Book Review: THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides

With a clever and thought-provoking plot worthy of Agatha Christie or Alfred Hitchcock, plenty of red herrings for the reader to puzzle over, a confined main setting, as well as some unexpected twists and turns, The Silent Patient may very well appeal to fans of the work of Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling’s mystery-writing, alter-ego), and fans of the book, The Woman in the Window.

The Silent Patient’s propulsive narrative goes back and forth between past and present, and is told in the first person by two alternating voices. The first is the silent patient of the title, Alicia Berenson. Alicia is a British, visual artist who has been convicted of the murder of her fashion photographer husband, Gabriel. Because of various factors, not the least of which being that she has stopped vocalizing entirely after the killing, Alicia is being housed at The Grove, a secure psychiatric facility. Alicia’s feelings and thoughts - her side of what led up to Gabriel’s death - is revealed to the reader through Alicia’s paintings, and especially, through the words of her diary.

The second point of view is that of Theo Faber, the forty-two year old forensic psychologist who works with Alicia at The Grove to try to draw out her voice. In the process, Theo becomes our amateur detective of sorts, and, within and outside of his psychotherapy with Alicia, we go down the rabbit hole of emotions and clues, discovering the inciting incidents behind Alicia’s silence, as well as the circumstances of her husband’s demise. I must admit that I’m still deciding whether or not all of the pieces of the jigsaw fit perfectly together, and whether or not certain details of the plot are meant to raise questions. Herein lies the crux of my 4.5, rather than 5 star rating. I anticipate lively discussions amongst detail-oriented book groups, and possibly, future film audiences.

The book itself is the stuff of publishing legend. Written by a then forty-one year old screenwriter, heretofore unknown in the crime literature universe, the author’s debut novel was the first book to be published by Celadon, a small, “highly curated”, fiction and non-fiction imprint of Macmillan. With lots of positive buzz from early readers, no sooner had it been released, than The Silent Patient immediately shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It’s available in at least forty-three countries worldwide, and has already been optioned for film by Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, with Mr. Michaelides to write the screenplay!

Alex Michaelides says he set out to write “an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery with a deeper psychological complexity”. He was inspired to write his debut by the Christie canon that he devoured one summer at the beach in Cypus, where he was born. Having a Greek-Cypriot father, the study of Greek mythology was part of the culture in which he grew up, as well as that of Cambridge, where he attended University. The Silent Patient was inspired also by the myth surrounding Alcestis, and the Euripides play of the same name. If that sounds dry, fear not! While this may be a “thinking person’s” mystery, I found it to be compelling, “page-turning”, and accessible. And I can highly recommend the compulsively listenable audio book performances of British actors, Jack Hawkins, as Theo Faber, and, portraying Alicia Berenson, Louise Brealey, whose narration of The Girl on the Train contributed to its 2016 Audie Award for Audio Book of the Year. The Silent Patient is an entertaining and strong debut, and I’m very glad that I read it!


Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who enjoy reading psychological suspense. The Silent Patient is psychological with a capital “P”, doing a deep dive into several of the characters’ psyches. Much of the plot takes place in a secure, psychiatric facility, and during psychotherapy sessions.

  • Who like to read Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries, yet with contemporary details and language.

  • Who appreciate reading about one or more possibly unreliable narrators.

  • Who don’t mind reading some slightly gory details, and a bit of sexual content.

  • Who are interested in art and/or Greek mythology.

  • Who enjoy mysteries and crime fiction featuring an amateur detective.

    Pages: 336 (Hardcover)

    Length: 8 hrs. 43 mins.

Publisher’s Blurb:

Promising to be the debut novel of the season, The Silent Patient is a shocking, psychological thriller of a woman’s act of violence against her husband—and of the therapist obsessed with uncovering her motive…

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him.... 

MINM Overall Rating: 4.5/5 Stars