Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Vermont Gothic Thriller: THE SILENT GIRLS, Eric Rickstad
A short first chapter, datelined Halloween, sixteen years earlier than the rest of the book, lays out a bloody and painful horror component at the start. But then THE SILENT GIRLS shifts apparent subgenres, becoming a classic police procedural, Frank Rath -- once a noted police detective in northern Vermont but working as a private investigator instead -- agrees to back up a local investigation into a missing teen. When Rath and his official colleagues find four more missing teens in the area over the past two years, the pattern hints at a serial killer. But the girls who are missing seem to have nothing in common: not body shape, grades, background. What could be the motive for their abductions? And is there a chance to save any of their lives? When one teen's body is found, the case takes on even more urgency.
Rath is a classic noir investigator, haunted by inner turmoil and guilt and a bad alcohol habit; his fellow investigators also show aspects that could make an employer uneasy, from anger to addiction of sorts. And what Rath has kept secret, especially from his adopted daughter, is erupting in unpredictable ways, thanks to an unexpected parole hearing for the killer who'd ended Rath's earlier career path.
Brace for dark, grim, and even horrific in this one -- an excellent interview with Rickstad (click here) tips a hat to the recent trends in Scandinavian crime writing, as well as to Stephen King. The book is smoothly written, tightly paced, with a taut plot that insists on quick reading. Clear the schedule (and keep the lights on).
A quick note to fellow Vermonters: Don't try to map the towns, roads, and counties that Rickstad lays out -- they're not where you'd expect. Pretend it's all new to you. Except, of course, for that grim stretch of late October and early November weather that's been called "locking time." That, and the cruelties of some Rickstad characters and plot twists, may feel familiar, after all.