A Dangerous Silence Summary
Catherine Palmer tells the story of A Dangerous Silence through four point-of-view characters. At the beginning of the novel, Ed Morgan is working alone on his Kansas farm when he has a disabling accident. His daughter, Dr. Marah Morgan, is working on the staff of a pediatric clinic in St. Louis at the time. Dr. Milton Gregory closes his remote Wyoming laboratory and announces that he and a few associates will be relocating to Kansas. Finally, Judd Hunter is wrapping up a case for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in which he infiltrated a group conspiring to use fertilizer to blow up government buildings.
After losing two burn patients under mysterious circumstances, Marah agrees to her father’s demand to come home and take over the farm. Her mother has been dead for many years, and her three sisters live even farther from Kansas than she does. She has no brothers, for which Ed blamed her mother and punished his daughters by withholding his love. Marah has no intention of moving home permanently, however. She plans to get Ed admitted to a retirement community and sell the farm. Although she is a devout Christian, she observes the letter, but not the spirit, of the commandment “Honor thy father.”
Gregory and two of his associates arrive at the farm and pose as archaeologists for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In exchange for doing some work around the farm, they get permission to live in Ed’s bunkhouse while they conduct a search for an Osage village known to have existed somewhere on Ed’s property. In the bunkhouse, they set up a laboratory.
When Marah finally arrives, her first project is to clean up and paint the house. She renews her acquaintance with one of the neighbors and meets Pearl (Perky), their seven-year-old daughter, a bright, precocious child whose actions drive much of the plot. When Judd arrives, he asks Marah for a job, and she hires him. His latest assignment is to infiltrate Gregory’s team.
When a tornado passes over the farm, Marah takes refuge in the cellar, only to find an intruder there. The intruder escapes and locks the door to the cellar behind him. Fortunately, there is a window, and Judd helps her climb out. When Judd reveals knowledge of anatomy too advanced for an ordinary farmhand, she begins to suspect that he is not what he seems. They also start to fall in love and to talk about Christianity and faith.
Perky finds a Native American grave while searching for wildflowers. She falls into a pit and comes face to face with the mummified remains of an Osage woman. The arid climate has kept the body from complete deterioration. Gregory and his team remove the corpse and take it to the lab. However, instead of preparing the corpse for reburial, they determine that the woman died of smallpox and harvest the body for the virus, which has been their plan all along.
Marah finally confronts her father. Although never physically abusive, he was always verbally abusive, emotionally distant, and self-centered. Furthermore, he forced her to take care of her younger sisters when her mother died, although Marah was only eight years old at the time. She had left home for college after graduating from high school eighteen years previously and had never looked back. She finally learns the circumstances of her mother’s death, including the facts that Ed cheated on her mother and has a son by another woman.
Judd takes a few days off to visit Gregory’s former laboratory in Wyoming as part of an FBI team. However, an associate of Gregory is maintaining surveillance and informs him that Judd is an FBI agent. Gregory arranges for a bomb to be attached to Judd’s pickup truck when he returns. Fortunately, Judd survives the blast. Marah finds him in the barn and helps him walk to the house. At his request, she calls the FBI. Leaving Judd with Ed, she drives to Wichita to a Native American museum, where she learns that the Osage village formerly on the farm was wiped out by smallpox in 1865. At Wichita’s main hospital, she learns the medical reasons for her mother’s death.
While she is gone, Perky visits the bunkhouse. Gregory exposes her to the smallpox virus because he needs to test it on a human. From there, Perky goes to Ed’s house and informs Judd and Ed. They call her parents and tell them she will be staying with them. Marah finally gets home after midnight, and Judd informs her of Perky’s exposure. Just as they are leaving, Gregory and his men capture them. A short time later, FBI agents arrive. Gregory and his cohorts then hold their captives as hostages.
The situation continues through the next day as Gregory’s group remains confined in the house with their hostages. When Judd and Marah attempt to get Perky out of the house through the bathroom window, they are discovered. In all the commotion, members of the FBI SWAT team crash into the house to rescue them.
Sources for Further Study
Duncan, Melanie. Review of A Dangerous Silence. Library Journal 126, no. 6 (April 1, 2001). Emphasizes Marah’s relationships with the other characters in the novel.
Palmer, Catherine. The Happy Room. Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press, 2002. The daughter of missionaries, Palmer uses her upbringing as background material for this novel.
Palmer, Catherine. Sweet Violet. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 2005. Palmer cites the title character as her most autobiographical.
Zaleski, Jeff. Review of A Dangerous Silence. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 11 (March 12, 2001). Points out that the action is character-driven and that Palmer does not preach but integrates her Christian beliefs into the story.