The Silent Boy

Written by Andrew Taylor
Review by Kristen Hannum

‘Say nothing. Not a word to anyone. Whatever you see. Whatever you hear.’

That warning begins The Silent Boy, where, in 1792, in the chaos of the French Revolution, 11-year-old Charles sees his mother brutally butchered. Charles is a smart boy, and even after his flight through streets filled with mobs and murders, even after he reaches a short-lived haven, he’s silent. He understands that he doesn’t know whom he can trust, and so: ‘Hush now. Don’t say a word.’

He won’t speak when he’s taken to the man who may be his father, a count, and he certainly won’t speak to the count’s creepy physician, who has horrifying, cutting-edge (for the time) notions about how to help the mute boy regain his speech.

Charles flees one Dickensian terror after another. The other protagonist, Edward Savill, who was married to and cuckolded by the boy’s mother, is trying to save him. Readers of Taylor’s earlier book, The Scent of Death, will recognize Savill, that book’s protagonist – but if not, I predict reading one book will mean you’ll read the other. The Scent of Death won the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award in 2013, and The Silent Boy was named the historical crime novel of the year by the London Sunday Times.

I found this page-turner immensely satisfying, and I was pleased to see its author, Taylor, has written other books, many of them also award winners. The Silent Boy is a perfect mix of light and dark, with compelling suspense, a measure of humor and insight, and always the feeling that you’re being swept along by a classic. It even has a good twist at its end. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t love this book.