THE STUDY OF SILENCE by Malia Zaidi, Historical Mystery, 448 pp., $18.49 (Paperback) $8.99 (Kindle edition)
Title: THE STUDY OF SILENCE
Author: Malia Zaidi
Genre: Historical Mystery
Lady Evelyn Carlisle has returned home to England, where she is completing her degree at St. Hugh’s, a women’s college in Oxford. Her days are spent poring over ancient texts and rushing to tutorials. All is well until a fateful morning, when her peaceful student life is turned on its head. Stumbling upon the gruesome killing of someone she thought she knew, Evelyn is plunged into a murder investigation once more, much to the chagrin of her friends and family, as well as the intriguing Detective Lucas Stanton. The dreaming spires of Oxford begin to appear decidedly less romantic as she gathers clues, and learns far more than she ever wished to know about the darkness lurking beyond the polished veneer. Can she solve the crime before the killer strikes once more, this time to Evelyn’s own detriment?
My hair is tangled, a loose knot at the nape of my neck, where my head rests against the cool stone wall. I close my eyes and see it all swimming like a dream beneath my lids. And him, always him. I open my eyes, still here. Still here. The thought echoes in my mind as if I have spoken it aloud, and it is bouncing from the uncaring walls of this chamber.
Suddenly, from somewhere above and beyond comes the sound of clanging metal. A door opens and with a screech is shut again. Closed. Secured. Barred. Steps follow. Slow, reluctant steps. One, two, three . . . I want to lose myself in the monotony of the rhythm. I grow used to it, even enjoy it, when the steps suddenly cease once more. Silence. Then nearby, another metallic cry. A key is turned in a rusty lock. A door is opened. A door. My door. Steps again. Two this time. Only a small space to cross. I notice his shoes first. They gleam in the low light. Attached to the shoes, a man in a dour black suit. I look up at his face, but perceive only shadow, dark lines. Squinting, I make no effort to get to my feet. There is no pretending we are equals now. He has no choice, but to crouch to my level. I have brought him down with me. To me.
"Do you have anything to say?"
His face is close, and I am shocked by his youth. I had expected gray temples and furrowed brows. He is younger than I, not by much perhaps, but nonetheless. His eyes meet mine. Can I speak to him? Should I tell him the truth, my truth? A sudden bang from a place beyond these walls makes him flinch and he tears his gaze from mine, only for a moment, but it is decisive.
His voice is quiet, calm . . . kind? "My child, speak."
A warbled laugh escapes my dry throat. My child. I am no one's child any longer. The words are ludicrous coming from this man, this frightened boy in an adult's body. He wants to be here nearly as little as I, and fights with himself not to recoil at the sudden sound erupting from my mouth. I frighten him. I, a helpless creature sitting at his feet, frighten him. Another choked laugh.
"Shall I get you some water."
Water. I shake my head.
"Will you not let me hear you?" I am struck by his earnest expression, nothing like the permanent mask of stern reprimand, the looks of disgust I have received these past weeks. Could I tell him? Might he understand? It would not change my fate. But someone else would know the truth. Before I can think of reasons to stay silent, before I can begin to understand the consequences, my words pour out. The last words I will ever speak find compassionate ears. Once spoken, they cannot be unspoken, and when I complete my tale, my truth, I am empty. There is nothing more and I am nothing more.
The light is so bad I cannot tell whether he has paled at my confession. Our eyes meet in the gloom, glowing embers. He watches me for another moment, then gets to his feet, brushes his trousers and walks the few steps back to the door. I hear him rap the thick wood twice. Then the lock is turned.
He speaks once more, his words run through me like flour through a sieve. Nothing sticks. Nothing stays. I am water and he is oil. The door clatters shut and his steps fade away.
I am alone.
Malia Zaidi is a writer and painter, who grew up in Germany and lives in the US. An avid reader and traveler, she decided to combine these passions, and turn her long-time ambition of writing into a reality. The Study of Silence is the third book of The Lady Evelyn Mysteries.
WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS: