The Whisper Man - Alex North
*Mild spoilers about characters, not plot.*
I ordered this book from Book Outlet which I discovered and immediately loved. It’s an online bookstore which only stocks volumes which have been returned to publishers by other book stores. The books are usually marked slightly with a small dot or line to show that it’s a return, but they’re otherwise in great condition. I really love this concept of giving the books a life they may not have had and also that it makes shopping for books much more affordable.
I devoured this book in 3 sittings of about 2 hours. It was recommended to me on good ole’ Goodreads after I’d marked that I’d finished Recursion by Blake Crouch. I didn’t find the books to be particularly similar but I guess Goodreads’ sneaky algorithms know that fans of one have read the other.
I didn’t have high hopes for the book, though I can’t really explain why. I’d never heard of North and to my knowledge, never read anything that he published under his other name (North is a pen name/ pseudonym). Though this could be where we find out that North’s other name is Crouch and that’s why they share fans and the mystery is solved! Unlikely…
The book begins with a short letter from Father to son, before we even get to the first chapter. There is reflection, regret and sorrow in these words but also a glimmer of hope which is is all SO intriguing. It’s an unusual way to begin and I liked it.
With that, North introduces us to Jake and Tom. Jake’s mum died recently and we meet Tom as a struggling single dad who relocated for a fresh start with his 7-year-old. We quickly feel Tom’s desperation to do the right thing by his young son and how determined he is to do his late wives’ parenting skills justice. Very early on, we can see him floundering as he struggles to establish a meaningful bond with Jake which goes beyond simply making sure he eats and gets dressed and goes to school. There is a tangible yearning from Tom to really know Jake. This whole thing is a beautiful yet alien concept to me. My younger brother and I were raised by my Mum unofficially since birth and then officially when my Mum finally kicked my useless Dad out when I was 7. I have no experience of what it’s like to have a father who is so set on being the kind of father a kid would be proud of. Reading the words, therefore, has a whole extra level of emotion for me because it feels like it’s coming from somewhere very personal and it’s something I’ve personally wanted and never had.
However, taking my personal experience out of the equation as much as possible, I was absolutely flawed by the rawness in the expression of this pain, this longing. As North writes as Tom, we learn that he feels a canyon between himself and his son and is beaten down daily by his own perceived failures as a Dad. In light of this, we are also privy to Jake’s perspective, and how smart and emotionally attuned he is to his dad and the world around him. He’s blunt like kids that age can be. He gets angry at his Dad and gives him the silent treatment but ultimately, he just wants his Dad to love him and give him a cuddle before bed.
The character development for everyone we meet continues in this vein, so much so that I began to feel that I’d seen this story depicted somewhere else already because I could see and feel the expressions, the interactions, the emotions of each and every person. As I saw the relationship between Tom and Frank Carter reveals itself, I was a little worried about the potential for a trope, here. Pete has been a police officer for over 20 years and Frank Carter is the killer in a case Pete was close to solving all those years ago. Frank kept one detail for himself though and in order to finally put an end to the investigation, Pete had been visiting Frank in prison for two decades. The ‘special relationship’ of cat and mouse between investigator and criminal is one we’ve seen time and time again. We saw it develop between Special Agent Clarice Starling and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, more recently we saw it in the Netflix series Mindhunter between Agent Ford and the serial killer Ed Kemper. This has been overdone in attempts to create a vehicle for paradoxes of good and evil, strong and weak, smart and stupid. We’ve seen these battles for superiority in this setting for decades. However, I needn’t have worried. North handles the pain of failure from Pete, coupled with the delusions of grandeur and it’s associated power from Carter with incredible skill.
North conveys the complexities of people so well that I found myself really seeing some of the lovely, touching, vile and abhorrent things these characters get up to.
It’s a detailed and complex web of human connection with a twist that I didn’t *totally* see coming. I think North knew that the reader might pick up on some parts of their big reveal and they were okay with that – I am too.
I absolutely loved this book and I’ve already ordered The Shadows from my local independent book store.