Current reviews
  Reviews by title
  Reviews by author

  Contact Onyx

  Discussion forum


Onyx reviews: The Whisperers by John Connolly

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a recurring theme of John Connolly's latest Charlie Parker novel. Parker, who is once again a licensed detective, is hired to investigate the suicide of an Iraq War veteran whose death was attributed to PTSD. The dead soldier's father, a respected local businessman, is also worried that another veteran is beating his girlfriend, who works in the businessman's diner. The book's prolog suggests that the veteran's suicide may have had otherworldly origins. Readers of previous Connolly novels know that supernatural events are not beyond the realm of possibility.

Parker discovers that other members of the vet's squadron killed themselves, too. After returning stateside, the men apparently started smuggling something across the border between Maine and Canada. The operation originally had an altruistic motivation: the soldiers planned to use their ill-gotten gains to assist other soldiers who came back from Iraq with physical or mental afflictions. Greed distracts them from their goal, though.

The natural assumption is that they're importing drugs or weapons, but the prolog hints that the mystery involves items looted from a Baghdad museum, including a seemingly unpresupposing item that is actually a Pandora's Box of sorts. The soldiers apparently have no idea of the significance of that one item among the many others they managed to transport back to Canada from the Middle East, but other people will stop at nothing to acquire it, including a murderer who calls himself the Collector (introduced in Nocturnes) and a disfigured cancer victim called Herod who convinces people to kill themselves to spare loved ones he has under duress. Herod is driven by a shadow entity he calls the Captain.

Parker consults Jimmy Jewel, who knows who controls what turf in the close quarters of the Maine smuggling business. Jewel runs a number of legit cover businesses, including a sagging wharf bar in the equally sagging Portland waterfront. As soon as Parker begins nosing around, he comes to the attention of bikers and Mexican gangsters who share an uneasy entente with Jewel. None of them are happy to discover that new players are muscling in on their territory. 

Parker is captured and tortured by masked men who are probably military based on their familiarity with waterboarding. The men want to dissuade Parker from his investigation and learn what he knows. 

A PTSD counselor who was consulted by many of the dead veterans after they returned stateside recognizes that the violence Parker has experienced in his life, including the loss of his wife and daughter, has traumatized him as badly as any war. Her observation is a way of amplifying the underlying theme, but it seems heavy handed. Parker doesn't argue with the counselor's diagnosis, but he has no interest in any of her proposed methods of treatment.

As is typical in a Parker novel, everything that happens is a prelude to one or more violent confrontations. When the going gets tough, Parker calls in his two reliable, equally murderous friends, Angel and Louis, to watch his back, although their appearance in The Whisperers seems perfunctory. They are given a few brief opportunities to banter and wage war against the bad guys, but it hardly seemed worth their trek in from New York. The violence that inhabits their lives is depicted grimly and seriously, though. It's never exploitive. It always serves the plot, to demonstrate the nature of the people they are involved against.

Connolly is growing more and more comfortable with his Maine setting and characters. The Irish author made the occasional misstep in previous novels, especially in his choice of vocabulary, but these have smoothed out over time. His blend of crime and horror continues to be unique and makes him an author worth revisiting each time he releases a new book.

Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007-2010. All rights reserved