The Second Silence by Eileen Goudge
(Viking, $24.95, PG) ISBN 0-670-89159
****
The Second Silence revolves around several generations of one family in the small New York town of Burn’s Lake. They become involved in a pursuit for truth that will take them on a journey of unexpected intrigue that turns ugly, putting some of their lives at risk.

At 22, Noelle Jeffers attracted the attention of her older, wealthy, good-looking boss and married early. Robert was a mover and shaker, not only in their small town, but he wielded his influence as far away as the state capital. Not a man to be thwarted, one way or another he always got his way.

Early in their marriage, for several reasons, Noelle was driven to alcoholism and finally spent some time in rehab. Noelle and Robert had temporarily separated. On the day Robert arrives to take Noelle and their young daughter, Emma, back home, Noelle confronts him with the reality that she is not returning but is going to get a divorce.

Robert persuades her that she owes him a dinner to discuss visitation with Emma, and she reluctantly agrees. In full sight of the influential townspeople, Robert drugs her soft drink so that she falls flat on her face as they leave. By morning, he has a Protective Custody Order and has physical possession of their child, by reason of Noelle’s “alcoholic behavior”.

The fight begins. Only Noelle and her divorced parents know that the persona Robert presents to the world is a slick fake. His true nature is vicious, and unrelentingly cruel. Noelle’s mother Mary comes running from her high profile city job to help. Her father Charlie lives in Burn’s Lake and rallies to lend his support.

The town of course turns on Noelle, supporting the charismatic Robert. In an effort to prove that Robert is not as he appears, Noelle’s kid sister and her disreputable boyfriend also join them to venture into the dark side of Robert’s nature. What starts as a campaign to regain custody degenerates into life threatening situations.

Meanwhile romance between Mary and Charlie, Noelle’s parents flourishes again. Her sister fights to justify her relationship with a town “bad boy” and Noelle finds unexpected strength from a friend she had pretty much always taken for granted. Goudge delivers romance at multigenerational levels among characters that she has graphically drawn with genuine appeal to readers.

The story is well executed offering a well-constructed mystery that involves a multitude of characters that accelerates to a potent climax. Set is a small town, Goudge manages to capture the feelings of its citizens with very view words, leaving lots of time for action.

Although the main characters span several generations, the dialogue is always appropriate. The characters are easily liked or hated, and mature as the plot does. It is always interesting when an author can balance an intense main character’s poignant vulnerability with hidden strength.

The suspenseful pacing also adds interest to this story and makes for a pleasurable read.

--Thea Davis


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