The Silent Girl is the first book by the author that I've read and I can say that I truly enjoyed it as the well-written crime novel that it is.
It all starts when a boy discovers, during a tour of the so-called haunted places of San Francisco, the severed hand of a woman. The police are notified and detectives Jane Rizzoli and Barry Frost rush to the scene, along with medical examiner, Maura Isles. The hand was found in the garbage, where they soon also discover a gun, and so the detectives feel pretty certain that the rest of the body of the victim, who’s a woman, will also be lying somewhere nearby. So they start searching and before too long they find what they seek on the building right above the crime scene. The woman is decapitated and according to Dr. Isles, no matter how strange that may sound, the lethal weapon was most likely a sword. The victim doesn’t carry any kind of identification on her person, so it will not prove easy to find out who she is. And as they are in Chinatown where the people do not know how to speak English, or rather chose not to do so, they bring in a cop with roots from China to help with the investigation. Johnny Tam, as we are soon to find out, is an ambitious young cop, whose big dream is to be promoted to homicide by the time he’s thirty. And most likely he’ll just manage to do that, since he works hard, likes to take initiative and does everything he can to help the two detectives solving the case.
Thus the three of them form an unlikely partnership that’ll do anything possible to discover the truth. We say unlikely because as characters each couldn’t be any different from the other. Jane loves taking risks and she’s stubborn, and she doesn’t seem able to believe anything that defies her logic, while Barry is really sad over lost love, but at the same time he’s tenderhearted, charming and open-minded. As for Johnny, we can say that in the very least he’s secretive, but nevertheless bright, well-trained, and tireless, with undecipherable eyes.
Through the mostly third-person, but at times first-person narration, we travel back and forth in time and along with the protagonists we start to pick the dots that when connected will create the mosaic behind the story. And we are talking about a huge mosaic, which hides behind it a lot of painful secrets, but that also delivers to the reader some snippets of wisdom, like this one: “Without ties to our ancestors, we are lonely specs of dust, adrift and floating, attached to nothing and no one.”
The author though is not only interested in the mystery, so she embarks on a short journey through the myths and legends of ancient China, she talks about the sense of dignity of certain people that borders obsession when it comes to matters of right and wrong, and she finally brings under the microscope the relations between the members of more than one families. The way she sets up her plot is masterful, the violence she describes sometimes becomes brutal, but her outlook is definitely humane. The issue of justice seems to be very important to her heroes, so through their actions or lack of them, they seem to imply that sometimes one has to take the law into his own hands in order to serve it.
This is a great crime novel and I highly recommend it to each and every fan of the genre