There is only one word to describe the reader’s state of mind upon completing John Burley’s The Quiet Child: melancholia. While it is definitely crime fiction, it is quite unlike most books within this genre. Told in a style where thoughts, memories, and predictions merge with the action of the plot to create a miasma of emotion to such an extent that it is hard for the reader to shake loose from the novel’s unique grasp.
The Quiet Child is the story of the McCray family. Composed of four members – husband, wife, and two boys – the McCrays living in Cottonwood, California in 1954. This is a family dealing with more than their share of stress. Kate McCray is suffering in the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease and the youngest child has selective mutism (hence the title, The Quiet Child).
One evening, Michael McCray takes the boys on a trip to the grocery store for some ice cream. Actions at the store result in both boys being spirited away by a stranger who steals the family vehicle. It is unclear if the intention was to take the boys as well, but this does little to console Michael and Kate over the next hours as the local authorities investigate the abduction.
Sheriff Jim Kent is aware of the rumors about the quiet child – Danny McCray. Townsfolk keep their distance from Danny as they fear he is causing illness in everyone who gets near him. Flashbacks show readers how this mythology came to permeate the town. This level of paranoia has made the family pariahs and it is quickly clear that some folks couldn’t care less if the boys are ever found.
What follows is a story that hardly goes where the reader will expect it to. John Burley’s writing style is uncomplicated but the psychology behind the tale is anything but. Because of Burley’s medical background, there is an effortless weaving of medical related issues throughout the plot of The Quiet Child. As a historical novel, this makes for some fascinating insight into the way societies views on these topics have changed across time.
In addition to being a missing persons novel, The Quiet Child is also an indictment of society’s tendency to fear “the other.” Anyone who doesn’t fit a pre-defined mold is suspect. John Burley’s novel shows how destructive this mindset can be by reflecting things through the lens of this one family. There are no easy answers on display here, and readers looking for happy endings may wish to look elsewhere; but for those willing to succumb to the power of Burley’s words, The Quiet Child is a novel that will not soon be forgotten.
Disclaimer: A copy of this title were provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.