Publisher: Kensington Books, Kensington
Date of publication: December 27th, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
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 fiancé commit a horrific crime—and no one believes her.
Gregory denies all, and Isabelle’s mother insists she marries as planned rather than drag them into a 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. Isabelle was 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 understandably 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 any more.
She does tell Gregory 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. Isabelle hears Gregory and Katerina yelling. She 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. Isabelle 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 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. 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 unusual 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 stood by her story, even if it meant pretending to be insane to avoid marrying Gregory. I felt terrible for her because her mother should have believed her. During those scenes, I wanted to reach through the book and hug her.
Isabelle’s mother 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. I seriously wanted to smack her. She didn’t even pretend to care about Isabelle.
Historically, the book was on point. The author did a great job of adapting the time Mary Todd Lincoln spent in the Bellevue Sanitarium (and she did) into an excellent thriller.
There wasn’t a mystery to this book, though. You know everything upfront. 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 somewhat predictable. I thought the girl power element was significant. I did feel bad for Gregory when everything was revealed, though.
I would give House of Silence an Adult rating. There is sex. There is language. There is mild violence. I would recommend that no one under the age of 21 read this book.
I would reread House of Silence. I would recommend it to family and friends.
**I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book**