When I was a kid in the ‘70s, I binge-read many in the “Nancy Drew” series of books written by Carolyn Keene. With no Amazon or Audible back then, I read as many as were on the shelves at the library, or would be delivered wrapped under the Christmas tree. Although I did not have access to all in the series (ultimately 175), I spent my entire fourth grade year engrossed in as many of these junior sleuth novels as I could consume. No sooner had I finished the final chapter of one book, I was opening the pages of the next.
I recently rediscovered the joy of binge reading (and listening, thank you, Audible) after being sent “Shades of Silence,” the third novel from author Liz Lazarus. Unfamiliar with her previous two, I took the opportunity to download and listen to Lazarus’s “Free of Malice” and “Plea for Justice.” I’m a huge fan of audiobooks, as they often saved my sanity during arduous commutes in pre-pandemic times. And when the voice characters are properly cast—as they are with these—I became similarly lost in the characters’ lives, listening to “movies” play in my head, always a little saddened when they end.
The good news was that as I concluded “Plea” and “Free,” the advance copy of “Shades of Silence” had already landed on my desk. It was the third fix in my new addiction, just in time to prevent the shakes of withdrawal. With no audio version yet available, I plunged in to an old-fashioned read. What I did not expect was that I would be employing my iPhone to shed the necessary flashlight on the subject when I was still up past midnight, unable to put down the book—something I hadn’t done in many years.
Many NRA Women readers are way ahead of me in joining the Liz Lazarus fan club. To be clear, these are not books about guns. They feature all of the elements that make for the best kind of mystery novel: love, lies and twist endings. But the topic of guns will resonate with many of Lazarus' followers. The subject is approached with familiarity and matter-of-factness, as firearms play an integral role when each of her female protagonists is forced to confront her relationship with her Second Amendment rights. In her first novel, “Free of Malice,” which is loosely based on a violent personal experience by Lazarus while she was in college, Laura is preoccupied with “what if” she had shot her assailant in the back as he fled. Would that have been considered justifiable self-defense or might she also have committed a felony? Laura sets out on a legal quest for the answer, which evolves into the overriding "whodunnit” plot to identify her attacker. On more than one occasion she gives pause to question the fidelity of even those to whom she is closest, while offering her a deeper education into firearms use and the law. Laura’s dilemma, one that real-life victims are often forced to confront, is one worth pondering, and makes this book a thriller worth staying up late.
In “Plea,” the main character, Jackie, a paralegal, also faces a point in her life where she feels the call to personal protection, perhaps via means of a handgun. Through a pro-bono fact-finding mission to help clear an estranged high school friend of a murder charge, Jackie inadvertently finds herself learning self-defense techniques, both unarmed and armed. Although there are hopeful romantic ulterior motives to her attending the classes—an unrequited crush on an instructor—Jackie ultimately gains the self-confidence and self-esteem necessary to be the true heroine of the book. Lazarus—now an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor and Range Safety Officer—clearly understands that the path she laid out, from Jackie choosing the best pistol for her, followed by the requisite training and practice, echoes everything we at NRA Women emphasize to all gun owners, especially those new to our ranks. In the end, Jackie relies entirely on her training to bring the situation—and the book—to another thrilling and satisfying conclusion.
So, by now hooked on Liz Lazarus, “Shades of Silence” drew me in even faster. Through a series of events both personal and unexpected, the main character—Julianna Sandoval—is forced to confront a winding path of discovery, trust, betrayal and, ultimately, love, loyalty and family. In this book, Lazarus also dives into the uncomfortable truth of the horrific crime of sex trafficking, which is occurring worldwide as we speak, under many unknowing or unwatchful eyes.
The role of firearms features less prominently in this third novel, although it does cause readers to wonder about a backup firearm if their first means of armed defense—a pistol—were suddenly no longer accessible. In Julianna’s case, a 12-gauge Beretta competition shotgun that belonged to her late father was her second option to her pistol, which had been taken into evidence by detectives as a matter of procedure during the investigation of the murder that is at the heart of the plot. She soon learns that if she is unable to properly manage the shotgun’s size and recoil, it could present a problem were she suddenly forced to rely on it in a self-defense situation.
After committing a minor firearm faux pas in “Free” (calling a magazine a clip), Lazarus has done her homework, consulting with names familiar to us like University of Maryland Clay Target Team Head Coach Anne Mauro, for example, one of the nation’s foremost shotgun experts. And incidentally, if you are paying attention, Lazarus gives a huge nod to A Girl & A Gun co-founders Julianna Crowder and Robyn Sandoval by merging their names for the name of her latest protagonist. (Note: Lazarus is officially launching “Shades of Silence” at the AGAG National Conference in Colorado in April 2021. If you are lucky enough to be attending, congratulations, because it is already sold out!)
By empowering her characters in their unique legal journeys, Lazarus does a masterful job of encouraging safe firearm ownership, emphasizing training while extolling Second Amendment rights—all of which contribute to the realistic themes and situations in which today’s woman might inadvertently find herself. In “Shades,” Lazarus artfully weaves the drama and suspense of a true thriller with an important and timely social issue.
If you enjoy mystery suspense novels and are looking for summer reads that will pull you in and not let go, check out all three books by Liz Lazarus. "Shades of Silence" is her latest, but all three are well worth a read (or a listen), especially for pro-2A audiences. For this childhood sleuth wannabe, I am now once again all in to this genre. Will Lazarus get to 175 books? We can only hope. But for now, Carolyn Keene—you have met your match!
Read an NRA Women Q&A with author Liz Lazarus here.
You can find all three titles at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. "Free of Malice" and "Plea For Justice" are also available in audio versions; "Shades" is currently being made into an audiobook through Audible. For more, go to ShadesOfSilence.com and LizLazarus.com