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by Wendy Corsi Staub
William Morrow, July 2019
400 pages
ISBN: 006274206X

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The three strands in DEAD SILENCE are rather loosely held together and in fact, sometimes threaten to become unraveled. The three supports of this thriller are standard fare, save one: a serial killer coming back to finish off a little boy whom he mistakenly left alive; a New York cop who recognizes another serial killer on the lam in Cuba; and less conventionally, an adopted investigative genealogist who tries to unravel the tangled skein of her own birth.

Dramatis personae: Amelia Crenshaw Haines, who seems to be the center of this novel, a New York City investigative genealogist and sometime on-air consultant to the Roots and Branches TV show, which investigates the parentage of people of color; Bettina and Calvin, her loving adoptive parents who have passed on; Marcelline, an elderly Gullah woman who seems to be mysteriously involved in Amelia's past; Lily Tucker, who has asked Amanda to help her track down her parentage but, intriguingly, shows Amelia an artifact from Amelia's own past; Jessamine McCall Hansen, Amelia's best gal pal, who fosters children at risk; her foster child Theodore, who is on the Autism spectrum, and who helps solve a mystery; Stockton Barnes, New York police sergeant who gave up his daughter at birth and now longs to see her, and who, intrigued by his roots in Cuba, has travelled there to connect; Rob Owens, wealthy founder of a record company, friend to Stockton, accompanying him on the Cuban journey; Rob's ne'er-do-well son, seeking weed and women, who accompanies his father; the Angler, a serial killer through and through; his unfortunate victims, including a very young boy, left for dead, terrified, and mute to his rescuers.

Staub's second novel in her Foundlings series (the first is LITTLE GIRL LOST) may be said to examine many aspects of child protective services, foundlings, and fostering. Some adults who were fostered loved their foster parents and are comfortable in the love those people gave. Others are haunted by what could have been, and by what they do not know. Parents who gave their child up are torn by a desire to see the grown child. Other parents know that they must give up their child for the child's best interests. If the novel is really about finding roots, all of the searches for roots, save one, advance with glacial speed. Amanda herself, a foundling child, wrings her hands all the way through the novel because she does not know her parentage, despite the fact that her de facto parents were loving and good.

Amanda's friend Jessica, another study, embraces the life that her adoptive parents gave to her. In turn, she has adopted an Autistic child whose mother fully knew that she could never care for her son properly. Stockton Barnes, the police officer vacationing in Cuba, is on a vague mission to reconnect with his Taino roots (although it perhaps might have been wiser for him to have found those in Hispaņola/Haiti); it is hard for this reader to conclude whether his forays into Cuban life constitute "success" of any kind. This reader does not see him specifically seeking the historical Taino or finding kin in Cuba. Stockton is haunted by the daughter whom he gave up at birth, but he stays haunted, no daughter, just resolve. His wealthy friend, Don's son, who is his son, and who is living and present, is a caution. At age 30, he disappears to score dope and get laid. Are one's "natural" children "naturally" better? Are birth parents somehow superior?

Though it employs some of the standard devices of the suspense thriller, the novel is dealing with rather tamer material. It does have an ending that may satisfy the readers of thrillers but its message is not about serial killers or evil in our lives and how it is overcome. The substance of the narrative may be read as, "an exploration of some adoptive and fostered children's lives" and that kind of calm message and the plot that underlies it is sometimes at odds with the expectations we may have of the thriller, which should be fast-paced and taut.

§ Cathy Downs, professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, teaches American literature and is a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, August 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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