The Silence is book two in Kendra Elliot’s Columbia River series, but I don’t think I missed out on anything in terms of the plot by not reading the previous book, The Last Sister. Although the two principals in this story have featured in other books by the author – they’re an engaged couple – the mystery plot is completely self-contained, so you’d have no problems reading this as a standalone.
Detective Mason Callahan of the Oregon State Police is called to the scene of a particularly brutal murder at a house on the outskirts of Portland. Rueben Braswell was killed with a blunt instrument and his body was mutilated – the face bashed in, most of the fingers cut off and strewn around – which, if not for the fact that he was found in his own home, would normally have indicated that whoever killed him was trying to conceal his identity. Officers are carrying out a routine search of Braswell’s home when one of them finds a folder on his desk containing pages of anti-law enforcement rants and conspiracy theories – and blueprints of a building, the local courthouse, that indicate a bomb is set to detonate there that afternoon. As Mason gets on the phone to alert others to the threat, he and his partner notice one particular name among Braswell’s papers – that of Special Agent Ava McLane. Mason’s fiancée.
Ava isn’t having the best day either. She’s just about to leave for work when a young man she doesn’t know arrives on her doorstep and introduces himself as Brady Shurr – the man her troublesome – and troubled – twin sister Jayne had left a local drug and alcohol rehab centre with eight months earlier. Ava’s history with her wayward sister is complicated – it’s probably more detailed in the books in the Callahan and McLane series, but the author includes enough detail here for new readers to be able to catch up quickly. Basically, Jayne is selfish, conscienceless and manipulative – but she’s still Ava’s twin and no matter how much Ava wishes she could simply wash her hands of her… she can’t. Shurr tells Ava that Jayne has disappeared, and while Ava is intensely sceptical and is inclined to believe it’s yet another instance of her sister’s cruel and careless behaviour, when Shurr tells her that Jayne had told him to contact Ava if she ever disappeared, alarm bells start ringing in Ava’s head.
Things go from bad to worse when she arrives at the office to find out about the bomb threat and about Braswell’s murder. Braswell had been an informant of hers, although she’d quickly realised he had a huge chip on his shoulder about law enforcement and that he really just wanted someone to vent to. He’d insinuated he was associated with various anti-government factions, but most of their few meetings had yielded nothing useful; and at their last one, Braswell had crossed a line by grabbing her, and she’d walked away. Now Ava asks herself if she’d been too hasty – but she knows he never mentioned anything about a bomb.
When Mason and Ray arrive at the courthouse, the place is heaving with LEOs. They’re wading through the crowd when suddenly, shots are fired, chaos erupts and Mason realises the truth – there IS no bomb; the warning was a ploy to draw out cops and kill as many of them as possible.
Ava is given permission to work as part of the task force looking into the court house shooting, and I appreciated that the author addresses the potential conflict of interest by making it clear she’s on board under special circumstances; so often in novels like this, things like that are handwaved away. Mason’s investigations into Braswell’s murder reveal he had a brother he didn’t get along with – yet his car was seen parked in his driveway just days earlier. Could Shawn Braswell have killed his brother? Could he have been responsible for the shootings? Or are the two cases completely unrelated?
There’s a lot going on in The Silence, but the story never feels rushed or cluttered, and Ms. Elliot crafts a complex and fast-paced thriller as she juggles her various plot threads and begins to skilfully weave them all together. The investigations into the murder and shootings are nicely balanced by familial storylines, which provide some depth to Ava’s character, and the whole thing is slick, well-paced and engaging.
On the downside, I have to admit to feeling just a little bit disappointed because Ms. Elliot is generally billed as an author of romantic suspense, and the romance in this story has already happened (in the Callahan and McLane series), so it’s a kind of tying up of loose ends for the central couple. I liked Mason and Ava, but this is a plot- rather than character-driven story, and I didn’t feel as though I actually got to know either of them that well.
Those quibbles aside, The Silence was a suspenseful and entertaining page-turner with plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing. It’s the first book I’ve read by Kendra Elliot, but I will definitely read her again.