Catherine Cookson was one of the world's most beloved writers. Her books have sold millions of copies, and her characters and their stories have captured the imagination of readers around the globe. She passed away in 1998, but luckily for her fans, Cookson left behind several unpublished novels, among them the compelling Silent Lady.
The story begins with a shocking revelation, delivered by a disheveled woman who presents herself at the offices of a respectable law firm in London. At first the receptionist suspects this mysterious woman is a vagrant; the clothes that hang on her frail body are filthy, and she seems unable to speak. When the woman requests to see the firm's senior partner, Alexander Armstrong, she is shown the door -- but when Mr. Armstrong learns the name of his visitor, all the office staff is amazed by his reaction. For Irene Baindor is a woman with a past, and her emergence from obscurity signals the unraveling of a mystery that had baffled the lawyer for twenty-six years.
To those around her, Irene Baindor had been a young woman of class and musical talent, the wife of a wealthy and powerful man, and the mother to a beloved baby boy. But behind closed doors she was a woman with a dangerous husband, a husband who would one day act with such cruelty that Irene would be left without most of her voice and memory. It was then that Irene disappeared. What Irene had been doing, and where she had been, gradually emerges over the following weeks, as the unlikely benefactors who had befriended her step forward to reveal the remarkable life she has led.
Fans of Cookson's novels, with their larger themes of romantic love and class conflict, will be delighted by the mystery and surprise of The Silent Lady. Drawing from her own firsthand experience of working-class life between two world wars and in the 1950s, Cookson once again displays the irresistible plotting, scene-setting, and characterization that have made her an icon of historical and romance fiction.
No one gets to die in publishing anymore instead, the dead just keep pumping out new books. The latest posthumously published novel from Cookson (Kate Hannigan's Girl, etc.) takes place in England between the wars and after. When a woman shows up at the law offices of Alexander Armstrong in 1955, dressed in tatters and barely able to speak, she's nearly shown the door. But when Armstrong learns the woman is Irene Baindor, she's treated differently. Apparently, Armstrong's been searching for Irene, who disappeared following a violent quarrel with her repressive and abusive husband, for over a quarter of a century. Now here she is, wearing the same garments she had on when last seen and carrying a package she won't let go of. Where has Irene been? And will she see her son again before she dies? Irene, the eponymous heroine, may be silent, but everyone else here talks too much, chiefly Armstrong, who expostulates on Irene's past for nearly a whole chapter without interruption; Bella, the fruit seller with a heart of gold who befriends Irene, can also natter a chapter away with nary an interruption. Neither the reunion nor the confrontation that come at the end will surprise anyone. Only time will tell how many more unpublished books Cookson left behind. Let's hope that at least some of them are better than this.