The Whisperer, by Donato Carrisi

After finishing The Whisperer, the first thing I did was go straight back to the beginning and look for the clues dotted throughout this twisting and turning crime thriller. It not only gripped, it had me glued to the pages. The nigh-on 500 pages flew by pretty quickly, as I was desperate to know the who, what, when where and, most importantly, how the story would unfold.

This is a riveting debut from Donato Carrisi, a criminologist who has a disturbingly detailed understanding of the mind of a murderer. It is his expertise, paired with an excellent sense of pace that keeps this thriller on the right track throughout. It’s a pretty graphic novel in places, but, unlike the majority of  Hostel-lite crime fiction out there (you know the ones: covers that show blood stains in a bathroom sink; an ominous picture of a freshly dug grave; a broken doll) this is not gratuitous. Carassi knows his subject matter is gruesome, so he plays it down, where possible, letting the reader’s imagination fill in many of the horrific details.

The story begins with the discovery of six severed children’s arms in a forest clearing. A special unit is dispatched to work on the case, including out two protagonists: Goran Gavila, a well-renowned criminologist, and Mila Vasquez, a policewoman with a troubled past, who is an expert in finding missing children.

The setting is purposefully anonymous. Though this is written by an Italian, the overall feel is one of an American police department. However, this lack of a clear ‘place’ makes the locations all the more haunting, and without a preconception as to how these places should look, they become more mythic, more gothic, and all the more terrifying.

The investigation leads them down many creepy avenues, where we meet paedophiles, get an understanding of what makes a serial killer tick and where we understand the effect these killings have on the policemen and women assigned to solve the case.

It poses interesting questions about the evil lurking inside everyone:

“ She concluded that good and evil are often jumbled up. That one is sometimes the instrument of the other and vice versa.”

And it’s overall analysis of what constitutes evil makes for scary, and at times terrifying, reading.

The cover states that this book is an ‘Italian Literary phenomenon’ and it was ‘the most eagerly awaited thriller in the world.’ While this marketing spiel makes it clear that this a fine read, and well above the average rime thriller, it is hard to see this as ‘literary.’ The language is solid; there is some great imagery and the characterisation is strong, despite a large cast, but the structure is nothing new.

This is an excellent police procedural novel, but it does nothing new. It doesn’t push the boundaries of language in any way, but then again, it doesn’t need to. The author can’t be blamed for the way his book has been marketed. (Though the fact that it won a host of literary awards in Italy still comes a bit of a surprise)

But, despite book covers often never delivering on the promise of the story, the twists and turns are great. (I’ll say no more…)

If you want a great holiday read, curl up under your sun lounger with this one and you won’t be disappointed. There were a few times, reading this one alone in the house (cliché I know) that I found myself closing the curtains and putting on the radio. It really does thrill. But if you’re looking for literary crime fiction, Kate Atkinson is more on the money.

(This could be an excellent film- think David Fincher’s Zodiac, with a bit of Silence of the Lambs.)

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