Book Review: Whisper Room by Thomas Kies
Geneva Chase is still doing freelance work as an investigative journalist for her dying newspaper, The Sheffield Post, when she gets the call to cover a breaking story. Elliot Carlson is a local news anchor with a huge chip on his shoulder. Genie has never liked him, but even she is shocked to learn he’s holding his wife Michelle at gunpoint in the Carlsons’ upscale Connecticut home.
Fortunately, the police manage to disarm him with no loss of life. A shaken and angry Michelle chooses Genie to tell her side of the story. Apparently, Elliot was being blackmailed by an escort service called The Whisper Room. They threatened to send a video of him having sex with a minor to his boss at the TV station and, worse, to his wife, if he didn’t pay them a substantial amount of money. Thinking they were bluffing, he ignored them. They were not bluffing, and sent the video out as promised.
After watching the video, an irate Michelle attempted to kick him out of the house, leading to hot-tempered Elliot completely losing it. Genie is sympathetic to what Michelle has gone through, and happy to provide even-handed coverage with her interview, but her interest is truly piqued by word of this mysterious Whisper Room. An escort service blackmailing its wealthy clientele makes for excellent news, and Genie is nothing if not a newshound.
Her investigations eventually lead her to the owners of the exclusive service, who are quick to describe The Whisper Room as a dating app for the very wealthy. The owners deny any involvement with a blackmailing scheme, instead accusing a former employee of trying to make them look bad in order to boost his own business. Genie diligently follows up on their information, interviewing their rival:
“Is it true you used to work for The Whisper Room?”
He grinned. “For a while. It’s where I got the idea for the Midnight House. I really didn’t like being an escort. I got tired of humping middle-aged women, and men who claimed they weren’t gay. I decided to start my own escort service.”
“Dating app,” I corrected him, smiling.
He nodded his head. “Dating app.”
Just as Genie is starting to think that she has a juicy article about rival sex-work businesses for her paper, the stakes are raised by the appearance of a body in the Long Island Sound. A young woman was asphyxiated before being thrown into the water—a young woman who just happens to be the same person Genie was looking for to confirm further details of her story. With murder now in the mix, Genie has to tread far more carefully in her pursuit of the truth.
Though since when has our plucky heroine been the kind of person to care more for her safety than the story? After news leaks that Elliot might have been responsible for the young woman’s death, Genie gets a drunk phone call from the beleaguered former news anchor himself, inviting her to a front seat at the next big story of her career. Alarmed by his tone, she calls the cops, but can’t resist heading out to the address he gave her to see what’s going on:
I looked up at the window and my heart stopped.
Elliot Carlson was staring down at me, grinning.
In a particularly unnerving moment, he waved me to come inside.
Genie, if you go in there, you’re the stupidest person on earth.
A siren wailed in the distance, getting closer. [The assistant police chief] was true to his word. He was sending someone by to check on the situation. From the sound, the police cruiser would be there in minutes.
There wasn’t much time.
If you’re going to do this, do it.
This isn’t the only dangerous situation Genie will walk into over the course of this twisty thriller. In fairness, she’s usually pretty confident in her ability to take care of herself, even when she becomes the target of villains bearing grudges. It’s only when a killer sets their sights on Genie’s teenage ward Caroline that Genie becomes truly afraid of the murderous forces at work behind the scenes of these elusive services.
There are subplots and red herrings aplenty in Thomas Kies’ fifth Geneva Chase mystery novel. I really enjoyed the cameos from the Friends of Lydia, and very much appreciate the even-handed look at modern sex work in the United States. Genie is a great protagonist, balancing pluck with risk assessment and self-doubt in healthy amounts as she juggles being a guardian with being a journalist. Series fans will be thrilled, and newcomers like myself will find a heroine who’s easy to root for as she ferrets out the truth on her fascinating crime beat.