Katherine Howell’s latest novel in the Ella Marconi series, Silent Fear is utterly gripping, atmospheric and unputdownable.
Opening on a sultry Sydney day close to Christmas, the kind where skin sticks to leather and flies adhere to skin, paramedic Holly is summoned, along with her partner, to what appears to be a collapse at a nearby football ground. Only, when she arrives, the young victim hasn’t fainted from heatstroke as first suspected but been shot in the head. Discovering that her estranged brother is not only a witness, but a friend of the deceased, Holly senses that her carefully ordered world is about to fall about. So does detective Ella Marconi who, on arrival at the scene with her distracted partner Murray, recognises that what she’s now investigating is a professional hit with all the sinister connotations that evokes. The deeper Ella digs into this case, the more those involved are not who or what they seem and the truth proves to be more elusive than the killer.
Howell has this wonderful ability to create mood and place. As you read, you’re there in Sydney, sweltering in the heat, longing for the traffic to move again, for the wind to blow across your fevered brow. The plash of raindrops, the relief provided by cool drinks, coughing air-conditioners and the distant sounds of water is visceral. The evasions, lies and egos of the various characters that Ella (and Holly) endures, just adds to the sense of oppression and the simmering tensions between those who should be allies. The plot is so tightly woven, clutching you by the neck and dragging you into the ominous motivations of the seemingly innocent and certainly desperate. Each scene builds on the last until the climax explodes.
Characters are superbly drawn. You invest heavily in the central characters and anxiety runs high as their intentions are questioned and their hard-earned lives challenged. As usual, Ella is a believable, strong and reliable character that drives the narrative with her ethical approach to not only detective work, but people as well. Holly is a complex, deep woman who having lost everything once, stands to do so again. Alas, redemption and moral fortitude don’t always prevent tragedy from unfolding. Howell does not flinch from making the hard calls in that regard either, remaining faithful to the narrative and creating a story that is impossible to tear yourself away from. I lost three nights’ good sleep reading this book and it’s been worth every heavy-lidded day and yawn since. What a writer! What a book!
Can’t wait for the next one…