The Silent Room | Mari Hannah | 2015, Pb 2016 | Pan | 408p | Bought copy | Buy the book
Disgraced Special Branch officer Jack Fenwick is in transit from court in Newcastle to prison in Durham when the vehicle carrying him is hijacked. The security guards are forced down to the ground while Fenwick walks, apparently calmly, to a waiting car. To the world this looks like nothing more than a bent copper being looked after by his own but DS Matthew Ryan, Fenwick’s sergeant and closest friend, knows otherwise. Ryan knows Fenwick better than anyone and is convinced that Fenwick has been abducted and his life is in danger. DI Eloise O’Neil is in charge of the investigation, a fair-minded detective, but she is well aware of how suspicious this looks for Fenwick and indeed for Ryan. Matters aren’t helped by O’Neil’s sidekick Sergeant Maguire who has personal reasons to hate Ryan and is out to bring him down.
Suspended, Ryan has no choice but to turn to old friends to help find Fenwick and prove his innocence – Grace Ellis, now retired from Special Branch, and her old partner Frank Newman. Grace is an influential, clever former operative, Newman has unique skills. Together with Ryan’s determination, along with a few clues carefully left by a frightened Fenwick, it’s only a matter of time before they uncover the nature and scope of the conspiracy that has caught Jack Fenwick in its lethal trap.
Mari Hannah is known to many for her superb Kate Daniels police procedural series. I might be late to it but I’m making up for lost time. I recently read and devoured Settled Blood (review to come) and bought its follow up, Settled Blood, while reading it. These are addictive, well-written novels with an outstanding central figure, DI Kate Daniels. They’re also located in the richly evoked setting of the North East. While The Silent Room shares the location of the Daniel novels, it is otherwise completely different – a stand alone novel featuring a new central character. I jumped aboard the Daniels series and I could see no reason to do otherwise with this. I’m so glad I did. I was immediately hooked, from the attention-grabbing opening chapter featuring Fenwick’s abduction, through to the dramatic and thrilling conclusion.
Matthew Ryan is a fascinating, living and breathing character. A man who is not only honourable but also one who deeply appreciates his mentor Jack Fenwick with whom he shares some life-defining personal experiences. Both men know all about loss, fear and weakness. It has made them better detectives. It has also made them close friends. Fenwick’s other close friend is Matthew’s blind sister, a remarkable, independent woman, whose relationship with Matthew is fabulously portrayed by Mari Hannah. This novel moves us away from the crime Fenwick is supposed to have committed. We are invited into the circle of friends and Special Branch operatives. We can have no doubt of Fenwick’s innocence from the outset. Here we have a group of people working closely together who are determined to prove that innocence. However, whether O’Neil will be willing to listen is another question entirely.
Through Ryan we get to know these other people well. Ryan’s relationship with Grace – the surrogate mother as Fenwick is the surrogate father – is tenderly drawn, realistically prickly and difficult but caring nevertheless. Likewise, we slowly get to know Newman as Ryan overcomes his distrust. There is a touch of sadness and tragedy to Grace’s relationship with Newman. There is so much in the past that this novel just hints at. I absolutely loved that. This is a rich, rich world into which Ryan allows us to to take a peek.
The mystery itself is a thrilling and clever one. There’s nothing straightforward here. For a while we’re moved into the cold world of spies and agents while, on the other hand, we still follow O’Neill and Maguire as they unpick at a police case that seems determined to re-knot itself. There are moments here of much sadness and this is one of those books which, against all expectations, did make me cry on the bus to work.
Mari Hannah is such a fine writer. Her characters feel real, complex and contradictory. The settings are marvellous and the plots are deliciously complicated and satisfactory. I’ve recently fallen for the DI Kate Daniels series and I would be more than happy if The Silent Room could mark the beginning of another series, this time featuring the intriguing and complicated Matthew Ryan, surely a man capable of giving Kate Daniels a run for her money.