The reason I imagine it’s hard to balance writing a ripper of a plot with developing at least some of your characters in enough depth to make them interesting is that a lot of books don’t achieve it. Surely if it were an easy task then more books would be like SILENT FEAR which balances these two elements perfectly.
The story is full of genuine surprises starting with paramedic Holly Garland’s attendance at what is for her a routine emergency at a suburban Sydney park. A young man, Paul Fowler, has collapsed and while his friends look on in confusion two bystanders have started CPR. Holly’s first surprise is that one of the man’s friends is her own brother whom she has not spoken to in 12 years. Her second is that when she takes over attempts to resuscitate the young man, thought to have collapsed from heat stroke or a heart attack, she discovers what looks like a bullet hole in the back of his head. These are merely the twists occurring in the first few pages of the book and they really don’t let up until the very end.
The main Detective assigned to the case is Ella Marconi who will be familiar to readers of Howell’s four previous novels in the series. She is an intelligent and determined policewoman and I particularly like the way she is depicted as having an almost physical need to get to the bottom of each case. Detecting is not purely an intellectual exercise for Ella: she needs to be on the move – talking, observing, driving etc. She draws on her body’s physical reactions to aspects of the job in a way that makes her obsession with the job quite believable, and something I’m a little envious of.
Here she and her fellow officers have to trawl through Fowler’s life to find motivation for the crime. His estranged wife, boss and friends are all suspects until evidence and witness statements start to enable the police to focus on particular individuals. As they follow the painstakingly slow procedural steps readers are able to build up a picture of the dead man and his friends. Even minor characters, such as wheelchair-bound Mary who is a star witness or the obnoxious detective assigned to Ella’s squad due to his connections, are nicely drawn and add a layer of natural credibility to the overall story. Holly Garland is a fantastic character too. She is terrified that her brother’s reappearance in her life will unravel the world she has created for herself since she escaped an unfortunate childhood and we really do get a sense of her fear long before we learn what secrets she is desperate to keep.
SILENT FEAR is a perfectly paced book, offering suspense and intrigue which is made more believable than many thrillers by being set in an ordinary suburban life that most readers will recognise, even if they’ve never visited Sydney in the middle of a blistering Australian summer. Howell’s fictional crimes are not the kind that happen to other, far away people not like us; they are the kind that you can imagine happening right next door. Or even closer to home than that.
Kerrie has reviewed SILENT FEAR earlier this year
This is the 11th book I have read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012
My rating: 4/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Publisher: Pan Macmillan 
Length: 402 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it
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