________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 16 . . . . April 4, 2008


Dead Silence. (A Mike and Riel Mystery).

Norah McClintock.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
234 pp., pbk., $7.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99411-8.

Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.

Review by Ruth Latta.

*** /4


Riel came out of the church a few minutes later and started in with a lecture. What had gotten into me? Why was I going out of my way to get into trouble? He understood how I felt - he really did - it was terrible what had happened to Sal, he was such a good kid, he always worked hard, he never gave anyone a hard time, he was a real role model, the kind of person I should aspire to be.

"I'm not saying you're a bad kid, Mike, you're not. But it's times like these that really show a person's character. A man who can handle himself well when things are bad is a man who can always handle himself. You hear what I'm saying, Mike?"


Mike McGill, the central character and first person narrator of Dead Silence, has just had a fight with a classmate after the funeral of his best friend, Salvatore. The youth Mike attacks, Teddy, appears to have a motive for killing Sal.

     This gritty mystery for teens is set in an inner city Toronto neighbourhood. At lunch hour, Sal was found stabbed to death in an alley near their downtown high school. During a bad traffic accident which drew a crowd, the killer struck.

     Mike blames himself. He was supposed to go with Sal at noon to do his written driver's test but begged off. If they'd gone, Sal wouldn't have been around the school; instead, a short while before he died, he was outside the school grounds, defending a classmate, Staci, from the taunts of her ex-boyfriend, Teddy, and his friends.

     The exemplary Sal held a part-time job at a fast food restaurant yet also found time to tutor fellow students. Staci also tutored in the program. Racking his brains over the murder, Mike remembers that, on a couple of occasions in public places during the summer, Sal saw someone in the distance and turned pale with fear. Now, Mike wishes he had pressed Sal to reveal what made him uneasy.

     Teddy, the jealous rejected boyfriend, seems the likeliest suspect as he might have imagined that Staci and Sal were interested in each other, though Mike knows they were just friendly co-volunteers in the tutoring program. After school while working at a local grocery store, Mike sees that his co-worker, Alex, a special ed. student, has a crush on Staci too, and he believes that Sal was more than just a friend to her. When the police arrest Alex, however, Mike is not convinced that he is the murderer.

     Mike physically attacks Teddy, the strongest suspect, on two occasions, and is on the verge of being suspended from school. Eventually, though, when clearing out Sal's locker and going through his science binder, Mike picks up on some clues that point away from both Teddy and Alex to a killer outside the student body.

     The first glimpse of the killer comes on page 121, more than halfway through the novel. Hints as to the real killer are sparse; false clues of a student murderer are strong. Part of the pleasure of reading a mystery is to guess "who done it" before the author reveals the murderer, but this satisfaction is not possible in Dead Silence.

     As a writer of "cosy" mysteries in which the cast, which includes the perpetrator, is presented in the initial set-up of the story, I wanted some hint of the killer sooner. Then I wondered if my opinion is too influenced by the subgenre which I write. Dead Silence, I reminded myself, is not a "cosy" or "classic," but a "noir" mystery which shows the dark underside of urban life, in the tradition of movies such as Sea of Love. In Sea of Love, as in Dead Silence, the killer enters the story as a stranger, coming unexpectedly and violently, at the climax. But wait. In Sea of Love, the killer is not a stranger but is someone who made a brief but vivid appearance early on and is further fixed in the viewers' minds because of a joke he tells. "I should have remembered that," the viewer thinks. That click of recognition is not possible for the audience of Dead Silence.

     Dead Silence is the fifth "Mike and Riel mystery" by McClintock, the others being Hit and Run, Truth and Lies, Dead and Gone and Seeing and Believing. Dead Silence stands on its own but is better appreciated if one has already read the earlier novels in the series; otherwise, it takes a while to ascertain that Riel is Mike's foster father, (a police officer turned high school teacher turned cop again) and that Susan is Riel's significant other. In the first four pages, 11 people are mentioned by name, but not really identified. Four turn out to be important to the plot.

     Presumably because of his inner turmoil, Mike fails to investigate one clue, a shocking pink envelope that screams to be opened on page 5 but is forgotten until page 219 when Mike is attacked at home by an intruder. "That's when I saw that he had something else in his hands besides my arms," he says. "It was an envelope. A pink envelope."

     Despite Mike's forgetfulness for the sake of the plot, the quantity of characters and the shortage of clues, Dead Silence has many good features, such as its realistic urban multicultural setting and the authentic voices of the main characters. Several young readers have written to McClintock's website, praising her series as "totally awesome," and any book that stirs enthusiasm among the young is worth recommending.


Ruth Latta is the author of four cosy mysteries, the most recent being Memories Stick, (Ottawa, Baico, 2007, baico@bellnet.ca).

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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