In this dark, suspenseful thriller, Alex North weaves a multi-generational tale of a father and son caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.
After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town: Featherbank.
But Featherbank has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.
Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man. And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window.
Synopsis source: Goodreads
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…he wondered if maybe this was a nightmare after all, just not the kind you got to wake up from. The world was full of bad men. Full of bad dreams that didn’t always happen when you were asleep.Alex North, The Whisper Man, 2019, p289
I’m not sure any other thriller thoroughly creeped me out the way this one did. I’m not sure if this book is more horror than just thriller, and maybe that’s the difference. But I had this perpetual skin-crawling sensation the entire time I was reading this book, and I’m not really sure if it was in a good way or a bad way.
Tom and Jake are grieving the huge loss of their wife and mother, Rebecca. Jake was the one who found his mother dead at the bottom of the stairs and is having an understandably difficult time coping. Tom, grieving as well, has always had a hard time communicating with Jake, and in the wake of Rebecca’s passing, is having an even more difficult time reaching Jake. I have to say that upon reading these passages, I was left with one large, glaring question: A dead mother, a dad who doesn’t understand his son’s behavior and at a loss on what to do, why aren’t they seeing a counselor?! Okay, end rant.
When Tom and his son, Jake, arrive in Featherbank, it seems like the perfect opportunity for a fresh start. But Tom soon comes to realize that they have more in common with this small town than they originally thought, and that his deceased wife is more present in the events and circumstances than he could have possibly guessed.
There is a lot of self-loathing going around in this book. Tom, Jake, and DI Pete, the original detective on the Whisper Man case from 20 years prior, and even to a small degree DI Amanda, the detective working the new Whisper Man case, all struggle with notions of not being good enough, that the world would be better if they weren’t there.
…grief is a stew with a thousand ingredients, and not all of them are palatable.North, 2019, p94
Tom struggles with fatherhood, even before his wife passed away, never feeling like he was very good at it, constantly doubting himself. We get to see snippets of his childhood from memories and nightmares he has, leading us to believe that his father was abusive and that it wasn’t a happy childhood.
Jake too struggles with self-image. His only friend, the little girl that only he can see, makes it difficult for him to make other friends, instead opening him up to ridicule as he is seen talking to “no one.” Admittedly, even the teacher seems more inclined toward the stick instead of the carrot, constantly singling him out as a troublemaker by moving him up on the yellow and red on their chart instead of empathizing with everything that Jake is coping with. Anyone who has ever been a kid can tell you that kids can be mean.
That was really your job at school–to do what you were told and fill in the answers to the blanks, and not cause any problems by thinking up too many questions of your own.North, 2019, p89
For DI Pete and DI Amanda, their career-making cases parallel each other. DI Pete could have climbed rapidly through the ranks after putting away Frank Carter, the original Whisper Man. But having seen so much, he turned to the drink and lost everything important to him as a result, the love of his life left him. His struggle to remain sober was palpable, and North did a fantastic job of showing that addiction (in any form) isn’t something you get better and move on from. It is a daily struggle, a daily choice, to give into it or not. Pete’s nightly stare down with the bottle, the way the clicks of the seal being broken when the cap is turned, all echoed in my mind, so real to me.
DI Amanda starts the story by seeing Pete as a cautionary tale and tells herself that she won’t be like him. She’s going to find the missing child, catch the bad guy, and climb the ranks in a way Pete chose not to do. I found it very interesting to see how Amanda’s perspective changed toward the end of the book. Even as a periphery character (she doesn’t get many chapters with her POV), she was very well-developed and drawn out, showing the care and thought that North put into his character development.
There is a supernatural element that kept me guessing the entire book. Like, is it “real,” or is it going to be explained away? Jake sometimes talks to himself, or from his point of view, he talks to someone only he can see. Is this a child making up an imaginary friend to help him cope with the loss of his mother? Or is he really talking to ghosts? Tom is firmly in the first camp, because ghosts aren’t real, right??
I love how the plot unfolded so neatly with several surprises I didn’t see coming. You guys know how much I love trying to guess the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of a book, so that was a bonus for me! It was a compelling, if creepy, read and I will definitely be reading more by Alex North.
***Update: If you missed last night’s live discussion of this book and would like to see the replay, you can find it below!***
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