At first glance, the book ‘Mute’ seems like just another detective story. Monique “Moni” Williams is a low-on-the-totem-pole cop in Brevard County, Florida whose specialty is dealing with traumatized children, thanks in large part to her own abusive background. When she arrives on the scene of a beheaded couple to coax a reluctant and mute witness out of hiding – the couple’s eight year old daughter – she finds herself in the middle of one of the biggest investigations the county has ever seen.
So what makes this detective story different? A little animal mutation, some mind control, and inexplicable environmental changes in the local Indian River Lagoon. As our story opens, the strange events are only mildly weird – a manatee that escapes unharmed from a boating accident; a turtle with strange bacteria growth. Before long, things get crazy – like dolphins with arms crazy. The animal mutations appear linked with a growing number of beheaded corpses found around town. The only witness left alive is Mariella, the silent eight year old girl rescued by Moni, but as her behavior grows stranger, it seems that she doesn’t hold the answer to what’s happening so much as she might be the answer.
Officer Moni Williams is an interesting character study. The daughter of an African-American woman and a Caucasian man, she believes she is the victim of racism and sexism in both her job and her town. Some of this inequality is evident in very obvious ways, e.g. when her boss Sneed tells her to bring tampons to a long meeting. Much of the barbs, however, were in Moni’s own voice, in her interpretations of what other people were thinking. After she is chastised for ignoring a command, “Moni knew what he really meant, ‘What any white officer would do.’” She has internalized so much prejudice that she comes up with the insults herself.
The truth is, Moni isn’t a good officer, and it has nothing to do with her skin color or her femininity. She immediately takes Mariella into her own home and begins calling her “my baby” from the start. While this may be just an affectionate term, within a day or two Moni already considers herself Mariella’s mother. She is supposed to be treating the girl as a witness so the police can stop the beheadings that are happening on a daily basis, but Moni never even broaches the subject with the girl. I understand witnesses, especially underaged witnesses, must be treated very carefully, but Moni all but ignores the rapidly declining population in favor of playing house with her new little friend. She becomes too emotionally attached to Mariella much too quickly. Even though she obviously cares for the girl, she repeatedly puts her in dangerous situations, including an ex-boyfriend who points a gun at the girl and her ex-con father who isn’t allowed within 1,000 feet of children. In addition to Mariella and the entire Brevard County population, Moni puts her fellow officers in danger when she refuses to listen to commands and eventually leaves them stranded to fight for their lives. Other than Moni and her love interest Aaron, the town seems to be populated with unlikeable characters, which made me wonder why she stays. While she feels guilty for something she couldn’t control (her father’s abuse of others), she seems to have no problem needlessly risking everyone else around her to save Mariella. Moni’s character gets a bit of reprieve by the end of the book, but by then it’s too late to stop the suffering she has caused.
Bandell is an author that loves his metaphors and similes, and among my favorites was “dissolving her guts slowly like a Popsicle melting on the table.” Ultimately his style of writing wasn’t my cup of tea, but if you’re a reader that values story above all else (particularly stories of nature “striking back”), then this would be the book for you. The novel ‘Mute’ is available for purchase on the Kindle and will be available in the Lending Library for Kindle Prime subscribers until the end of September.