SILENT SUSPECT came out of a 'what if?' question that started to germinate when I decided I wanted to attempt a novel. I went about the work backwards, in a sense: conjuring up the character who would become the focus of the book, then a situation, then wrote a long part that would end up toward the final pages. The plot outline itself came only later. The novel is set mostly in the South, and in 1991, when South Carolina and neighboring states were experiencing the often painful transition from decades of segregation following on two centuries of shameful slavery. I'm happy to observe that the South Carolina of today is a different place than it was even 20+ years ago.
After her night-time arrest at her house on Cape Cod for the 1959 murder— and alleged "cover-up" fire—of her wealthy industrialist lover, Ezra Handley, Olivia St. Clair, a successful sculptress, mysteriously rendered mute years earlier, persuades John Bartlemas, a local Cape Cod attorney with limited criminal law experience, to defend her in a rural South Carolina courtroom. Bartlemas is struggling with the financial and personal challenges of caring for his 19 year-old son, confined to a wheelchair as a result of a horrendous automobile crash that killed Bartlemas' estranged wife. He agrees to take on the case on the understanding that St. Clair will plead guilty, meaning only a few days away from home. Things don't work out as anticipated, though, and he finds himself out of his element as a small time civil law practitioner, enmeshed in a weeks-long trial on "foreign" turf, defending an uncooperative client who cannot speak.
His opponent is Bernard Le Roi, an African-American deputy district attorney in Brooklyn, temporarily relocated to South Carolina to care for his dying mother, conscripted by the local District Attorney to prosecute Olivia St. Clair. Reluctantly agreeing, He hopes to use the trial to discover long-buried truths about his own family mysteries. The 'facts' of the death of Ezra Handley thus become intertwined in the personal crises facing the opposing lawyers.Tony Hawthorne