The Whisper Man by Alex North
I ordered the hardcover version of The Whisper Man by Alex North as part of my first Book Outlet haul. Like other books I’ve read recently, I kept seeing pictures of the book shared across Instagram, so naturally, it was the unsettling, simple cover that prompted me to buy.
For instance, a black handprint smears the stark-white face of the book, of which the palm of the hand is shaped like a butterfly. Or a corpse moth, to be exact, if you’ve read the story. Underneath the moth is the silhouette of a little boy. It’s creeptastic.
But here’s what makes it creepier: upon opening the front cover, you’ll see an inscription.
If you leave a door half open, soon you’ll hear the whispers spoken…
The rest of the rhyme is located on the back sleeve, and it goes:
If you’re lonely, sad, and blue, the Whisper Man will come for you.
If that doesn’t sell you on reading the book, it also comes with numerous praises that liken North’s work to that of Stephen King. And as a fan of King’s books, I can always find time to enjoy a good supernatural thriller.
Now for the good stuff. Warning: spoilers ahead.
Whisper Man summary
The premise of this book is that twenty years ago in the town of Featherbank, someone kidnapped children, cared for them, and then murdered them. He was called the Whisper Man. He stalked them for weeks first, targeting children with lonely or unhappy home lives, and promised to treat them better.
After killing them, the Whisper Man would return their bodies to where he originally abducted them. Several died before he was caught.
Understandably, the lead detective from all those years ago is ruined by those events. His home life goes down the drain and he turns to alcohol, growing bitter and hollow over the decades.
The novel picks back up in Featherbank, two decades later, and centers on Tom and Jake Kennedy, a father and son. We find out the murders have started again—even after the proven killer was put behind bars.
We get to find out how everyone is connected in this story: the former lead detective, the convicted killer, Tom and his son, Jake’s ghosts, and this new, mysterious monster of a person.
Writing style: The Whisper Man by Alex North
The Whisper Man is a fast-paced page-turner. Though each chapter reads short and concise, they are filled with rich, character-driven scenes that give the story lots of depth. I think North does a good job of balancing setting and character backstory without being too descriptive. It helps make the story feel urgent. Key scenes are written so effectively, they’ll make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Chapters 28 and 51 come to mind.
Whisper Man characters
Another contributor to the book’s fast pace are the different POVs. We get to read from the perspectives of several characters, all but one in third-person. That goes to the main character, a man named Tom Kennedy.
The protagonist: Tom Kennedy
As the only character written in first-person, we immediately develop a connection to Tom. Whether that’s for better or for worse, I leave to you. He is a writer by trade, a widower, and the father to Jake. His wife, Rebecca, had been ill, but a spill down the stairs while he was out picking up Jake from school resulted in her untimely death. Due to the pain of that loss, Tom decides to move to Featherbank.
The book begins with a letter Tom has written to Jake. The content suggests some time has passed—years, perhaps—since the incidents that unfold in the story. The letter immediately grabs your attention and sets the tone for the rest of the book, creating an atmosphere of supernatural terror and wary anticipation for what’s to come.
Tom often felt like a wet blanket to me. He never seems overjoyed at being a father, and there were numerous times I found myself annoyed by his utter lack of caution and proactivity in protecting Jake and their home. Moreover, he seems to live in the past, finding no real enjoyment in much of anything. He dwells on Rebecca’s dying—like she had any choice in it—and continuously analyzes Jake as if there’s something innately wrong with him.
I just wanted him to try harder from the beginning.
The little boy: Jake Kennedy
Jake is Tom’s seven-year-old son, and to his dismay, has “imaginary friends.” Because of these so-called friends, Jake struggles to fit in with children at school. In fact, he usually gets into some sort of scuffle with them. His imaginary friends are a constant point of tension between Tom and Jake. But that’s not everything.
Jake had the heartbreakingly horrific experience of finding his mother’s dead body at the bottom of the staircase. An event like that is bound to express itself in some form or another for someone so young.
As a matter of fact, we eventually learn Jake has the ability to see ghosts. They were never imaginary friends. One is a little girl in a white and blue dress who follows him from his old house to his new home in Featherbank; the other is the “little boy in the floor.” The latter turns out to be a murdered child from twenty years ago who was never found.
I won’t spoil the former.
The tortured cop: Pete Willis
It seems common for crime-mystery types of stories to always have that tortured soul detective. For North’s book, that man is Pete Willis. The years since the initial murders have not been kind to him. Pete never found one of the missing boys—Tony—and the case turned him to alcohol. The alcohol made him angry and physical, and that’s how he lost his wife and son.
We later learn his son is none other than Tom Kennedy. And Tom wants absolutely nothing to do with his old man.
A spine-tingling situation at Tom’s house leads to Pete’s reunion with Tom. Much of the story explores the relationship between Tom and Pete as they navigate what’s happening in Featherbank, and this leads to closure.
The killer: Francis Carter
If you’re still reading, you don’t mind spoilers. So here’s a big one: the convicted killer from two decades ago turns out to be the father of the present-day killer. Together, they are Frank and Francis Carter.
Whisper Man offers a couple of red herrings to keep you guessing, but eventually, it isn’t hard to figure out that the killer is Frank’s son.
But where North truly shines with his storytelling is how perfectly he glossed over other seemingly inconsequential characters at the book’s get-go. The present-day suspect is said to be unremarkable, someone average who blends in. And that’s exactly what I thought of the character alias once the big reveal happened.
It was perfect.
Book review: The Whisper Man by Alex North
Ultimately, I gave The Whisper Man 4 stars on Goodreads. The writing was sharp and engaging, but the cast of characters and the ending left me somewhat dissatisfied. The broken cop and grieving widower roles are a bit overdone, but that’s just me.
But that ending. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. The final scene was the furthest thing from happy. After getting caught, Francis gets placed in his father’s same prison, and well, Frank wants to pick right up where he left off with abusing his own son, like he did so many years ago. It’s horrible in its own way.
The end left an uncomfortable bleakness in my chest. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to mourn for the shitty childhood that turned Francis into such a monster in adulthood or revel in his newfound suffering. The fact that Frank gets what he wants in having Francis served up to him in prison left me feeling a bit sick. There are no winners here.
If open-for-interpretation endings are your thing, and you enjoy a fast-paced thriller, try The Whisper Man by Alex North. But if you find you need something lighter and more hopeful to chase the darkness away, try something more upbeat. I certainly did.