Book review: The Whisperers, by John Connolly

May 13, 2010 by
Filed under: Book reviews 

whisperersCharlie Parker’s back in his ninth outing, and his own situation is in some sort of order for once. His personal life appears to have reached a plateau of consistency; the ghosts and memories of his past are still there, but muted with time after the devastating revelatory events of The Lovers. Importantly, he’s also got his Private Investigator license back, and it doesn’t take long for him to become embroiled in a case and a cast of characters who, in their own indirect ways, help guide him towards the destiny that awaits him in a book (hopefully) way down the line.

The Whisperers commences with a brilliantly written and cleverly deceptive chapter set in Baghdad’s Iraq Museum in 2003, wherein looters remove some ancient treasures under the cover of a gun battle between US forces and the Fedayeen. Among the items taken is a box, and in that box is another box, and within that box something ancient waits…

Nine years later Parker is asked by Bennett Patchett, a Maine-based restaurant owner, to look into the activities of Joel Tobias, an ex-soldier who appears to be living beyond his means since his return from Iraq and mis-treating one of the waitresses who works for Patchett. Parker’s work uncovers an ex-military-run smuggling operation moving stolen artifacts between Canada and Maine. Patchett admits the real point of the investigation is to see if Tobias is linked to the suicide of his son Damien, another ex-Iraq veteran. And Damien is not the only veteran to have killed himself recently.

This is the novel that moves Charlie Parker firmly and definitively into the realm of the supernatural. Connolly makes no concessions whatsoever about his detective’s dark mythical backbone. Flying in the face of traditionally accepted marketability, these books now need to be more accurately subtitled as Charlie Parker Supernatural Thrillers, as myriad glimpses of what waits on the other side are hinted at in foreboding prose. Otherworldliness drips from the pages as the despicable Herod, a man so sick with cancer he deteriorates before our eyes with each scene, is accompanied by a spirit he calls The Captain as he searches for the box. Herod is a man with esoteric tastes who intends to unleash demons when he acquires the object that whispers to those who own it. And circling around the periphery, waiting to strike and claim what he feels is his, is The Collector, an old adversary of Parker, who is more than just man, and collects more than artifacts.

The Whisperers is an observation on the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and the effects of combat on soldiers, (Connolly has said so himself). He’s crafted an intricate, humbling and respectful tale weaving damning fact and fanciful hypothesis: the minutiae of military warfare, the everday pressures for returning veterans in an alien civilian world; Sumerian and Mesopotamian culture, artifacts and language; the dusty basements of museums and the eerie world of macabre artifact collections; demonic possession as one manifestation of post traumatic stress disorder.

After Louis and Angel’s tale in The Reapers, and the wrapping up of several elements from Parker’s heritage in The Lovers, The Whisperers does feel like a bridging novel in the mythos of Charlie Parker – another tense, clue-filled dirt track on his personal excavationary road-trip to hell, or heaven, or somewhere else in between. But this is necessary. We’re getting closer to some sort of end, but only Connolly knows how long it’ll take.

Long may the Charlie Parker mythos endure.


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