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A story about a group of mercenary ex-soldiers meeting mysterious deaths, set at the border between Canada and Maine. When a museum in Baghdad is ransacked in the aftermath of a fierce battle between US troops and the Fedayeen, a small locked box goes missing. After the end of the war, private investigator Charlie Parker is hired by the father of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide to look into his son's death. Soon, Parker makes a link between a number of seemingly unrelated deaths of ex-soldiers. What is killing them?
Despite the hype by the British press, this book left me indifferent. My conclusion is that you must have read the previous 8 books in the series in order for the central characters to become interesting, since they are minimally developed in this book.
But first and foremost, it is a book that does not know what it wants to be. A mystery? A thriller? Crime fiction? Adventure? Horror? Eventually it becomes a bit of everything and nothing. I found the story boring, with no depth, and with little supernatural element, without substance, just for marketing purposes and to please the fans of the genre; but they will be strongly disappointed, so better to stay away. Where did the book reviewers of Daily Mail and The Guardian find the "scary" and "dark" story? I cannot understand. The Little Red Riding Hood is more mysterious and terrifying in comparison. The characters of "Herod", "Collector" and "Captain" are truly demonic and dark, but their involvement in the plot is insignificant and without having read the previous books, I didn't get a clue what they really were about. The author does not make any effort to link the books together and offer a bigger picture.
Charlie Parker appears one-dimensional, like all the lonely "film-noir" private eyes, but because the book is the ninth in the series, the author obviously believes that the readers already know much about the main character and does not bother to tell us anything new or interesting about him. The other characters, especially the ex-soldiers, are completely predictable in their mannerisms, without any depth. I found the female presence - essentially absence - unacceptable in a supposedly modern novel. The couple of women with a bit of a role in the story, speak and act as caricatures from the '50s.
Connolly is praised by the press for his "realistic" dialogues. I will disagree again. They reminded me of the standard male cool and macho orientated lingo of film-noir and pulp fiction. His prose definitely did not sound like poetry to me (another praise for his writing by professional reviewers). I also found very annoying the fact that the narrative suddenly changes from first person - of the central hero Charlie Parker - to third person - of other characters - kind of randomly, without plan or reason through the chapters.
The only praise I found to hold some truth is that although the author is Irish, he writes about North America and Maine effortlessly.
* John Connolly (2011) "The Whisperers". Available in Kindle Edition (£4.99), Hardcover (£9.95) and Paperback (£4.31). Source: Amazon.co.uk
John Connolly's literary strength lies in his ability to combine a thoroughly good thriller with elements of the supernatural. He has done this a number of times, mostly through the medium of his private detective, Charlie Parker, the main character through Connolly's series of books. Add to this some other regulars, mainly Parker's sidekicks, the assassin Louis, and his lover Angel, the thief. This trio make for an exciting collection of stories.
The Whisperers is the latest in the saga, and it has a bit more of a statement to make than the previous books. A group of veteran soldiers from the Iraq war are mixed up in something dodgy, and one by one, they appear to be taking their own lives. Parker is drawn into this quite innocently, being asked to investigate one of them by the soldier's girlfriend's boss, whose son was also a suicide victim with the same unit. Slightly complicated on the surface, but this all unfolds over quite a few pages.
Unfolding over a few pages seems to be quite an apt way of describing it as well. What I have found with the majority of the Parker books is that they unfold quite quickly, never hanging around too long to let things get stagnant. The only exception to this was The Reapers, a book that examined the back history of Louis, and was a very powerfully written tale that was a pleasure to read. However, with The Whisperers, it almost seems as if he has tried to recapture the slow paced beauty that The Reapers was and combine it with the fast paced smooth talking elements of the other books in the series. In this respect, I hate to say it but he has failed, and what results is a confusingly paced and disjointed 400 page story that was hard reading.
When the supernatural elements come into play, there's quite a bit of a flow change, and the pages do seem to melt, but there's like a stoccato movement when it suddenly changes back to the long descriptive passages that I just couldn't get my head around. There was a lot of posturing and opinionated rants about how wounded soldiers don't get treated as fairly as they perhaps should, and how promises made are not fulfilled, and the book almost felt as if it was more a vehicle for Connolly's personal viewpoints on this than it was another tale of Parker and his supernatural past.
Even so, it's still a good read, and it's a mark of the quality of his writing that even a below par effort is still something well worth reading. The action, when it does come, is enjoyable, and the return of one of the creepiest characters in the books, The Collector, as well as the inclusion of the cancer ridden Herod and his invisible sidekick known only as The Captain, make this quite suspenseful. The thing is, these bits were few and far between, and finishing the book was more of an effort than I had expected, given how The Reapers and then The Lovers built on the work he had done before. These previous two I had read in quick succession, and I had enjoyed them to the point where I found The Whisperers straight away, so keen was I to read it and embark on another adventure with Parker and co.
There are some of Connolly's books that I haven't read yet, outside of the Parker series, such as Nocturnes, The Book of Lost Things, and The Gates. I have two of them on the shelf here, but The Whisperers has put me off a bit for the moment, and I won't be in a hurry to pick them up straight away. I do recommend reading this, and followers of the books will no doubt enjoy them to a certain extent, but it's one of the more self indulgent and weaker books from his pen.
The Whisperers is the latest in a long line of Charlie Parker thrillers from the pen of Dublin born writer, John Connolly. Following events in his last outing, The Lovers, Parker has his Private Detective licence back and has returned to doing what he does best; hunting down the bad guys and trying (and failing) to keep himself out of trouble!
This time around, business is slow. Apart from a few corporate jobs and some adultery cases, Parker finds himself just killing time. Which makes a nice change as usually corpses seem to be constantly falling all around him in the wake of his passage. Then Bennett Patchett, a prominent local figure, approaches Charlie because he has become worried about one of the waitresses working at the restaurant he owns and the ex-Iraq veteran she has become involved with. This veteran was friends with Bennett's son not that long ago; a relationship that ended diastrously when Patchett junior killed himself, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by things he had seen whilst stationed in Iraq.
Bennett thinks there is more to it all than just that though and is worried that Joel Tobias may be involved in things he really shouldn't be involved in! Investigating what he thinks may just be a wild goose chase, Parker rapidly discovers that Tobias is just one of several veterans who have begun smuggling across the Maine/ Canada border and that one by one these veterans have begun taking their own lives! Just what have these ex-Iraq soldiers been dealing in and how are they connected to the mysterious figure known as The Collector who has returned onto the scene once more?
Dealing largely with the fall-out from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, addressing Connolly's very evident concerns that the heroes of these campaigns are not really being cared for on their return ~ a very topical and political subject which often tops the headlines of our English newspapers, this is a very different novel from the kind we have come to expect from Connolly. The main plot appears to take a back-step from the other points that Connolly wants to make and much of the paranormal elements, that figure in all his Charlie Parker novels, is relegated until the final chapters when everything comes to a climatic head!
If you have read the previous books, then there is plenty here to enjoy and there are strong indications that some final confrontation for Parker is just around the corner. But this is ever so slightly inferior to the other Parker novels and lacking in one or two respects. The choice to take the highly controversial approach that Connolly has and subject Parker to almost the role of a supporting-character in his own novel, feels to me to be a mistake and with Angel and Louis barely appearing for long, this almost feels like a dark thriller-by-numbers rather than the superior offering that fans have come to expect!
This is no match for previous novels The Lovers or The Reapers and, though a good read, lacks the pace or the sustainability of those books. It is still better than the offerings from most other authors but I have a strong feeling that more than a few fans will be left feeling a bit disappointed when they finally finish The Whisperers!
Where this series is at its strongest is when it blends together equal parts of Dectective fiction and Supernatural Demonic thriller but here, both these components feel a tad rushed and forced together in an unholy and unnatural union! I only hope that the next Charlie Parker novel sees a return to form because this latest felt rather lacking and frankly left me a little cold. Connolly is a better writer than this and for him to produce something distinctly average feels like something of a let-down!!