Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

by Diane Chamberlain


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Laura Brandon's promise to her dying father was simple: to visit an elderly woman she'd never heard of before. A woman who remembers nothing—except the distant past. Visiting Sarah Tolley seemed a small enough sacrifice to make.

But Laura's promise results in another death. Her husband's. And after their five-year-old daughter, Emma, witnesses her father's suicide, Emma refuses to talk about it…to talk at all.

Frantic and guilt ridden, Laura contacts the only person who may be able to help. A man she's met only once—six years before. A man who doesn't know he's Emma's real father.

Guided only by a child's silence and an old woman's fading memories, the two unravel a tale of love and despair, of bravery and unspeakable evil. A tale that's shrouded in silence…and that unbelievably links them all.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780778327424
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 11/24/2009
Edition description: Original
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 258,053
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Diane Chamberlain is the bestselling author of twenty novels, including The Midwife's Confession and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes. Diane lives in North Carolina and is currently at work on her next novel. Visit her Web site at and her blog at and her Facebook page at

Read an Excerpt

The phone rang a few minutes after eleven on Christmas night. Laura was at her computer in the study, as usual, but she quickly reached for the receiver. She knew who was calling.

"He's asking for you," the nurse said. "I think you'd better hurry."

"I'll be right there."

She ran through the living room, past the darkened Christmas tree and up the stairs to the second floor of the town house. Although she tried to be quiet, the bedroom door squeaked as she opened it, and Ray lifted his head from the pillow. He was never an easy sleeper.

"The hospital called," she said, slipping off her robe and pulling a pair of jeans from her dresser drawer. "I have to go."

Ray sat up and switched on his bedside light. "Is he…?" He didn't finish the sentence as he reached for his glasses on the night table. He looked dazed, blinking against the intrusion of light in the room.

"He's still alive," she said. "But I think this is it." She heard the lack of emotion in her voice as the calm and collected scientist in her took over.

"I'll come with you," Ray said, throwing off the covers. "I'll get Emma up and she and I can wait in—"

"No." She pulled her sweater over her head, then leaned over to kiss him. "You and Emma stay here. No sense waking her up. Besides, I need to get there quickly."

"All right." Ray smoothed his hands over his thinning brown hair. "But call if you change your mind and want us to come."

He looked like an oversized little boy, sitting on the edge of the bed in his striped pajamas, and Laura felt a quick surge of love for him. "I will," she said, giving him a hug. "Thanks."

Outside, the air was still and cold. She drove quickly through the neighborhood, the houses and trees ablaze with colored lights. On the main road through Leesburg, she hit red light after red light, and even though the streets were nearly empty, she stopped dutifully at each of them.

Her father had wanted no heroic measures, and he'd received none. Although Laura agreed philosophically with his decision, her emotions were another matter, and these past few days she'd been hoping for a miracle. She wasn't ready to lose him. Carl Brandon had been the one consistent person in her life, always there for her. Her relationship with him had not been perfect, but who had a perfect relationship with their father? He'd turned eighty a few months ago, right after the cancer came back. She'd given him a party after hours in the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, turning on the planetarium lights for him. It would be his last party, and she knew there was nothing he would love better than to gaze at the sea of stars above him. He'd nearly ignored the guests in favor of the mechanically created sky.

Only a few cars were parked in the visitors' lot, and she found a spot close to the hospital entrance. Inside, the lobby was eerily empty and dimly lit. Shivering as she walked through it, she tried to prepare herself for what lay ahead. She would find her father at peace. He was not afraid of dying, and that comforted her. He had an astronomer's appreciation of his own irrelevance. When your passion was the sky and the stars and the planets, the insignificance of your life was a given.

So, she would hold his hand as he drifted away from her. She would be very strong. Then she would drive home and Ray would comfort her. In the morning, she would tell Emma that Poppa had died. She had already tried to explain to her five-year-old daughter about Poppa's illness, trying to equate what was happening to him to what had happened to Emma's guinea pig the year before. But Emma, despite asking dozens of questions, seemed unable to grasp the concept of forever. And Laura, who had always scoffed at the notion of heaven, found herself using the idea to comfort Emma. And at times, herself.

She knew the instant she entered her father's room that he was not at peace. He was clearly worse than when she'd seen him that afternoon. His breathing was raspier, his skin grayer, and he was agitated. As he reached for her, his long arms trembling in the air, he wore a look of desperation on his once-handsome face.

She took his hand and sat on the edge of his bed.

"I'm here, Dad." She guessed he had not wanted to die without her at his side and wished she'd ignored those red lights to get to the hospital sooner.

He held both her hands in his weak grasp, but even with her there, the desperate look did not leave his eyes. He tried to speak, the words coming out between his gasps for air. "Should… have…told…" he said.

She leaned close to hear him. From that angle, she could see the stars of Aries through the hospital window. "Don't try to speak, Dad." She smoothed a tuft of white hair away from his temple.

"A woman," he said. "You need…" Her father's face, gaunt and gray, tightened with frustration as he struggled to get the words out.

"I need to what, Dad?" she asked gently.

"Look…" His lips trembled from the strain of speaking. "Look after her," he said.

Laura drew away to study his face. Could he be delusional? "Okay," she said. "I will. Please don't try to talk anymore."

He let go of her hand to reach toward the night table, his arm jerking with the motion. Laura saw the scrap of paper he was aiming for and picked it up herself. Her father had written a name on the paper in a nearly illegible scrawl that threatened to break her heart.

"Sarah Tolley," Laura read. "Who is that?"

"Friend," he said. "Important…has no…family." He swallowed with effort, his Adam's apple a sharp blade beneath the skin of his throat. "Promise."

He wanted her to look after a woman named Sarah Tolley?

"But…who is she?" Laura asked. "Where is she?"

His eyes were closed. "Meadow…Wood…"

"Meadow Wood Village?" Laura pictured the attractive, Victorian-style retirement home on the outskirts of Leesburg.

He nodded. At least she thought he did.

"Can you tell me what you want me to do for her?" she asked.

"Take care…"

"Take care of her?" Laura asked. "But I don't know her, Dad. I've never even heard you talk about her before."

Her father's paper-thin eyelids fluttered open, and she saw panic in his eyes. "Promise!" he said. In a nearly spasmodic movement, he reached toward her as if trying to grasp her shoulders, but he caught his fingers in the chain of her necklace instead. She felt the chain snap, and the pendant fell into her lap.

Unsettled by his panic, she caught his hands. "It's all right, Daddy," she said. "I promise. I'll take care of her."


"I'll do it, Dad." She leaned back to slip the scrap of paper into her jeans pocket. "You don't need to worry."

He sank back against the pillow, pointing one trembling finger toward her neck. "I broke…"

"It's all right." She lifted the necklace from her lap and slipped it, too, into her jeans pocket. "It can be fixed." She took his hand again and held it on her thigh. "You rest now," she said.

Obediently, he closed his eyes, their small battle over. Small battles were nothing new between them. Her mother had died when Laura was seven, and her father had been a difficult parent, demanding and controlling, but always attentive. She had been his top priority, and she knew it. He'd instilled in her his love of astronomy, although for him it had been a cherished avocation rather than a profession, and he was responsible for the person she'd become. His methodical shaping of her had at times been painful and contentious, but she was grateful for it.

She sat there for hours, holding her father's hand as it grew slacker and cooler in her own. Taped to the wall was a picture Emma had drawn for him a few days earlier. It was one of those typical five-year-old's drawings. Vivid blue sky. Yellow sun. Green tree. A child dressed in blue and purple, wearing a broad smile, the sort of smile Emma herself wore more often than not. Laura studied the drawing, saddened by the incongruity of that happy child with the scene in this room.

She looked out the window again. Aries was gone, but she could see Jupiter near the center of Aquarius. She closed her eyes, and it was a minute before she realized that her father's breathing had stopped. Sitting very still, she held his lifeless hand in hers, as the room filled with a silence as deep as the sky.

The eastern skywas purplewiththe approaching dawn when she arrived home from the hospital. Ray was brewing coffee, wearing his blue terry-cloth robe, a splash of color in the white, uncluttered kitchen. He walked toward her once she was in the door, his arms outstretched, and she could tell he hadn't slept well. Dark circles marred the skin beneath his eyes, and the stubble of his beard was white. For a moment, she felt the fear of losing him, too. He was sixty-one, twenty-one years older than she, and these last few years had taken a toll on him. When she buried her head against his shoulder, she wasn't sure if her tears were for her father or her husband.

"He died about an hour ago," she said, drawing away from him. She wiped her eyes with a tissue, then took the mug of coffee he handed her and sat down at the table.

"I'm glad you got to be there with him," he said.

"It was upsetting." She held the mug between her cold hands. "I thought I'd just sit with him while he… slipped away. But he was very anxious. Really wired. He asked me to take care of some woman I've never even heard him talk about before, and he made me promise I'd do it. It was as if he couldn't let himself die until I swore I'd take care of her."

Ray frowned. "Who's the woman? And what did he mean by 'take care of?"

Laura reached into her jeans pocket for the scrap of paper, which she flattened on the table. "Sarah Tolley," she said. "She lives in Meadow Wood Village. You know, that retirement home?"

Ray turned away from her to pour himself more coffee. He was quiet, and she imagined that he, too, was trying to puzzle out her father's request. His body looked thick and shapeless beneath the robe. Too heavy. It wasn't healthy to carry around so much weight. She wished he'd take better care of himself.

"And you don't know her connection to Carl?" he asked finally, his back still to her.

"I have no idea. He said she's a special friend. Or important. I don't remember his exact words. He could barely speak." The conversation with her father now seemed vague, as if she'd dreamed it. "He said, or at least implied, that she has no one else to take care of her. No family."

"Sweetheart." Ray sat down at the ancient oak table and rested his hand on top of hers. "I think this was the ranting of a dying man," he said. "You know he's suffered from dementia on and off this past week. The medication—"

"I know, but he seemed clearheaded about this. You should have seen him, Ray. It was so important to him. And where would he get this name from?" She pulled her hand from his to touch the scrap of paper. "She must mean something to him. Maybe he had another life we knew nothing about. I'm going to call Meadow Wood Village later today to see if this woman actually lives there."

Ray's expression was the one he wore when he lobbied politicians on Capitol Hill. She saw the calculated patience in his face, the tightness in his lips, and knew he was choosing his words with care.

"It's probably not a good time to discuss this," he said, his tone even, his hand on hers again, "because you're understandably upset and feeling pretty emotional about Carl. But I really want you to think about the fact that he ran your life when he was alive and now he's trying to control it from the grave."

She knew what he was talking about. Sometimes her father's love had seemed tied to her achievements, and, no matter what she accomplished, it was never quite enough. But it seemed harsh, almost cruel, for Ray to imply that her father's deathbed wish was a final act of manipulation.

She leaned toward her husband, feeling tears fill her eyes. "This is the last thing my father will ever ask of me," she said. "I promised him I'd do as he requested, Ray, and I will. I don't know what this—" she looked at the piece of paper "—Sarah Tolley was to him, but there is no way I can simply turn my back on her."

"Damn it!" Ray slammed his mug on the table so hard she jumped, and coffee splashed onto the white place mat. He stood up. "Here you go again, throwing yourself off the deep end headfirst. Don't you have enough to do? Aren't Emma and I ever enough to satisfy you?"

Startled by his outburst, she could not find her voice. She stared at her husband while he plowed ahead.

"Why do you always need to have a million projects going at once?" he asked. "Have you looked at your life lately? You just got back from a month of research in Brazil, you drive to Baltimore to teach at Hopkins one day a week, you're overextended at the Smithsonian, and last week you told me you're going back to Brazil next summer. What happened to your promise to us, huh?" He leaned on the table, his hands balled into fists. His knuckles were white.

Laura reached out to touch his hand, confused by his sudden, dramatic change of heart. "But you said it was fine for me to—"

"You said we could spend next summer at the lake house, just the three of us," he interrupted her. "Like a normal family, instead of one where the wife and mother drags her kid all over the place, chasing comets and traveling around the world giving speeches and accepting awards and who knows what other crap, while her husband sits home and gets rejection letter after fucking rejection letter." He stood up and wiped the back of his hand across his chin. The white bristles of his beard stood out against the red of his face.

Laura pressed her fist to her mouth, stunned by his uncharacteristic fury. He'd never spoken to her this way before, never uttered a word of complaint about her career. She'd had no idea his unhappiness with her ran so deep.


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Breaking the Silence 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 70 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book! I read Ms. Chamberlain's The Secret Life of Ceecee Wilkes and I fell in love with it. Eager to read more by her, I found this one and I wasn't sure. I am 14 and I read the sample and I wasn't sure if I sould buy it. I am so glad I did. The characters are very well developed. The dialoge in this novel goes back and forth between two people. It is a good mystery with enough romance but not too much to make you sick. It is filled with so many twists and turns you never know what to expect.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow! What an incredible story. My first time reading her stories and I'm hooked already. Don't missed it. The story is touching, a new twist at every turn, captivated, and very intriguing. I don't even want to put it down once I started it. Ms. Chamberlain knows who to keep her readers up all night. This is one of those books that you can't just read it and forget it. Highly recommended!
Anonymous 6 months ago
bookalover89 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Diane Chamberlain's novels grab a hold of you and never let go! Truly suspenseful!
lozbeth1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An Amazing book. I could not have predicted the outcome if I had tried. Such an insightful story into 1950s psychiatric care. One of the best books I have ever read.
nu-bibliophile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely worth it! There were so many twists and turns and surprises. I couldn't put the book down. I was 110% absorbed into the story and the characters. I finished it in a day and a half. This is the first time I read one of Diane Chamberlain's books. I would definitely read more of her books.
SugarCreekRanch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An entertaining, multi-layered story. Five year old Emma has gone mute after witnessing her adoptive father's suicide. Her mother, Laura, enlists the help of Emma's biological father to help Emma through the trauma. Laura is also looking into a mystery: why did her own father make a deathbed request that Laura help an unknown elderly woman in an Alzheimer's care facililty? There are lots of flashbacks as the older woman tells of her past, and it is slowly revealed how she knew Laura's father. This novel includes a fairly predictable romance, but it's a sweet story.
funkyfairy22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a lovely book, really great. It was similar to feel to those by Jodi Picoult although I don't think she's done a similar plot to this. I found reading it had a nice feeling for the most part and I really enjoyed it. It was difficult to put it down however and it left me wanting to know what happened to the characters afterwards, even though all the major plot points had been tied up. The characters were just so realistic and alive that it left me wondering what came next for them. However I do think a sequel would ruin it (but I'd love to read one). I especially loved the poignancy of the last line of the book. I won't share it as I don't want to ruin it for anyone.This is a tale with twists to it. I did guess one of them but there were at least three major twists I had no idea about. Several of them I didn't realise were twists coming up and one of them made me gasp in shock when it happened. That's not to say this is a shocking or scary book because it isn't. Part of the story does take place in a psychiatric hospital and some of those scenes could be distressing to some as it details treatments involved, some of which were done to patients against their will. From reading a note at the end of the book I believe that similar things did happen although the patients and setting in the book are fictitious.I can't recommend this book highly enough, it was fantastic.
CookieDemon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was a real attention grabber with a typically clever Chamberlain plot that hooks you as a reader right from the start. This novel actually has two narratives that cleverly interlink by the end of the story though at first it seems implausible that they are connected at all- one set in the present day and one forty something years previously. The structure works though, with clever flashbacks that really take you into the characters minds. Overall this was emotional and a story of real depth, combining suspense, intrigue and mystery against a family drama. Chamberlain is a writer that really grips you.The premise of the story is a fairly simple one; a deathbed wish from successful astronomer Laura's father leads to deeply hidden secrets being uncovered that will have dramatic consequences for everyone involved. Though the premise is simple though, this is a novel with twists and turns, trauma and deceit. The plot is fluid and fast paced with lots of bolts out of the blue to keep you guessing. It is admittedly very bleak in parts but mostly emphatic and moving. You do have to wonder how you would handle the same situations if you were faced with them yourself which as an author is a really skilful question to pose your readers.There were many plot devices that worked: one in particular was acknowledgement after people's deaths and how we really see them in hindsight which was quite insightful and layered excellent retrospective dimensions to the plot. The author has also clearly researched into mental illnesses, mutism, post traumatic stress disorders and their effects as well as the impact a debilitating illness like Alzheimer's can have and also how such cases were treated in the past- some of the archaic methods to treat such conditions were really horrific and made me shudder, but again were woven into the text skilfully.Generally, all of the characters are excellently drawn with flaws and personality traits that make them believable, if not always likeable. I loved Dylan and Laura and Emma was such a beautiful child and I really felt for her predicament. Halfway through the novel there is the suggestion of what is eventually going to happen but that doesn't detract from the books enjoyment- if anything it makes you as a reader want to read faster to get to the end!I have deducted one star because one plot twist that I never saw coming, I just felt that it wasn't really needed and it felt a bit creepy (you may understand when you read it)! All in all though, this was an excellent piece of contemporary fiction- suspense, mystery and family drama with a nice dash of romance. I would recommend this if you have never read a Chamberlain book before, or if you are a fan of Jodi Picoult, Kristin Hannah or Anita Shreve. *This review also appears on*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good story with excellent characters. I always enjoy Diane Chamberlain’s books.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was page turner good book didn't want to put it down and didn't want it to end
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SOOO good!!! you will not regret buying this book - one of my all time faves!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read a couple of Chamberlain books. This was pretty corney. A couple of times I closed it down as was in a state of disbelief. Although these things did happen in mental hospitals the (without spoiling the contents should you still want to read it) Laura life events were pretty unbelievable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book as well. She's a great author keeps you going throughout. Can't put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read a number of her books and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. A number of intersecting stories that are written so well that most connections don't come together until the end. This book made me question the nature of seemingly ultruistic friendships and the ramifications of fulfilling a promise that another doesn't want you to explore. I'd recommend this book highly. In some ways she reminds me of both Jodi Picoult and Drusilla Campbell.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my thired book by this Diane Chamberlain and so far I haven't been disapointed I recommend you read this book
quaintinns More than 1 year ago
Another page turner by Diane Chamberlain! I stayed up until 3:30am so I could finish (the twist regarding Laura, Joe, and Ray/Gilbert, was brilliant). This book reminds me a little of Jodi Picoult’s subject matter as highlights (muteness, suicide, and Alzheimer’s, the mentally ill, and other controversial topics). If you begin reading and feel it starts a little slower than most Diane’s books, do Not give up, as trust me as you will find the same suspense and excitement as you move along and will not be able to put it down. I loved Brandon and Laura’s characters as you fall in love with them and you could really sympathize with Sarah and Emma. Ray sounded like a jerk from the beginning, so never understood how Laura could fall for him (will not spoil this to say more). The Alzheimer illness was very realistic as my sister cares for a woman who is similar in that they remember the past, but not present. A heartbreaking story about a dying father’s wish for his daughter Laura to locate a woman in a retirement home with Alzheimer’s with no clue of the relation or connection (which he has been funding for years) with warnings and threats from others to stay away. A husband with hidden secrets and mental problems commits suicide while his (adoptive daughter), Emma witnesses the tragedy and become mute. In the meantime, as Emma begins therapy, Laura seeks the biological father Brandon, from nine years earlier, who has no idea he is a father and a bachelor. The request from her dying father was to take care of Sarah in the rest home and Laura enjoys her visits weekly and hears stories and experiences from Sarah set in the 50’s, detailing a time when she was married and in the middle of a huge scandal while working as a nurse in a mental hospital (which they were doing some very unethical procedures and research nightmare). Combine this with whistleblowing, and undercover work, and threats to your family and you have a nightmare! It all comes together in uncovering Emma’s silence, the memories of love, despair, and evil and the much awaited connection between Joe/Laura/Emma/Ray. A must read!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I always enjoy reading or listenting to books by Diane Chamberlain, and this story did not dissapoint. Plentry of twists and turns along the way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! Great story... couldn't put it down.... Another fantasic novel from Diane Chamberlain! Highly Recommend this book