It is two months since I read this book, but I saved the review for today, as I felt it was perfect for Halloween!
Published: 13th June 2019
Trigger warnings: Child death, alcoholism, frightening scenes
Still devastated after the loss of his wife, Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake move to the sleepy village of Featherbank, looking for a fresh start.
But Featherbank has a dark past. Fifteen years ago a twisted serial killer abducted and murdered five young boys. Until he was finally caught, the killer was known as ‘The Whisper Man’.
Of course, an old crime need not trouble Tom and Jake as they try to settle in to their new home. Except that now another young boy has gone missing. And then Jake begins acting strangely.
He says he hears a whispering at his window…
This is dark and consuming thriller that uses a terrifying concept to very good effect. It has a creepy, menacing tone that runs right through the heart of the story, along with an ever-present degree of atmosphere and tension which keeps you on edge as the stakes gradually rise. In addition, there is an array of perspectives that provide a touch of poignancy to proceedings.
It may be extremely eerie and full of mystery, but this is primarily a character-driven story and I was able to connect with the protagonists through their very human traits. The contrasting aspects of the book complemented each other very well and gave way to several compelling themes that are explored deftly and provide a useful extra layer of depth.
Widowed author Tom Kennedy has just moved to the small village of Featherbank with his young son Jake, who discovered the body of his mother a year earlier. Since that happened, the two have struggled to develop a very close bond and Tom becomes concerned that Jake does not socialise with anyone except an imaginary friend, a girl in a blue and white dress who visits him frequently.
Meanwhile, a young boy has gone missing in Featherbank and despite an extensive search, there are no clues as to his whereabouts. For detective Pete Willis, a recovering alcoholic, it brings back haunting memories of a series of murders that took place two decades earlier in which children were abducted and killed by someone who became known as ‘The Whisper Man’, as the victims claimed to have heard whispers in the night in the days leading up to their deaths.
The man responsible was Frank Carter, who is serving life in prison but frequently taunts Pete on each of his visits. Carter somehow seems to know something about the current case, though gives very little away. But then, Pete meets Tom, who has called the police after some curious incidents occur at his house. Jake has begun to hear a voice which has been keeping him awake.
I really liked the idea of the plot and how it truly intensified later on. There were admittedly not all that many twists and turns to be found, yet it was still a gripping read and I appreciated the connection that emerged between the past and the present. It all led to a powerful and dramatic ending that delivered a satisfactory resolution to the mystery.
Some of the themes were actually quite moving. I really empathised with Tom and the way he tries to connect with his son, showing great affection while still grieving for his late wife. Then we have Pete and his constant battle to avoid his drinking; how he has been unable to move on from the Whisper Man case and other events of his past. It is something that eventually brings the two men together, with the help of some fantastic character development.
Tom is the principal narrator of the book and is written in the first person. This helped to convey his thoughts very well and emphasise the level of tension that arrives when mysterious things start to happen. Pete is written in the third person and the chapters mainly alternate between the two main characters, although some are told from the perspective of Jake, and also Amanda Beck, the detective leading the police investigation.
I liked how each of these perspectives brought a different style of writing. For example, Jake’s point of view is written more informally and in the manner of a child, while with Pete you can literally feel his regret and the events of the past weighing heavily upon him. What they all have in common is the sheer amount of atmosphere that permeates through every line of the story.
Tom was a very engaging narrator and it did not take long for me to connect with him. As for Pete, I was really invested in his internal struggles and I felt determined for his luck to change for the better. Although his story is incredibly bittersweet, it was good to see him earn redemption in the end and discover something worth carrying on for.
Of the secondary characters, the author does a terrific job of giving them such defined personalities that simply leap from the page. This is particularly true for the more evil individuals such as Frank Carter, who is shrewd and manipulative, while you immediately get very unsettling vibes from Norman and his many dark fascinations.
The setting of Featherbank feels threatening and unwelcoming, with the spectre of the Whisper Man and his crimes hanging over everyone who lives there. Tom and Jake are made to seem like outsiders who do not really fit in, and their house is a place where you cannot sit comfortably for a moment, for fear that something bad is about to happen.
Overall, this is a book that produces the goods across a whole range of aspects. The tension that the author manages to conjure can be felt throughout, but the characters are right at the very centre of everything, such is the richness of their development. With writing that carries great meaning and a versatile use of multiple narratives, it made for compulsive reading.
Alex North lives in Leeds and has previously written crime novels under a different name. The Whisper Man was inspired by his son, who mentioned one day that he was playing with ‘the boy in the floor’. His latest book, The Shadows, was released in July 2020.
A powerful and interesting read where threat was never far away. It was compelling and well written throughout, so I found lots to like.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐