Sunday, August 14, 2011

Command of Silence by Paulette Callen

Publisher:                Spinsters Ink

This is an amazing book.  It's listed as a mystery, but the mystery that is described in the blurb on the back of the book isn't the one that makes the book.

Two children have been stolen from the same household a few days apart.  The police are at a dead end and desperate to find the little girls.  Desperate enough to call in Shiloh & Company, a most unusual detective agency because the members are different personalities all housed within the body of Isadora.  Each personality has unique skills and they use them together to solve mysteries that "normal" people can't untangle.  Isadora sometimes controls the other personalities and sometimes she can't.  She acquired them because of the severe trauma she suffered as a result of sexual abuse when she was a small child.  The members cooperate, sort of, because of a contract developed for them by Ray Martinez, Isadora's therapist, who is trying to integrate them into one person.  It's Ray's idea for Shiloh to take this case, but it may prove to be a tragic mistake.  As Isadora and her "partners" work their way through the clues and their observations, their tenuous hold on reality is stretched to the breaking point.  They also discover that they are dealing with some very dangerous characters.  Shiloh is determined to find out what happened to these children, but it may cost the personalities their lives, or worse, their joint sanity.

The surface mystery in this story of what happened to the girls is fairly straight forward and Callen does an outstanding job of gradually revealing clues, so that the pieces can't be put together until the end.  The master work at the core of the book however is the story of Shiloh and the mystery surrounding how "it" developed.  Callen reveals each personality in a setting that commands its appearance and explains the role that each one, including sophisticated Hester or motherly Sugartime or scholarly Lance or the terrifying Hawk, plays in the company and in Isadora's survival.  Sometimes the characters switch back and forth quickly, but it's handled in such a way that the reader is never confused as to which one is in command, though the characters confronting each persona can't say the same.  The reader is drawn into an almost hypnotic dance as each personality emerges and contributes to the whole.  Just as the mystery of the children is slowly revealed, the tragedy that created Shiloh is brought out by hints and flashbacks, only to come screaming out at the end in an incident that nearly destroys them all.  Watching Isadora and her personalities work and interact is like watching a moth dance back and forth around a flame and the reader knowing that she can't do a thing about it. 

The power of this book is something rarely experienced in this genre.  The case of the missing children is interesting, but the story of Shiloh & Company is fascinating.  The only lesbian presence in the book is Ray Martinez and her sexuality has practically no significance, but this is an engrossing and very different story.  You don't want to miss it.

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