Review: 'The Quiet Child' by John Burley is engrossing novel

"The Quiet Child: a Novel" (William Morrow), by John Burley

"The Quiet Child" is 6-year-old Danny McCray, who is indeed quiet. He doesn't speak, though doctors have said he can but has "elective mutism." Danny's presence is often disconcerting to the residents of Cottonwood, California, where he is "a ghost child, a quiet child the townspeople referred only to in whispers." They blame him for bringing whatever ails the town.

John Burley sets his third engrossing novel in 1954, when anyone the least bit different, such as Danny, is looked on with suspicion, and Danny is even more of an enigma to his parents. His mother, Kate, is suffering from a debilitating illness that occurred shortly after Danny's premature birth. His father, Michael, blames Danny for his wife's condition and, frankly, is afraid of his son. Only Danny's 10-year-old brother, Sean, truly loves him.

Both boys are kidnapped after Michael takes Danny and Sean for an ice cream run at the local grocery store. Michael remembers seeing a stranger across the street when he and Sean went into the store, leaving Danny to wait in the car. Because Sean and Danny were inseparable, the older boy went to keep his brother company.

The search sets off a massive search by Sheriff Jim Kent and the state police. The parents, especially Kate, seem distraught, but as the days and weeks pass, everyone is viewed as a suspect. While the town residents are concerned about Sean, few care if Danny is found. Burley never lets the tension lag as he keeps the suspense high.

While "The Quiet Child" delves into ungrounded fears perpetuated by the town, the family dynamics are paramount to character development and plot. Michael loves his wife without reservation, but the love he has for his children has conditions. How the family's situation evolves into the boys' kidnapping culminates with myriad jaw-dropping twists.

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