Helen Grant – Silent Saturday

helengrant-silentsaturdayDe Jager, that was what he called himself, that was what defined him. The Hunter.

And tonight, he had work to do . . .

Veerle De Keyser is frustrated with life in suburban Brussels. But a chance encounter with a hidden society, whose members illegally break into unoccupied buildings around the city, soon opens up a whole new world of excitement – and danger.

When one of the society’s founding members disappears, Veerle suspects foul play. But nothing can prepare her for the horror that is about to unfold when an old foe emerges from the shadows.

No one is safe, and the hunter will strike again.

Silent Saturday is Helen Grant’s fourth book published, but it’s the first one that will be part of a series, called Forbidden Spaces. I’d greatly enjoyed Grant’s first three novels. I did wonder how her brand of thriller would adapt to being stretched over a multiple book arc, as one of the things I really enjoyed about her previous novels was how intricate their plotting was and how well paced they were, working up to a big climax and a clear denouement. How would Grant manage to do this without losing the well-paced nature of her writing or leaving the reader with a huge cliff hanger? While she doesn’t lose any pacing, she does leave the reader on a cliff hanger, though the biggest mystery – that of the killer’s identity – is revealed. Other than that, Silent Saturday is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Grant, a well-paced thriller with interesting protagonists and a large psychological or paranormal component, though this book doesn’t contain any paranormal elements.

The book’s protagonist and main narrator is Veerle de Keyser. I really liked her; she’s not a bad kid or a rebellious one, but in trying to escape her mother’s stronger than normal, protective maternal instinct, she makes some not so smart choices. The relationship between Veerle and her mum Claudine is where the main psychological element of the book comes in. We see her trying to escape her mother’s obsessive smothering and struggling between the need to be free and be allowed to grow-up and feeling responsible for her less-than-self-sufficient mum. While her rebellion is understandable, I loved her compassion for her mum and while at times I hated how much Veerle tries to excuse and reason away her mother’s behaviour, I could understand the mechanics behind it. The gradual realisation that something was really wrong with her mother and her discovery of why her mum became like that was very well done. As a reader you start to feel trapped right along Veerle in this web of crazy overprotectiveness and dependence Claudine has spun about Veerle and you feel just as frustrated when no one steps in to help her. Veerle’s biggest growth is in how she relates to her mother and in the choices she makes not just in her approach of her mother, but also in regard to the information she has on the murders in the book. She decides to act, perhaps not in the wisest way, but to not sit still and try to hide her head in the sand until it’s over, but to take control, however imaginary this control may turn out be.

Veerle’s main partner-in-crime (and love-interest) is Kris Verstraeten. Kris is mysterious and filled with contradictions. His family is from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak, and Veerle has always been warned away from him, especially after they witnessed a gruesome murder while hidden away in the church’s bell-tower when they were really little. While ostensibly Kris seems a troublemaker – he dresses like a bad boy and he’s the one that introduces Veerle into the Koekoeken – he also is keeping down a steady job and is very polite to the very rude Claudine. I found it hard to get a grip on him, though he always came across as sympathetic and is clearly one of the good guys. The romance between Veerle and Kris is interesting, though it seemed a little inevitable, from the moment Veerle re-encounters Kris, it’s clear they will become an item. What I did love is how much Kris supported Veerle in her struggles with her mum. He listens to her and tries to suggest possible solutions, but he never bad-mouths Veerle’s mother and always supports her decisions. I found this unexpectedly mature and I really liked this aspect of their relationship. However, this doesn’t mean he rescues Veerle, he is just the catalyst for Veerle to decide that she’s had enough—in the end Veerle rescues herself.

Grant’s shadowy organisation of benevolent burglars called the Koekoeken, or cuckoos, is a brilliant concept, but also rather spooky. For some reason it’s far too easy to believe that there could really be a similar group in reality and that’s just a freaky concept to consider. However, Grant has developed the concept in well-thought-out detail and it’s quite convincing. I loved how the group became central to the plot, not just through its role in Veerle’s rebellion, but also due to its role in the mystery. The way Veerle and Kris gradually discover the pattern to the murders and the way the Koekoeken are involved in them was built up slowly, with plenty of misdirection and was fascinating to follow.

One thing Grant excels at is setting and language. Her previous three books were set in Germany, close to or in the small town where she lived for several years. Silent Saturday is set in and around Tervuren, a municipality under the smoke of Brussels, where a lot of ex-pats working for the European Commission live. The language there is Dutch, though due to the dual official languages of Belgium a lot of people speak French as well. Grant lived in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking half of Belgium) for several years and her affection for the country, its people and its language is obvious. I liked that she chose to respect the language divide in Belgium in how she chose to name the towns. While she chose the English versions for big towns such as Ghent and Brussels, she kept the other towns the way they would be named by their inhabitants. So Tervuren is Dutch, but Namur, which is in the French-speaking part of Belgium is called by its French name and not the Dutch Namen. Besides lending veracity to the book, it also shows respect to the quite complicated political situation in Belgium. Grant also sprinkles some Dutch into the narrative, though in quite a lot of cases these are profanities – of the mildest variety – and it was rather disconcerting to read these. Something which surprised me, as I’m not really prone to minding these, however apparently when they’re in my mother tongue, they have more of an impact. There’s probably a completely logical, psychological explanation for this, but I was still surprised.

Silent Saturday‘s ending is both satisfactory and frustrating, as I wanted more. I was left with more questions than answers and it left me with the same feeling I have when one of the crime shows I watch on TV ends on a To Be Continued… On the other hand, I’m definitely tuning in for the next instalment of Forbidden Spaces as I’m dying to find out what will happen next and to see if we’ll get answers for the questions the last chapter leaves us with. Silent Saturday is another great book from Helen Grant, who keeps getting better and better with each book. If you enjoy YA thrillers then Silent Saturday – as for that matter her previous three books – comes highly recommended. The book will be published by Bodley Head’s Children’s Books on April 4th.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.