Title: House of Silence
Author: Sarah Barthel
Publisher: Kensington Books
Date of publication: December 27th 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
POV: 1st person
Where you can find this book: Amazon
Oak Park, Illinois, 1875. Isabelle Larkin s future like that of every young woman hinges upon her choice of husband. She delights her mother by becoming engaged to Gregory Gallagher, who is charismatic, politically ambitious, and publicly devoted. But Isabelle s visions of a happy, profitable match come to a halt when she witnesses her fiance commit a horrific crime and no one believes her.
Gregory denies all, and Isabelle s mother insists she marry as planned rather than drag them into scandal. Fearing for her life, Isabelle can think of only one escape: she feigns a mental breakdown that renders her mute, and is brought to Bellevue sanitarium. There she finds a friend in fellow patient Mary Todd Lincoln, committed after her husband s assassination.
In this unlikely refuge, the women become allies, even as Isabelle maintains a veneer of madness for her own protection. But sooner or later, she must reclaim her voice. And if she uses it to expose the truth, Isabelle risks far more than she could ever imagine.
Weaving together a thread of finely tuned suspense with a fascinating setting and real-life figures, Sarah Barthel’s debut is historical fiction at its most evocative and compelling.”
Isabelle is the envy of all the girls in Oak Park. She has caught the eye of handsome Gregory Gallagher and he proposed to her. In an age where marriages are usually treated as business contracts, she considers herself lucky that she loves Gregory and he loves her.
The night of her engagement party, Isabelle is ecstatic but at the same time worried about her friend Lucy. Lucy was too supposed to elope with her true love, Patrick, against the wishes of her mother. So Isabelle was a little surprised when she sees Lucy at her engagement party. As soon as she can, Isabelle speaks to Lucy and finds out that Patrick was called out-of-town to tend to his sick mother. Lucy is understandable upset and resigned to the fact that her mother will marry her off to the highest bidder.
Isabelle is half listening to Lucy when she sees Gregory heading out to the garden. She decides to follow him and finds him talking to a servant girl in the garden. When she asks who that was, he explains that she was a servant girl and she wanted to speak to him in the garden about a misunderstanding. Isabelle (who is a smart cookie) doesn’t quite believe him and follows him back to the party.
The next day, Isabelle is on her way lunch with her mother after a morning full of appointments. Her maid tells her that someone wants to have a word with her and asks Isabelle to pretend to miss a glove. The person who wants to meet her….the girl from the night before.
What Isabelle hears from the girl throws doubt on her relationship with Gregory. The girl, Katerina, tells Isabelle that she knew Gregory when he was growing up in Joliet and she wants Isabelle to give him a message. Isabelle tells her she must have the wrong Gregory but she will be happy to deliver the message for her. The girl is upset but doesn’t say anymore.
She does tell Gregory, at lunch, and he reconfirmed that he doesn’t know her. Which puts Isabelle at ease. A few days later, Isabelle decides to visit her maid, Abigail, at her house to give her a basket full of fruit, muffins and tea to thank her for helping her pick out the dress. When Abigail is bringing the basket into the house, Isabelle is left outside, kicking stones. One of the stones goes several houses down and she follows it. This is when she hears Gregory and Katerina yelling. Isabelle goes to look in the front window and what she sees terrifies her. She watches as Gregory strangles Katerina to death.
Traumatized by what she has seen, Isabelle stays where she was until dusk. She goes to look at the body and almost gets caught by Gregory when he comes back to move Katerina. She leaves the house and heads towards Abigail’s house, where she promptly passes out after twisting her ankle. When she comes too, she tries to tell her mother and Dr what she has seen. But they don’t believe her. Her mother, who was a piece of work, actually tells her that Isabelle must have made it up, that Gregory is a good boy and that Isabelle is lucky to be marrying him.
After having several run ins with her mother and Gregory, Isabelle decides that going to a sanitarium would be the best thing for her….after hearing her Dr mention it to her mother. So she goes voluntarily mute and starts throwing horrible fits. The next day she was on her way there.
The sanitarium that she goes to is called the Bellevue Sanitarium. While residing there, Isabelle meets some colorful people but none more colorful than Mary Todd Lincoln….the widow of Abraham Lincoln. She is admitted shortly after Isabelle and soon the two of them are friends.
I liked Isabelle. She was so stubborn and she definitely stood by her story….even if it meant pretending to be insane to avoid marrying Gregory. I also felt bad for her because her mother should have believed her and should have acted like more of a mother to her. During those scenes, I wanted to reach through the book and hug her.
Speaking of Isabelle’s mother, she was one of the worse characters I have read in a book in a long time. I couldn’t stand her. She was very self-centered and only out for herself. I seriously wanted to smack her in the face, she was that bad. She didn’t even pretend to care about Isabelle.
Historically, the book was on point and the author did a great job of adapting the time Mary Todd Lincoln spent in the Bellevue Sanitarium (and she did) into a really good thriller.
There really wasn’t a mystery to this book, though. You know everything up front. But it was a mystery as to what Gregory would do when he finally got a hold of Isabelle.
The end of the book was great but kinda predictable. I thought the girl power element was great…..lol. I did feel bad for Gregory when everything was revealed, though.
How many stars will I give House of Silence: 4
Why: A very well written, well researched historical fiction/thriller. You are actually kept on edge for most of the book.
Will I reread: Yes
Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes
Age range: Teen
Why: No sex, mild violence, no language
**I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**