Magazine article The Spectator

'The Silent Boy', by Andrew Taylor - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'The Silent Boy', by Andrew Taylor - Review

Article excerpt

The Silent Boy Andrew Taylor

HarperCollins, pp.432, £16.99, ISBN: 9780007506583

A few years ago, after a lifetime of wearing white shirts through which the straps of my white bra were plainly visible, I discovered a remarkable fact: if you wear a pink or even a crimson bra underneath a pale shirt, it doesn't show. For several weeks I passed on this gem of truth to all my women friends. Was my enthusiasm met with relish, gratitude? It was not. They all said the same thing in response: 'Oh, didn't you know? I've always known that.'

I expected it would be the same in the case of Andrew Taylor. While reading The Silent Boy I was so overexcited by its brilliance that I asked numbers of friends if they'd ever come across Taylor's work. Surely I was alone in the world in not having heard of this paragon? But the strange truth is that his name did not ring any bells, at least among the sort of book buyers who would purchase anything by Hilary Mantel, say, or Rose Tremain.

And yet this book, which begins in Paris in 1792, is every bit as fine. It may be that devotees of crime fiction know better, since Taylor has won awards with names like the Diamond Dagger and the New Blood Dagger, as well as a scroll from the Mystery Writers of America (one wonders whether these gongs are actual blood-stained daggers and scrolls, like on a pirate ship). Perhaps, then, his work has become becalmed in the inlet of historical thrillers, preventing the readers of so-called literary fiction from happening upon him?

The Silent Boy is so good that it is sure to attract universally rave reviews which, it is to be hoped, will billow his sails. Now that the line between chick lit and high fiction is growing ever more wobbly and indistinct, it is high time that really well-written mysteries and thrillers stopped being plonked on booksellers' tables alongside Agatha Christie and biographies of Fred West. Scandinavians have cottoned onto this already. Patricia Highsmith devoted a career to it. Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, has also attempted to break out of the confines expected of the genre. It is not simply a case of whydunnits taking the high road, while whodunnits take the low. A masterpiece such as Great Expectations asks both questions, but no one ever describes it as a thriller. …

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