Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Review: ‘The Whisperers’

By Chip Schrader
Book Review Editor
Set between Southern Maine and the wilderness-shrouded highways of the Quebec border, “The Whisperers” is John Connolly’s newest installment of Detective Charlie Parker’s adventures. Parker is a whip smart private eye who is deeply tied with the city of Portland, Maine and its surrounding cities. More often than not, his knowledge of the who’s who of the region gets him out of jams, into a few pickles, and lands him some good leads.
A troubled Gulf War Veteran’s treatment of his girlfriend has her boss concerned for her well being, and has the boss wondering of his own son’s, another Veteran, suicide. As Detective Parker starts snooping and contacts an old friend, Jimmy, to get some dirt, the detective finds himself in the irony of being water boarded by a group of men associated with this Veteran.
The story takes some turns as more Gulf War Veteran suicides crop up. These deaths begin shortly after Herod, an elderly man riddled with disease and an icy moral code, offers an ultimatum to a father that is too grizzly and heart wrenching to depict in this review.
Herod is a fascinating character who is often described with zombie-like features, and has a history of his own with death. As we learn more of this almost superhuman (or subhuman) villain, we also learn of a mysterious organization that collects ancient relics that are believed to possess supernatural powers. As these deliveries fail to make their destination to the organization, more suicides emerge.
Connolly’s astute use of recent politics and history by injecting details like water boarding, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the lack of veterans’ benefits adds a sufficient amount of cultural context to an otherwise straight ahead piece of hard-boiled fiction.
The local references like the Great Lost Bear in Westbrook, or the Longfellow Bookstore in the Old Port will attract local interest, but more interestingly, this is another nationally bestselling author who brings Southern Maine into the spotlight.
As for the writing, Connolly writes smoothly. The descriptions slide down easily and the transitions from connected story lines are seamless and each chapter leaves threads that will be picked up in future chapters. His descriptions of the characters are his strongest asset as they are depicted in full dimension and color, and the converse naturally in unique voices. But, with each chapter, Connolly feeds his audience just enough detail and dirt to satiate readers until the next chapter as the pages beg to be turned.
While the Private Eye has a quick wit, like many other private eyes, his persona doesn’t get much deeper than that for the most part. But, who reads hard-boiled mysteries to look into the mind of the P.I. when the diabolical mind like Herod’s often more interesting?
Charlie Parker is the classic “Code Hero” from the Sam Spade and Jake Barnes (The Sun Also Rises) school of heroes. Connolly uses first person narration from Parker’s point of view and two other third person points of view, a method that nicely adds layers to the storytelling. This is a fun and well-written book that pulls in elements from the headlines and the horror genre to reel in readers. Highly recommended!
“The Whisperers” by John Connolly, Atria July 2010. 416 pages.
Photo caption: (Courtesy book cover image of “The Whisperers”)