In the Silence of Decay
by Lisa Boyle
Genre: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense / Crime
Print Length: 398 pages
Reviewed by Erin Britton
A fast-paced & gripping crime novel following an unlikely pair of detectives focused on a suspicious death
As if stumbling upon a dead body isn’t bad enough, an unlikely pair find themselves embroiled in a dangerous world of drugs, corruption, and secrets in In the Silence of Decay. Is this what you’d call quality father-daughter time?
Linda Morris has arranged to meet someone at a gas station off the reservation. She knows it’s a strange place for an assignation, but it seems safer than meeting somewhere nearer to home, especially at night. The only wrinkle in her plan is the fact that, after the sitter canceled at the last minute, she’s had to bring her non-verbal young son, Adriel, with her. “Linda thought about how lonely she’d been recently. After finding out what she had about her own husband. The man who had held her when she was at her lowest. The man she thought she knew. And then, her sister turned on her, too.” Still, she’s sure that she’s doing the right thing.
Fourteen-year-old Molly Pinter is also having an uncomfortable meeting, in her case in the parking lot of a truck stop in a particularly isolated section of the Texas Panhandle. Fortunately, the man she’s meeting is her estranged father, James “Jimmy” Pinter, a former military policeman turned truck driver. “Molly stared at her father like he was a stranger. And to her, he was. […] She had no memories of this man. Only stories.” James had always intended to marry Molly’s mother, always after the next deployment, but somehow it had never happened. Now she’s dead.
Stuck with each other and on their way to deliver his current load, Molly and James break their journey at a rest stop on Navajo land in New Mexico. While James fills up the truck, Molly heads inside to freshen up and buy a drink. On her way back, Molly spots movement under a nearby tree. “It was a boy. Curled up with his knees to his chest. Lying on his side.” The boy can’t talk but he seems to trust Molly and indicates that there’s something she needs to see. Together, they walk farther into the trees, with Molly looking around to see what he means. “But then she saw the body. She gasped and brought her hand to her mouth.”
When Molly shows James the body, his initial assumption is that the woman died of an overdose, the same things that killed Molly’s mother, although he does notice a few odd things about the scene. However, when the state police quickly reach the same conclusion, James’s doubts get the better of him and he decides to take a detour to the Navajo reservation to find out more. When Molly asks why, he explains: “Something about that woman’s death doesn’t sit right with me. I’m worried about the kid.” Sure enough, the more he looks into things, the more suspicious he becomes, and soon James and Molly find themselves on the hunt for a killer.
In the Silence of Decay is a well-paced murder mystery that straddles the line between the crime and thriller genres. Lisa Boyle has crafted a twisting, elaborate puzzle concerning the death of Linda Morris, which unfolds in a measured and often unexpected ways as the story progresses. The inclusion of a good number of suspects, potential motives, and diverting red herrings makes it difficult to guess where the plot is heading, which means the identity of the killer and the reasoning behind the murder are kept tantalizingly hidden until near the end of the book.
Aside from the whodunit and whydunit aspects of the story, In the Silence of Decay is notable for Boyle’s exploration of the various complex characters and their evolving relationships. James and Molly initially have only a distant relationship, one characterized by uncertainty and mild distrust due to them having been estranged for around a decade, although they slowly begin to bridge the gap between them as they investigate Linda’s death and realize that they have few other people to trust. The transformation of their relationship from one of near strangers to a dynamic father–daughter crime-fighting duo is both touching and authentic, adding depth and humanity to the story.
The supporting characters, particularly Officer Wayne Tully, crusading reporter Gloria Fenwick, Linda’s sister Kay, young Adriel, and even the malevolent Cody family, add further richness to the plot, opening up new avenues for the investigation and revealing different facets of James’s and Molly’s personalities. James’s interactions while looking into Linda’s death highlight his tact, insight, and willingness to develop meaningful connections with all kinds of people, to say nothing of his ability to throw down when circumstances require, while Molly’s steely determination and sense of justice come to the fore as the investigation progresses and she starts to come to terms with her mother’s death.
Boyle relates In the Silence of Decay from the alternating perspectives of James, Molly, Kay, Gloria, Adriel, and a few others, which provides a multifaceted perspective on events and elucidates the different characters’ ideas and perceptions regarding Linda’s death. This technique allows her to slowly reveal her characters’ motivations and secrets, building the mystery and tension step by step until the final denouement. In this way, the various characters really come to life, provoking pathos, understanding, and more occasionally, disgust.
Much of the story takes place on the Navajo reservation where Linda lived with Adriel and her husband George. This setting adds an extra layer of cultural richness to the story, allowing Boyle to demonstrate the fruits of her research into Navajo culture and traditions. For instance, the Navajo characters are reluctant to speak Linda’s name for fear of delaying her spirit’s journey to the afterlife. Boyle weaves the challenges faced by the Navajo people, their treatment by the authorities, and their exploitation by greedy corporations into the story, thereby shining a light on thought-provoking and socially relevant matters while also delivering an enthralling crime novel.
With its intriguing—though not always likable—cast of characters and intricately crafted murder mystery, In the Silence of Decay is an engaging start to Boyle’s planned series featuring James Pinter and his courageous daughter Molly.
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