Book Review: The Whisper Man by Alex North
By Kristin CentorcelliAugust 19, 2019
The Whisper Man by Alex North is a multi-generational thriller about a father and son caught in the crosshairs of an investigation to catch a serial killer preying on a small town.
It’s been 20 years since DI Pete Willis caught a killer that was responsible for the death of (at least) five little boys, and he’s always been haunted by the fact that they never found the body of the fifth child, Tony Smith. In fact, Pete is just flat out haunted. The killer, Frank Carter, has been in prison for a long time, but he’s still the bogeyman of Pete’s nightmares.
Frank Carter. The man who had kidnapped and murdered five young boys in Featherbank twenty years ago. The man whom Pete had eventually caught. The name alone conjured up such horror for him that it always felt like it should never be spoken out loud—as though it was some kind of curse that would summon a monster behind you. Worse still was what the papers had called him. The Whisper Man. That was based on the idea that Carter had befriended his victims—vulnerable and neglected children—before taking them away. He would talk quietly to them at night outside their windows. It was a nickname that Pete had never allowed himself to use.
Now another little boy is missing. Six-year-old Neil Spencer disappeared when walking home by himself, and Pete is called in to help on the case along with DI Amanda Beck. He’s devastated at the news, and it awakens something in him that he’s struggled to put to rest all these years. Along with his considerable experience, he brings something else to the case. He’s the only one that Frank Carter will speak to. Pete has been visiting Frank in prison nearly every year since he caught him, desperate to get him to reveal the location of Tony Smith’s body and give Tony’s parents a little bit of peace, but to no avail. Now Amanda thinks he might have some insight into Neil’s disappearance. Shockingly, Frank seems to know details about the case that he definitely shouldn’t, plunging Pete back into his nightmare and opening the possibility that they have a copycat on their hands. It’s either that or it’s the re-emergence of an accomplice that might have helped Frank kill those boys all those years ago.
Meanwhile, author and single dad Tom Kennedy and his little boy, Jake, are trying to make a fresh start after the death of Jake’s mother, and they’re moving into a home in Featherbank. Tom hopes that the new place will help diminish the memory of his wife’s body at the bottom of the stairs. It’s a strange home, but Jake picked it out, and these days, Tom can’t say no to his troubled son.
I pulled into the driveway. The house still looked the same, of course, but the building seemed to have different ways of staring out at the world. The first time I’d seen it, it had seemed forbidding and frightening—almost dangerous—and then the second, I’d thought it had character. Now, just for a moment, the odd arrangement of windows reminded me of a beaten face, with an eye pushed up over a badly bruised cheek, the skull injured and lopsided. I shook my head and the image disappeared. But an ominous feeling remained.
Tom has good reason to feel uneasy. Jake has had a rough time since his mom died, and he’s been talking to an imaginary friend. At first, Tom isn’t concerned about Jake’s “friend,” but some very strange occurrences at the house have him distinctly alarmed, including the appearance of a stranger who attempts to gain entry to their home. When Tom makes a horrifying discovery in their clutter filled garage, the police become involved.
The discovery leads to connections to the Whisper Man, and Pete and Amanda must find out if they have a copycat on their hands or something unlike anything they’ve ever seen.
Alex North’s debut isn’t your typical serial killer thriller. He juggles multiple narratives with ease, and even Tom’s voice (which is the only first-person narrative) is written in a more lyrical style, befitting that of a successful author. Readers won’t just turn the pages (and boy will they turn them fast) to find out who the killer is, but becoming invested in what happens to Tom and Jake is very easy. Their story will resonate with any parent, and especially those that have experienced the loss of a partner or a parent. North’s smart, contemporary hunt-for-a-killer tale, populated with well-drawn characters, is threaded with some uber-creepy, well-placed scares that will appeal to readers who love ghost stories. This uniquely scary and disturbing novel will keep you up late, and you’ll want to keep all the lights on.