LISTEN TO THE SILENCE
Mysterious Press, 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Contemporary Mystery, Western USA
Sharon McCone answers the phone in the middle of a happy wedding, to learn that her father has died. It is her duty, along with one of her brothers, to scatter his ashes. Already reeling from the loss, Sharon finds among her father's papers a secret that shatters the ground under her feet. Dropping everything, ignoring the frantic attempts of her mother to stop her, Sharon turns her detective skills on her family's past.
"Listen to the silence," Hy Ripinsky tells her, and she begins to hear the thoughts within the pauses and the reluctant speech of her informants. They focus her attention on the Shoshone reservation of her great-grandmother in Fort Hall, Montana. Obsessed but still competent, Sharon tracks the subjects of a photograph taken during what looks to be an idyllic summer before her own birth. She meets residents and relatives living in Fort Hall, a rich father and son from California, a bravely dying tribe at Spirit Lake, and the ghosts of a ghost town called Cinder Cone. Indifferent to trouble, she checks out a conflict between the Spirit Lake tribe and a real estate developer, and finds it may be her death. Revealing decisions are made at the point of a gun.
Author Marcia Muller sees each of her characters with the discernment of love. Most important among them is Sharon's significant other, Hy Ripinsky, who is so observant, supportive, and understanding that every interaction between the two is a pleasure to read. Elwood Farmer, who gives her the picture, is pleasantly independent and eccentric and makes one hope to meet him again. Will Camphouse, not-so-accidentally met in a bar, has the makings of an interesting and challenging friend. The real estate developer, Austin DeCarlo, is given a well rounded development as a human being, not colored by his professional stance. By contrast, his father Joseph DeCarlo is the least successful character in the book: most of his dimension is created by variations in his level of hostility. Most tantalizing is attorney Saskia Blackhawk, whom we have no opportunity to see at her best because she has just been the victim of a hit and run. Her children, sister and brother Robin and Darcy Blackhawk, have an enjoyably intriguing relationship with Sharon McCone. I will hope for a chance to get to know the Blackhawk family better in a later book.
LISTEN TO THE SILENCE is an insightful study of family feeling in its different forms. Sharon's brothers and sisters are simply her brothers and sisters, and she doesn't look at them any more than we usually look at our own. She just loves them and leans on them. Her relationships with each of her parents are unique and valuable, each in its own way. We see extremes of family from the multiple network reaching beyond Fort Hall Reservation to the dominance of Joseph DeCarlo over Aaron. Whether tender or nerve-wracking, the family moments that Muller lets us see include something that each of us will recognize from our own lives.
This book is blessedly free of politics. Along the way Muller handles subjects that have a definite politically correct position, but she looks at them from a purely human viewpoint. There are no diatribes about the death of Native American culture, no polemics about developing wilderness areas. Instead there are musing chats with Modoc tribe councilmen about plans for their city, and an encounter with a troublemaker for sale to the highest bidder. The sensible Will Camphouse comments that he prefers to say he's an Indian because it's shorter than Native American. Muller shows us people, not causes.
LISTEN TO THE SILENCE is an absorbing read, moving from one gripping physical or psychological event to another so closely that there is no place where it is possible to stop. It is preceded in the 20-book Sharon McCone series by A WALK THROUGH THE FIRE, but is excellent as a stand-alone. Marcia Muller has won multiple mystery awards and this book is sure to meet her fansí high expectations.
July 2000 Review Originally Published on the Independent Reviews Site
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