The Whisperer
Donato Carrisi

Mulholland Books
Hardcover, 432 pages, $25.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt

Nothing is quite what it seems in Donato Carrisi’s The Whisperer. The novel, which has already created a stir in Europe, is a psychological thriller with more twists and turns than a cornered politician. The narrative initially appears to be moving on a straight linear path, then does a fake in a different direction; repeatedly. Elusive and entrancing, The Whisperer takes the notion of cat-and-mouse to another level: teasing and confounding the reader along with the story’s criminal investigators. Manipulative to the max, the book is a riveting read that injects the tired serial killer subgenre with a well needed stimulant.

Without divulging too much of the plot, the bare bones scenario is: The severed left arms of six young girls are discovered, buried in a circle. Five girls are known to have been recently abducted, prompting questions about the sixth appendage…and what has become of the remainder of the missing bodies. Called into the case are brilliant criminologist Goran Gavila and Officer Mila Vasquez. Vasquez is a specialist in locating lost persons. She is especially skilled at finding children. As it becomes likely that the five known abductees may well be dead, Mila puts her focus on the mysterious sixth amputee, who is possibly the lone survivor. Gory and gruesome discoveries escalate as Vasquez and Gavila become plunged into an investigation with profoundly personal resonances.

Their disturbing uncoverings include: A network of pedophiles comprised of well-to-do, outwardly respectable folk; a prisoner who leaves no traces of his DNA; terrified kids forced into mock smiles for photographs; and a web of grisly and sadistic murders that have connections to the abductions. The separate acts of unhinged individuals meld into an unholy cohesive whole. And just when it looks like the situation can’t get any more grim, it does.

Those who actively do harm are rightfully depicted as evildoers in the tale but people who allow such occurrences to happen, by turning a blind eye or acquiescing, are also deemed reprehensible through their quiet complicity: “Sometimes a human being discovers that he has an evil nature, which means he can only find happiness by killing someone else. There’s a name for him: a murderer, or serial killer. But what do you call the others, the ones around him who don’t stop it happening, or who even take advantage of it?”

Regarding atmosphere, it should be noted that despite the author’s Italian name and residence, the action occurs in an unidentified place. The characters are not specific to a particular country or region; the geographical setting is nebulous. This is a clever paving of a sense of the universal, cementing the storyline to a common accessibility – and making the probable film adaptation more viable.

Author Carrisi gets down and dirty in terms of analyzing psychotic temperament, and is calculating and precise in how he lays out the serpentine story elements of the novel. Despite the inevitable post-reading critical reaction replete with reflection on plot holes, what sticks in the mind are ghoulish images and complex analytical back stories. Charles Manson is evoked, bringing to mind that responsibility for heinous crimes doesn’t always entail direct participation. What gets under the skin in this yarn is what lies beneath the surface; how maniacal manipulations are too readily possible, and how deceit (including self deception) exists on many levels.

The Whisperer distresses and disrupts comfort zones. The book doesn’t tolerate complacency. Donato Carrisi shakes things up; assumptions lead to errors and profound damage. His narrative haunts, agitates – and fascinates.

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