Monday, August 25, 2014

Pierce’s Picks: “The Silent Boy”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

The Silent Boy, by Andrew Taylor (HarperCollins UK)

The Gist: “Taylor’s new novel utilizes two of the characters from his last book, The Scent of Death,” explains a review of The Silent Boy featured on the Web site of The Forest Bookshop, in Coleford, England. “In 1778, London clerk Edward Savill was obliged to turn detective in the desperate last days of British colonial New York, posted there by his patron Mr. Rampton, his wife Augusta’s uncle. Now, 14 years later, Savill’s estranged wife has apparently been murdered in the midst of the post-[French] Revolution Terrors, which splattered guillotine-riddled Paris with torrents of blood in 1792. But a murder mystery isn’t the thrust of this story--rather, it concerns a child-custody battle involving, on one side, [Augusta’s 10-year-old son] Charles’ claimed aristocratic father, holed up in a ‘Somersetshire’ mansion to which he and his Parisian retinue have fled with the child, versus Savill acting on behalf of Rampton and also Savill’s daughter--Charles’ half-sister. … What is a mystery are the protagonists’ motives for wanting custody of Charles--it certainly doesn’t appear many of them have the child’s interests at heart.” Writing in Shots, critic L.J. Hurst carries the plot line further: “Then early one morning the boy, Charles, disappears, at just about the time a stranger has been spied on the edge of the estate. Savill produces his warrant and invokes his powers on the local magistrate, but they can do little more than follow the strangers back to London. It is in London that events develop James Bond-style: breaking-and-entering, mysterious cabs driving by, doors left open to overhear what is being said, knives used, pistols fired. Or to put it another way: double-crossing, triple-crossing, returns from the dead, simpletons more trusting than they should have been.”

What Else You Should Know: A recipient in 2009 of the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger Award for lifetime achievement, Andrew Taylor is also the author of the Lydmouth stories, the Roth Trilogy, and Bleeding Heart Square (2008). His novels rarely fail to impress, though they may start out slowly; give them a chance to prove their value, and you shouldn’t be disappointed. I haven’t yet read The Silent Boy, but some of the blurbs convince me that I shall relish the experience. “I enjoyed this book very much indeed,” says C.J. Sansom, the author of Dominion as well as the Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries. “I found the evocation of late 18th-century England, and the French exiles, effortlessly authentic, the hunt for Charles gripping, and the portrayal and first-person narrative of the helpless, traumatized, yet strong and resourceful little boy moving and believable. An excellent work.”

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