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Unspeakable by Sandra Brown
(Warner, $25.00, PG) ISBN 0-446-51979-0
****
Carl Herbold and his retarded, psychopathic friend Myron Hutts are serving time for murder in an Arkansas penitentiary. The two men stage a successful prison break that results in the murder of two prison guards. Carl's future plans include living in Mexico, but first he intends to kill the people who were responsible for the time he has spent in prison. Acts of savagery mark their way as they head toward Herbold's home in Blewer County, Texas.

Meanwhile, Blewer County Sheriff Ezzy Hardge, who has served that county for 52 years, has just reluctantly retired. One of his last acts is to remove the file on the unsolved murder of Patricia McCordle. Hardge has been obsessed with the twenty-year-old case since the beginning. Always believing the Herbold brothers were responsible for the murder, he has agonized many years because there was never enough evidence to formally charge them.

State law enforcement officers are on full alert and converge on Blewer County believing that Carl is headed there to join his older brother, Cecil. Arriving nearly the same time is Jack Sawyer who seeks out rancher DelRay Corbett and asks for a job. Although reluctant to hire a drifter with no references, DelRay needs the help and fears that Carl Herbold will return to the area.

DelRay, the stepfather and disciplinarian whom the Herbold brothers hated, lives with his daughter-in-law Anna, and his five-year-old grandson, David. Anna has been profoundly deaf since birth. Once able to speak, she stopped trying after the death of her husband and is now mute.

With secrets of his own, Jack is fully aware of the impending danger. But Jack's growing feelings for Anna may make the upcoming confrontation even more dangerous.

After what may seem like a slow start introducing a complex plot and an abundance of main characters, the book matures rapidly to a twisting climax in Blewer County

All of Brown's many characters are finely drawn. Perhaps her most remarkable job is done with Anna. Because she is mute, her voice is not available as a means for us to get into her head.. Yet by the end of the book I suddenly realized that I knew her very well. Not only through her growing attraction to Jack, but also by living her disability with her.

This is not Brown's first book about deafness. She depicted the disability and people's reaction to it in her portrayal of a young deaf child in Eloquent Silence. But she goes far beyond that in Unspeakable where she takes her heroine through the diverse emotions of people who want to help her defeat her deafness; people who use it; or finally people to whom it literally makes no difference.

Unspeakable will not appeal to everyone. The graphic violence and crude language underscore Brown's move into mainstream suspense fiction. But for me, when characters are so well drawn and when conflict is so credible and escalating that I breathlessly await the conclusion, then I close any book with a sigh of satisfaction and feel I definitely got my money's worth.

--Thea Davis


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