For my first blog post review, I will be talking about The Whisper Man by British author Alex North, published in 2019 by Celadon Books. It’s most commonly tagged under “Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Psychological Thriller, and Noir.” I read this book over the course of 4 days.
In this dark, suspenseful thriller, Alex North weaves a multi-generational tale of suspense, as a father and son are caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.Celadon Books (linked above)
Some detailed summary ahead, skill below to see just a review.
I think this book has seen a recent surge of popularity due to the shift into Halloween and autumnal spirits. Categorized as a mysterious and suspenseful read, The Whisper Man is like a solid episode of Criminal Minds. You’ve got a convicted child abductor and murderer, a father and son dealing with loss, a recovering alcoholic cop coping with past experiences, and a few side characters like the up-and-coming cop and a creepy stalker man who collects crime memorabilia.
All of these storylines interweave, creating the narrative of The Whisper Man. The kids on the street recite the warning: “If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken…” and to what does this refer? The Whisper Man relates back to Frank Carter, the child abductor and killer who would whisper at windows at night to lure victims. He captured and killed five children, and cop Pete Willis was on the case that twenty years ago; one boy was never found, and the memory haunts Willis, a recovering alcoholic. The story begins with Willis and company looking for a possible abducted boy, Neil.
As the book is written in multiple point of views, we switch to Tom and Jake Kennedy, father and son, who are looking to move houses as they cope with the loss of Rebecca, Tom’s wife and mother to Jake. Jake has fixated on a certain house they found online; despite the spookiness of the house, Tom is keen to have a fresh start for Jake and himself. So, they move to the house in Featherbank, which is the site of the notorious Whisper Man deeds some years ago.
Now, it’s important to note that Jake is often shown talking to himself (from the POV of his dad) and when we hear from Jake, we know that he is speaking to a girl around his age. They talk about his drawings, classmates, his father, and so on. Of course, it’s not unusual to have imaginary friends at his age, but Jake is characterized as a kid who has trouble making friends, doesn’t fit in, and is bullied at his new school briefly. He is also subject to some taunting due to kids suggesting he “took the spot” of the recently abducted child, Neil.
Fast forwarding a bit, Tom deals with a creepy dude stalking around his property; after confrontation, he goes to see why the man was attempting to get into an old, run-down garage. He notices nothing of importance other than butterflies. In the meanwhile, cops are searching for Neil, and there are exchanges with Frank Carter, the Whisper Man, that suggest he has knowledge of the kidnapping. Therefore, we are left wondering — what is the OG Whisper Man’s involvement, where is Neil, and how does this relate to our Tom and Jake?
This will have spoilers. Read with caution or proceed for sure if you’re read this already!
So, not to give away the entire book, but that’s where we are so far and that’s not even the bulk of it. You can see sort of where I got the Criminal Minds vibes from. Its sort of like, “Is there a copycat killer?” and you can see that Jake is being set-up as a character who is perhaps susceptible or at least will be the target. As I noted, Jake is taunted by his classmate as being the “one who replaced Neil” and is “sitting in Neil’s seat.” In fact, I see this foreshadowing as one of the most key elements of understanding The Whisper Man’s (or the Whisper Man 2.0)’s motivations. When in fact, as we will see, this is exactly the case.
This book has excellent reviews for the most part. At time of writing, it’s currently sitting at 4.06 stars average on Goodreads with over 67,000 reviews. It’s won and has been nominated for plenty of awards, and it was a Book of the Month choice. So, it’s not unreasonable to say that it’s decently popular in its genre.
I think that the strengths of this book were its use of foreshadowing and some misleads, like the creepy dude stalking on the Kennedy property. Also, I thought that there was going to be some sort of supernatural element to the story. I went in without prior knowledge, so I was getting that vibe from the inclusion of the little girl Jake is often talking to, as well as the creepy nature of the house and the multiple mentions of the butterflies. However, it was actually just pretty straightforward: creepy old house, creepy people, butterflies attracted to decay, imaginary friend was from a photograph for Jake’s coping mechanism. Sometimes I get annoyed when I’m wrong or assume too much, but in this case, I was more fuelled by an interest in knowing what was going on.
The side relationship with Karen and Tom was not very interesting, but it helped spur the story forward. It opened the opportunity for The Whisper Man, but it also contributed to the closing of the storyline of Pete and Tom’s future. It seemed like one relationship opened while one closed, which is really sad considering the truth revealed about the latter. I was also going to be irked if “Karen the Journalist” had snitched. It’s all in the name, y’all.
I knock a few stars off to eventually give this one a strong 3.75/4 stars. My subtracted stars are due to what I view as inclusion of a handful of stereotypes for this genre. The alcoholic cop recovering from the case and personal mistakes that haunt him, the serial killer with low self-esteem, the up-and-coming cop who wants to close the case, the journalist who gets close to the story but falls for the victim… like, yeah, I’ve seen it a hundred times before. I would have thought that a highly celebrated book had maybe did something slightly different, but I feel like this was a well-executed book written within the confines of a typical child abduction & serial killer saga.
PS — Does anyone get tired of the main character always being a troubled writer who can’t focus and needs to meet the deadline right now. Seems like a lot of projection goes on….
Click here to view The Whisper Man on Goodreads.
Content Warnings: Child Abduction, Murder, Serial Killer, Death of Parent, Bullying, Alcoholism, Alcoholic Parents, Violence, typical Cursing. It was stated that there was not a sexual nature to the serial killing.