Servant of the Secret Fire

Random thoughts on books and life in the reality-based community

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Location: New York, United States

The name I've chosen comes from "Lord of the Rings," when Gandalf faces down the Balrog in the Mines of Moria. My Hebrew name is Esther (which is related to the word for "hidden" or "secret") Serafina (which means "burning"). This seems appropriate because although I don't usually put myself forward, I do care very passionately about a lot of things. Maybe through these blogs I can share some of these passions, as well as less weighty ideas and opinions, with others.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Book Review: Tower of Silence


Tower of Silence by Sarah Rayne *****

Mary Maskelyne, an infamous teenage murderess from the 1960s, now in her forties, is transferred to Moy, a remote Scottish institution for the criminally insane. Selina March, a colorless, proper spinster, short of money, converts her house to a B&B. Mystery writer Joanna Savile arrives in the village of Inchcape, near Moy, to do some research and specifically to interview Mary Maskelyne. The stage is now set for events that began with a shattering atrocity in the tumultuous India of the late 1940s to play out to their final conclusion.

Sarah Rayne is supposed to be a pseudonym for a writer who is already well-known in Britain for horror fiction. Remnants of this may be seen in some of the particularly gruesome events that take place in Tower of Silence, but they don't seem to be out of place or inserted just for shock value. I, for one, am glad that she decided to switch genres; her other novels may be well written but I probably would not have found them, and I would imagine that psychological suspense gives her much more scope for her talents. Her writing is superb and even poetic at times. Her characters, even the worst of them, are imagined from the inside, and are vividly drawn. The portrayal of Mary Maskelyne, manipulative, narcissistic and attention-seeking, is one of the most chilling fictional examinations of the sociopathic mind that I have ever encountered. Other, more sympathetic characters include Emily Frost, the colorful and many-faceted daughter of one of the doctors at Moy, who volunteers to work with some of the patients; the sad, traumatized and extremely dangerous patient known as Pippa; and the attractive, strangely charismatic Joanna.

Unfortunately, for the most part Rayne does not seem to portray male characters nearly as vividly or sympathetically, although I did like Joanna's husband, the half-Hungarian Krzystof Kent. Also, she may push coincidence a bit too far for some in bringing all of these people together in the same place, but if you're like me you will be too caught up in the plot and the characters' lives to care.

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