The Whisper Man by Alex North is an example of a novel that completely blurs genre lines. It is equal parts family drama, serial-killer mystery, and supernatural horror. In a rare feat of undeniable skill, Alex North is able to execute all of these layers flawlessly, making for one truly unforgettable reading experience.
At its very core, The Whisper Man is the story of father and son relationships. After the tragic death of his wife, Tom Kennedy is struggling to connect with – and raise – his young son, Jake. Alex North tugs at the heartstrings as he depicts a father who desperately wants to do the right thing, but because of his own overwhelming grief, finds himself second-guessing every minor decision, which leads to even larger parental missteps. It is through the consummate skill of this storyteller that readers feel the desire to console Jake, help Tom, and reassure both of them that things are going to turn out all right. This father/son dynamic would be more than enough to classify The Whisper Man as “family drama,” but there are several other really fascinating explorations of blood ties in this book, but they all constitute too much of a spoiler to discuss.
The Whisper Man opens with the kidnapping of a young boy and it is not very long before readers discover that the town of Featherbank has a history of abductions, with one previous serial predator already in custody. Readers are introduced to several members of the police force as they attempt to locate this missing child. Here, the most interesting character is Pete Willis – a recovering alcoholic who was responsible for catching Frank Carter, but who still longs to know what happened to this perpetrator’s final victim. Now, with the current case showing echoes of those previous crimes, Pete is required to meet with Frank to determine if there is a copycat on the loose. The elements of this mystery are scattered throughout the rest of the narrative, with new revelations perfectly timed. The desire to know more certainly provides an impetus for readers to rush to the end to discover the completely satisfying truth behind these crimes.
The presence of “horror” in The Whisper Man is handled delicately, in such as way that even readers who are not generally fans of that genre’s conventions will find themselves hooked. The creep factor in this novel is off the charts – there are several moments that are guaranteed to send shivers down the spine of even the most jaded reader. The paranormal elements come via young Jake, who seems to have the ability to communicate with “imaginary friends,” spirits that long for closure. Alex North wisely avoids placing judgment or explanation on this trait, leaving it to readers to decide if they think this is true spiritual communication or the ramblings of a lonely child – either way, the effect remains the same and the impact is undeniable.
The publisher is marketing this book is a debut, but the truth is that this novel was written by an extremely accomplished crime writer, however because of the unique nature of the storyline and the blending of genre tropes, it makes sense to launch this under a new nom de plume. At the same time, most readers will marvel at the high-level of execution here, so revealing that it is not really a debut should not come as much of a surprise. The multiple points-of-view and cliff-hangers chapter endings, combined with the psychologically-astute characterization of every person on the page is the work of a veteran writer honing his skills and taking a career to new heights. The future is bright – well, maybe the correct term is dark – for Alex North and The Whisper Man is sure to be the first is a long line of memorable genre-busting novels.
NOTE: This book also has my absolute favorite cover of the year!
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was obtained at ALA. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.