Friday, June 3, 2011

The Whisperer, by Donato Carrisi

Abacus/Little, Brown Book Group, 2011
originally published as Il Suggeritore, 2009
474 pp.
translated by Shaun Whiteside
(note: not available in the US until 2012)

Donato Carrisi is a new author for me, and I probably would never have heard of this book had it not been for Karen at Euro Crime, one of my very favorite blogs on the Internet. Last year, just prior to the announcement of the CWA International Dagger award (for which she was a judge!), Karen made a post about books that might possibly be eligible for the 2011 CWA International Dagger. I put that post on my iphone main screen, and eager to jump on that bandwagon, I started ordering the books as they were published.  That's how The Whisperer made its way into my crime fiction collection.    I don't see that the author has any other books published in English, but I read somewhere that The Whisperer is "Italy's Number One Bestselling Thriller Sensation."

The Whisperer starts out with an fascinating, although rather grotesque, mystery to be solved.  In an unnamed location that could be pretty much anywhere, renowned criminologist Dr. Goran Gavila has been summoned to examine a crime scene, which turns out to be "a circle of little graves."  What was found was horrifying: six severed arms, all belonging to different little girls, the oldest victim only thirteen. The arms were taken from the girls after they had disappeared, starting about twenty-five days earlier.    Despite the best efforts of the police and the public, no culprit has been taken into custody, nor are there any traces of the missing children. The problem is that only five girls had been reported missing, not six, meaning there's another missing girl out there somewhere in grave danger.  Gavila heads up a special team to investigate, bringing in an outsider named Mila Vasquez, a younger police officer who specializes in recovering missing children. The team has to call the killer something, and settles on "Albert," the name of a serial killler from an older case who cut off women's right feet. As the investigation progresses, the killer begins to leave some rather bizarre clues designed to lead the team to the bodies, one by one. There are a number of red herrings throughout the story, a bit of romance, tension among the investigative team members, alternating points of view within the narrative, and even a bit o' the supernatural -- in short something for every reader -- all tied together in this novel's 400+ pages.

But when all is said and done,  The Whisperer, although touted as a "literary thriller," fits neither description. It starts out well, the crime is compelling and the shifting perspectives keep things interesting, as do the dynamics among the investigating team. But all too soon things just get a bit unrealistic, especially with the insertion of the supernatural element into the plot.  It's almost as if the author thought that he had to throw in a combination of elements that might make a book  reach every possible audience, and it just did not play well for me.  He has all of these incredibly bright people investigating the crime, and yet he actually demeans his own characters by adding in the scenes that are simply unbelievable.  Somewhere along the line, the original chilling tone set by the discovery of the little girls' arms got lost, which is too bad, because if the author had continued down that road, slowly building on the suspense through the novel, it could have been really good.

This novel got an overall 3.81 star rating on Goodreads, and several reviewers loved it, one person relating it to the novels of Stieg Larsson. Hmmm. Well, perhaps I missed something, but let's just say, this isn't one of the best crime fiction novels I've ever read. It's definitely not a book that everyone's going to like -- especially (I would think) serious crime fiction junkies. It's much more mainstream than I had hoped, actually, something more along the lines of a summer beach read where you don't have to think too much.  That's not exactly what I look for in my crime reading -- I prefer more of a challenge than is offered by The Whisperer.

(read in May)

crime fiction from Italy


  1. How can such pedestrian pulp win " 5 literary prizes" ? I am truly curious.
    Charleston, SC,USA

    1. SD: I don't get it either. I suppose it's all in the eye of the beholder. I read a lot of what might be considered pedestrian pulp, but this one I just didn't like. I think the market for paranormal romance, combined with an upsurge of interest in foreign crime fiction might explain it. How did the Twilight series stay on the bestseller lists for so long? That's another thing I don't get!


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it