Book Review: Say Nothing

Say Nothing, by Brad Parks, is a crime thriller written from the point of view of an unusual protagonist – an American federal judge. These powerful justices are appointed for life, unless deemed unfit for the role due to breaking their oath of impartiality and fairness under the law. They may sentence as they consider appropriate. Rulings may be grumbled about but are rarely questionned.

The Honorable Scott Sampson enjoys the privileges of his elevated position to the full. He can take time out every Wednesday afternoon to go swimming with his children, six year old twins, Sam and Emma. Their home is a secluded farmhouse on the banks of the Chesapeake river with a broad swathe of woodland protecting them from public roads. His beautiful wife, Alison, holds down a challenging and worthy job working with children too intellectually disabled to attend mainstream schools. A foreign student, Justina, provides childcare in exchange for accommodation in a cottage on their land.

The story opens on a swimming day. Scott receives a text from his wife to tell him the twins have a doctor’s appointment so she will collect them from school. That evening, when she returns home, she is alone. They get a call informing them that if they ever wish to see their children again they must follow instructions that will be sent regarding a case due before the judge the next day. They are to say nothing to anyone about what is happening. If the kidnappers even suspect that they have sought help they will start chopping off the children’s body parts.

Scott feels that he has no choice but to comply. He also understands that he is only useful to these criminals if he can retain his position. Thus begins an intricate web of deception during which he must convince his colleagues that he is fit for his role whilst obeying the diktats being sent to him. Always he is trying to work out who is behind this nightmare scenario, and how to reach an end game that will see his kids returned to him unscathed.

The pressure Scott is under throughout is well evoked. He scrutinises everyone he knows in a desperate attempt to uncover how the kidnappers acquired access to his family along with a wealth of private information. His marriage is put under strain as he and Alison each suspect the other of indiscretions. At work his unusual behaviour must be convincingly explained.

The reader is offered snippets of what is happening to the twins but the mystery is what final outcome the kidnappers desire and why. Seen through Scott’s eyes, trusting anyone becomes a challenge. The pace of this unusual crime thriller gradually increases towards a shocking denouement.

Although there are cliches within the story – a picture perfect wider family, male ‘banter’, a beautiful wife, a professionally successful man who still finds time for his young children – the strength of the writing took me beyond these and wound me in. This was an engaging and pacy thriller. A fine UK debut for an author I would happily read again.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Faber and Faber. 

How to be an author – Guest post by Brad Parks

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Today I am delighted to welcome Brad Parks, author of Say Nothing, to my blog. In this guest post Brad shares his thoughts on what it takes to write a book. 

 

Having lurked around this blog, I’m aware that Jackie, my gracious host at Never Imitate, Jackie, is a woman interested in all things writing.

And given that I’m the new guy here – Say Nothing is my first book to release in the UK – I probably ought to just shove my hands deep in my pockets, mumble something nice about how you should write what you know, and call it a guest blog post.

Yeah, to hell with that.

I’m here. I’m going to rant. Because while I may be new around here, I’m not new to the writing community. I’ve hung around the bars, the conferences – and, most importantly, the bars at the conferences – long enough. I hear people talk about “talent” (such a misleading word), or “genius” (oh, please) or, worse, “inspiration” (I’ve got your muse right here in my pocket, pal).

And I feel like there’s one thing writers never talk about enough:

Stubbornness.

By stubbornness, I mean gamely bashing your head against the laptop screen – repeatedly and without letting up – until the words come out right; and then keeping at it, day after tormenting/boring/seemingly pointless day, until the whole manuscript comes out right.

And that has nothing to do with talent; or some kind of God-given genius; or, most of all, some blasted muse that will fly down on gossamer wings and alight on your shoulder.

It has to do with grit. And tenacity. And deciding you are simply going to be tougher than everyone else alive.

And you don’t have to be smart to do that. You just have to be breathing.

A small anecdote to illustrate what I’m talking about:

When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. Literally. There was one test – I think it was for seven-year- olds – where you had to rearrange blocks.

The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the catch was the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop.

I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved a problem that slightly-above- average seven-year- olds could do in a fraction of that time.

But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. And you don’t have to be the brightest seven-year- old – or even a dumb forty-two- year-old. You just have to be willing to do the work.

So, yes, my UK debut, Say Nothing, released last week. And maybe the publisher would like you to believe I am just some supremely talented – God, I hate that word – scribbler who was gifted this amazing story one day. But I know better.

And now so do you.

 

Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Say Nothing is his UK debut.

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Say Nothing is published by Faber and Faber and is available to buy now.

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This post is a stop on the Say Nothing Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed above.