Title: The Silent Listener
Author: Lyn Yeowart
Published: February 2nd 2021
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense
Rating: 4.5 stars
Propelling the reader back and forth between the 1940s, 1960s and 1980s, The Silent Listener is an unforgettable literary suspense novel set in the dark, gothic heart of rural Australia.
In the cold, wet summer of 1960, 11-year-old Joy Henderson lives in constant fear of her father. She tries to make him happy but, as he keeps reminding her, she is nothing but a filthy sinner destined for Hell . . .
Yet, decades later, she returns to the family’s farm to nurse him on his death bed. To her surprise, her ‘perfect’ sister Ruth is also there, whispering dark words, urging revenge.
Then the day after their father finally confesses to a despicable crime, Joy finds him dead – with a belt pulled tight around his neck . . .
For Senior Constable Alex Shepherd, investigating George’s murder revives memories of an unsolved case still haunting him since that strange summer of 1960: the disappearance of nine-year-old Wendy Boscombe.
As seemingly impossible facts surface about the Hendersons – from the past and the present – Shepherd suspects that Joy is pulling him into an intricate web of lies and that Wendy’s disappearance is the key to the bizarre truth.
‘The silent listener to every conversation.’ Yes, she had been a silent, sinful listener to Mr Larsen’s conversation. A filthy sinner, prying into his personal, private life.’
A rural Australian crime novel defined by a deep-seated murder mystery, The Silent Listener is the debut release from Lyn Yeowart. A story of a missing child, family relations, religion, violence, abuse, fear, revenge and cold truths, The Silent Listener is a ravaging read from page one to the final devastating line.
The Silent Listener is the story of the Henderson family who reside in the small rural township of Blackhunt. In the 1960s, the reader learns that the Henderson children live in constant fear of their strict and abusive father. With strong religious convictions, this patriarch finds a way to punish his children at any opportunity. The impact of this severe level of violence has taken its toll on Joy. Decades later Joy must return to her father’s side as he nears death. But Joy grapples with the trauma of years of abuse at the hands of this cruel man and she cannot help but think of the need to inflict a final act of revenge. In a shocking turn of events, Joy manages to illicit a confession from her father, for a long-standing crime that occurred when Joy was just eleven years old. But soon after this horrific confession, Joy’s father is found dead. The death of Joy’s father and his deathbed confession dredges up a cold case involving a missing little girl in the 1960s. One of the original officers on this case is still haunted by the memories of little Wendy Boscombe, the nine-year-old girl who never came home. Now Senior Constable Alex Shepherd has the chance to finally lay this baffling cold case to rest, but questions loom over the nature of the confession and Joy Henderson’s testimony. Will the truth finally be revealed?
With over twenty-five years’ experience as a professional writer and editor, Lyn Yeowart has utilised this vast industry experience to pen her first novel, The Silent Listener. Inspired by her own childhood growing up in the heart of rural Victoria, Lyn Yeowart has produced a debut novel of great merit.
The Silent Listener deftly weaves in and out of three different timelines. Crossing wartime Australia in the 1940s, family life in the 1960s, through to the shocking final turn of events in 1980s, The Silent Listener is an ambitious but absorbing novel. From the early courtship and marriage of George and Gwen, through to the struggles of a family living in poverty in the 1960s, to the dramatic confession made by a dying man in 1980s, this debut piece is an affective composition. Tinged by moments of hard reflection, confusion, emotion, revenge, anxiety, fear and mental instability, The Silent Listener manages to get deep into the crevices of your mind. This often creepy and chilling novel set shivers down my spine, as I experienced the very same devastating feelings that the core character Joy endures during her troubled lifetime.
Yeowart is skilled in the area of character development and this author is able to embody all aspects of her varied protagonist set. From the confused Joy, to her cruel father, her bystander mother, damaged brother Mark, the innocent child Wendy and staunch constable Alex Shepherd help to form a vivid picture of events. Yeowart is unafraid of delving directly into the mindset of her mixed-up cast, exposing a litany of strong emotions, regrets, fears and hopes. This firm attention to character is carried across each of the three separate timelines and shifting viewpoints of The Silent Listener. At times I did find some areas of the character dialogue and experiences very confronting. I was also angered by Gwen’s inability to protect her children. A community also stood by while a severe level of abuse was happening, which earned my ire. But these were very different times, which led me to develop a sad level of acceptance of these tragic happenings. But it is Joy who remains front and centre of the events of this book, which delivered some perplexing moments. The reader is never sure of Joy’s testimony, her uneasy thoughts and the level of entrenched trauma that acts as a toxic leak in her life. The placement of death notices littered through this book which is linked to Joy’s character illustrates the victimisation experienced on a long-standing scale by this troubled woman. Yeowart works hard to help her audience understand the truth to the family trauma that surrounds the character of Joy and the resulting impact this has on the direction of the story.
The mystery at large that dominates much of the novel is the missing person’s case of little nine-year-old girl Wendy, who disappears one summer’s day. The level of tension, suspense, conjecture and theories built around this long-standing case managed to capture my full attention for the duration of this novel. Yeowart takes a slow drip approach to her unfolding mystery, gradually feeding the reader with some breadcrumbs, along with a number plot diversions that will test any crime fiction fan. I was shocked at the final turn of the events, I definitely didn’t see the last act taking the direction it did, but I think the author did a fine job of delivering a sense of closure to this complex story.
I must make a final mention and nod to the author’s eerie setting, that helps to illuminate the events in this novel to a high degree. From the opening I was mesmerised by the dangerous beauty and looming presence of the rural township of Blackhunt, which is artfully depicted in The Silent Listener. The small-town remote stage really works to compound everything further for the reader. I really admired Yeowart’s prose, it was clear, descriptive and fully immersive.
If you are searching for a new crime thriller with a distinct rural Australian tinge, I must direct you to The Silent Listener, the brilliant debut novel by Lyn Yeowart.
The Silent Listener by Lyn Yeowart was published on 2nd February 2021 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Silent Listener, Lyn Yeowart, visit here.
*I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Silent Listener is book #10 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge