Author – Alex North
Published – June 2019
Genre – Crime fiction
I picked this proof copy up when I attended the Michael Joseph Proof Party at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in October. All three participating authors gave a short reading from their books and this gave a real flavour of how creepy The Whisper Man would be. It was also one of the more frightening literary events I’ve been to because it was easy to believe we were all going to be blown away, marquee and all, the evening was so windy!
There is an odd issue with this book that I’m not sure how to address. The panel was three ‘debut’ authors but having been to a number of crime fiction events I am in no doubt that this isn’t a debut and actually is from a very well-respected crime author. It seems an odd pretence by the publisher (presumably a new relationship with this author) but hey ho.
So to the book. It definitely lived up to the creepy vibe I got at the panel. After the death of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a fresh start, unaware that 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’.
Tom is struggling with his new status as a widower and the sole care of his son and Jake is still traumatised by the events around his mother’s death. The strains within the household seem to be divisive and Jake retreats into a world where he talks to ‘imaginary friends’ but then Jake knows things that he shouldn’t, disturbing things.
At the same time another young boy has disappeared, opening up old wounds for the original investigating officer who is called in to help with similarities to the original case. He is a man haunted by the fact that one of the boys was never found. This provides a second strand to the story as we find out more about the man who was convicted of the original deaths while the police try to find the missing child before the worst happens.
This is crime fiction with a bit of a twist (no, not that kind of twist). It has a psychological / supernatural element which isn’t in itself unusual but it does feel different that the main character is a a single father. There are plenty of women who find themselves as a lead character in this kind of drama but it doesn’t feel as if men do very often.
If I have one criticism it is how unremittingly creepy the book is. The tension feels really constant in Tom and Jake’s part of the story and I think if there had been more scenes that weren’t so tense they would have provided a good contrast and emphasised the ‘creepiness’.
I liked Tom as the main character, his story is in the first person and he has a very authentic sounding voice and it’s good to see a lead character with some depth and emotion rather than being a ‘tough guy’. The crime aspects are set against a background about family and loss but from this slightly unusual perspective.
I did find the story gripping and didn’t get the ‘whodunnit’, and did I mention it was creepy?