Silent Came the Monster

Written by Amy Hill Hearth
Review by Michael I. Shoop

Hearth’s fictional treatment of an actual series of brutal shark attacks that terrified people along the popular beaches of New Jersey’s coast in 1916 draws on a variety of sources to give the reader the real story of what happened that hot July, events that eventually sent shock waves throughout the country. Capturing the reader’s attention from the very first page, the fact-based story is related mainly by the fictional Dr. Edwin Halsey, a prominent small-town physician who harbors a harrowing secret concerning his own past that connects him to the current attacks.

From the very first incident, Halsey suspects that a shark is responsible, but is unable to convince anyone else of his concerns. He becomes a single-minded investigator, examining victims’ bodies and the sites of the monster’s attacks, phoning newspapers, sounding the alarm. However, with an outbreak of polio and the possibility of closing the New Jersey borders for the season, and rumors of a huge German submarine patrolling the coast adding to the confusion and fear, Halsey is up against conspiracy theories and disbelief and denials and panic.

Hearth creates a good balance of suspense, urgency, and real terror, her use of historical events and people—even Woodrow Wilson has a cameo―are appropriate and add to the authenticity of the era. Hearth’s characters, including Halsey; the tragic schoolteacher Margaret Atkins; Halsey’s strong-willed daughter, Julia; and the real-life eccentric Brooklyn taxidermist/animal trainer Michael Schliesser—who plays a vital role in determining and explaining the horrifying events of that summer—are well drawn and believable. This combination of historical events and thrilling suspense makes for a taut, compelling read. A list of resources is included.