Onyx reviews: The Whisperers by John
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.
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
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.
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