’s come to this town because there’s a reward on offer for a girl who went missing while riding her horse. That money will go a long way in 1960 if she can claim it. Mary has a lot of tricks up her clairvoyant sleeves to try and get her visions going. All she needs to do is talk the parents into letting her spend some time in the missing girls’ room, with her things. The strange thing (after a whole bunch of other strange things) is that no one seems to be trying very hard to find the missing girl. Her father is willing to let Mary try, but everyone hints or outright tells Mary to go away.

Between chapters that show Mary scrounging for room and board along with searching for the missing girl, other chapters take us into Mary’s past. At least, it seems like they do. The stuttering iterations from the preface play out in different times and places. We’re whisked to various years from the late 1940s up to the mid-1990s, and from New England to Baltimore to Utah and Arizona. These stories share some common elements. The girl Mary used to be loved another girl named Wise, until they were caught and Mary lied about even knowing Wise. Wise disappeared. Then Mary did. After that, anything and everything happens and it’s hard to tell how many missing girls are real and how many are just possibilities.

Quantum Girl Theory is an unsettling book, but I relished the questions it raised about what we choose to pay attention to and what we choose to ignore. One of the people who (reluctantly) helps Mary is Martha, a Black maid at a motel where Mary scams a place to stay, pointedly asks Mary if she ever gets visions of missing Black girls. Mary says no, in a moment that should remind every reader about how much attention is paid to missing white girls compared to every other person who disappears only to be ignored or dismissed as “probably a runaway.” Also, the way that all the missing girls’ stories blend into Mary’s got me thinking about the glut of true crime books, shows, and podcasts. Consuming all of that content can make it feel like we’re surrounded by crimes and injustice. Maybe we are. And if we can’t find the missing, maybe we—like Mary—can witness and tell their stories. If we tell their stories, even if we never really know what the ending is, they won’t be forgotten.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Maid, by Nita Prose

Even if everything else in her life is not great—recently deceased grandmother, no boyfriend, behind on rent—Molly Gray loves her job as a maid at the Regency Grand Hotel. As a maid, Molly returns rooms and suites to a “state of perfection.” Putting rooms to rights is deeply satisfying to this neurodivergent protagonist of The Maid, by Nita Prose. She muddles along at the Regency until the morning that she walks into one of the priciest suites to discover a wealthy guest dead in his bed.

There is no shortage of suspects in Mr. Black’s murder. He’s a ruthless businessman (legal and illegal) who treated both his wives poorly. Unfortunately for the police, there is very little evidence to point to the real killer. And it turns out that the murder isn’t the only crime happening at the Regency. Molly winds up enmeshed in both cases through being at the wrong place and the wrong time and through trying to do favors for people who are kind to her.

Molly has a few things going for her as an amateur detective. She grew up on reruns of Columbo and is keenly observant of her surroundings (always looking for dirt and things out of place). And there’s her job as a maid. A lot of people in Molly’s world overlook her; she’s invisible. She picks up on a lot of things that no one meant for her to see and hear. Her downfall, however, is that she’s too trusting of grifters who take enough care to mask their real thoughts and motives from Molly. (There were several parts of this book that made me cringe, as other characters mock Molly’s literalness.) Thankfully, there are people in her life who watch out for her and step in when events start to spiral out of control.

The Maid breaks a lot of the “rules” of the mystery genre. It doesn’t follow the usual structure; instead, it just races along, getting increasingly complicated, until Molly and her allies are able to turn the tables on the real villains. Molly makes mistakes (unlike many of the too-perfect amateur detectives out there). She also has an unexpectedly nuanced code of ethics, which I really enjoyed. And, lastly, the end of the book doesn’t set Molly Gray up for a series of adventures at the Regency Grand (at least, I didn’t think so). The conclusion and epilogue to the book are more like Molly’s cleaning routine than what I usually see in this genre. Rather, they set things to rights like a well-cleaned hotel room.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Velvet Was the Night, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I used to pet sit fairly regularly for co-workers and friends. It was a fun way to meet new critters and the pocket money was always appreciated. Thankfully, none of my pet-sitting gigs ever turned into the deadly, bewildering ride protagonist Maite Jaramillo finds herself on in Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night. Near the beginning of this thriller, Maite’s neighbor asks her to feed her cat while she’s away for a few days. The neighbor then disappears, landing Maite right in the middle of student protesters, menacing government officials, and a paramilitary group that specializes in cracking dissident heads.

Maite is thirty when Velvet Was the Night opens, sometime in the early 1970s and somewhere in Mexico City. She has her own apartment and a killer record collection, but those are about the only things she has going for her. She has no love life to speak of (although she makes things up for her coworkers), a dead-end job for a lawyer with unspeakably smelly feet, no friends, few hobbies, and a car being held hostage at the mechanics. Meanwhile, Elvis works for El Mago as a member of the Hawks. He goes where El Mago tells him and does whatever dirty work he’s been ordered to, although he loathes his cohorts and their machismo. Like Maite, Elvis (his pseudonym) is stuck in a dead end—neither of them has the education for anything better than what they’re doing, not the ambition to try and get out of their current situations. That said, they’re both aware enough to know that there is more in the world to want than what they have.

Shortly after Maite agrees to feed her neighbor’s cat, Elvis gets the word from El Mago to follow Maite. Since the neighbor is gone, Maite is the Hawk’s best chance to recover incriminating photos taken by the neighbor. Maite has no clue about these photos initially, at least until she learns more about the neighbor’s dissident activities and realizes that she’s being followed. Those photos are a great McGuffin. No one seems to know what’s on them; all anyone knows is that they could be explosive if they were made public. The Hawks want them. The Dirección Federal de Seguridad (Federal Security Directorate) wants them. People who have ties to the Hawks and the DFS want them. The student dissidents want them. Everyone comes out of the woodwork to get Maite and those photos.

Because we readers are tagging along with both Maite and Elvis, we get the see events in stereo. It’s only near the very end that Maite and Elvis meet properly. The dual narratives gave me the curious feeling of being the hunter and the hunted at the same time. The dual narratives also turned out to be a very clever way to dole out information about motives, conspiracies, counter-conspiracies, and all the other machinations going on in Velvet Was the Night. While Elvis is learning more about all the people after Maite and developing doubts about El Mago, Maite learns just how illusory her world of respectabilty really is—and we get a fast dive into life during what is now known as the Mexican Dirty War.

My education was woefully lacking when it came to Mexican (and Canadian, for that matter) history, politics, literature, etc., etc. As I read about Maite’s perils—and the parallel narrative featuring one of those paramilitary thugs—I had to hop over to Wikipedia more than once to learn more about the Mexican Dirty War, Luis Echeverría, and the Tlatelolco Massacre. Funny enough, my lack of knowledge about Mexican politics matched up with Maite’s, since she never reads the news. I know that my preference for learning about the world and its history through fiction isn’t ideal (but fight me!), but books like Velvet Was the Night make history a lot more entertaining and somehow more real. When I read historical fiction, characters come to life and navigate their way through complex realities in a way that I think even the best nonfiction falls short of. The characters of Velvet Was the Night remind me that all of those people we read about (or, more likely, are glossed over) in history texts are real people, with personal failings and dumb luck, who mostly just want to grab a bit of comfort and happiness for themselves before it’s all over.

The Village of Eight Graves, by Seishi Yokomizo

Trigger warning for brief sexual violence.

It’s always a gamble when you read a twentieth-century mystery that a publisher has rescued from obscurity. I’m not sure what the odds are, but there’s a chance that the book was allowed to languish for a reason rather than tastes have changed. Pushkin Vertigo has been republishing the work of Seishi Yokomizo, who created detective Kosuke Kindaichi. Depending on which list you consult, The Village of Eight Graves is the third, first, or fourth book in the Kindaichi series. It’s also a curious choice for Pushkin Vertigo because the detective doesn’t appear on stage very much. Instead, this installment is narrated by an unfortunate man who gets involved in a conspiracy that is (seemingly coincidentally) being investigated by Kindaichi. Because our narrator, Tatsuya, and Kindaichi don’t have many reasons to spend time in each other’s company, Tatsuya isn’t a good vehicle to show us Kindaichi’s brilliance most of the time. He is, however, perfectly placed to show us a very strange village and an even stranger family.

The first hurdle to reading The Village of Eight Graves is the prologue. In this prologue we learn that the village has witnessed two scenes of mass murder, one of which gave the remote village its name. These mass murders were perpetrated by members of the Tajimi family. One instance might be excused, but two argues that there is something sinister in the Tajimi family. So when a possible heir to the Tajimi family shows up in the first chapter in the form of our narrator, everyone eyes him sideways when he comes to the village. Tatsuya is the son of a woman abused by the perpetrator of the second mass murder, who may be his father. When he gets the news that he might be a possible heir to the Tajimi fortune, he is tempted to go back to the village What really gets him there is when his grandfather is poisoned right in front of him. Tatsuya knows that the only way out through the mystery and the possible inheritance is to figure out what’s going on.

The mystery elements of The Village of Eight Graves are wild, intriguing—and I really wish that Tatsuya had a better perspective on those parts of the story. He has a ringside seat to a series of poisonings and accusations about who the murderer might be and we learn plenty about what’s going on that way. (Readers who are smarter than I am might be able to figure out whodunnit before Tatsuya and I did.) Unfortunately—at least for me and modern readers—Tatsuya and the misogyny in the narrative were so prominent in this book that I had a hard time finishing it. The attitudes about gender in this book have not aged nearly as well as the fiendish mystery. The women in this novel are either emotionally or physically fragile, scheming and old, or femmes fatales with more than their fair share of wiles. I was disgusted by the way that women are dismissed or demonized, not just by the narrator but by every character (even the female ones).

I know I missed a lot in The Village of Eight Graves, in spite of the excellent, albeit very British flavored, translation by Bryan Karetnyk. I know that mid-twentieth century Japanese fiction owes a few things to Western Golden Age mysteries, but it’s still very much a new field for me. This blog post from My Japanese Bookshelf helped explain some of those things. I wish I had found it first. That said, I doubt anything could’ve helped me weather the repellent attitudes towards women on display here. I rolled the dice on this one because I was intrigued by the idea of a mystery in Japan but, sadly, I lost this one.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

The Artist Colony, by Joanna FitzPatrick

Library conferences rarely take me to beautiful places. The American Library Association, for example, has a reputation for booking places in the off-season to keep down costs. So I’ve frozen my face off in Chicago in January and melted into a puddle in Las Vegas in July. One conference, Internet Librarian, however, is always in Monterey, California, in October. The California coast is always visually stunning. Between sessions, I would always walk through parks and down piers. Every plant is strange and fascinating; the air always smells like the sea. It’s a pity the conference only lasts three days. I mention all this because Joanna FitzPatrick’s novel, The Artist Colony, is set in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which is very close to Monterey. As I read this book, I had memories of the unforgettable scenery to accompany the plot. I do love to read books set in places I’ve actually been. FitzPatrick liberally borrows from the history of Carmel-by-the-Sea and its artist colony to ground her mystery plot. If you’re not familiar with that history—or with the landscape of coastal California—you might want to read this book with an internet-enabled device nearby so that you can look things up.

Sarah Cunningham never wanted to go to Carmel-by-the-Sea. She has a life as an up-and-coming artist in post-World War I Paris. Unfortunately for Sarah, she has to make the journey because her sister, Ada, has suddenly died. We meet her on the train to Carmel…and we’re not the only ones. Sarah has the bad luck to share a compartment with a man who is clearly not used to women saying no to him. That unpleasant encounter gives way to something even worse. As soon as Sarah debarks, she spots a newspaper headline announcing that Ada died by suicide. In the fashion of many sisters in genre fiction, Sarah immediately starts to investigate what really happened to Ada. It doesn’t take her long to start uncovering secrets and lining up suspects, much to the annoyance of Carmel’s caricature of a marshal.

Carmel Bay, in an 1898 photocrom print
(Image via Wikicommons)

The marshal notwithstanding, Sarah has plenty of help from Ada’s friends and colleagues—many of whom have Wikipedia articles of their own. She gets advice and clues from poet Robinson Jeffers and writer Mary Austin. There are times when I thought FitzPatrick laid it on a bit thick with the name dropping, but I was entertained enough by the characters and the plot to forgive this and the occasionally clumsy dialogue. (Some of the characters, including the protagonist, are suspiciously woke for 1924.) I was actually a little disappointed that Ada Davenport and Sarah Cunningham weren’t real, as far as I can tell. Their fictional works are described with such verve that I wish I could look them up.

The Artist Colony is a diverting read. It’s not perfect, but there is enough originality to make it worth a quick read. Funny enough, this book is just my kind of beach read: an interesting mystery, worked by intriguing characters, in an exotic location. The book is a vacation, and is ideal for times when we can’t always safely take a trip to a California beach. Bon bookish voyage, readers!

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart, by Nancy Campbell Allen

Not everything I choose to read is an intellectual puzzle or a heartbreaking exploration of human pain. Sometimes I read fun, sweet books like Nancy Campbell Allen’s The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart. In this book, idealistic Amelie Hampton wrangles her way into gruff detective Michael Baker’s investigation of a possible wife-killer. I realize this doesn’t sound very fun or sweet when I summarize the book that way but, as in so many cozy mysteries, the investigation gives our protagonists something to do while they slowly open their hearts to one another.

Amelie and Michael don’t have the most auspicious meet-cute. Michael catches Amelie spying on the man he is also spying on: Harold Radcliffe. Amelie is hovering outside the cafe where Radcliffe is dining with a young woman Amelie advised from her desk at the Marriage Gazette, where she works for her aunt. She’s there to see if the meeting is going well. Michael is there to learn more about his quarry, who he believes murdered his young wife scant months earlier. When Amelie starts to leave, Michael chases her down. (Amelie frequently describes this as “running to ground” to tease the detective.) Before he quite knows what has happened—he merely intended to find out what Amelie knows about Radcliffe—Amelie has volunteered herself as Michael’s deputy. She’s going to help get Michael closer to Radcliffe by inviting him along to her book club, where Radcliffe is also a member.

The mystery and the romance plots are brisk but not forced. There are enough twists in the mystery to keep things interesting, while the romance plot is punctuated with moments between the protagonists that had me smiling widely at the pair. I won’t say much more about this book; I don’t want to ruin either plot. So I’ll conclude by saying that if you want something that’s a delight to read, you should pick up The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.

The Comfort of Monsters, by Willa C. Richards

Trigger warning for domestic violence.

I don’t know what the statistics are on unsolved murders versus solved murders, but I do know that there are a lot more of the former than the latter. Sometimes cases go unsolved because there are no clues to follow, or because the technology doesn’t exist that can analyze the clues. Sometimes, a murder goes unsolved because no one knows a crime occurred. Hopefully, rarely, murders go unsolved because no one cares. A combination of all of these factors conspire to keep the disappearance of protagonist Margaret McBride’s sister in The Comfort of Monsters, by Willa C. Richards. Dee McBride disappeared around the same time that Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested and his mind-bogglingly horrific crimes came to light. Years later, no one knows what happened to her.

The Comfort of Monsters moves back and forth between 1991 and now. Both plotlines center on Margaret McBride. The Margaret of now is a barely functioning woman. She has just lost her job (again). Her family and romantic relationships are tenuous and fraught. Her Milwaukee apartment is full of case notes, testimonies, and legal textbooks that Margaret uses to constantly go over what she knows about her sister’s disappearance in July 1991. Margaret and her family have tried everything they can think of to find Dee. By the time we meet them, the McBrides are about to hire a very expensive TV psychic in a last ditch effort to find Dee’s remains. The Margaret of 1991 is, if not carefree, certainly someone who has no fucks to give. She drinks, does drugs, and spends a lot of time in sketchy places with her sister, Dee. Margaret and her boyfriend (with whom she has what we would now call a BDSM relationship, but they don’t have any rules or safe words) live in Riverwest, the same neighborhood as Dahmer. They don’t know this, of course, until the rest of the city finds out what he was up to in his apartment.

Dee’s disappearance is completely unrelated to Dahmer, but Dahmer kept the police so busy that the McBride’s only have one uninterested detective to look into Dee’s disappearance. Margaret pushes for Detective Wolski to look into Dee’s abusive boyfriend, but Wolski thinks that Dee just packed up and left. Dee’s fictional case is contrasted the murders of Konerak Sinthasomphone and the rest of Dahmer’s victims. Wolski’s indifference looks a lot like the Milwaukee Police Department’s indifference to crimes committed against gay men. By the time the police start to act, it’s too late to collect evidence and witness memories have faded. Thirty years later, in Dee’s case, it’s little wonder that the McBrides have called in a psychic. I’m not sure what’s worse for them: having no hope or having just enough hope to think that, all these years later, they might have an answer.

At the same time this is going on, we also get to see how Dee’s disappearance has affected Margaret. The sisters were incredibly close. No matter how much they fought, they would always make up. They shared each other’s secrets. They also share a similar affinity for men who “just can’t control themselves.” In Margaret’s case, we know that she likes rough sex (although she’s very ashamed of it). I’m not sure about Dee. Her boyfriend is violent, too, but more in the controlling/angry model. The juxtaposition is deeply unsettling because it forces you to try and find the line between different kinds of violence. Can a couple be said to have a healthy relationship if they never set boundaries on what one half can do to the other? If there are no safe words? If they’ve never even discussed this part of their sex life? Is it acceptable kink? Or is Margaret’s boyfriend another abuser? Someone with more knowledge of BDSM might be able to answer these questions.

The Comfort of Monsters is a challenging read, for so many reasons. And yet, I found myself fascinated by the questions Richards’ raised in her story. The Comfort of Monsters falls into the growing subgenre of mystery novels that examine the long aftermath of violent crime and that tell the stories of the people who are left behind to try and rebuild their lives after a loved one has been taken from them. In this example, we see characters who don’t know what happened to their loved one, not even where their remains are, after three decades. Readers who also like more intellectual true crime should enjoy this book, if they can handle the mix of sex and violence.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Such a Quiet Place, by Megan Miranda

“If you see something, say something” is a dangerous phrase. On the one hand, we need to watch out for each other. There are plenty of stories that serve as evidence that a sharp eye and willingness to speak up have saved lives. On the other, sometimes we speak up when we’re not sure we’ve actually seen something. This dilemma lies at the heart of Such a Quiet Place, by Megan Miranda. This book takes place in a small community that, a year before the book opens, was the scene of the surprising death of two long-time residents. There was enough evidence to convict one of their own of the deaths. Now, a year later, the conviction has been overturned and everyone is very uncomfortable that the person they all firmly believe is a murderer has returned.

Harper, one of the residents of Hollow’s Edge and one of several who testified at Ruby’s trial, spends the entirety of this novel twisted in anxious knots. She’s always wondered if she was right to speak up at Ruby’s trial, even if she didn’t say anything particularly damning. Her anxiety isn’t helped when Ruby sneaks up on Harper in her own home. (Ruby was her former roommate, until her arrest and conviction.) We quickly learn that Ruby is a mercurial person. I’m not sure if her personality rubbed people the wrong way before the deaths of the Truetts. Ruby certainly does now that she’s come back, especially since she’s determined to prove that she’s innocent and wreak some kind of revenge on the people who sent her to prison.

Throughout the novel, Harper and the other residents confer about what they will and won’t say. Everyone—except doubtful Harper—wants to stick to the story they all agreed on. With Ruby back and doing her own investigating, Harper decides to start asking questions, too. She also thinks back on the night the Truetts died and starts to wonder if she really saw what everyone thinks they saw. What about the fact that the cop who lives in their neighborhood is now facing scrutiny at work for railroading Ruby? What about all the others in Hollow’s Edge who clam up when Harper tries to ask deeper questions? And what about Ruby herself? Did she through up enough red flags with her behavior and criticism of others that she might really be a murderer? And if it wasn’t Ruby, who killed the Truetts?

In addition to asking questions about the balance between being too suspicious and watching out for each other, Such a Quiet Place also makes us take a good look at the lengths some people are willing to go to in order to preserve appearances. Before the Truetts and Ruby and the trial, Hollow’s Edge was an exclusive community. The residents created their own unofficial homeowner’s association to make sure that everything stayed respectable—or at least protected each other’s secrets enough to avoid scandals. I could easily imagine the residents of Hollow’s Edge, four hundred years earlier, taking justice into their own hands. Ruby is just the kind of person who would’ve been accused of witchcraft, too.) Although we don’t light torches and swing pitchforks anymore, Such a Quiet Place makes us wonder if we’re really all that different from our ancestors.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Silent Listener, by Lyn Yeowart

Trigger warning for child abuse.

Blackhunt is the last place Joy ever wanted to go. She did her best to escape the family farm at the age of sixteen after years of violent punishments from her church elder father. But at the beginning of The Silent Listener, by Lyn Yeowart, Joy receives a phone call that summons her back. Her father’s doctor has just informed her that the old man is on his death bed and can she come back to take care of him in his last days? Joy reluctantly agrees because, at long last, this might be her chance to finally let Blackhunt know what a monster George Henderson really is.

The Silent Listener is told in three interwoven parts. In 1983, Joy wrestles with her still intimidating, albeit bedridden father and her own desire for revenge. In 1960, we follow a very young Joy during the year when her friend Wendy disappears forever. Lastly, in 1942, we watch as Joy’s mother is emotionally and physically beaten down by George after a mere two months of courtship. Taken together, we see how George created a family of people who are absolutely terrified of him while at the same time becoming one of the most admired men in the district. You see, George never loses his temper or raises his hand to them in public. He’s lively and jolly in a crowd. Because the Henderson farm is so isolated, it’s not hard for George to keep his secrets.

As if all of this wasn’t complicated enough, 1983 Joy is dogged by two ghosts from the past. One ghost is one of the detectives who tried to find Wendy all those years ago. The other ghost is actually a ghost: the ghost of Joy’s sister, Ruth. Both of them hector Joy. The detective is absolutely convinced that Joy did something to speed her father to his death and wants a confession. When Joy starts to drop hints that George might have had something to do with Wendy, he starts to push even harder. As for Ruth, Ruth has always been the part of Joy that will say the things Joy can’t bring herself to say out loud. Ruth is the part of Joy that wants to withhold pain medication or come up with elaborate plans for vengeance.

This is a hard book to read. The child abuse is gutting to read about. No one should live so terrified of someone in their family that they can barely breathe or move when that person is in the same room. Readers will want to shout at the characters to run, to call the police, to do something in spite of all the research about living with abuse that tells us that all of those actions are a lot harder for someone conditioned to the kind of life we witness at the Henderson farm. The Silent Listener is a tough psychological drama, but a good one. I was hooked in spite of all the violence and misery. Readers, consider yourself warned.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.