Between 2003 and 2015, British monk turned barrister William Brodrick published six mystery novels in the Father Anselm Duffy series. To call them mysteries is something of a disservice; that’s the genre they fit but they are far more. Brodrick writes really fine novels that happen to have a strong mystery element to them, and to start one is to know that you will not end up where you might expect.
The Silent Ones is the sixth and (so far) final entry in the series. It doesn’t disappoint. Like Canadian author Louise Penny and her Inspector Gamache mysteries, Brodrick’s stories only get better with each succeeding book.
What Brodrick tackles here is the story that has publicly dominated the Catholic Church for the past 20 years – the abuse of children by the clergy. It’s a difficult story to tell and to read, even if it omits graphic descriptions. The reader doesn’t need to know the details because they are, tragically, so easy to imagine from today’s headlines.
A homeless man comes to Larkwood, the monastery of the Gilbertine Order where Father Anselm lives and works. Like any visitor seeking shelter, he’s given a bed, and slowly he comes to make himself rather useful as a handyman. Then Father Anselm receives a mysterious and unnamed visitor, who asks him to find a man who’s disappeared after being question about child abuse. The man is Larkwood’s handyman, and he turns out to be a priest from another order.
But nothing in the case is straightforward. The child who made the accusation may have lied. His grandfather and uncle know more about what’s happening than they say. A reporter is tipped off about what’s going on, and he leads the press to Larkwood. The reporter himself has a family that will turn out to have untold secrets.
Through an unusual set of circumstances, Father Anslem soon finds himself having to defend the accused man in the courtroom. And it’s there that the secrets of so many people come to be pulled into the light of day.
Brodrick was a friar in the Augustine order before he became a barrister and a writer. He’s written six of the Father Anselm mysteries, with A Whispered Name winning the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award in 2009. He lives in France. (And the Gilbertine Order was a real order of monks but was disbanded by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.)
The Silent Ones takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. Gradually one surprise after another, and one secret after another, get teased out. By the end, we’re struck with wonder at what has turned into an exceptional story of the brokenness and frailty of the human condition.