Seventeen year old Hope Long's older brother, Jeremy, has been accused of murdering their town's beloved high school baseball coach, Coach Johnson. Hope knows he is innocent, but all the circumstantial evidence points to him and no one else. What's really damning Jeremy, though, is that he hasn't spoken a word in over a decade, and so cannot speak in his defense. Aside from his selective mutism, Jeremy is different in other ways, too: he collects empty jars, sometimes empyting their contents out onto the floor if they're full and he feels he needs them; he carries his baseball bat wherever he goes; one time while waiting in line at a soup kitchen he gave away all his food to other people in the room and then proceeded to give away everything else he had on him, right down to his socks and shoes, too; and so on.
Readers may guess that Jeremy is autistic, but it's never explicitly stated in the book. Jeremy's lawyer is going for a not guilty by reason of insanity defense, but Hope thinks Jeremy is neither guilty nor insane, and she's determined to prove it.
As a mystery, The Silence of Murder functions pretty well. There's one obvious red herring, and Mackall keeps the tension high until the reveal at the end. One aspect I appreciated is that Jeremy never stopped being a legitimate suspect, too. Hope's belief in him is mostly steadfast, but she has her moments of doubt, and as a reader/listener, I had those moments, too.
Hope isn't the brightest girl, which can be frustrating sometimes. She's not a terrific sleuth, meaning I often figured out aspects of the mystery before she did (but fortunately not the culprit). She's also clueless about her best guy friend's feelings for her, and even more clueless when she sits on the witness stand being cross-examined by the prosecutor. (This scene in particular was very, very painful to listen to). While I won't say that all protagonists need to have above average (or even average) intelligence, it seemed like this was not actually Mackall's intent and was perhaps done for plot development rather than character development. Other characters seem to regard Hope as being reasonably intelligent, which I just couldn't buy.
Strangely for me, I found the family drama more compelling than the actual whodunnit. The relationship between Hope and Jeremy was interesting and frequently moving, and while Hope isn't a whiz at reading other people, she knows Jeremy to his core. Through her eyes, we come to care for Jeremy and understand the need for Hope to speak for him when he won't speak for himself. And when she fumbles, it's brutal to experience. Aside from this central relationship, there are plenty of family secrets that are only tangentially related to the mystery but provide a lot of interest.
This is a bit slower-moving than I generally like my mysteries, but slower stories tend to work better on audio for me. My attention is usually divided at least partly between the story and another task (cleaning, cooking, or in this case, wrapping gifts), so if a story is too action-packed, I could miss something important. I realize this explanation doesn't sound like a rousing endorsement of the audio, but I can appreciate a leisurely-paced story that is narrated well, and not every book should be an edge of your seat page-turner in any case.
Kelly's commented on the change from hardcover to paperback for this book before. While I'm neutral on both covers, I think they did a really cool thing with the discs for the audio, placing the central cut-out right where Jeremy's mouth would be.
The Silence of Murder is a decent story that succeeds more as a family drama than a mystery. It's a good pick for readers interested in autistic or developmentally disabled characters (who are making more of a showing lately, but are still underrepresented). Readers looking for a fast-paced mystery with a twist every ten pages may be disappointed, but the narration is good and the story is rewarding for patient listeners.
Finished audiobook received from publisher.