The Whisper Man

Written by Alex North

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim was a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.

The Whisper Man
Penguin Michael Joseph
RRP: £12.99
Released: June 13 2019

Released as a debut, the elegance of the writing indicates the hand of a mature writer, one with a black imagination. Though a warning, the reader’s journey is terrifying as North’s debut traverses time and horror, featuring the worst possible of crimes. Thankfully the writing grips the reader firmly as this lucid nightmare of a narrative unfolds.

It begins with a prologue, a letter written by a father to his son. It’s an apology of sorts because we all like to tell our offspring that there are no such things as monsters; but this father apologises - he was wrong. There are ,onsters in our midst.

A few decades ago, we turn to unspeakable crimes, the murders of children in small-town England; a place called Featherbank. The killer was named The Whisper Man, due to his methods of luring victims by whispering from outside their places of safety. His name was Frank Carter, caught and incarcerated by the Detective Pete Willis. The Whisper Man became an urban legend, a scary story told in the same hushed whispers as his modus operandi.

Then a child, Neil Spencer vanishes with an echo of those crimes of The Whisper Man. The problem for Detective Amanda Beck is that Frank Carter is behind bars, identified as that child murderer of the past. Beck has to enlist the help of Willis, the original investigator who captured Frank Carter, but Pete Willis is a detective who remains haunted by those crimes from two decades ago in Featherbank.

Featherbank also becomes the new home for writer Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake, as alluded to by the creepy prologue. The new house is a fresh start for father and son, following the sudden death of Rebecca; the mother who understood the troubled boy Jake Kennedy. Burdened by the loss of his beloved Rebecca, Tom Kennedy tries hard to make up for his son’s loss. The writer finds it hard managing his own grief as well as that of Jake’s special needs, because his little boy is indeed special, with an uncommon nature (which could be considered a gift, or a curse).

Featherbank, though rooted in small-town England has echoes of Stephen King’s state of Maine where that horror writer sets many of his creepiest narratives; in towns that appear on the surface mundane and ordinary, but beneath the veneer there are shadows where monsters lurk, recalling the image of Danny Glick at the window.

Detective Amanda Beck enlists the older (and deeply troubled) Detective Pete Willis to help investigate the disappearance of the child Neil Spencer. Matters turn menacing when Willis visits Carter in his cell, like he has done annually. The detective remains haunted by failing to uncover the body of the boy Tony Smith, one of Frank Carter’s victims. Has the eponymous Whisper Man, got an Avid Fan outside the prison?

And so, the dread builds as the hunt commences for a child killer, one which stretches to the past, in a tale that is like a web spun by an arachnid. It’s a masterful crime novel, one that perhaps is better labelled as horror, as well as a story about children and adults.

You can feel literary influences and allusions in this debut, but you can also feel the tangible structure of a singular style, one all its own.  This Alex North is an author with a pitch-black imagination, and one who uses words to conjure images that are stark, scary and makes the hairs stand on end.

The viscera contained is not painted in the typeface of this strange novel, but it hangs in the recesses of the reader’s imagination, because what we can imagine in our mind is far more troubling than what we actually read.

Hugely recommended, but bring a torch to this cave, because the journey is deep and so very, very dark.

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