When a writer and his young son move into the local village “scary” house, the boy becomes the target of an insidious child killer. This creepy thriller will ensure that you don’t leave your doors half-open…or “soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken…”
The Whisper Man—Alex North, 2019. Rating 4/5
Tom Kennedy and his son, Jake, are grieving the death of wife and mother, Rachel. Tom is an introvert, and still suffering from childhood memories of his alcoholic father. Now, Tom struggles to understand his own quiet boy. Jake is hard to reach; preferring to draw and talk to what Tom thinks are imaginary friends than to interact with other kids. Tom hopes the move to their new house will be a fresh start for them both. Tom has no idea that they have moved to the village where years ago, the infamous Whisper Man abducted and butchered a string of young boys—and the abductions seem to be starting again.
Career Detective Pete Willis is credited with capturing Frank Carter, the Whisper Man, twenty years earlier, but remains haunted by the memory of the one boy he never found. Now, with a new boy gone missing, Pete worries that either Carter had an accomplice, or a copycat is on the loose. Time is running out to find the new killer, who is already grooming lonely Jake to be his next victim.
The Whisper Man is a lightning-fast read. Alternating points of view between Tom, Jake, and Pete builds the tension to nail-biting levels as the threat to Jake incrementally, but relentlessly increases. North incorporates the barest touch of the supernatural into the story—just enough to give you chills. Characters are solid. Jake, especially, is relatable (well, to a fellow introvert) and sensitive. This makes his vulnerability more acute, and his danger more nerve wracking. Frank Carter, now a prison kingpin, is terrifyingly slimy. Tom, working through his own father-issues and grief, has both selfish and whiny tendencies, but knows he is a flawed father. At the same time, his love for Jake is complete.
North adds layers of complexity to the plot by skillfully exploring father-son relationships and deeper issues of forgiveness, self-worth, and self-acceptance. The only off-note in the book is the change in perspectives: Tom and Jake both narrate from the first-person, while the stories of Pete and lead investigator Amanda Beck are told in the third person. The switches are just jarring enough that I never quite got used to them. That cavil aside, The Whisper Man is both a satisfying, if disturbing, thriller, and an affirmation of the power of love.