I will confess at the outset that I am not as familiar with the work of Andrew Taylor as I should be. He is one of those authors who I know better from reputation than actual reading experience. I am resolved to rectify that situation in 2010 after reading A STAIN ON THE SILENCE, his latest book to be published in the United States. It is a haunting work that elicits enigmatic and disturbing memories that echo long after the reading is complete.
A STAIN ON THE SILENCE is a stand-alone work that has been in print in Taylor’s native England for several years, but only now is being released in the U.S., even as some of Taylor’s subsequent books have been available on this side of the ocean for a bit. I can think of several reasons for the delay, but the quality of this tale would not be one of them. A writer at any stage of his or her career would be happy to create this work. It is based on a singular premise that is the heart of a fear of many men, one that is visited upon the troubled protagonist James.
James has a good job, a satisfying if childless marriage, and a nice house. But everything comes unraveled when he receives a phone call that revisits the sins and secrets of his past --- acts that occurred when he was barely out of his childhood. Over the course of an afternoon, James learns that he has an adult daughter who is pregnant and is about to be accused of murder. Taylor spins his story out along twin tracks, one of which bears witness to the systematic destruction of James’s predictable and comfortable life, the other of which reveals the secrets of his past that now threaten to ruin him.
As James himself notes at one point, no one knows the full story of what happened surrounding the events when he attended boarding school and began an affair with the mother of his best friend, the unpredictably violent Charles. And, as we come to learn in the pages of A STAIN ON THE SILENCE, even the full story may not be the truth entirely --- either in the past or in the present. The story of Kate, the grown daughter who James never knew he had, simply does not add up, whether it concerns her relationship with Charles or with the married man whom, she says, she will be accused of murdering. When James attempts to uncover the truth, the past and the present intersect, colliding violently and with irrevocable results.
Wonderfully written and carefully plotted, A STAIN ON THE SILENCE has one of the most interesting and challenging endings since Dennis Lehane’s SHUTTER ISLAND. It also provides a lesson for the gentlemen in the audience: we are doomed to be left baffled and slack-jawed by the women in our lives should they deign to leave us so. Like James, we never had a chance.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011