Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Vermont Gothic Thriller: THE SILENT GIRLS, Eric Rickstad

It's been a few years since Eric Rickstad's first book, Reap, garnered so much attention and introduced the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont to a fresh set of readers. In THE SILENT GIRLS, Rickstad goes well beyond the ticking clock of suspense and the dangers of a thriller, to the very creepy aspects of a true Gothic. You know what I mean, if you've read Jennifer McMahon lately -- but subtract any chance of humor along the way.

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.

1 comment:

www.rickstad.com said...

Thanks Beth. Very kind of you. My wife and I plan to stop in and say hello when the weather warms. Cheers, Eric