Don’t Speak, a Jade Harrington Novel, is quite the clever suspense tale.
Set in the United States during an election season, focusing on the presidential race between a conservative party candidate who is a man and a progressive party candidate who is a woman (hmmm….), the author uses this as a surprisingly entertaining backdrop for a serial killer suspense novel.
Our heroine, Jade, is refreshing. On one hand, she’s the “typical” suspense novel protagonist: she’s a loner, an overachiever. It’s difficult for people to get close to her, but when then do, they remain fiercely loyal. Jade is intensely focused in all areas of her life, and this is what makes her such a great FBI officer.
There’s a serial killer at work, and while his actions elicit the revulsion and horror we associate with serial killers, but this one brings a little something else to the situation. As he begins to communicate to the press, his writing indicates that he’s not only intelligent and expresses himself well, but that his motivations are largely political. He is deeply (if not pathologically) concerned about the country, and he has begun murdering talk show hosts who do not embrace his ideologies. He issues requests for legislation and actions that he believes will create more equal sharing of information and political beliefs, and, as serial murders will, he escalates when his requests, that is, demands, are not met.
The author uses several interesting facets from which to approach the story.
- The correlation between the male candidate and Trump, and the female candidate and Clinton.
- There are comparisons between the male candidate (who happens to be the incumbent) and Trump – with allusions to the (creditable) idea that many of the things he had (has) promised would not be possible to complete in the first four years of a presidency.
- The female candidate repeatedly reflects back on how Hillary Clinton acted and behaved during her candidacy. The idea is implicit, but not stated, that Mrs. Clinton did not win her race but in hindsight her ideas are being giving warmer consideration.
- Both characters offer up ideas and political solutions that we (in the real world, outside the story) have heard and have not heard offered up. It was interesting to hear the solutions that didn’t work as expected as well as ideas that have not been currently proffered.
- The characterization of Cole. Cole is a talk show host, the biggest in his field. He has a large family he adores, but on the air, is brutish, rude, overbearing, and controlling. Throughout the course of the book, we not only “listen in” on his shows, but are present when he interviews both candidates. We get the insider’s view that his brash behavior is not limited to only those on the opposite side of the aisle from his beliefs, but is merely demonstrated more privately. Eventually, Cole becomes the target for the Talk Show Killer, and must face not only a threat to his life, but to his family. Cole is a curious character, driven to success in his industry, but only coming to self-reflection on his personal beliefs after conversations with his children and, ironically, the killer himself.
- The backstory of the woman candidate – She comes across as privileged, but we learn she has had to face her own challenges to rise to the position she holds now. Facing those challenges have made her determined to stand up for others who may face them how; however, her sense of privacy precludes her from sharing her personal history. It’s an interesting insight into the issues that candidates deal with: how much of their personal lives do they share, how much do they make public in order to serve the public.
If there’s any place the story falls a little short, it’s in the characterization of Jade herself. The author makes an effort to include small habits that are, I assume, intended to give us insight into her personality. But they are sporadic, and when they would occur, felt jarring and disconnected from the rest of the story. I found that Jade made a lot more sense — in her strengths as well as in her weaknesses — in her mode of operation in her daily life, when we were able to observe just that. The “insight” from some of the commentary about her inclination to refrain from aspects of her martial art, or the occasional ingestion of a single m-n-m were distracting at best, and provided no additional clarity to the character.
All in all, the story is compelling enough to be a good read on its own, during any year. Add in the increased depth of this year’s election, and you’ve got a page turner that doesn’t stop, right up until the very last page.