Book review: Broken Silence by Danielle Ramsay

Broken Silence
by Danielle Ramsay
Avon (Harper Collins) 2010
DI Jack Brady #1

Whitley Bay, in the north-east of England, is the setting for this debut police procedural. In the opening chapter, a young woman is out at night arguing with her boyfriend, then is killed. DI Jack Brady is still recovering from being shot “almost” in the balls a year ago – we know the wound can’t be all that bad as we first encounter him in bed with a young woman he’s picked up the night before and whose name he does not know. Still on sick leave, he’s called back to work at short notice by his unpleasant boss to replace his colleague DI Jack Matthews, who was in charge of the investigation, but who has abruptly vanished after committing the shockingly careless mistake of throwing his coat over the corpse, thus compromising the forensic gathering of evidence.

Brady is a mess, a parody of every affliction of male cops in crime fiction. Not only is his sex-life (and his home) unfit for scrutiny but his wife has left him because he had a fling with a colleague, he’s addicted to alcohol and tobacco, and he launches into the investigation determined to cover up any involvement of Matthews, to whom he owes an unspecified favour. As the book progresses, we discover a trauma from Brady’s childhood, witness the reappearance of a drunk old tramp who seems to have a hold on him, and become aware of his longstanding friendship with a local Mr Big. Brady is the epitome of the macho cop, attacking witnesses verbally, never keeping records, being attracted to any female within range, constantly on the edge of enraged breakdown as the burden of all his secrets, as well as his bad leg, take their toll.

Broken Silence is a revved-up curate’s egg. Somewhere in this overcomplicated mélange is a good mystery story with a couple of twists in its tail that cries out for a pared-down telling. The setting of Whitby is vividly, if revoltingly, conveyed. Yet the whole is a mess, written at an easy-reading level to put it politely, and full of clichés, for example we are several times told of Brady’s “olive” complexion (is he green?). Characters enter and depart to play their predictable roles as necessary to the plot (bitter ex-wife, sad ex-girlfriend now married to Brady’s best friend, irascible pathologist, seedy journalist, good cop colleague, bad cop colleague, etc), never staying long enough to become more than cardboard and in at least some cases, seemingly there only to set up themes to be explored in future books. The story is regularly unbelievable, for example Brady interviews an upset teenage girl with no social worker or female officer, and various characters commit crimes with impunity but never feature in the papers – hardly likely, but necessary for the plot.

The novel is a quick and easy read that seems to have commercial potential, but the author is clearly talented so it is sad that she has missed the chance to turn an overly detailed account, more crammed full of drama than a TV soap opera, into the focused, hard-hitting crime novel that it could have been. This is unfortunate, as the theme of the sexual abuse of teenage girls, and its acceptance – even encouragement – throughout society (the professions, the media and so on) is one of the West’s main social problems of today. The book is sincere in its exposure of many issues surrounding this horror, but it is more concerned with the egoistical Brady and his mess of a life, than with this more interesting, and challenging, aspect.

I borrowed this book from the library. It was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger in 2009.

Other reviews of Broken Silence: Reviewing the Evidence, Marc Hooker books and Read Regional.

There is already a second book in the series, Vanishing Point, reviewed at Reviewing the Evidence.

About the author and her books at the publisher’s website.

14 thoughts on “Book review: Broken Silence by Danielle Ramsay

  1. I enjoyed reading your review even if it isn’t tempting me to read the book! I think the term ‘olive complexion’ is OK though isn’t it? It’s quite old fashioned and I wouldn’t use it myself but I think it is used to describe Mediterranean colouring. I guess added to the other clichés it was just too much.

    • It is a term like the dreaded “fine-tooth comb”, it’s so overdone. And I’ve not met an olive that isn’t green or black.

  2. Maxine – Thank you for your candid and thoughtful review. I’ve read books like this too, where there’s definite talent and possible potential, but that don’t at all live up to expectations. I’m going to give this a miss, but I do like the idea of the setting…

  3. Maxine: I would have said the character has too many problems to be a credible police officer but we have just had real life issues with prominent RCMP officers in Canada for whom the solution appears to have been to move them to a different part of the country.

  4. Okay, let’s try again. One would think, given how little I comment on blogs these days, that Blogger, Word Press, Google, and whatever the hell, would give me a break and work for me on these banner occasions. (-: Hi Maxine! Three things. First, just to say that I spy on you and Norman often, and it’s struck me that you and that most gentlemanly of bloggers are in your prime these days. Always fine and helpful stuff. Thankee.

    I am puzzled re the location of this tale. Whitby Bay is an ‘unofficial’ and not commonly used name for the harbour of Whitby, famous as the place James Cook started his life at sea, and a very pleasant, popular tourist destination. And it’s in Yorkshire. Whitley Bay is certainly in the N.E., about a 20-minute drive east of Newcastle, and very pleasant indeed — my niece and her husband live there. Given the confusion of locations, I don’t which the author depicts, but to make either revolting takes some doing.

    Your reply that an good editor could have done wonders with the book gave me pause, especially as this is a matter that involves us both, though in a different context. I used to edit a journal of diplomatic history, and the reason I gave it up was that so many of the accepted mss, though worthy in terms of substance — else they would not have got past me — my copy editor could not cope with. They didn’t need editing, they needed rewriting to make them fully comprehensible, and I had to do it myself, not with “smiling, morning face”. This became a common thing in publishing back in the days when publishing houses had editors, not ‘editors’, and in the States, most certainly, some publishers used an internal code, consisting in the type of print on the title page, to indicate among themselves when a book had been edited or when it had been, to all intents, rewritten, which I very much think would have to be the case with Ramsay’s book. I need hardly say that I don’t think this direction should have been taken, as it was some thirty years ago. At that time, I think academics took to ‘word processing’ with more alacrity than did other writers, and I suspect the problem lay therein — you can write fairly slapdash because you can save it and summon it back for revisions. So much easier. But it never was summoned back and revised. The slapdash stuff wound up being sent to people like me. We now have to distinguish between authors and writers, the former the person who is on the title page but cannot write, the latter people under the title who can and do actually write. And so I have to say that if a book is as bad as this one certainly seems to be, it should have been rejected — go try again — and certainly not ‘edited’. Such, at any rate, is my thought for the day.

    • Fascinating about the code, Philip!
      Whitby seems to be the resort. It isn’t a place one would ever want to visit after reading this book, but I’ve been there once or twice in my life and never would have been aware of any of this, it seemed a very pleasant place.
      On the WordPress etc log in, I am sorry. There is a solution, “Open ID” which is a one-stop ID that all the blogs sign up to, but I find it does not work for me on Blogger blogs, I can only comment there with my Blogger account. Internet authentication is a big problem, being actively worked on in the professsions, one of the (many) problems of course being spam.

  5. Heavens, dear Maxine, no need for you to apologize for these glitches. No blogger is to blame for these things, though some might pay more attention to whether the system they employ is one of the more ‘user-friendly’. I’m thinking here of Google (if I remember correctly — I get them confused), which, I think deliberately, gives the impression if you have to sign into it that you can do so only through Facebook. Not so, but it’s terribly misleading. Far worse, this very night (I still keep vampire hours) I received two petitions, both of which I wanted to sign and comment on, and found that I could do so only via Facebook. I loathe FB, partly because of this ubiquity, and I’m damned if I’ll be dragooned into joining it. I’m scarely alone in that, so making the signing of a petition in a good cause dependent upon membership of it is sheer foolishness, surely.

    • Agree totally, nobody should have to use FB identities for anything, I don’t like the site either.

  6. Maxine, a brief follow-up that may be helpful to some of your readers. I received today a newsletter from CNET, the lead item in which was that Facebook, in an attempt to force members to use its email service, has changed all members’ email addresses to ones ending @facebook.com. No one was asked whether they wanted their own listed address replaced. Once they know about this – somehow – members can change their addresses back, though it seems to be a slightly onerous process. Googling ‘Facebook changes member email addresses’ will summon up more information.

    • thanks, Philip. Lots of similar issues about FB and their arrogant attitude to their users’ privacy and wishes.

  7. Pingback: Broken Silence by Danielle Ramsay | Petrona Book Reviews archive

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