Not a Sound
I’m always on the lookout for books featuring competent, true-to-life characters with disabilities. Unfortunately, these aren’t as easy to find as one might think. So, when I heard about Not A Sound, the latest novel from author Heather Gudenkauf, I was eager to get my hands on it. Ms. Gudenkauf crafts wonderfully suspenseful novels, and I was hopeful she’d create a deaf heroine I could truly root for.
Ex trauma nurse Amelia Winn lost her hearing as the result of a hit and run accident. Unable to cope with her profound deafness, she spiraled into a deep depression made worse by copious amounts of alcohol. Amelia isolates herself from friends and family, and soon loses everything that matters to her including her job, her husband, and her young stepdaughter. Now, two years after her world fell apart, she’s well on her way to picking up the pieces of her life. She’s got her first job interview, and her husband has started letting her see seven-year-old Nora again.
Then, one morning as she and her service dog, Stitch, are paddling down the river in her kayak, Stitch catches sight of something almost completely submerged in the water. Amelia is stunned to see a dead body there, and even more astonished to realize the body belongs to someone she knows. Of course, she calls 911, and, from that moment on, she finds herself pulled into an investigation capable of shattering the life she’s so painstakingly trying to rebuild.
I really wanted to like Amelia as a heroine, and I was able to do so on many levels. She’s strong, resourceful, and determined, all traits I love in my heroines. At first, it seems like she’ll let her deafness get the best of her, but the bulk of the story shows us that she’s ready and willing to come to terms with her life as a disabled woman. I loved the way she works hard to get back on her feet without making excuses for the poor choices she made in the past. Instead, she moves on from them, determined to build a future based on sound decisions. She does have a tendency to act rashly, and this is where my problems with her character come into play. It’s obvious she wants to get to the bottom of the murder, especially once she discovers she has an extremely personal connection to the crime, but I couldn’t get behind some of her methods. She basically throws away every speck of common sense she has, putting herself in extreme danger again and again without seeming to view this as a problem. She blew off all of her friends after the accident, but then, when she needs information from them, she wonders why they don’t instantly respond to her emails.
My quibbles with Amelia’s character aside, I was completely engrossed in the story. I wanted to know who was behind the murder, and I found myself holding my breath during many of the more tension-filled scenes. I may not have liked the fact that Amelia did stupid things, but I definitely wanted her to come out on top, a fact that speaks volumes about Ms. Gudenkauf’s skill as a writer. Normally, I have zero patience for characters who act without thinking first, but I found myself quite invested in Amelia, despite her flaws.
So, if I loved the mystery and cared about the protagonist, why didn’t I give this a higher grade? To be blunt, I found Ms. Gudenkauf’s depiction of the relationship between Amelia and Stitch to be quite problematic. I am not deaf, so have never worked with a dog trained to mitigate that particular disability, but I have worked with three different guide dogs over the past twenty years and have a reasonably good grasp of service dog training and etiquette. First off, service dogs are never trained to attack or kill on their handler’s command. They’re supposed to remain calm and show no aggression when in public, but Ms. Gudenkauf falls into the all too common trap of making Stitch Amelia’s protector. His obedience is also quite deplorable, and he’s almost never on a leash. Instead, he wanders around all manner of public places, getting petted and fed a variety of treats. All of these things are completely unrealistic, and would usually result in the disabled person and their dog being asked to leave the premises.
I was also quite displeased to see the dog used more as a plot device than as a genuine help to Amelia, such as when he’s used as a distraction when she’s poking her nose into something she shouldn’t be. She conveniently uncovers important information as a result of his unruly behavior, and does a host of other things that serve only to move the plot forward in unbelievable ways. I would have much rather the author had created a character who used her service dog responsibly and who helped bring the bad guys to justice without all manner of high jinx.
I realize my issues won’t be shared by everyone, and I definitely encourage readers to give this book a try. If you love a good mystery, I’m sure you’ll find Not a Sound quite enjoyable. Just be prepared to suspend your disbelief when it comes to Stitch.