[At The Edge of the Universe, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]
The Whisperers is Irish writer John Connolly’s eleventh Charlie Parker thriller. The books are set for the most part in the USA, mostly in Maine, where Parker, the ex-cop turned private-eye turned something-more makes his home.
Underlying the plot of The Whisperers is a current theme, the question of how wounded soldiers returning home are treated by the government that put them in harm’s way. In this book, a group of Iraq war veterans is smuggling looted antiquities across the Canadian border. Their original purpose was to help their brothers-and-sisters-in-arms, those who returned disabled and are not getting what they need, but things have changed now and become much more sinister. One of the artifacts brings danger. And the veterans, one by one, are dying by their own hands.
Parker is hired by the father of one of the suicides. Surprisingly, he says his case is not about the death of his son. He is concerned for a woman employee, Karen, the live-in girlfriend of one of his son’s army buddies, Joel Tobias. Tobias drives a big rig and is making runs over the Canadian border regularly. He’s doing well, really well, but he may also be abusing Karen.
Two other men are interested in the smuggling operation Tobias works in. One calls himself Herod, who is directed by a companion only he can see, and then only in reflections. Herod calls this entity the Captain. The other man is someone known to and deeply distrusted by Parker; a serial killer named the Collector.
The supernatural aspect of the Parker books is woven right into the sharp, realistic descriptions of everyday life. Action scenes are vivid, filled with small details that make them concrete. The suspense sequences, especially those involving the whisperers themselves, made me shiver and look over my shoulder. Parker understands better than most of us the nature of the “honeycomb world” in which we live. Beneath the fragile crust of a surface, where most of us function, the world is filled with voids, pockets of darkness and evil. While humans do not need to be encouraged or possessed to do evil, there are still agents who will encourage and possess, or, as Parker describes it, infect, colonizing like viruses. These entities are not mindless; they are thinking, feeling beings, with a history and an agenda. Parker is a part of their history. Exactly what that part is has not been fully revealed.
Connolly alternates points of view, with Parker always narrated in the first person. This lets him build the suspense by letting the reader know things Parker doesn’t yet suspect, such as the interest of the drug cartels in the antiquities operation, and gives us a good taste of Parker’s voice. In between the mysteries, interrogations and shoot-outs, the themes of wounded warriors and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) surface. In one interview, a therapist points out that Parker, the loner, whose cop father committed suicide and whose wife and daughter were murdered by a serial killer, is at risk for PTSD himself. Parker does not appreciate the free therapeutic advice.
There is a mystery about exactly who is the ringleader of the veterans, and that was not hard to deduce, but Parker was not far enough behind me to make me think he was stupid. The Whisperers is a solid entry in the series, complete with appearances from Louis and Angel, Parker’s lethal friends. The smuggling plot is interesting enough, and explained well enough, for someone unfamiliar with the series to be able to follow and enjoy, but I think new readers would find the supernatural aspects a little confusing. I’m giving the book four stars as a reader familiar with the series. I recommend Every Dead Thing, the first Parker novel, for people who want to know who Charlie Parker is, how he got started, and an idea of just what he is fighting.