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Listen to the SilenceReview - Listen to the Silence
by Marcia Muller
Mysterious Press, 2000
Review by Su Terry
Nov 23rd 2001 (Volume 5, Issue 47)

It is not unusual for children to wonder if they are adopted. In some case, they might look quite differently from their parents or siblings. Some of these children will discover that they are adopted, however, many will not. This is a natural part of the maturation processes of self-identification and individuation for some children. What, however, if you were no longer a child, but a 40-year old woman who had already come to terms with your physical and personality differences from others in your family when forced to face this issue? What if you discover that you were not who you thought you were and that your family had lied to you? These are some of the questions that confront the protagonist in Marcia Muller's new mystery, Listen to the Silence.

Listen to the Silence is set in contemporary California. Sharon McCone, a San Francisco private investigator, is at a family wedding when she is called aside and told that her estranged father has suddenly passed away. Her father has also left her "the dubious privilege of going through the stuff in the garage." In the process of sifting through his "stuff", Sharon finds a box of old papers that included her adoption papers. This is a major shock for Sharon who had spent a lifetime explaining away her obvious physical differences for other members of her family. When Sharon confronts Kay, the woman she grew up calling "Ma", Kay refuses to discuss the adoption and tearfully begs Sharon not to delve into the past. Querying older family members only compounds the mystery. Either everyone is still lying to her or no one was aware that she was adopted. Finally, her beloved uncle, Jim, suggests that she might want to focus her investigation on her great-aunt Fenella McCone. Fenella, a confirmed spinster and anthropologist, spent her life studying the family's Amerindian roots, but the year that Sharon was born, Fenella made frequent visited to Kay. Sharon's investigate into Fenella's research in hopes of learning the names of her birth parents and the truth behind her adoption, leads her into the complex world of Amerindian social customs and rituals, tribal politics, and finally, places her at the vortex of a legal battle for land rights between the tribe and big business. The skirmishes of this battle are not always fought in the courtroom, leading to mysterious accidents and suspicious deaths. As in any good western, the novel culminates with a shootout in an abandoned ghost town.

Marcia Muller is called "the Mother of the Modern Female Sleuth." Muller has received the Private Eye Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award (1993) and the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement in Suspense Award (1999). Muller introduced the character of Sharon McCone, private investigator, in her first mystery, Edwin of the Iron Shoes (1977). Since then, Muller has not only written many volumes in the McCone series, but she has also written a number of freestanding mysteries and contribute to a number of short mystery anthologies. She has also collaborated with her husband, Bill Pronzini, an equally lauded mystery and suspense writer, on a couple of mysteries. Listen to the Silence is the 22nd novel in the Sharon McCone mystery series.

While Listen to the Silence by Marcia Muller has all of the traditional elements of a mystery novel, i.e. sinister deeds, suspicious happenings, a few dead bodies, guilty suspects, and plenty of red herrings, the focus of the book is upon Sharon's adoption. This time her investigation is personal. She is forced to reflect upon the impact that her investigation is having and will have on other people. Is the search for truth worth the cost in human suffering? The issue of adoption secrecy is a very muddy issue involving intense pain and fear for all involved. One can understand the deep emotions of the adoptee's desire to know, the adoption parent's fear of be replaced, and the birth parent's curiosity, yet fear of being sought out years later. Unlike most mysteries, the reader is faced with ambivalence emotions towards the parties involved and their actions. In closing, I want to acknowledge that the situation and emotions described in this book bears some reality. A close friend of mine  found out he was adopted in the very same way described in this book. The night his mother died, he went looking for her insurance papers and instead found his adoption papers. While intensely curious, unlike Sharon, he decided not to investigate. I sit here holding this book and wonder, "should I give it to him?" I decide not to, to let sleeping dogs lie, and not to open any emotional cans of worms. I want to protect his feelings and sense of identity. Then I wonder, "Am I guilt of contributing to the secrecy?" The web of secrecy is very understandable when you are trapped in it yourself. A very thought-provoking mystery!

© 2001 Suzanne Garrison-Terry

Suzanne Garrison-Terry
Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, and a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary. She is currently completing a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University (July 2001). She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.

Interests in Mental Health: I am interested in the interplay between psychology and spirituality. My current research focuses on the role of hormonal fluctuation during puberty, pregnancy, and peri-menopause as a stimuli for mystical experiences. Through the study of autobiographical accounts of the mystical experiences of "historically accepted" female Christian mystics and additional biographical information, I am analyzing the connection between the onset of mystical experiences and biological data/symptomology for the potential existence of hormonal fluctuation or irregularity. If this sounds like an unusual topic, nota bene how many medieval female mystics began having "vision" on or about the age of 40!


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