C.E. Lawrence: Silent Screams (2009) Lee Campbell Series 1

Silent Screams

C.E. Lawrence is the byline of the New York-based writer, performer, composer, poet and playwright Carole Buggé. The first time I came across her name was when I was reading a Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine (#7 2012). The magazine contained one of Carole’s short stories The Way it Is and an interview with C.E.Lawrence titled The darker half of Carole Buggé. I enjoyed the story and found the interview extremely fascinating. Thanks to the interview I learned that while Carole Buggé has written cozy mysteries and Sherlock Holmes novels, C.E.Lawrence explores the darker side of crime, sending her main protagonist, profiler Lee Campbell, after nasty serial killers. When I discovered that the multi-talent Carole Buggé gave an online course in mystery writing, I signed up. It was instructive and great fun. During the course we “spoke” about setting and when Carole mentioned that New York was as much a character in her novels as Lee Campbell, I picked up Silent Screams, the first in the series.

I’ve read a fair amount of non-fiction on serial killers, watched a few movies and TV shows, but I’ve never read a novel in which a profiler was the main character. I was curious to see how she’d pull it off. It’s a favourite theme in TV series; adding something new, seemed quite difficult.

She’s pulled it off admirably well because she added two new things. The first is her character, psychologist Lee Campbell. He’s a troubled soul, who, after a breakdown, has spent time in a psychiatric hospital because of depression. When the book starts, he functions but is still not exactly stable. His friend and colleague doubts he’s ready to take on a big case, but Lee feels he must as the dead girl they find shows the signs of ritualistic murder. As I said before, C.E. Lawrence added two new things and the second is tied to the first. Her novels are set in New York and the way she describes it is detailed and fascinating. It shows an insider’s perspective that hasn’t a lot to do with the cliché New York we’ve come to know through movies. Additionally she’s set the book at a special moment in time: a few months after 9/11. And that’s when we understand Lee’s breakdown. He may have been depressed before – some elements of family history we read about may explain it – but 9/11 triggers the breakdown. I don’t think that I’ve ever read a book, which managed to make me experience some of the horror 9/11 must have been for those who lived in New York. At times I forgot this is a crime novel because I was so captivated by the descriptions.

While Lee battles his demons and moves through a traumatized city, the “Slasher”, as they have come to call him, kills another girl. And another one. Early on, Lee himself is targeted as well. It’s that story line in particular that I found gripping. Why would a serial killer target a profiler from the very beginning? Did he have something to do with the disappearance of Lee’s sister a few years ago?

Readers of this blog know that I don’t like frantic pacing. I was very glad that this novel only picked up speed after the first third and even then, it was anything but frantic.

Overall this was an enjoyable read. It had a few flaws – occasionally too much explaining – but they didn’t bother me. What I found really intriguing – other than the amazing way she explored the time and setting – was that this thriller, despite its darkness, had many elements of a cozy mystery: great atmosphere, careful descriptions, likable characters and a laid-back pace. Due to the end, which I won’t spoil here, of course, I’m very curious to see what case Lee will have to solve next and am going to read book two Silent Victim soon.

If you’d like to read some of Carole’s shorter fiction – one of her stories can be found in the anthology Vengeance: Mystery Writers of America Presents, edited by Lee Child.

Her books have been translated into Germand and French.