‘Quiet Time’ Offers Out-Loud Characters
by Doug McQuiston
This crime novel gives readers what they want.
We here at The Docket must be on the cutting edge of literary comment, because we recently got an advance copy of a new soon-to-be-published novel, Quiet Time, by local attorney/author Stephanie Kane. Due out in October, the novel promises to be one of those books you’ll want to curl up with beside the fire on a snowy afternoon.
The story takes us over a long time span, diving into the murky undercurrents of a family at once torn apart by a horrible murder, but forced together by the impelling force of dark family secrets. The novel’s heroine, Sari Siegel, learns that this force not only pulls her life apart, but at the same time, it repels anyone who tries to get too close.
The novel opens with a jarring first paragraph, describing a brutal hammer-attack murder. The attack is described from the standpoint of the victim, which is unsettling, but compelling. We feel every blow. Just as we try to recover from the shock of the opening sequence, we switch gears. The narrative "camera" pans to a close shot of Sari and her fiance, Tim, as they go through their usual Saturday activities, only to be interrupted by a surprise visit by Warren Scott, Tim’s dad. Why was Warren suddenly there? Why did he show up unannounced? When Sari learns the victim of the hammer attack murder was Tim’s mother, we begin to sense her growing uneasiness. The surprise visit, and the maelstrom that follows, would change Sari’s life forever.
Sari soon learns that all was not well in the tidy Scott household when Tim was growing up. There was quiet time, when Tim’s crazy mother would retire to her room, draw the blinds and insist that the kids each go to their rooms and maintain absolute silence, for hours at a time. But is there something even more sinister about "Quiet Time?" Does Tim’s sister Laura know more than she is willing to tell? As we dive deeper into the novel, we learn the truth, secrets so malignant that the Scott family members even hid them from each other.
The book is a psychological thriller, plunging us into a family’s group psycho-
pathy thinly obscured beneath a varnish of normality and neatness. The characters are taut, but well developed, their stories compelling, and they occupy a world described with cinematic precision by Kane. The transformation of the main character, Sari Siegel, as she moves through the years following the murder, is every bit as gripping as the main, plot-driving crime theme.
Kane admittedly shops at the prêt à porter store for some characters. There’s Ray, the gruff, unkempt detective; he’s a master sleuth, but always in trouble with "the brass." How about Simon, the slick, English-accented defense lawyer who has become so wealthy he only takes on cases that interest him (or at least those that can pay his $100,000 fee)? Then there’s Taylor Phillips, the preening, ineffective deputy D.A. with political aspirations.
Do these characters sound familiar? Of course. Does it matter? Nope. I don’t mark the novel down for this. After all, anyone who has attempted to people a novel with only tailor-made characters will tell you that it is just not possible. Some characters, like the "cop with the attitude," or the "slick defense lawyer," just work better than ones you make yourself. They get a lot of work in crime stories for the same reason good actors get more work than bad ones—they deliver the goods.
Readers of this genre will not be disappointed. Kane uses enough narrative and description to keep us up to speed on where we are, but also tosses in enough surprises to keep us unsure of where we are going. She has the recipe down, and has put together what I expect a majority of crime-tale readers want—a book that reads like a movie. The ending is every bit as unhinged as the beginning, so if you’re looking for a neatly wrapped last few pages, you won’t find them.
While it hasn’t converted me into a crime-tale junkie, Quiet Time acquitted itself well as a good read. Look for it at your favorite bookstore this coming fall.