If you are lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you…
Dark, creepy, eery… Today is the publication day for Alex North’s debut crime novel which has already received a lot of attention. My expectations were really high and the book did not disappoint. It kept me up for hours with its fascinating blend of reality and supernatural. At some point I just gave up trying to second-guess what was happening and just went along wherever the writer was taking me.
Twenty years ago a series of horrible crimes occured in a quiet and peaceful village of Featherbank (yes, the writer is right, the name does evoke a feeling of safety and coziness). A serial killer, later nicknamed The Whisper Man, abducted and murdered five little boys. All his victims heard a monster whispering under their windows, trying to lure them out into the darkness of the night. Although the perpetrator, Frank Carter, was caught by the local police, the body of the last victim Tony Smith was never found. The events made such a lasting impression on the residents, that a creepy nursery rhyme spread in the playgrounds:
If you leave a door half-open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken.
If you play outside alone, soon you won’t be going home.
When another six year old boy disappears on his way home, the case bears an uncanny resemblance to the old crimes, which can mean two things: either Frank had an accomplice, or there is a copy cat. At any rate, DI Amanda Beck needs all the help she can get to find Neil Spencer. And that includes involving DI Pete Willis, the man who put the original Whisper Man in prison and who keeps visiting him on a regular basis, hoping that the monster will stop playing his twisted mind games and will reveal the location of Tony Smith’s remains.
Meanwhile, Tom and Jake Kennedy are grieving the loss of their beloved wife and mother. Tom can’t help, but feel an incredible mix of emotions: loss, confusion, sorrow, resentment at being abandoned with the hardest task of them all- that of being a good father to his quiet, imaginative, vulnerable son.
There were so many happy memories to draw on, and I knew that I would as I continued, but while I loved and missed her more than I could say, I also couldn’t deny the ugly kernel of resentment I felt, the frustration at being left alone with Jake, the loneliness of that empty bed. The sense of being abandoned to deal with things it felt like I couldn’t cope with… Grief is a stew with a thousand ingredients, and not all of them are palatable.
Jake keeps having nightmares about finding his mother dead, and needs his father’s help to carry him upstairs and downstairs as he can’t face stepping on the spot where he saw his mother’s body lying. He also has trouble fitting in and making friends at school. In fact, the only friend Jack has made recently, a little girl in a blue checked dress is imaginary, which makes his dad both sad and apprehensive. Tom decides that they need to have a new start and a new home is chosen …in the village of Featherbank. Because nothing bad can ever happen in a village with such a beautiful welcoming name.
I don’t want to give the story away. The plot is clever and full of surprising twists and turns. I was already glued to the book, but they just added an extra level of tension and emotion. At the centre of this fascinating story are several father-son relationships. Fatherhood may come to you when you are not ready (you might never be) or too busy fighting your own demons. You might feel the old wounds from your own childhood are being re-opened with every failed attempt to communicate and connect. Yes, we tend to rely on the models of our own parents’ behaviour, but we are not our parents, and we can consciously choose a different path.
The characters are well-written and the author’s use of multiple POVs adds to our understanding of their motivations and their evolution. Jack is smart and sensitive, and is trying to find his own strategies for dealing with the loss of his mother. Once you understand what has been happening, you will also admire this little boy’s courage. Tom may be too harsh on himself for failing his son, but he is also the one to keep on trying every day. The two detectives are hard-working and determined not to let another child die on their watch. DI Amanda Beck is a strong woman and where would the world be without them? There are police cases like this, where the first 48 hours are crucial, where there is an immense pressure to find the missing child, and there are also psychological consequences of failing to do so. We also see humility, discipline and motivation that drives Pete Willis’s life. First, motivation that comes from having lost something precious and not wanting to go through a similar pain again, then, motivation to become a part of something wonderful in the future. Finally, the super-creepy villains are also fully developed. Take the morbid hobby of Norman Collins and his pride at being an expert at something that will send shivers down your spine. The motivation of the second Whisper Man is also chilling, while the final touch in the end scene is just shocking and will make you re-think the events in the book with this new insight.
The writing is vivid, intriguing, and gripping. With all the tension and eeriness, the emotion the writer is tapping in is the worst fear a parent can have: that a moment of inattention or failing to take seriously your child’s apprehensions may result in a tragedy, something you cannot go back and change. At the same time, it is also true:
The abduction of a child by a stranger is every parent’s worst nightmare. But statistically it is a highly unusual event. Children are actually most at risk of harm and abuse from a family member behind closed doors, and while the outside world may seem threatening, the truth is that most strangers are decent people, whereas the home can be the most dangerous place of all.
The Whisper Man is like a good old scary story told in the darkness – it is easy to analyse its elements in the daylight, safe in the knowledge that monsters don’t exist, but the memory of your own accelerated heartbeat and clammy hands is there, and, deep down, you know- you were scared…
Thank you to Edelweiss and Celadon Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
Book synopsis from Goodreads:
In this dark, suspenseful thriller, Alex North weaves a multi-generational tale of a father and son caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.
After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.
But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.
Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.
And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window…
- Have you read The Whisper Man or is it on your tbr? if you have, what did you think of it? Did it live up to your expectations?