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The Silence by Sarah Rayne
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Severn House Publishers Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780727882486
Date: 01 May 2013 List Price $29.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Nell West, an antiques dealer in Oxford, England, learns that one of her deceased husband's relatives, Charlotte West, has died. Charlotte's home contains many antiques and Nell has been asked to appraise their worth. Unfortunately, Stilter House is haunted by the ghosts of two evil women and a young boy, Esmond, who is the same age as Nell's eight-year-old daughter, Beth. With the aid of her boyfriend, literature professor Dr. Michael Flint, Nell begins researching the tragic history of Stilter House and learns that the ghosts are all victims of an insane murderer. Now she must race against time to prevent Beth from experiencing the same ghastly fate as Esmond.

Sarah Rayne's The Silence is a spooky, old-fashioned paranormal mystery. It reminded me much of the ones I once read in the nineteen seventies and eighties. The intriguing murder mystery contained within its pages is what enthralled me the most. Who killed all of those people who have now returned from the dead and are haunting Stilter House? The murders have occurred over a period of many years and have been perpetrated by one individual who is extremely insane. Cold chills actually crept up and down my spine when I learned the murderer's identity. This novel's ending is truly haunting and unforgettable.

The Silence is the third in a series of horror novels (following the highly acclaimed Property of a Lady and The Sin Eater) that are centered around Dr. Michael Flint and his love interest, Nell West. Together they solve the mysteries surrounding haunted houses. In fact, almost all of Rayne's novels involve the researching of large, haunted houses with tragic histories. The research takes on the form of finding and reading old letters, diaries, affidavits, etc. This is fine for a couple of novels, but not for an entire series. The discovery and reading of letters was too extensive in The Silence and tended to take the reader out of the action. I realize that people in the early nineteen hundreds wrote more than they do now. However, I found it nearly incomprehensible that the killer would conveniently write their confession, especially when prompted by an elderly person whom they had earlier threatened to kill.

Despite its implausibilities, The Silence is an entertaining read, primarily because of its spooky, creepy atmosphere, a sadistic killer, and a truly riveting mystery. Furthermore, the hero, Michael Flint, and the heroine, Nell West, are likeable characters. Flint is a professor who, like me, is extremely busy juggling career, love life and lucrative hobbies. Not only does he teach literature classes at Oriel College in Oxford, but he also publishes children's books and educational nonfiction. Helping to make Michael and Nell a family is Nell's precocious daughter, Beth, who develops a friendship with the boy ghost, Esmond. We learn that Beth, Esmond, and several of the other ghosts are quite adept at playing the piano. Creepy piano music is often heard at night, announcing the presence of a spirit. The author introduces the ancient belief that playing music could bring the dead back to life. In high school, my horrible trumpet playing often disturbed my neighbors, but it never awoke the dead.

The Silence reminded me of my beloved Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. The pleasant smell of a perfume, such as jasmine, or the playing of a music box, often preceded the arrival of a ghost, especially the most famous one, Josette DuPres. Some ghosts were kind and benevolent, while others were evil and maleficent. Usually the ghosts were the wandering spirits of those who had died violently, tragically and/or prematurely. Young David Collins was always encountering ghosts; his first ghost friend was Sarah Collins, Barnabas's dead sister who perished in 1795. In The Silence, Esmond is encountered over the years by two children, Beth and her father, Brad, when he was her age; Brad was also adept at playing the piano. Neither one suspected this odd, silent child was a ghost. The adults, Michael and Nell, suspect Esmond is a ghost and fear he may want Beth to join him forever in death.

Fans of creepy ghost stories involving large mansions with tragic pasts will want to read The Silence along with many of Sarah Rayne's other supernatural novels. The body count is a decent one and will definitely keep the novel moving at a fast pace. There is some gore, enough to satisfy my craving for it. One character describes in great detail their gruesome discovery of a corpse, the victim of starvation. There is also the usage of a medieval torture device, an iron muzzle known as a brank, which renders speech impossible; there wasn't much sympathy in my heart for the person upon which it was installed. I would love to read more adventures of Michael Flint and Nell West. However, I hope the next installment finds them in greater peril and that the murder victims reside in the present as well as in the past.

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