Sometimes staying silent is the only way to stay alive.
Sarah Hilary returns with the fourth book in her DI Marnie Rome series and I must start this review by admitting I haven’t read the first three books. Yet, my enjoyment of the book as a stand alone narrative shows its strength and the strength of its author. The characters are so engaging and the writing is so well-crafted that I want to read the first three books to learn more about the characters and the common story weaving throughout the series involving Marnie’s foster brother Stephen Keele.
Quieter than Killing begins in the middle of a series of seemingly unrelated attacks on people who were all convicted of crimes in the past and who are all just out of prison. Marnie and DS Noah Jake are investigating the assaults when Marnie’s childhood home, a place in which a horrible crime was committed six years before, is ransacked and her current tenants are attacked. It soon becomes clear that this wasn’t just a random burglary and was committed by someone with a very personal message for Marnie. Strangely, there are signs that the burglary was committed by a group of children and that they might be connected to the vigilante attacks. As Marnie and Noah investigate deeper, they, and the people closest to them, become embroiled in a dangerous underground web of criminals.
There is a lot going on in this book due to its series of subplots and parallel storylines. We are introduced to the storyline of a ten-year old boy that has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in a house by a man he doesn’t know and it is a while before we find out how this is linked to the rest of the book. In addition, there are plenty of distractions along the way: Noah’s concerns about his brother Sol and his partner Dan, the investigators’ feelings towards their new boss Ferguson, and Marnie’s exploration of her family and its past. The sheer number of interconnections and crossovers between the different subplots might have become confusing or disorienting for another author, but Hilary handles this perfectly. All of these different narratives weave intricately together, as Hilary brings together a group of characters all connected by their involvement with the dangerous world of London street gangs.
In fact, London is expertly portrayed throughout the book, particularly in the characters’ dialogue. Hilary firmly locates her characters, whether they are police officers, criminals, or victims, within the established tradition of the tough city, where everyone is street smart and their dialogue is sharp, witty, and tinged with years of self-defense and self-preservation. We get a very real sense that each character, for reasons revealed to the reader or not, has experienced extreme hardships in their lives, and that London is a tough place in which to live. In particular, London is shown here in the midst of a cold snap, which perfectly reflects the type of city and characters experienced by Marnie and Jake in the course of their investigation. This is a cold, bleak world in which every decision is made, and every word is said, on thin ice.
Quieter than Killing is refreshing because there is a very strong sense that characters are central to this story rather than the fine details of the crimes committed. At times, the Crime genre can become overwrought with the minutiae of crime scenes and the back stories of all involved. Here, Hilary strikes the perfect balance between what we need to know about the crime scenes, the back stories of the characters and their situations, and the development of plot, a balance that is sometimes forgotten in this genre.
Sarah Hilary won the 2015 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year for Someone Else’s Skin, the first book in the series, which was also her debut novel. Hilary is certainly one of the strongest and most distinctive voices in the Crime genre today.