Review: SILENT FEAR by Katherine Howell

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.

I have also reviewed Katherine Howell’s earlier novels VIOLENT EXPOSURE and COLD JUSTICE

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 [2012]
ISBN: 9781742610726
Length: 402 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


17 thoughts on “Review: SILENT FEAR by Katherine Howell

  1. Bernadette – it really is hard to manage both solid character development and a really absorbing plot. And I really do appreciate a novel that’s authentic enough that readers can imagine the events happening in their lives. But then, that’s what you get with realistic characters and a well-constructed plot. I have to say I really wish Katherine Howell’s work was a bit more easily available here in the States. But don’t get me started…


  2. Really looking forward to this one when it is out over here in the UK (we are one behind over here), I think this is an excellent series.


  3. Thanks so much, Bernadette! I’m so thrilled you enjoyed it 🙂

    Hi Margot! Thanks for your comment. I don’t have a print publisher in the US at the moment unfortunately, but all the books are available as ebooks through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the iBookstore.

    Hi Maxine, how are you? Thanks for your comment. Pan Mac UK has so far not picked up either Violent Exposure or Silent Fear for print publication, so at the moment they’re only available as ebooks there too.

    I wish it were otherwise in both places, but maybe one day.



    • So sorry to read that, Katherine (far too much rubbish is printed over here, why not quality series like yours?!) but I’ll definitely look out for the e-versions. I’ve just lent my kindle to one of my daughters to read one of my books on it, so maybe another convert to the e-reading genre is in the offiing.


      • Thanks Maxine 🙂 With a bit of luck things might change in the future and they’ll be back in the shops. Hope you enjoy them when you get there, whichever way it is 🙂


        • Sorry to prolong this but can’t help commenting on a tweet from them today (Pan Mac) urging people who have “enjoyed” 50 shades of rubbish to read their even more rubbishy Jane Eyre “me too” c*** “version”. I ask you.


  4. That is terribly, terribly sad Maxine. I have a (very thin) hope that all the lovely lucre they’re making from selling all the 50 shades of soft porn copycat books will allow them to publish something decent every now and again.


  5. 50 shades … lordy. The one good thing about it is that it’s helping bookstores stay open, and maaaybe getting a few people back into reading? And yes, Bernadette, I too hope it’ll mean some money to publish some decent books.


  6. So glad to learn of this new book by Katherine Howell. I’ve read two books in this series and enjoy Ella Marconi and her adventures. Now that I’ve loaned out the books, there are other fans here, too. I add my voice to those of the disappointed who wish her books were published over here or at least made available in, dare I say it, paper books!


  7. I’m in New York City. I have two of Katherine Howell’s books by the sheer generosity of a certain blogger from Oz, and they’re very popular with friends at the present time. I can’t keep them at home on the bookshelves where they properly belong!!!


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