I’ve been having some trouble making it through another book for CBR. I started a collection of Ngaio Marsh mysteries, but half-way through the stories dropped off in interest and quality. I then made it about a third of the way through The Best Mystery Stories of 2018, but I didn’t seem to like any of the selected authors. Grumpy, and falling behind in my reading, I seized on The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. Skimming through some reviews it seemed to be a quick, engrossing story that would jump start my reading.
As it turned out, it was a quick read, but that’s about the only positive that can be said about it. It wasn’t the worst story in the world, and it held my attention through the end, but by the finish I really didn’t care about the solution or any of the characters. Almost every character, from the narrator to other major characters, were flimsily drawn. There was so much exposition and internal monologues that you would think characters would at the least come to life, but they were strangely flat. I think there was too much telling, and that which was told merely added up to affectations and pseudo-psychology jumbled together to make the characters feel shallow.
Without giving anything away, the plot revolves around a psych patient who killed her husband. The patient has refused to speak ever since, and a therapist becomes so interested in her that he applies for a job at her hospital so he can treat her. The details about the patient’s life, the murder, and the mystery of what lies behind her silence drives the plot. There is also a side plot about the therapist’s own failing marriage.
For those who want a quick, semi-absorbing mystery, The Silent Patient does the job. It’s almost workman-like in setting the scene, describing characters and their emotions, and working inexorably toward the ending’s revelations. There are some decent, if not wholly believable, twists. The minute I finished the book, though, it almost completely disappeared in my memory, sort of the way you feel after wolfing down junk food. It was a decent distraction that was ultimately unsatisfying and unmemorable. The ending was fairly ludicrous and built on dubious pop psychology, but it kind of worked in the context of the book. I didn’t find it disappointing, exactly, but it was definitely not believable.
In the end, the book was a quick snack that I’m glad I only bought in e-form. I love the physicality of books, and my house is filled with many hundreds of them, but there are some books I don’t need to handle, look at, and surround myself with–that I don’t value or remember. The Silent Patient is one such book.