'Silent Son' finds the secret to suspense

June 14, 1994|By Bob Baylus | Bob Baylus,Special to The Sun

In 1992, Gallatin Warfield published "State V. Justice," an unusual courtroom drama about the murder of a Russian diplomat's son in a rural Maryland county that set off international shock waves. It was distinguished by fine characterizations -- particularly appealing is the main character States Attorney Gardner Lawson -- a complex plot and a nice twist at the end.

Mr. Warfield, a former prosecutor in Howard County, has returned to the same terrain in "Silent Son." The results are equally as satisfying.

"Silent Son" opens with the brutal murders of Henry and Addie Bowers, an elderly couple who had run a general store for decades. The Bowers did not seem to have an enemy in the community.

But the murders did not occur as a result of a robbery gone wrong; they were executions. And not only are the Bowers murdered, but Gardner's 8-year-old, Granville, stumbles onto the crime scene and is severely beaten by the killer. The effect on Granville is traumatic, and the boy blocks out the murder from his memory.

Caught between the outrage of his son's beating and the murder of two friends, Gardner must excuse himself from the case to work with his son on restoring him to a normal, happy child. But the case keeps demanding his intervention.

A suspect is quickly rounded up. While Gardner feels they have their man, questions keep coming, indicating a much more enigmatic and menacing puzzle. The Bowers turn out to have amassed quite a fortune. Their nephew's involvement with the estate begins to raise questions. And there is the specter of a disturbed young man at a private academy who seems to have his own secret agenda.

"Silent Son" is a fascinating work containing compelling characters, unexpected violence, convincing courtroom maneuvers and a decades-old family secret.

"Murder in Jerusalem" is the third novel in a series by Baltimore writer John C. Boland that features fast-talking stockbroker Donald McCarry. In the last novel, "The Seventh Bearer," McCarry was in the South of France overseeing the making of a film that turned deadly.

In this book, McCarry gets a free trip to Israel from a business friend, Harry Brickman, to look at possibly investing in an international relief company based in Jerusalem. McCarry has no interest in the investment but is happy to accept the trip.

As the tour begins, they are stopped by what appear to be Arab terrorists, and Harry is kidnapped. The lack of a ransom note and some questionable practices by the foundation begin to indicate more may be at work than Middle East politics. McCarry, who wants to let police handle the situation, is reluctantly drawn into the caldron of deceit.

As a thriller, "Murder in Jerusalem" has all the requisite ingredients: a nice locale, dollops of violence, a satisfying wheels-within-wheels plot. While McCarry is a nicely drawn character, the others are strictly stock. The result is a passable thriller that suffers from flat characterizations.

Mr. Baylus reviews mysteries for The Sun. He lives in Baltimore.

BOOK REVIEW

Title: "Silent Son"

Author: Gallatin Warfield

Publisher: Warner

Length, price: 336 pages, $21.95

*

Title: "Death in Jerusalem"

Author: John C. Boland

Publisher: Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's

Length, price: 224 pages, $19.95

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