“Say nothing. Not a word to anyone. Whatever you see. Whatever you hear. Do you understand? Say nothing. Ever.” These words are spoken to ten-year-old Charles on the night of 10th August 1792. This is the night the Tuileries Palace is stormed and the French monarchy falls – one of the defining moments of the French Revolution. It seems that poor Charles has witnessed the brutal murder of his mother and has fled the scene in panic vowing to do as he has been told and never say a word to anyone ever again.
The boy’s silence causes a lot of frustration for a lot of people, including Edward Savill. Savill is the estranged husband of Charles’ mother, Augusta, and is legally, though not biologically, his father. Augusta’s uncle, the wealthy and powerful Mr Rampton, is interested in making Charles his heir and has ordered Savill to bring the boy to him. This proves to be more difficult than expected, however, as Charles has already been claimed by Augusta’s lover, the Count de Quillon, who has come to England to escape the Revolution. The Count insists that Charles is his son…and he has no intention of letting him go.
The Silent Boy follows Edward Savill on his mission to rescue Charles from the clutches of others who have reasons of their own for wanting the boy. Along the way we learn more about Augusta and what happened to her on that fateful night in Paris. There are also some sections of the novel told from the perspective of Charles himself, describing his traumatic experiences in France and his adventures after he is brought to England.
I found Charles’ story both fascinating and frustrating. He’s clearly an intelligent and resourceful boy, but one who has been so badly frightened by what he has seen and heard that he is no longer able to trust anyone at all. His refusal to speak gives him power over the adults who are desperate to hear what he has to say, but it also makes him vulnerable and it’s sad to watch a child cutting himself off so completely from everyone around him. But Charles is not the only one in danger – Edward Savill is also in a difficult position, being used as a pawn by his in-law and patron, Mr Rampton, whose motives are always in doubt.
The Silent Boy is a sequel to The Scent of Death, which was the first of Andrew Taylor’s historical mysteries/thrillers to feature Edward Savill. I enjoyed The Scent of Death but had somehow missed the fact that a sequel had been published last year, so it was a nice surprise for me to see this one in the library. It’s not necessary to have read the first book before this one – the two are very different stories and set during two different Revolutions (American and French) – but The Scent of Death does provide some useful background information on the characters, so I’d recommend reading them in order if you possibly can.
I enjoyed this book but not as much as the other Andrew Taylor novels I’ve read. After the dramatic opening chapter in Paris, I thought the story became very slow and didn’t really pick up again until halfway through. The end was worth waiting for, though, as the tension increases and some surprising revelations are made. I do like Edward Savill as a character and it was nice to meet his daughter, Lizzie, whom he had missed so much while he was away in America in the previous novel. I never quite managed to connect with Charles, but I can appreciate that we probably weren’t really supposed to – the whole point was that Charles had built up a protective wall of silence around himself and wouldn’t let anybody break through it.
Now I’m wondering if there will be a third Edward Savill novel. I do prefer Andrew Taylor’s standalones, such as The American Boy and The Anatomy of Ghosts, but I would be happy to read another book in this series if and when he writes one.