READ DECEMBER 2013
ONLINE SUMMARY: The debut of Tyler Jones begins with the discovery of a corpse in the park.
MY SUMMARY: Tyler Jones, a journalist now working at home, discovers a body while walking her dog in a nearby park. Police identify the victim. Turns out, he has a connection to Tyler: Seems he broke into and trashed her home, where Tyler was sheltering his wife, a victim of his verbal, mental, and physical abuse. The cops on the case consider Tyler a suspect, so, like so many amateur sleuths, she sets out to solve the crime herself. Did the killer know the park was almost on Tyler’s doorstep, and dump the body to implicate her?
MY REVIEW: Dipping again into the well of “good-is-the-enemy-of-great”: As I’ve said before, I don’t totally buy into this adage, except maybe as a self-motivational tool. The phrase “curling up with a good book” has been around a long time, and I think there’s a reason it says good rather than great. So, while some books are really, really good, not all are “great,” and not all even aspire to be, at least not in the “Great Novel” sense. Think maybe I’ll post a page here on my feelings about good books, and why I think labeling a book as “good” isn’t a put-down. But, this is supposed to be a review, right? So…
Joan M. Drury’s The Other Side of Silence is a good book. Definitely. That I had a few issues with it doesn’t keep it from being either a good book or an enjoyable reading experience. There are a lot of positives here, and it’s too bad there are only three books in Drury’s Tyler Jones series, if the other two are the equal of this one.
Technical problems? Don’t recall any mechanical issues with the book, but then, Sprinsters Ink always featured pretty competent editing. The writing is coherent, the style literate without being literary. (I consider that a plus, FWIW.} The first-person narrative style is, except in a few places, about which, more later, matter-of-fact, casual, not unlike Randye Lordon or Kate Calloway, to name authors who might be more familiar so some of you.
Tyler Jones, the protagonist, is likable enough and admirable for her devotion to women’s issues, especially aiding women who have suffered any sort of abuse. Her housemate, Mary Sharon, is a nice complement to her, and their interaction provides almost all the book’s humor. (To be honest a little more humor would have been nice, not laugh-out-loud humor, just something to counterbalance to the weightier issues in the book.) There are enough other characters to help lend a feeling of depth, but, aside from Tyler’s mom, and the murder victim’s mistress they don’t contribute much to the story.
Unfortunately, likable characters, a cute pooch, and mechanically competent prose aren’t enough to overcome the book’s faults, not for me, at least.
Earlier, I mentioned the narrative style. In most places, it moves things along nicely, but, here and there, things r e a l l y drag. The biggest cause, I think, is the breaks in the story for Tyler to transcribe, for a book she’s writing, women’s stories of domestic abuse . The stories are heart-rending and anger-producing, to be-sure. However, their inclusion seems an intrusion, here, bogging things down unnecessarily, and further darkening the mood.
Lest you take exception to the above comment, I consider myself a feminist, have considered myself one for forty years, in fact, after reading Joanna Russ’ incomparable short story “When It Changed” in 1972. That, however, should have absolutely nothing to do with an objective consideration of whether this or any book is good or bad. (Are Orson Scott Card’s books worse now that we know he’s a homophobe and a racist?) I’m willing to bet that every reader of The Other Side of Silence, or any other book under the Sprinsters Ink imprint is, at least to a certain extent, a feminist, or sympathetic to women’s issues. For the observant browser, the back cover even says “Feminist Mystery.” Again, the women’s histories are moving, and deserve our outrage. Here, however, they’re, at best, preaching to the choir, at worst, overkill.
I also have a bit of a problem with the ending. Sure, I completely understand Tyler’s reason for dealing with things as she does, but find it ultimately unsatisfactory. Carlene Miller’s Lexy Hyatt mystery, Reporter on the Run, which ends similarly, also bothered me, but not as much, for whatever reason. Frankly, I have no idea how I’d handle a similar situation, so I guess that makes my criticism of Drury a little hypocritical. So be it.
Two other things, more in the nature of quibbles: Early on, a great deal is made of the fact that Tyler is (probably) crushing on homicide detective Carla George. but, after a certain point, perhaps midway through the book, it isn’t mentioned. This could have added another plot thread, creating greater depth. Why bring it up only to abandon it?. Also, there’s a brief flashback to a sex scene with Tyler’s former lover which is completely pointless, contributing nothing to the story.
Despite the problems I had with The Other Side of Silence, I still enjoyed it. To repeat, it was a “good” book, and, unfortunately, those don’t grow on tress. At some point, I’m sure I’ll check out the other two Tyler Jones novels.