March 21, 2009
TOO MANY SUSPECTS
Bland begins her third novel, Gone Quiet, suggesting that we immediately suspect a wife of murdering her abusive husband. The wife enters her husband’s bedroom and finds him dead. She “had not wanted him to die so easily,” and thought the poison she had been feeding him would make him sick and weak. She returns to her own room, dresses in clothes he would not have approved of, goes to her sister’s home, and calls her oldest daughter.
Homicide detective Marti MacAlister and her partner and Vik Jessenovik of the Lincoln Prairie police force arrive to a house full of church members who have come to view the body. The young policewoman at the door explains to Marti that the house was full of people when the officers arrived. The wife’s oldest daughter called the minister of the couple’s church before calling the police. A deacon of the church comments to Marti that the dead man has “gone quiet into the night to be with the Lord.”
The daughter and wife tell the detectives that the deceased must have had a heart attack, but the detectives, noting the position of the body, believe he was murdered. With no evidence of foul play, the case seems to come to a dead end. Vik, however, feels that the problem is “too many suspects, too little information, and alibis for the wrong people.” For him, solving the case requires old fashion “legwork and a preponderance of evidence.”
The husband was a man whom nobody really knew and, though he was the accountant for the church, he did not associate with any of the male or female members. The only thing the minister knows about him is he came to Lincoln Prairie after being discharged from the army under mysterious circumstances.
Because of the husband’s physical abuse of the stepdaughters and his biological daughter in their early years and psychological abuse of the wife, all members of the family had motives for killing him. The oldest daughter remains the prime suspect for the detectives, while we still consider the wife as the prime suspect. Another suspect is a person with a dog who was seen lurking around the house a few nights before the husband’s death. The difference between whom we suspect and whom the detectives suspect creates the tension necessary to sustain the suspense and justify the surprise ending.
Bland’s delicate handling of the subject of molestation of young girls never allows the novel to become sensational for the sake of sensation. She shows that the detective novel is capable of addressing social problems within the conventions of the genre. For Bland, the social problem is the treatment of children. In all three novels--Dead Time, Slow Burn, and Gone Quiet--children are the victims.