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The Whisper Man

Review

The Whisper Man

All parents, regardless of where they live or how many children they have, teach their young ones early on about "stranger danger," the inevitable alarm that comes when the unknown meets the inexperienced. But the sobering truth is that most violent crimes enacted upon children occur much closer to home, and only a small percentage of abducted kids are taken by someone completely unfamiliar to them. In Alex North’s THE WHISPER MAN, readers are confronted with a figure both terrifyingly real and nearly supernaturally omnipotent: a sadistic kidnapper and murderer known as the Whisper Man.

Twenty years ago, five young boys disappeared in the small town of Featherbank. Their capturer was known for luring his victims out by whispering at their doors and windows, convincing them to leave the safety of their homes and families. The horrors of these crimes became part of the local lore, with children reciting playground rhymes about the nearly mystical Whisper Man. With the capture of killer Frank Carter, Detective Pete Willis discovered the bodies of only four of the boys --- all had been starved, beaten and brutally murdered. But for years, the final body (and Frank, who revels in his own prison notoriety and has a certain fondness for Pete) has haunted the detective, and he knows he will not consider the case closed until it is recovered.

"This book is a stunning and fully realized thrill ride that I read in one breathless and terrified sitting. Perhaps the only flaw with this twisted, compulsively readable work is that it doesn’t come with a night light."

Due to some irregularities in the crime scene reports suggesting an accomplice, Pete has kept up regular visits with Frank hoping that he will reveal some small detail that will blow the remainder of the case open. For two decades, he is able to strike a careful balance between quiet police work and these emotionally grueling visits until a new boy goes missing. When his body is found two months later, the modus operandi bears a striking and terrifying similarity to the Whisper Man. So did Frank indeed have a secret accomplice, or --- even worse --- does he now have a fan in the form of a copycat?

On a different, quieter side of Featherbank, single father and struggling author Tom Kennedy has his own boy to worry about. Jake has been acting oddly following the death of his mother. He talks to himself, sometimes in scary voices, and speaks of an imaginary friend who teaches him strange rhymes. Ever since they moved into a new house, he claims to hear whispers at night. Consumed by his own grief and disappointed in his own shortcomings, Tom barely takes notice of the fact that they have relocated to a town with a killer on the loose --- until Jake mentions the “boy in the floor.” A gruesome and shocking discovery then draws the past right to their front steps with vivid and immediate repercussions --- for Jake, Tom, Pete and the entire town.

If this premise has you drawing comparisons to classics like THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, you are not far off --- North’s villains are every bit as terrifying and captivating as Hannibal Lecter (minus the cannibalism, thankfully). However, this is where the similarities end, as North has done something completely original. For a book based entirely in our world, THE WHISPER MAN has a paranormal-level fear factor: I cannot tell you how many times I gasped and startled myself while reading it. North has a wicked talent for pacing, and just when he pulls you into a quiet sort of calm, he upends everything you thought you knew with the turn of a page. His characterizations are nearly flawless, so much so that you will find yourself immersed in their personal journeys only to remember that “oh right, I’m supposed to be solving a murder here.”

More than a pitch-perfect thriller, however, THE WHISPER MAN is also a careful and complex rumination on fatherhood, coming to terms with one’s past, and the ways in which even our smallest actions can have a ripple effect. With Tom and Jake caught in the crosshairs of a decades-long investigation, their already strained relationship is thrown into harsh relief, with seven-year-old Jake calling the shots way more than Tom is comfortable with. But then, he never was the natural parent between him and his wife, and her loss propels father and son in intriguing and painful ways. Both are regressing into dangerous behaviors, but with the threat of whispers, copycat killers and hidden histories coming at them from all angles, they’ll have to find a way to understand and relate to one another or risk losing each other forever.

At the same time, Pete is dealing with his own demons in the form of a nightly battle against the bottle. But as he starts to tie up the loose ends of the Whisper Man, he also must confront his own need for closure. Instead of constantly asking himself what his drinking has cost him, he must remember what sobriety has given him --- a reframing that is easy in theory but far more difficult in life, especially with his guilt at never having found the fifth boy eating away at him.

Far more than a run-of-the-mill police procedural, THE WHISPER MAN combines several compelling threads that are each perfectly strong enough to stand on their own but make for a masterful tour de force when put together. Pete and Tom’s storylines converge beautifully with a powerful punch that elevates it from a typical thriller to something wholly unique. North knows exactly when to lean in, when to hang back, when to drop clues and when to horrify his readers most. This book is a stunning and fully realized thrill ride that I read in one breathless and terrified sitting. Perhaps the only flaw with this twisted, compulsively readable work is that it doesn’t come with a night light.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 23, 2019

The Whisper Man
by Alex North

  • Publication Date: August 20, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Celadon Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250317991
  • ISBN-13: 9781250317995