The cover of this book includes recommendations from authors of some of my recent faves, and the fact I knew almost all of those quoted boded well for this book… ie. it would sit firmly in my reading comfort zone.
And it certainly did. Mostly. There was a smidge of the paranormal which I’ve struggled with in one of Lisa Unger’s series, but definitely not enough to put me off. And as we’re offered great characters and an intriguing plot, I’m glad I had the chance to dive into this debut novel by Alex North.
The Whisper Man
by Alex North
Published by Penguin Books UK
on June 13th 2019
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 0241367492, 9780718189808
If you leave a door half-open, soon you'll hear the whispers spoken... Still devastated after the loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a fresh start.
But Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until he was finally caught, the killer was known as 'The Whisper Man'.
Of course, an old crime need not trouble Tom and Jake as they try to settle in to their new home. Except that now another young boy has gone missing. And then Jake begins acting strangely. He says he hears a whispering at his window.
The book opens with the disappearance of a young boy. We’re in the head of the person about to snatch him so we ‘kinda’ know they think they’re saving 6yr old Neil who’s being tossed between alcoholic parents like a bit of a yo-yo.
DI Amanda Beck is in charge, but she calls on DI Pete Willis (now in his mid 50s) because there are similarities to a case he’d worked over 20 years earlier. A case that was solved and the serial killer imprisoned.
The Whisper Man also targeted young boys and Pete was the one who found the killer (and the boy’s bodies). It was a case that broke him though and he drank heavily and lost his wife and child, continuing to feel guilt years later (now sober and fit) that one of the boy’s bodies was never found.
Because of killer Frank Carter’s willingness to confess to his crimes though not reveal the location of the final body Pete and his colleagues were nervous – at the time – that someone else could have been involved.
Indeed the similarities to Neil’s disappearance certainly point to that. Central to which is the report of Neil hearing ‘whispers’ in the lead up to his disappearance.
At the same time we meet novelist Tom Kennedy and his son Jake. Both are struggling with the death of Tom’s wife (and Jake’s mother) and Tom doesn’t feel he’s doing as good a job as she should with his son. Jake’s an unusual kid – smart, but a loner. He seems to sense and feel things deeply. Tom worries that Jake has an imaginary friend and struggling socially. (And Tom feels guilty he wishes his son was more ‘normal sometimes!)
The pair decide to move, Jake falling in love with a house they see online, though once they arrive in Featherbank Tom finds the house to be a tad creepier than he’d envisioned.
There was an excellent twist part way through this book that I didn’t see coming. In fact, we’re basically led in another direction and so – if you’re like me and think you’re a smart arse – you’ll be smugly thinking you know what’s coming. But… that was not the case.
In some ways it’s kinda easy to work out who the perpetrator is and North offers the ‘reveal’ with minimal fanfare. Indeed, I had to re-read that section to check they HAD identified the person. Of course the revelation doesn’t help because they’re not necessarily recognisable. (And I can’t clarify that further as it would offer up too many spoilers.)
The detectives, Amanda and Pete work together piecing together the present and the past, with Tom and Jake increasingly drawn into the case.
I loved the characters, especially Pete, Tom and Jake and think North did a great job with all of them. The original kidnappings and murders of the boys probably could have been explained a little better. There’s some intimation re the ‘why’ but I still felt like I’d missed something.
And certainly I wasn’t entirely sure of the connections between Jake’s imaginary friend and his parents’ links to the town and its history (not to mention why his father agreed to move there). That level of detail aside, this was an enjoyable read and great debut novel.
The Whisper Man by Alex North will be published in Australia by Penguin Random House and available in paperback from 18 June 2019 with the hardcover released on 13 June.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.