Written by Jack Fredrickson — Author Jack Fredrickson is based in Chicago, and has written four crime thrillers featuring a down-and-out Windy City investigator called Dek Elstrom. This is a standalone story, but still set in Illinois. Silence the Dead begins in 1982 in the little town of Grand Point. The simple but voluptuous teenager Betty Jo Dean is flattered when an ex-marine called Paulus Pablinski asks her out. When she finishes her dismal shift at the local telephone exchange she hurries to meet him for a first date.
Problem is, every bar and joint in Grand Point is full of guys who know who she is and think they know what she is. That first date is destined to be the last as the pair vanish from the sight of men. Pablinski’s body is found the next day, and a couple of days later his corpse is joined in the mortuary by that of Betty Jo.
Fast-forward to the present day. The mayor of Grand Point, Mac Bassett, is in trouble. His restaurant-bar is the latest of his business schemes to fail. He and his feisty ex-wife are struggling to attract customers, and suppliers are demanding payment. Add to that, he is facing a potentially ruinous legal case brought by a former political rival over a petty lapse in due diligence. His problems get worse when a waitress at his restaurant asks him to use his mayoral clout to investigate the 30-year-old death of Betty Jo and her date.
Bassett starts to turn over stones, and isn’t surprised when it looks like there’s been a cover-up. He is driven on by the hostility he meets but finds support from his exasperated but loyal business partner, a former reporter who covered the original case, and another journalist whose sister was an innocent victim of the original cover-up. When Betty Jo’s younger brother also steps up to seek the truth about his sister’s death, a new impetus is given to Bassett’s investigation. The powers that be are forced to grant an exhumation of Betty Jo’s body and the battle lines become even more clearly defined. Bassett soon realises that it’s not just his reputation that he’s trying to save, but his own life.
The storyline of a small town, a dead girl, and powerful men with dark secrets locked in their hearts is hardly new, but if this is a familiar tale, in Silence the Dead it’s a tale told well. Mac Bassett is an endearing enough hero with enough integrity to keep chipping away at the mystery, but with enough character flaws to make him believable. There is little mystery about the probable identity of the villain, and none at all about the motive, but the question of how will keep you turning the pages.
The final showdown is too melodramatic, but the structure of Silence the Dead works well, with the post-exhumation examination kicking things off, and then being described again later in the story. Most of the book has you watching Bassett go about his business, but the early section when we see the case through the eyes of reporter Jacob Ridl doesn’t detract from the flow, and Fredrickson does well to return to Ridl at key points in the storyline. Without being at all out of the ordinary this is a good entertaining read which will leave no-one disappointed.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars