In The Silence – M R Mackenzie
As you might expect from any good murder-mystery thriller, there’s more than one problem to be solved and many deeper issues and potential layers of conflict that need to be unravelled to get to the bottom of what leads to murder in M R Mackenzie’s In The Silence. Glasgow probably isn’t any different from other cities in how it is burdened with class differences, religious tensions, gender inequalities and racial prejudices and preconceptions, but Mackenzie not only weaves all this into the potential motivation of the crime, he manages to bring them together in the personality and the experiences of his lead character, Anna Scavolini.
Anna has been away from Glasgow for ten years, studying sociology and psychology at the Sapienza University in Rome, making a life and career for herself there as a lecturer and expert in feminist criminology. She’s been away long enough for all the conflicts and differences in her home city to strike her all the more forcefully when she accepts an invitation to celebrate her old friend Zoe’s 28th birthday, but she finds that those differences have also widened the gap in the once close friendship she had with Zoe. She’s determined not to let that show however, but Glasgow and her own history there have a way of working their way uncomfortably back into her life.
In fact it’s perhaps this distance and trying to bridge it that is the reason Anna feels some sense of guilt for what happens, as if her return to her hometown has been a catalyst that brings all those tensions to the surface, resulting in the death of an old schoolfriend. There’s also the fact that Anna met him at a night club just hours before, and the fact that he falls bleeding to death in her arms in the snow in Kelvingrove Park the very same night, but there’s something else that makes Anna want to find out why this happened. Of course, Anna’s involvement and her pursuance of her own investigation into this murder isn’t going to play out well with the police, but, well, let’s just say that there are issues and certain behaviours within the police force that Anna is uncomfortable with.
As is often the case when a regular citizen withholds what might be vital information from the police and starts their own investigation, particularly when they are up against what is clearly a dangerous individual (the murder of Andrew Foley is only the first), you have to wonder what motivates them to act in this way. Well, M R Mackenzie makes a better effort of this than most crime writers. He has already hinted at several possible reasons – a traditional mistrust of the police, the vulnerability women feel around physically threatening and sexually aggressive males, and just simply personal discretion and privacy – but Anna also clearly wants to be independent and take control of her own life. It is even suggested that there may be other reasons for her behaviour in her personal background and experience, and the author follows through on those convincingly.
So comprehensive is the author’s interweaving of various social factors and what is clearly a close familiarity with the book’s Glasgow locations and its characters, that there is the risk of In The Silence getting too preachy, academic and buzzwordy about such matters or, for want of a better description, adopting a ‘politically correct’ stance on them. Fortunately, Mackenzie is not latter day Val McDermid and doesn’t let personal identification or virtue-signalling through right-thinking characters overwhelm the narrative. He’s not afraid of allowing Anna Scavolini to make mistakes and rub people up the wrong way, acting indeed on issues where she might have an in-built prejudice, suspicion or just wariness. Neither are those social factors and background issues overplayed to the extent that they intrude on the pure entertainment of the thriller elements, but are rather a vital feature in the psychological make-up of the characters that the author clearly wants to make real, convincing and relevant to contemporary issues.
The fact that he succeeds is evidenced by the clear precise prose, the authentic dialogue and the pace with which the murder-mystery develops. The writing allows this to move fluidly along and escalate thrillingly, interweaving those necessary details of location and character that contribute to behaviour and motivation so skillfully as to be almost imperceptible, but it’s clearly there and a delight to read. M R Mackenzie has created an impressive first novel with In The Silence and an intriguing lead character in Anna Scavolini who has the necessary insight but also the distance and background to be able to delve further into other colourful corners of Glasgow, as well as those dark corners that lie in relationships between men and women.
In The Silence by M.R. Mackenzie is published by Bloodhound Books on 10 September 2018
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