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by Andrew Taylor
Michael Joseph, April 2006
352 pages
ISBN: 0718147499

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I'm starting to think that the dysfunctional family suspense novel might just be approaching the serial killer side of things as one of the more tired-looking devices in the genre. And Andrew Taylor's A STAIN ON THE SILENCE did nothing to allay those suspicions.

I've never read anything by Taylor before, and given that he's been highly praised by people whose judgement I trust, I wonder now if I went in with over-high expectations.

A STAIN IN THE SILENCE isn't bad, incidentally. It's just not awfully special. It was one of those books that was perfectly diverting while I was reading it, but I didn't always feel very inclined to pick it up again once I'd set it down. And in the end I think I was reading more for what might happen, rather than what actually did happen.

And while we're on the subject, the book never quite delivered. There was one neat character twist towards the end which I never saw coming, but otherwise the ending in my view verged on the cop-out.

So how did Taylor get us there? Main character James is an architectural engineer with a nice house and a pretty partner called Nicky. His past returns to haunt him in the form of a phonecall from Lily.

Lily is the stepmother of James's best schoolfriend Carlo. He used to spend his summer holidays with them, and he and Lily had a brief fling when he was 16. Now Lily is dying of cancer and has some unwelcome news for James -- he's the father of a daughter, and she may have committed murder.

From this point on, the past returns to haunt James, and it looks like his well-ordered life will crumble around his ears. And he soon wonders who is telling the truth amidst all the chaos.

Now the snags. James has about as much get up and go as a wet weekend in Bognor Regis. And that's problematic, because in the end you start to think he pretty much deserves everything he gets. Some of his actions, particularly in his interactions with Nicky, make you want to reach out and shake him very hard.

When Nicky says to him at on point: "You know, James, even if all this is true, all this nonsense, I don't understand why you've got involved," it's hard to disagree. This sort of books relies on the reader believing that the character cannot escape from whatever is happening. Here, you can't help thinking that James could have walked away at any time.

Based on this evidence, Taylor's a very competent writer who can portray flawed characters and who can pace a novel well. But aside from that there's a little bit of sparkle missing that means he misses the Premiership in my rankings. Barbara Vine and Francesca Weisman, also in the Penguin stables, have both done the spooky blasts from the past so much more convincingly.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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