Desert Isle Keeper
The Slow Burn of Silence
When does something begin and end? The ripples from a stone cast into a pond, do they start with the smoothness of the pebble that first attracts the eye, the impulse to feel it against your palm, to make it skip over water… do they end with the last tiny lap of a wave on the distant shore…
These are the opening words of The Slow Burn of Silence by Loreth Anne White. Their obliqueness and the craft in the question made me want to read on. I’m glad I did. From beginning to almost end, Slow Burn of Silence had me flipping the pages, absorbed, wondering what would happen next.
Rachel Salonen has just lost her sister and brother-in-law to a terrible fire. She has been granted the guardianship of their only child, her niece Quinn. While at the lawyer’s office to go over the details, Rachel is stunned to learn Quinn’s birth parents are Jeb Cullen, the love of Rachel’s life, and Amy Findlay, the woman he was accused of kidnapping, assaulting, and raping nine years ago. Jeb has spent those nine years in prison, put there in part by the testimony of Rachel and others. Amy never really recovered from the violence done to her and, finally, recently committed suicide.
Rachel is beyond stunned when the lawyer tells her, for the past five years, her sister Sophia has been working with the University of British Columbia’s Innocence Project to get Jeb freed. Jeb has always sworn he is innocent of the crimes against Amy and her still missing friend Merilee. Rachel has never believed him and has never forgiven him for not being the young man she she thought he was when they were in love. Rachel asks the lawyer if Jeb knows Quinn was adopted by her sister; he tells her Jeb was never told where his daughter was placed.
Six months later, Rachel and Quinn have moved to Snowy River, the small mountain town Rachel grew up in, and into her family’s old home. It’s not been easy on either of them. Rachel is running the small town newspaper her father left her last year and trying to raise a clearly distant and angry eight year old girl. Rachel’s exhausted, sad, and stressed and then, something happens that terrifies her. Her sister’s work with the Innocence Project has paid off and Jeb Cullen has been released from prison.
When someone matching Jeb’s description is seen talking to Quinn on the playground, Rachel is sure he’s come to do her harm. She heads immediately to the police station and shares her fear with her old friend Adam LeFleur, the Deputy Chief Constable.
“What if he does come back?” I say softly. “Can we stop him from being here?”
“Cullen’s conviction was overturned. He’s as free as the next guy to go wherever he pleases. Law enforcement has no control over his movements. But there is also no reason for him to come back here.”
“What about that land his mother left him, on the Wolf River?”
“It’s derelict. There’s nothing there for him. He’d be insane to even try to make something work here. He’s not welcome in Snowy Creek, Rachel, and he knows it. What he did to those girls—people here will crucify him for it if he returns. There’s still so much residual anger, hell knows what might happen if he sets foot in this town. I’m not sure I could control it.”
“What if it’s revenge he wants? For us testifying? You know, like that felon who comes after his lawyer in that old movie Cape Fear.”
Adam hesitates. “You’re thinking he might go after your niece to get at you, is that what this is about? You think he’ll come after our children, just to mess with our heads?”
I bite my lip. Deep down, even now, in spite of what I’ve been led to believe about Jeb, in spite of all the evidence presented in court, in spite of my own fears, in spite of today, I can’t fully accept he’s capable. When it comes to Jeb, I can’t think clearly.
Adam is wrong about Jeb, however. Jeb has two very good reasons to return to Snowy River. The first is to clear his name and find the real criminals behind the crimes he took the fall for. The second is to see Quinn who, thanks to Sophia, he knows is his.
The Slow Burn of Silence is written from several different perspectives but the two given the largest voice are those of Jeb and Rachel. They are reliable narrators and thus, from the moment Jeb appears back in Snowy Creek, ready to dig up the past and find the truth someone there has hidden for the past nine years, the reader believes him.
Rachel, initially does not. She loved him deeply as a young girl and believed he loved her. On the night Amy and Merilee went missing, Rachel and Jeb argued. Jeb consoled himself by having sex with Amy. When Amy showed up, days later, beaten, pregnant, and with no memory of what had happened to her, Rachel believed the worst of Jeb. In the years that have passed, she’s wondered not if he was guilty but how could she have so misjudged him.
Jeb, though, is determined to clear his name and prove to Rachel, the world, and the little girl who has his eyes that he is the man Rachel thought he was. And, when he is brutally attacked by three men in the masks, Rachel takes him in, despite her fear, and slowly, oh so slowly, begins to see him as he is and has always been: a man worthy of her love.
The Slow Burn of Silence is an excellent read on many levels. The book is a gripping mystery. Ms. White fills her books with a host of richly developed characters, all of whom have secrets. The varying voices are well done–I especially liked the nuanced portrayal of the women married to the men who had condemned Jeb nine years ago. These are wives who love their husbands and children and who protect their families in ways that are poignant and sympathetic. The mystery loses a bit of its hold in the last third of the book when it becomes obvious who really behaved monstrously nine years ago but, though the mystery ebbs, the suspense continues to build. Rachel, Jeb, Quinn and others in Snowy Creek are in genuine danger and Ms. White spins out the tension until the last chapter.
The Slow Burn of Silence is also a damn good romance. Rachel and Jeb are hot together, but, the past they share is difficult for them–especially Rachel–to move past. Their relationship is made more complicated by Quinn who instinctively trusts Jeb without knowing who he is. It’s easy for Rachel, once she believes in Jeb’s innocence, to fear Quinn being taken away by her father. For his part, Jeb treads carefully with Quinn, knowing that if his plan fails, he’ll do her no favors by claiming her as his own.
It’s hard to write stand alone romantic suspense where both the romance and the suspense make my pulse pound. The Slow Burn of Silence is such a book.
I’ve read all of Ms. White’s recent romantic suspense and enjoyed them. This one, though, is still my favorite.