The Whispers

Written by Heidi Perks

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


The Whispers
Century
RRP: £12.99
Released: April 15 2021
HBK

It’s dead winter in a seaside resort in Dorset and claustrophobia threatens except that there’s a body on the beach and the detective in charge recalls another body in the same place over twenty years ago. We suspect that both bodies, and probably the cop, are connected, and the story starts to unfold by means of a jigsaw of flashbacks interspersed with current action and told by two characters.

Focal points – and they seldom stray - are the gates outside the primary school and the housing estate where the school’s mums spend most of their time. Husbands come over as shadows but substantial ones: adequate providers, their wives compensating for the lack of careers by leading full social lives. At the school gates three of them cluster about the formidable Nancy, forming an aloof clique that provides speculation on the part of the gossip mongers. Interest intensifies with the appearance of a newcomer: an exciting cat among pigeons.

For Grace is not really a newcomer but a local girl who emigrated to Australia with her parents, who married there and now returns without the husband but with a daughter whom she enrols in the primary school. Naturally she expects to renew her relationship with Anna, the friend who was so close in their teenage years that she spent more time with Grace’s family than her own. But Anna has moved on, herself married now with a small boy, with new friends, the closest of whom is Nancy: mentor and mother hen who arouses a deep aversion in Grace. In her eyes Anna is a victim and Nancy a despot. At an alcoholic party in the local bar aversion deepens to hostility, barely contained, and Anna disappears.

As Grace tells the story she is the only person concerned when Anna doesn’t appear at the school gates next morning. None of Anna’s cronies seems bothered:  suggesting a hangover, pleading alcoholic amnesia concerning the previous evening. On the other hand, Anna’s husband is virtually incoherent, becoming so obdurate that Grace takes it on herself to report her friend as missing. As a consequence, she encounters the detective who investigated the death of a girl twenty-two years ago and so the link is forged between the two events. It’s the nature of that link that forms the plot.

Which is flimsy, and the denouement a damp squib. The characters – all women, their husbands are negligible - are needy, malleable housewives on the cusp of middle age, exciting no sympathy. Nothing to scare the horses then but with the padding ruthlessly pruned there is a passable puzzle for hard times.



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