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Command of Silence by Paulette Callen comes from the Katherine Forrest Selection line of Spinster’s Ink. Which means one of the doyennes of lesbian mystery chose to put her imprimatur on it. That alone is reason to pick it up.
Reading it, however, is another issue.
Command of Silence is not like any other lesbian mystery you’ll read this season, or likely any other. It has a fairly standard mystery plot–two children go missing, one after another on Manhattan’s tony Upper West Side. The nanny—one of the children is hers—is the natural suspect.
But where this plot shifts almost tectonically from the formula is in the detective—rather, detectives—investigating the case. Yes, the police are on it. But there’s always another detective in the wings in a good mystery who works with and knows more than the police, and here it is Shiloh & Co.
Shiloh is a detective. The “company” is made up of her alternate but not integrated personalities. Shiloh has a psyche shattered into different personae by the kind of childhood trauma that makes textbooks—and causes people to wretch as they read.
It’s an intriguing premise and, in some respects, more fascinating than the mystery itself. Shiloh has been helped back to functional mental health by Dr. Ray Martinez, a lesbian therapist with a keen sense of what it takes to piece human beings back together after the inhumane among us have had at them. Even the intimations of what has happened to Shiloh are shocking.
Shiloh has a difficult time with the case of the two missing children and some readers may find Shiloh’s Dissociative Identity Disorder—and the shifting personae within her—difficult to comprehend or accept. But the idea certainly makes for a compelling, if often quite dark, story. Callen tells it with heart and verve.
COMMAND OF SILENCE
By Paulette Callen
Paperback, $14.95, 288 p.