Written by Mari Hannah — The Northumbrian police’s Special Branch is thrown into an uproar when veteran DI Jack Fenwick, who is the soul of integrity on the force, is arrested for selling illegal weapons. When the prison van that escorts him is hijacked, Fenwick disappears, along with what was left of his reputation. Recent events have also tainted his close friend and partner of many years, DS Matthew Ryan. When Ryan himself is unaccounted for during the tumult of Fenwick’s arrest, it’s discovered that he’s been regularly looking in on his blind sister Constance on the company dime. The timing is unfortunate and Ryan’s closeness to Fenwick, coupled with a weak alibi and a jealous co-worker who already has it in for him, means he is temporarily relieved from duty pending an internal investigation.
Ryan is batting for his mentor, who he is sure was framed, but he can’t do much swinging without his badge. He is more troubled still that his partner left him in the dark about a secret investigation he’d been conducting before his arrest and disappearance. Fenwick’s lawyer informs Ryan that Fenwick was on the verge of busting open a far-reaching network of corruption with deep stakes, but wouldn’t divulge any details. Now with the internal inquiry breathing down his neck, Ryan is overcome by the troubling maelstrom of events. He bears the burden of getting Fenwick acquitted and retiring to his family alive – they are counting on Ryan to save the day.
Mari Hannah is known for her Kate Daniels series, but this is a standalone novel. You will see right away that one of the author’s strengths is in her characters. Her keen ear for dialogue helps render vivid characters whose identities are solidified through their relationships with others while their internal conflicts impel the suspense of the investigation. If her compelling portraits of grief, jealousy and betrayal were not enough, leave some room on your plate for a healthy dose of romance too.
Ryan is the protagonist, but the winning character in The Silent Room may just be retired Special Branch officer Grace Ellis, who enters the fray early on. She gets wind of Fenwick’s so-called jailbreak from her armchair telly in St Tropez and jumps on the first plane back, eager to clear her friend’s name and escape boredom. She and former colleague Ryan launch their own investigation with the help of Frank Newman, Grace’s lover and former MI5 operative. As Ryan and Grace’s contacts in the force clam up, the suspended cop, retired bloodhound, and ex-spook are forced to set up their own command center, the silent room, to uncover a deeper game of systemic corporate greed.
The internal review of Fenwick and Ryan, led by DS Eloise O’Neil, seems to be progressing in a fairly objective way except that O’Neil’s partner, the embittered Maguire, who pines for Ryan’s former girlfriend, insists that Ryan himself is involved. As further events unfold, the badgeless Ryan goes from hero to zero. In the throes of grief, the rogue cop and company must rush to clear Fenwick’s name and close his case.
Hannah checks off all the boxes for this satisfying thriller, including solid characters and compelling conflicts. When Ryan discovers a cache of Fenwick’s notebooks he decides to disclose his own notes and finally make common cause with the authorities. An unlikely romance is kindled between Ryan and his beautiful scrutineer DS O’Neil when they finally join forces. Hannah also throws in a veritable travelogue of the gorgeous Norwegian coast, where the investigation leads Ryan and O’Neil for the final confrontation with the truth.
The Silent Room is a very competent procedural built around the common theme of corporate greed, but it is notably free of the cynical and graphic violence prevalent in crime fiction. It stresses instead redemption and hope. The book doesn’t skimp on tragedy, however, and if you think the Scandinavians corner the market on landscape-fueled angst, think again. The grieving detective collapsed on the rugged shores of the North Sea is just as starkly beautiful in its rendering as any Nordic vista.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars