Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on February 7, 2019
This is the GONE GIRL/GIRL ON THE TRAIN/WOMAN IN THE WINDOW suspense thriller de jour. It comes with mucho hype and it will result in mucho dinero. The concept is interesting: a woman has put five bullets in her husband's face and ends up in a psych facility, where she declines to speak. For a long, long time. She is an artist, her late husband a fashion photographer. A young psychotherapist hopes to persuade her to speak, though that will not be an easy task.

Something happened that resulted in the woman's silence. Probably something horrific. Something we don't yet understand. Something that is likely to come as a big surprise. Whenever we have a high concept novel with a boatload of uncertainties we are pretty much assured of a kicker ending and the book's success will rise or fall on the quality of that ending.

However, that poses problems. If we can't be sure of the integrity of the voices (the accused, silent murderess speaks through an extended diary; the novel is narrated by the young psychotherapist) we can't trust them, and since we know that a kicker ending is on the way we can't invest any real affection or empathy in the characters. That is a real problem, because the novel as a genre turns on the power of empathy which animates it (as Samuel Johnson was at pains to demonstrate). Thus, if the characters are all potentially unappealing and the setting is fairly pro forma (I wish I had a pound coin for every dark red brick building holding unspeakable secrets) the success of the novel comes down to plot and theme. There are no themes really, aside from the notion that things aren't always what they seem to be (Jim Thompson's major theme, but he was working in a pure noir subgenre that is quite different from the psychological thriller). Hence we are left with the plot.

The plot is very good and the story is very engaging, but the surprise ending is achieved through a bit of trickery which I will not describe because it would spoil the novel. One cardinal rule of crime writing is that the reader must be given the same information as the detective—no withheld facts and hence deus ex machina explanations. A corollary is that conscious misdirection is also verboten.

The writing is a step above pedestrian but it is not a large step. Bottom line: do not expect something really special such as THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, where all of the facts are given and they come together with stunning inevitability (along with unforgettable characters, lovely ruminations on the human condition and a succession of beautifully-wrought settings). THE SILENT PATIENT is a fairly commonplace thriller that has been hyped beyond its merits. The ending, ultimately, is fairly predictable and it is executed more like the conclusion of a penny dreadful than a modern masterpiece.
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