Much better than its prequel: Book Review of Tony Parsons’ The Slaughter Man

I read my first Tony Parsons book at the end of 2018. Having been in the middle of a whole lot of stuff, I gave the book – the first one in the DC Max Wolfe series titled The Murder Bag – 3.5 stars on Goodreads and a super short review (check it out here). When I look back at that review though, I’m honestly surprised… because the second book in the series – The Slaughter Man – was a really, really good read.

More details follow below!

The Slaughter Man Tony Parsons
Source: Goodreads

Genre: 

Crime thriller, Suspense

Length: 

384 pages

Blurb:

A wealthy London family – mother, father, teenaged son, and teenaged daughter – are murdered in cold blood. The family’s youngest child is kidnapped. The weapon takes DC Wolfe and his team to a man who was convicted decades ago in the murder of an entire family, his choice of weapon earning him the nickname, The Slaughter Man. But the man, who has served his time, is now old and dying. Could he really be responsible for the new murders? And if not, was it a contract hit, copycat thrill, or revenge killing that resulted in the murder of an entire family? Can DC Wolfe find the right answers, and the missing child, before it’s too late?

Overall Rating:

8 out of 10

Plot:

9 out of 10

Characterization:

9 out of 10

Primary Element:

8 out of 10

Writing Style:

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is Part 2 in the DC Max Wolfe series. Although it can be read as a standalone, there are some references to its prequel. And I also feel that reading it in order will help the reader understand Wolfe’s character arc development better.

Highlighted Takeaway:

Heart. At its very crux, this book has a lot of heart. It shows people – ordinary people – trying their best to do the right things, and being prepared to face the consequences of that choice.

What I Liked:

The story itself – multilayered, addressing very real events the existence of which many people would find easier to deny, and built upon the basic and raw emotions that drive human beings.

What I Didn’t Like:

While Tony Parsons’ blunt style works really well for the stories he tells, it does at times feel choppy. But that was felt much less often in The Slaughter Man than in The Murder Bag.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys a gritty crime thriller.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who gets squeamish easily – this book has sections that just aren’t meant for the faint-hearted.

Read It For:

DC Wolfe. His character – a man who does the right thing because it’s the only thing he knows how to do while torn between being a good cop and good father – is raw, real, and very easy to associate with, and support.

The Slaughter Man only strengthened my interest in DC Wolfe and Tony Parsons’ writing – will continue to follow the series that seems to have a lot of interesting titles already out. If you like crime fiction, give the series a shot – it’s worth trying out for sure, even if you choose not to follow the entire thing.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this review!

– Rishika

Review: The Butterfly Garden (By Dot Hutchison)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 288 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

An isolated garden. Beautiful trees and flowers. And a collection of butterflies – kidnapped women intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes and whose beauty is captured and preserved. Overseeing all of this is The Gardener. When the FBI rescues the girls, they find themselves struggling to find answers. The girls are too damaged to speak or share what they’ve been through. Only one girl stands apart – Maya. Maya begins to take FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison through her story, and the story of many others interwoven with hers. More disturbing than they could have ever imagined, the story that Maya tells them takes them into the horrors of the Garden and The Gardener’s mind. Yet, something is missing, something is being held back. Maya is hiding something. Agent Hanoverian needs to get to the truth. Because uncovering Maya’s secret, or failing to do so, will affect the fate of every girl they rescued and the man responsible for their horror.

The Bottom Line:

A disturbing book with a good storyline, but that fails to pack a real punch.

My take:

One thing is for sure – The Butterfly Garden isn’t a book that everyone will be able to digest. The way the book plays out could be enough to make people extremely uncomfortable. The events and the psyche of its characters are quite disturbing and occasionally even make your skin crawl. One good thing though, is that it isn’t as bad as it could have been.

Hutchison skips over the most graphic details, choosing instead to focus on the events leading up to it, and after it, and how it made the characters involved, feel. And that’s done quite well, saving readers from the worst of it, but still showcasing enough of the fallout to evoke some empathy, sympathy, and disturbance.

The story and the premise itself are just about okay. I mean, it’s interesting enough to create a story where a man has an entire garden of women whose beauty is preserved in death. But the story has a lot of plotholes. Like, how did no one notice something wrong for so many years? Or why didn’t the captured girls fight back when they had the clear advantage of numbers? There are many other such plot-points which, I felt, should have been explored more to make the story more believable. If the end result would have been what the story said it was anyway, that would’ve been fine. But the question of What if would have been solved.

Hutchison tries to offer that solution through conversation. For instance, she does showcase how terrified the girls were of making any attempt at overthrowing their kidnapper that would be ‘almost’ successful. The result of the ‘almost’ aspect was certain death. Which is why no one ever tries anything. But showing this would have made it more rounded as a story, instead of just mentioning it in passing as Hutchison has done.

The style of the book is definitely unique. It switches between the third person – when the detectives are interviewing Maya, and the first person – when Maya relates her own story. The contrasting approaches actually made a pretty good combination, leaving you turning page after page.

Characterization was good, although a bit over the top in some cases. The detectives are very likable and I’m keen to follow their story arcs over the next few books in the series (apparently, they’re related, but can all be read standalone).

The two biggest problems with The Butterfly Garden were that (a) it didn’t actually become as creepy and psychologically troubling as it could have been (which is something people look for in the genre of psychological thriller or horror), and (b) a large part of the plot is anticlimactic.

I started this book expecting it to be one of those that burns disturbing images into your head and keeps you revisiting them for a while, especially in your nightmares. That happened to me with John Case’s Murder Artist. I couldn’t sleep for days after reading that one because it was incredibly disturbing, not from a horror perspective, but from the extent of “how far can people go”. A lot of people may have felt the same with The Butterfly Garden. But the book gave me half a sleepless night before I began to forget about it. What remained are those detectives, and I’d like to follow the series for them and the fact that Hutchison may not be the best in the psychological thriller genre, but her books do follow an interesting theme.

Should you read The Butterfly Garden? Definitely not if you get queasy easily. But, give it a shot if:

  • you like crime thrillers
  • you enjoy psychological suspense and thrillers
  • you are not easily creeped out by the atrocities and disturbing weirdness that this world is (probably) actually capable of
  • you want to read an interesting (but not excellent) thriller

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on The Butterfly Garden or recommend a good psychological thriller. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

P.S.: I’m going to take a few months off of reviewing books. I may occasionally review a short story here and there, but I’ll be back early next year in full swing to tell you which books to add to your TBR pile and which to ignore! In the meanwhile, if you’re interested, you can follow my photography adventures (and misadventures) on my Instagram handle: @rishikajhamb

Laters, Alligators!

Review: The Fallen (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 420 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker doesn’t want to take a vacation. But when his boss forces him to take a break before he risks burning out, he takes up his partner on her offer to travel to the quiet town of Baronville. The only thing on the agenda is to spend a relaxing time with Alex Jamison’s sister and brother-in-law, and to celebrate her niece’s upcoming birthday. But when a spark in the neighboring house catches Decker’s eye on the first night there, he rushes to help. And stumbles onto two bodies. When he discovers that they weren’t the first murders in the town, Decker is compelled to investigate. Soon, he finds that the small town of Baronville is hiding a large secret. As Jamison and Decker take on the case of six bizarre murders, their relaxing vacation turns into a fight for their lives. Someone does not want them finding out the truth, and they’re willing to kill anyone who gets too close. And this time, the Memory Man’s skills may not be enough to overcome the unseen forces that are threatening him, his partner, and everyone close to them, before it’s too late.

The Bottom Line:

Another thrilling ride in the Amos Decker series, The Fallen is packed with an odd but complimentary mix of violence, emotion, and a whole lot of character development.

My take:

The most notable thing about The Fallen is that it has the largest character arc development in the entire series. While this is true for all the characters of this particular franchise, it is especially so for Amos Decker.

The memory man is not the same person we met in the Memory Man. While the next two books in the series show us more about him, and his inability and desire to be more social, The Fallen is where that journey culminates. And, more importantly, where we see what Decker could be like should he actually develop the social niceties that are missing from his personality. It sort of makes you think about what will happen if what you’ve wanted from Decker’s personality would actually come true – and whether you’d be happy about it at all.

Story-wise, The Fallen is one of Baldacci’s most layered works. I’ve read a lot of Baldacci’s books and have come to expect some things from them, which leaves little room for being caught off-guard. But The Fallen still manages to surprise.

It’s a multi-faceted story that is complicated enough to keep you guessing, but not so complicated that it becomes tough to follow. It also moves really fast, jumping from one angle to another to keep you turning the pages. It’s an action-packed read that hits the ground running.

The Fallen is also surprisingly emotional at times. And although you’d expect this to conflict heavily with the fact that it has much more violence and gore than you’d have assumed, the contrasting approaches come together really well.

The book meets (and also exceeds) expectations of readers following the Amos Decker series. It is slightly better than its predecessor, and sets the tone really well for the next installment (I’m assuming and hoping that this isn’t the last one). I would rate the books in the entire series, thus far, as follows:

  1. The Memory Man (you can check out my review here)
  2. The Fallen
  3. The Last Mile (you can check out my review here)
  4. The Fix (you can check out my review here)

So, should you read The Fallen? Yes, if:

  • you like crime fiction
  • you want to continue on Decker’s journey or even try him out as a new series hero (this book can be read as a standalone but I would strongly recommend starting from the Memory Man)
  • you like David Baldacci’s work
  • you like multi-plot stories

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on Baldacci’s work, The Fallen, or even just to say Hi!

– Rishika

Review: The Innocent (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 422 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Government assassin, Will Robie, returns from two successful assignments in Tangier and Edinburgh to find that his next target is right in his home city – a government employee who needs to be eliminated for an unknown reason. But on the day, faced by the young woman he’s meant to kill and the child that’s holding on to her, Robie, for the first time in his life, hesitates. Before he realizes his mistake, a secondary shooter kills both mother and child. Robie manages to escape in spite of his handler leading him to the second shooter, and imminent death. Putting his personal escape plan into action, he heads to the bus station to get on the next bus to New York with a ticket booked earlier under an alias.

Fourteen-year-old Julie Getty has been forced into the foster care system due to a recurring drug problem faced by parents who have made numerous attempts to turn clean. When she receives a note from her mother stating that they want to make a new start as a family, Julie runs away from her foster home. Returning to her own house, she sees her parents being murdered by a lone killer. She manages to escape and heads to the bus station, coincidentally getting on the same bus as Robie in an attempt to leave town.

But the killer follows her on board. Robie stops him before he finishes his mission. Moments later, Robie and Julie get off the bus. And the bus is blown to smithereens. Unsure of who between them the target was, Robie feels compelled to protect Julie. But his plans to help Julie and save himself are brought to an abrupt halt when he’s called back in by his department to liaise with the FBI on the assassination-gone-wrong, and discover who had set him up. Now, Robie is working with FBI Special Agent Nicole Vance on a crime at which he’d been present. He knows that, somehow, everything is connected. Only by discovering how can Robie prove his innocence and save lives… including Vance’s, Julie’s, and his own. But, to do that, Robie needs to identify who he can really trust. Struggling to get to the truth in a web lies, Robie is running out of time. He needs to get to the bottom of things before Vance uncovers his real profession and the role he really played in the events of the night, and before more people around him are killed.

The Bottom Line:

A typical Baldacci political-crime-conspiracy-thriller that takes an oddly analytic look at assassinations and murder, and that introduces a hero with lots of potential.

My take:

The Innocent is a typical Baldacci book – it’s got the political angle, it’s got a hero who has a unique moral compass, and it’s got the crime thriller angle that keeps the pages turning. The story is complicated enough to be interesting and stops just short of becoming down-right confusing.

As expected from Baldacci’s work, the most intriguing aspect of The Innocent is the new hero it introduces. Will Robie is intrinsically a good guy with exceptional skills, and he’s an assassin for his government. He is a man trained to kill, he’s good at it, and he feels no remorse about his profession. The book often touches upon the concept of good vs. evil, and the reality that humans (even those like Robie) are essentially not one or the other. As a character, he is definitely interesting and, although I didn’t find the book as good as others by Baldacci, I definitely want to follow Robie’s development.

One thing that really stands out is the bluntness of the violence. It isn’t gory nor exaggerated in any way. It is oddly calculated. When Robie eliminates a target or sees someone dead, he perceives and analyses it with the strangest simplicity, practicality, and mundaneness. He does not think of life as cheap, as is made very evident. But the coldness with which he looks at death definitely adds a lot to his characterization.

The only downside, if I had to choose, is that the story was good, but could have been much better. It has a lot of build-up but ends up being slightly anticlimactic – not in delivery, but in the story itself. Maybe a couple of pages more about how the many different angles came together, and why, would have made the story more compelling, and consequently more fulfilling.

Should you read The Innocent? It doesn’t have to be the first David Baldacci you pick up, but it’s definitely one that should be on the list, even if it makes an appearance slightly later. Recommended to:

  • fans of David Baldacci
  • political-conspiracy-crim-fiction lovers looking for a new series
  • anyone who wants to read a fast-paced, slightly-complicated crime fiction

Read The Innocent or any other Baldacci books? Share your thoughts on Will Robie or whoever your favorite Baldacci character is in the comments below!

– Rishika

 

Review: The Sleeping Doll (By Jeffery Deaver)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 530 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

CBI Special Agent Kathryn Dance is the best in her field. She’s an expert in kinesics which makes her a very good agent and an exceptional interrogator. But she’s never tried to read someone like Daniel Pell. In 1999, Pell murdered an entire family, unwittingly leaving behind a young girl who was asleep, and hidden behind dolls. After eight years in prison, Pell evokes renewed interest by the CBI when new evidence connects him to another murder. The interview with Pell is meant for Dance to find the truth.

But things don’t go as planned. Within moments of the interview that leaves Dance unsettled, Pell is on the run, death and destruction in his wake. Now Dance has to rely on everything she could learn about Pell during the short interview as the CBI and local police begin an immense manhunt. But Pell behaves nothing like as escaped convict. He seems to have no interest in leaving the area. Dance struggles to identify the reason, and comes to a disturbing conclusion – she and Pell may be looking for the same person, the young girl who survived, the one called The Sleeping Doll. And as Pell outsmarts Dance and her colleagues at every step of the way, she begins to fear that her inability to read him might cost even more lives, especially those of the ones close to her.

The Bottom Line:

An interesting enough crime thriller, whose most positive factor is the technicalities of the protagonist’s profession.

My take:

I started reading Jeffery Deaver with his first novel, The Bone Collector (check out my review of that one here). What was most impressive about that book was the detail to the technicalities of forensics.

The Sleeping Doll mirrors Deaver’s skill in that regard. It goes into quite a lot of detail about kinesics, without becoming text-bookish. In fact, the theoretical angle actually paves the way for the story to move forward in many places.

The protagonist, Katheryn Dance, is… strange. For whatever reason, you don’t exactly like her right away. In retrospect, I think it’s because of her excessive ability to understand people’s actions, which makes her oddly reaction-less to a great extent (even though she isn’t emotion-less). She initially comes across as an aloof individual, but grows on you as the story proceeds and her personality unfolds.

Although the antagonist, Daniel Pell, is shown (through repetitive mentions by other characters) to be an extremely dangerous, sadistic psychopath, his character just didn’t have enough of a cringe factor to drive the point home. He falls short, seeming more like a villain who tries very hard to be coolly insane, but only manages to remain basically-negative.

As a story, The Sleeping Doll definitely has a lot of twists. As can be expected from Deaver’s work, it does a good job of maintaining the suspense until revelation time. Yet, it does seem to fall short of being an edge-of-your-seat-thriller. And I’d chalk this up to Pell’s character too. To be honest, he just wasn’t as scary as everyone in the story claimed him to be. And since most of the storyline is based on how brilliant and devious he is, the lacking in characterization greatly affects the overall feel of the book.

The supporting characters are (as expected) strong, with each person adding interesting elements to the story. You really associate with a lot of the characters, and Dance too, until you are invested enough to want to know what happens next. Which is why I would definitely continue to read the Dance series. I’d recommend this book to:

  • fans of crime fiction and crime thrillers
  • fans of Jeffery Deaver (may not be as good as the Rhyme series, but is definitely worth reading for its typical Deaver-ness)
  • fans of shows like Criminal Minds and Lie To Me (which I haven’t seen but know the premise of; I find some similarities in that and the kinesics-interrogation approach this book takes)

Let me know what you thought of The Sleeping Doll (or if I should ever actually watch Lie To Me)… share your comments below!

P.S.: I still prefer the Lincoln Rhyme series, although that may be because I’ve read more of them and there’s been significant character development. But, I’m still very keen to see where Dance’s story takes her.

Until the next book.

– Rishika

 

Review: Into The Darkness (By Sibel Hodge)

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Source: Goodreads

Length:

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Eighteen-year-old Toni wants to study criminal psychology to be able to help people, especially children, affected by the evil deeds of which psychopaths are capable. But a week before her university course begins, she discovers something horrifying in the deepest corners of the internet. Before she is able to wrap her head around what she’s seen, she finds herself attacked, abducted, and locked in a dark cell. With no help from the police, Toni’s mother turns to an old friend for help. Ex-SAS operative, Mitchell, has seen the worst that the world and its people have to offer. He knows that evil is not a concept of fairy tales, but a very real threat that can exist in the form of anything and anyone. Uncaring about the law and only concerned with quick justice, Mitchell is a vigilante with a mission – bring Toni home safe, no matter what it costs.

DS Warren Carter has been a detective for so long that the job and the growing lack of justice are beginning to make him grow weary. He is two weeks away from retiring from the force and taking up a different job. Then, he’s called in to investigate the double murder of a simple, seemingly normal couple. Nothing is what it seems in the case. DS Carter is short on staff and has almost no support from his overbearing, bureaucratic boss. Yet, he won’t let the case go, relying on the instincts that have always had his back to try and solve the cold-hearted, heinous crime. But the case isn’t simple, and DS Carter finds himself falling into the depths of a world that is more twisted and evil than he could have ever imagined.

Time is running out for Toni as Mitchell tries desperately to find her in a world of shadows where anonymity is pivotal. And DS Carter is beginning to question everything he’s ever known. The Missing, the Vigilante, and the Detective are caught in a dangerous game, one that offers threats at every turn, and that none of them may win.

The Bottom Line:

An interestingly told thriller that does not shy away from the gory stuff, hits you in the face with the truth that you’d rather never know, and spins an intricate, well-plotted tale that is not made any less enjoyable by its predictability.

My take:

Writing in the first person isn’t always easy. Not too many people like the approach so you have to be exceptionally good at it to ensure that your audience can associate with the character they’re following. Writing from different points of view consistently isn’t easy either. It’s altogether too easy to get their personalities mixed up, and end up with one’s style seeping into the other.

Yet, Sibel Hodge does both these things with brilliant precision in Into the Darkness. 

The story follows a vigilante who believes that justice is best served instantly, a missing girl whose desire to help people takes her into the depths of unspeakable horror, and a detective who’s been worn down by the injustices he’s witnessed in his career but still, desperately, needs to trust in the legal system. All three are gray characters, and Hodge’s style allows you to follow their internal battles and really get into the story. She doesn’t break their characterization at all, which adds to the association that readers develop for the characters.

The story itself is quite interesting. It is based on a topic that has been done previously (in movies and books) – the dark web – but still manages to be fresh in its approach. It’s also painfully graphic, so those who aren’t used to too much gore may have a few cringe-worthy moments while reading. When you look beyond the near-horrific narrations though, you see that it’s less about the activity and more about the people behind it. Into the Darkness focuses a lot on what people, good and bad, are really capable of; on how far someone can go, how malleable their morals can become, if they’re motivated by greed and insane fetishes, or the desire to help people and enable justice.

The book proceeds at a good speed, taking you from one POV to another and back as you turn pages wondering just how (and even if) these three arcs meet. It’s not immensely unpredictable, but there are definitely some shock-factors. The characters within the story have apparently made appearances previously in other works, but the story is complete in itself. All in all, Into the Darkness is a well-paced, intriguing thriller; and while I wouldn’t say that this should be the next book you should read, it definitely should be on the TBR pile of anyone who enjoys the genre or wants to venture into it.

Recommended to:

  • those who enjoy thrillers
  • those who enjoy multi-POV or first-person focused books (both these aspects are done extremely well)
  • those who like crime fiction

A big thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of this book. It led to me discovering some very interesting characters and a new author to follow. Share your thoughts on how you liked (or are waiting for) Into the Darkness and any other books by Sibel Hodge in the comments section below.

Into the Darkness releases on 3rd June, 2018.

– Rishika

 

 

Review: Silent Child (By Sarah A. Denzil)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 416 pages

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Emma was only twenty-four when her six-year-old son wandered away from school during a flood and was never seen again. She watched as they pulled his red coat out of River Ouse. They never found his body, but everyone knew what had happened – young Aiden had drowned. The tragedy tore her and Aiden’s father apart even before they could truly come together. When her parents died a few years later, Emma felt truly and completely alone.

But ten years after the flood that took her son from her, Emma has moved on as much as humanly possible. She found happiness again with her new husband and is weeks away from having a daughter. Life finally seems to have turned in her favor. And then Aiden returns.

Aiden is too traumatized to speak. But the signs of years of abuse and neglect evident on his small, frail body reveal the truth – Aiden hadn’t drowned, he had been kidnapped, and caged and tortured for ten years. And someone in their small town is responsible for the heinous act. Emma attempts to reconnect with her now-teenaged son but finds that she may not know him at all. Aiden has the answers she wants, but he can’t speak. And as Emma desperately searches for the answers that can help Aiden get justice, the world she’d carefully build begins to crumble all around her. And this time, she may not be able to survive the fallout.

The Bottom Line:

A book that has an interesting premise and well-developed characters, but that falls short due to its predictability and small, but many, inconsistencies.

My take:

The best part about Silent Child is the character of Emma. She is shown, through actions over the course of the story rather than in just a few narrative paragraphs, to be a very human, very raw person who deals with life because, like in reality, you don’t have any choice but to do so.

You clearly see her growth where she goes from a young, teenaged Mom, to a broken woman, to someone who finds it within herself to do that which is necessary for her survival, and the protection for her family. At the same time, you see the immense stress this causes her as she occasionally breaks down, makes very human mistakes, but moves on to try and do the right thing. In other words, her character is very realistic in its strengths and flaws, and the development of this personality over the course of the book is really well done.

Which is why the few random mentions of pro-feminism and anti-sexism seem so out of place. I have nothing against either of those concepts. But Emma’s story isn’t about that; it is about a parent’s fight for the protection and justice of their child. It doesn’t matter that she’s a woman, she is just a strong person. And Denzil does a great job of depicting this until those obscure moments, which honestly seem like jumping on the slimmest opportunities to toss in a social angle. From a reader’s perspective, it just seemed like unnecessary fluff to an otherwise good character arc.

The premise of the book is very interesting. Unfortunately, the story is just as predictable (at nearly every point of apparent suspense/revelation). The pace of the book is good, but it does seem like an equally effective story could have been told with a few pages reduced. There are sections that seem to go on for no reason.

The storytelling style isn’t as established as many others I’ve read, but by no means does Denzil come across as a novice. In fact, some parts are really well written, while the majority is well above average. The characterization has a similar feel where Emma’s personality is really well-developed, but the others just… hang about… until useful.

The most irksome part, though, is the loose ends. A lot of points brought up during the book seem to go nowhere and are never explained. A large part of this is related to Aiden and his story itself. The book ties up well on the major plot points but could have delved deeper into some smaller aspects (that’s where those extra pages should have been used).

Thrillers place a lot of importance on unpredictability and suspense development. Unfortunately, Silent Child falls incredibly short on both. Yes, you turn the pages out of curiosity, but you’re not compelled to do so. And the twists and climax are altogether too predictable. So, I would recommend that you go for this book only if you’re really out of options for thrillers and crime fiction. There are some great ones out there that’ll probably make for a better read.

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on Silent Child and this review.