THE WHISPER MAN by Alex North (Michael Joseph, $A32.99).
The Whisper Man is a chilling debut crime novel that mixes elements of domestic noir with the serial killer thriller.
In the quiet English suburban village of Featherbank, a young boy goes missing. The police led by DI Amanda Beck quickly spring into action. As time goes by, they begin to fear the worst, especially as Featherbank was previously the location of a series of murders of young boys by a killer known as ‘The Whisper Man’. That killer has now been behind bars for 15 years, but as similarities between the two crimes emerge the police begin to fear that a copycat killer is on the loose. Meanwhile, Joe Kennedy moves to Featherbank with his young, fragile son Jake, keen to make a fresh start after the sudden death of his wife. However, Jake is slow to settle in and then he starts to talk of the whispers he hears at night.
North melds together the police investigation with the emotional turmoil of Joe’s fraught relationship with Jake. As the two plot elements converge, and Jake’s behaviour becomes creepier, the tension is ramped up and the story races to a good, twisty conclusion with plenty of suspense and surprises.
The Whisper Man is an effective thriller, made more so by the emotionally charged relationship between Joe and Jake, which is skillfully captured and very believable. All the characters are nicely rendered, especially the psychologically scarred policeman Pete Willis, who led the investigation into the original Whisper Man murders and is still traumatised by it. The suggestive supernatural elements are also well handled and nicely resolved.
There is much to like about The Whisper Man, which moves well and steadily draws the reader into its thrall. My main issue is that North seems uncertain whether he is writing a novel of domestic suspense or a police novel. The focus is mainly on Joe, but there are also frequent shifts to the viewpoints of Amanda Beck and Pete Willis. The different elements do not always gel together, and I thought that the police storyline seemed underdone and therefore not as convincing as it could have been. I think it would have been better if North focussed more on one or the other of his storylines. The shifting sometimes diluted the suspense. There are also a lot of coincidences towards the end, which require some suspension of disbelief. Nevertheless, it is a very good novel and one which is likely to prove very popular.
The rights to The Whisper Man were acquired after a competitive bidding process between publishers in 2018. It is a promising start for the pseudonymous Alex North, and it will be interesting to see where he goes with his next novel.
The Whisper Man is due for release in Australia and the United Kingdom in June 2019.
Four stars out of five!
Thanks to Penguin Random House Australia and the Canberra Weekly for an early copy.