Friday, February 16, 2018


THE SILENT ROOM by Mari Hannah (Minotaur Books, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A security van sets off for Durham prison, a disgraced Special Branch officer in the back. It never arrives. On route it is hijacked by armed men, the prisoner sprung. Suspended from duty on suspicion of aiding and abetting the audacious escape of his former boss, Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan is locked out of the investigation. 

With a manhunt underway, Ryan is warned to stay away. Keen to preserve his career and prove his innocence, he backs off. But when the official investigation falls apart, under surveillance and with his life in danger, he goes dark, enlisting others in his quest to discover the truth. When the trail leads to the suspicious death of a Norwegian national, Ryan uncovers an international conspiracy that has claimed the lives of many.

Former probation officer Mari Hannah has built a fine crime writing reputation on the back of her tales set in the north of England starring Detective Chief Inspector Kate Daniels - in fact last year she won the prestigious CWA Dagger in the Library, a prize for a crime writer's body of work rather than a particular single book. Here, Hannah veers from her popular and acclaimed Kate Daniels series to deliver a hard-hitting standalone thriller (that has itself sparked a new series).

And she does it with considerable aplomb.

THE SILENT ROOM kicks into high gear early, as a prison van carrying a disgraced cop is hijacked by armed men on the way to Durham Prison. But has former Special Branch officer DI Jack Fenwick been broken out by the villains he was allegedly working with, or has the former top cop been actually been kidnapped? Is Fenwick a danger, or in danger?

Fenwick's protégé and friend DS Matthew Ryan has been suspended and is under surveillance in the wake of his boss’s arrest on corruption charges then subsequent break-out/abduction, but still believes Fenwick is one of the good guys – a sentiment few of his colleagues share.

As a manhunt gathers steam and an official investigation sputters, Ryan goes off-grid with a collection of unlikely allies to try to dig out the truth, including retired Special Branch cop Grace Ellis and her shady contact Frank Newman.

Hannah delivers pace and excitement in spades with THE SILENT ROOM, a ripsnorter of a thriller where most of the main cast move among shades of grey. She brings the characters to life as conflicted and multi-layered human beings, rather than just moving pieces for the action-packed storyline. THE SILENT ROOM is almost like a spy thriller blended with a cop story, with all the intrigue and looming threat of covert operations and can-we-really-trust-them allies/enemies seasoning in the investigation of who it was that broke Fenwick out.

There’s a lot to like about this tale which will have you whirring the pages while caring about the people involved. A very good read from a very good crime writer.

Note: THE SILENT ROOM was originally published in the UK and Commonwealth in 2015, but has now been released by Minotaur Books in January 2018. For UK readers there is now a second DS Matt Ryan tale, THE DEATH MESSENGER, published in November 2017. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for magazines and newspapers in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed more than 200 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at books festivals in Europe on three continents, on national radio and top podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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