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Thursday, 11 February 2016

‘The Silent Room’ by Mari Hannah

Published by Macmillan,
19 November 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4472-9104-6 (HB)

Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels series has earned her a lot of plaudits and a great many fans, and it’s good to see her spread her wings a little further – though she doesn’t stray far from her beloved Northumberland, and as in her earlier books, the beautiful coastal landscape comes to life as a perfect background for a page-turning story.

Matthew Ryan is a Special Branch sergeant whose boss and best friend Jack Fenwick is under investigation for serious corruption by Professional Standards. Eloise O’Neil is the Detective Superintendent doing the investigating. Not exactly a partnership made in heaven, you’d think; and indeed, for the first half of the book they are firmly on opposite sides. Ryan is suspended, under suspicion of helping Fenwick escape from a prison van, and determined to prove them both innocent despite the handicap of no warrant card and no access to information.

Ryan isn’t Special Branch for nothing, and he has his methods. Hannah creates a well-rounded, absorbing cast of characters around him as he digs deep and bends the rules in the battle to clear Fenwick’s name, and uncovers a wide-ranging conspiracy while he’s about it. Grace Ellis is a terrier-like retired senior detective with fingers in all kinds of useful pies. Frank Newman is ex-MI5, equally useful and suitably shadowy. Ryan’s lawyer sister Caroline is the most competent blind person I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

Over on the other side, Maguire, O’Neil’s bagman, is thoroughly objectionable, as befits a Professional Standards officer, and determined to thwart Ryan at every opportunity. In contrast, O’Neil herself is fair, well respected and not afraid to admit she has been wrong: a far cry from the usual portrayal of Professional Standards officers in crime fiction.

Character is Hannah’s second strength after landscape, and the many minor players, good guys and bad, are well drawn too. That sense of life going on beyond the page permeates the entire narrative.

The narrative falls into two distinct halves, but is no less pacy and gripping for that. Between them, Ryan and O’Neil pick apart a conspiracy and cover-up which spreads over several countries and has claimed many lives, and along the way negotiate quite a bit of unresolved sexual tension, some of which remains unresolved to the end, though never at the expense of the plot. The Silent Room is a standalone – except that a tantalizing loose end is left dangling as a strong hint that we haven’t seen the last of this intriguing pair, and not only because of that URST!

The Kate Daniels series has already raised Mari Hannah’s profile as a crime writer; new series or standalone, this book can only enhance that reputation.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Mari Hannah was born in London, She now lives in a small Northumberland village with her partner, a former murder detective. Mari became a writer after her career as a Probation Officer was cut short following an assault on duty. She began using a computer because it was too painful to write with a pen. Ironically, the idea that she might one day become a writer then began to form in her head.  She tried different forms of writing before settling on prose, and spent several years scriptwriting. She then  turned her attention to the BBC, pitching a television serial based on characters in her then unfinished debut crime novel The Murder Wall. After completing the TV script, she went back to the book she had started years before but somehow never thought she’d finish.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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