The silent boy by Andrew Taylor
Harper, 2015. ISBN 9780007506606
(Age: Young adult/adult) Highly recommended. Crime, Historical novel, French Revolution, Eighteenth century England. When young Charles sees his mother, Augusta killed during the first stages of the French Revolution, he keeps himself quiet and unobserved, not saying a thing, just like she said. So he does not speak. At all. Emigres take him to England and he finds himself in a country house with a man who was a friend of his mother's and insists he is Charles' father. Savill, estranged husband to Augusta has a claim and wants to do the best for the boy even though he knows he is not his son. But he is commissioned by the enigmatic Rampton a childless civil servant within the Post Office, great uncle to Augusta, to fetch the child from the country as he needs an heir. Savill goes on his quest armed with an array of documents giving him the legal power to take the boy, but suffering from tooth ache is laid up for several days. During this time the child is kidnapped, and so the hunt is on.
This is a surprising story. At first I found it rather muddled, and the disjointed writing did not help, but I persevered as the setting is so well defined, and found it a gripping read. Chapters in the past tense carry most of the action, while those in the present revolve around the mute boy and his activities at staying alive. When a young woman reads him the story of Robinson Crusoe he deems that flight to the safety of an island is his only option, so he escapes from his captors several times, making Savill's hunt even more precarious. Cat and mouse chapters follow, with Charles falling into the hands of a variety of people, and Savill being often just one step behind the lad. The plot delves and dives into some amazing places with an array of great characters to keep the readers' interest.
Above all the reader will want to know what happens to the boy, and why he has been struck dumb, while the descriptions of life in both town and city in eighteenth century England makes for a fascinating backdrop to the tale.