Header collage featuring the cover of Silent Playgrounds by Danuta Reah

Silent Playgrounds

A terrifying journey into a dark world.

“With its strong atmosphere, well-contrived narrative and topical concerns, Silent Playgrounds is a superior thriller.” – Times Literary Supplement

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Six-year-old Lucy knows there are monsters in the park, and they are coming closer. Will anyone listen to her before there are more deaths?

Seal: Nominated for the CWA Gold Dagger award
Seal: Nominated for the CWA Steel Dagger award

Silent Playgrounds

Silent Playgrounds is a novel of psychological suspense that follows the lives of Lucy, a six-year-old girl who witnesses a murder after she runs away from her child-minder in the park; Suzanne, a young mother traumatised by events in her past; and DI Steve McCarthy, who tries to solve the case and prevent further deaths. 

Lucy tries to warn the people she cares about that she knows that there are monsters lurking in the rambling park where she witnessed something strange, and she knows that they are getting closer.

Suzanne, a young mother separated from her husband, struggles with issues of trust after the death of her younger brother in police custody. In her misguided efforts to protect her own son and Lucy, the daughter of her good friend, Jane, she doesn’t tell the police everything she knows, unaware that this knowledge may well hold the key to the murder. 

Good intentions

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Her attempts to protect the people around her – not just the children she cares for, but also the young offenders with whom she works, particularly the gentle, vulnerable Ashley – actually place them in more danger. McCarthy knows she hasn’t told him everything she knows, and is torn between anger, and concern as he sees her behaviour becoming more and more self-destructive. 

What should be a straightforward investigation leads Steve McCarthy into a web of lies and evasions, where nothing is quite as it seems and everyone seems to be hiding something. With each step forward McCarthy faces new questions, and if he is to prevent an escalation in violence, he has to find some answers – fast.

Set along the banks of the River Porter in Sheffield where parks and pathways run through the woods; past the dams that used to power the water-wheels used by the small workshops of the cutlery industry, Silent Playgrounds is a dark and gripping psychological thriller.

How I wrote Silent Playgrounds

Silent Playgrounds, sinister parks and paintings

For many years, I have walked the paths through the woods in Sheffield that follow the banks of the rivers. The one along the River Porter is my favourite, partly because of its beauty; partly because I can walk from my home in inner-city Sheffield out into the Peak District through a series of parks that form a finger of green into the city centre; and partly because I am fascinated by the industrial remains that can be seen all along the river where the water was diverted to create a series of dams that powered the water-wheels of the small workshops where Sheffield’s ‘Little Mesters’ worked. 

I started seeing the parks through new eyes when my late husband, a newcomer to Sheffield, started painting them for his exhibition Arcadia. He captured their beauty, but he also saw something I had not until then: the darkness in the shadows under the trees.

Photos of the Shepherd Wheel, Sheffield © Pete Hawkins, used with kind permission.

Old workshops

At that time, there was one workshop that had been preserved intact, but the usual story of cuts meant it had fallen into decay and the water-wheel no longer worked. The wheel was still there, as was the dam, and the workshop with its grinding wheels and belts, but it was locked up and deserted.

I set part of the story in the old Shepherd wheel workshop, part of it in the parks that run along the Porter valley, and part of it in Sheffield’s then run-down high-rise flats on Skye Edge, now made famous in the musical Standing at the Sky’s Edge.

Forensic linguistics

I also used my knowledge of forensic linguistics, making Suzanne a researcher into voice recognition, working, as I have done, with young male offenders, often vulnerable young men from very troubled backgrounds who struggle to conform in a world that is very hostile to them. Some people have said that Suzanne is a frustrating character given her wariness about co-operating with the police, but she sees in her work the very worst effects of heavy-handed policing, and though she acts foolishly, she believes she is acting for the best. The road to Hell is often paved with good intentions.

Links between my Sheffield crime fiction novels

Steve McCarthy, a cynical young Detective-Sergeant interested me when I wrote Only Darkness, and I wanted to develop him in Silent Playgrounds. He’s dedicated, professional and a bit cold-blooded, but he has a very human side and both Suzanne, and six-year-old Lucy bring this out in him. Another character, a very minor one in Only Darkness, is the young Detective-Constable Tina Barraclough. She is a central character in Bleak Water, where she is still trying to recover from the trauma she suffers at the end of the investigation in Silent Playgrounds.

Some foreign editions of Silent Playgrounds

Here are some of the foreign editions of Silent Playgrounds. These may or may not be currently available – check your favourite bookseller.