The morning after I finished the last pages of this oddly titled novel about some missing papers belonging to President Abraham Lincoln, I made myself coffee and sat down with the day’s New York Times and guess what I saw? An article about the discovery of a Lincoln Bible that no one has ever known existed! I sipped my coffee and wondered if this was sheer coincidence or one of those Internet tracking events where someone had seen what I was reading on my Kindle and slipped a related news story into my custom-printed newspaper.
Naw. Probably just a coincidence, right?
Anyway, The Shut Mouth Society was a great and unexpectedly satisfying read. I’ve read several (not all) of Jim Best’s Steve Dancy novels and enjoyed them, but this novel is considerably more sophisticated and, well, interesting. Kind of like Russian Kachinka dolls, its setting is contemporary but within that it’s a historical novel. Like any historical novel, fact is married to fiction, and in this book it all works well together: the story carries the day and you don’t really know or need to care if every single thing is factual.
It reminded me, in its tone, its writing quality, plot complications, and in particular its What happens next? more of the work of another author I’ve been reading lately, Rob Swigart (his Lisa Emmer books) and A.S. Byatt’s magnificent novel, Possession. This book is a departure for Jim Best, but a successful one. You become a partner with Greg and Tricia as they become as alive and real as can be. Some outcomes seem inevitable, and they are, but I doubt you will be able to predict the conclusion.