“Brutal Silence,” by Margaret Dardess

Margaret Dardess

Reviewed by Donna Meredith

Hidden in plain sight, human trafficking occurs in American neighborhoods where few expect that such a crime could exist, in the world of shopping malls and classy restaurants. But someone—a banker, a motel owner, a health care worker—surely suspects what is happening and fails to speak out. Margaret Dardess gives voice to the victims and survivors in her taut thriller, Brutal Silence (Mason Point Press, 2017).

On vacation in Mexico, Alex Harrington  is abducted on a public bus in front of many witnesses, but not one passenger is brave enough to protest or stand up to the villainous abductors. Beaten unconscious, Alex awakes in a metal shed warehousing other young women. She learns they will all be forced into prostitution under threat of beatings and death.

Alex runs a health care clinic in Dalton, North Carolina—how could a simple vacation have dropped her into this seamy underworld? Though terrified, she’s determined to escape. Alex and another young woman smash an opening in the shed. Just as their abductors return, the two escape through the hole. They run until a bullet stops Cristina. Only Alex makes it to the safety of a nearby highway. When Alex returns to the States, she vows to avenge Cristina’s death and to help the other young women left behind in that shed.

The author shifts the next chapter into the viewpoint of a trafficker, Emilio Vargas, a man with a twitchy left eyelid—and when it twitches, people die. Having pulled himself up from deep poverty, Vargas’ fortunes have changed: now “his name evoked terror, and he liked that.” He chastises his henchmen for letting the “Harrington puta” get away—after all, they had watched her for two days before finding an opportunity to snatch her. He vows she won’t “run away from him again.” So just this quickly, the author has set up a plucky protagonist and an evil villain who, unbeknownst to her, has his own devious reasons for wanting to abduct her. By this time, the reader is thoroughly hooked, eager to discover what Vargas’s agenda might be and how Alex will avoid being dragged back into the dark world of human trafficking.

Soon Alex discovers even small towns like Dalton can’t escape the scourge of trafficking.  Mexican-American clinic worker Carmela Flores accompanies a badly beaten woman for treatment to Alex’s clinic after hours. After the woman dies, Carmela goes into hiding—why? What is she afraid of? The woman’s death brings two new people into Alex’s life: reporter Mike Murray and Officer Craven. One becomes Alex’s ally and the other works for traffickers.

Rapidly escalating tension builds to a satisfying conclusion as Alex plunges headlong down a path riddled with multiple, devastating betrayals. While every twist and turn left me gasping, perhaps the novel had one too many escapes from bound arms and legs. Nonetheless, Brutal Silence is a thrill a minute that educates readers about a serious—and seriously overlooked—social problem. Human trafficking couldn’t exist without the cooperation of respected members of our communities. Often we are silent instead of speaking up, and Darness makes clear that our silence results in brutality we should never countenance.

Dardess graduated from Connecticut College and then studied history at Columbia University. After a brief teaching career, she tackled the law.  She masqueraded as an international trade lawyer, a corporate executive and a university administrator until at last she cast aside her parents’ warnings to avoid an arts career. She wrote Brutal Silence, her first thriller, after meeting a woman who successfully escaped from human traffickers. Dardess now resides in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Click here to purchase this book:

Leave a Reply