You sometimes just have to wonder about the bravery of the people who select the blurbs for the front of books. THE WHISPERER, debut book by Italian author Donato Carrisi, comes with the attribution "The most eagerly awaited thriller in the world? It is written by an unknown Italian' Il Giornale". Now I'll be honest, this blurb really threw me, it seems to set high expectations, particularly for a debut novel.
The central thread of the book is the story of the discovery of six severed arms in a forest clearing without bodies, but identified by forensics as belonging to girls aged between eight and thirteen. There are five girls in that age group reported missing, but with no bodies identifying the victims isn't quick, and there are no clues about the owner of the sixth arm.
A close-knit team of investigators with Criminologist Goran Gavila as the central point is assigned the case. An experienced investigator, Gavila is naturally inclined towards being rebellious, but he has his working methods and he and his team and comfortable with each other. Mila Vasquez is a young female police officer with a difficult past, who is equally rebellious, boyish, prickly, unable to relate to others, but with an eerie ability to locate missing people. She's bought into Gavila's team for this case. They are able to work together well, his team aren't so easy for Mila to get on with.
The investigating team have a difficult task, as the bodies slowly starting to appear, they are looking for a serial killer, and the sixth victim - not reported missing and very possibly still alive. The killer seems to be leaving macabre clues with each discovery of a new body, and the team must move quickly and deftly to have a chance of keeping her alive.
I came away from THE WHISPERER really unsure about how I feel about the book. On the one hand it's an interesting, complex plot with some twists at the end that came as a big surprise. On the other hand there's yet another damaged investigator; a frisson of romance between the two central characters, a team that doesn't handle the imposition of an outsider well; a cast of characters with secrets. Combine all of that with yet another serial killer targeting children and there's a real sense of been there / done that if you read a lot of crime fiction. Of course it's unreasonable to assume that any book is going to be completely unique, and there are elements here that have a freshness about them. The pairing of a cop and a scientific investigator was well done - creating a different dynamic between the two central characters, shown up particularly by the cop versus cop tensions between Mila and the team. Also THE WHISPERER used the stagey, calculating way that the killer used his victims to play games with the investigating team in a chilling and uncomfortably realistic manner.
I think my greatest sense of disappointment in THE WHISPERER is that there was no particular sense of a place or a culture in which the killings are occurring. The location wasn't obvious, the book could have been set anywhere, so I never quite got a complete sense of reality, it somehow seemed to dissipate the threat. The damaged central investigator line also didn't quite work - it was almost too predictable, as was the romantic entanglement, and the rest of the team's antagonism. The antagonism seemed too broad brush, and whilst there is some attempt at explanation, some justification if you like, it was hard to move past the tension for tension's sake feeling.
Having said all of that, it's a good plot, with some cleverly done twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing, and will engage. The way the characters secrets are revealed works in the main, although some readers may agree that some of the elements are a tad unbelievable, even for fiction. Overall I came away conflicted, not sure enough to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but certainly not able to say that I didn't like it at all. But that's not so surprising with a debut book so I'd definitely read another by this author.