Whispers in the Dark by Laurel Hightower is pretty damn good, actually it’s pretty stunning – and to think this was her debut, bloody hell! Fierce storytelling, prose to die for, and a story that is achingly brutal; whilst also populated by characters that are really relatable, even the secondary cast of characters – all of these elements makes for a perfect storm in the bottle. Whispers in the Dark is a book that will have you hooked on Hightower’s brilliance!
I first discovered Laurel Hightower through her stunning novella ‘Crossroads‘ which I had given five stars to, I then set about discovering more of her work and my first port of call was Whispers in the Dark – her debut!
The premise of this book is what grabbed me, the blurb of the book sold it to me and then the creepiness that is trapped within the pages sealed the sweetest of deals! This is a book that is so cinematic, from the opening stand-off to the last, everything about this story is in the details and Hightower ensures that these come across in blinding clarity and with an originality that it doesn’t have the reader wanting or looking for inaccuracies – it felt I was right there beside Rose McFarland as she had a criminal in her crosshairs or as she ventured into hellholes looking for her intended target, whether that be earthly or unearthly.
Rose McFarland is a trained killer–a Memphis S.W.A.T. sniper with a secret. Her team knows about the burn scars that lurk under her clothes, a legacy of the house fire that killed her father and brother sixteen years before. Her supervisors know that she spent two years in a rehabilitative facility, healing and learning to cope with the emotional trauma of the fire. But no one knows about the visions that drove her there, angry spirits that consumed her childhood, alienated her from her family and made her doubt her own sanity–the Whispers.
When Charlie Akers, a half-brother she never knew, ends up on the wrong side of Rose’s rifle, she unwittingly sets off a chain of events that puts her family in the middle of increasingly dangerous paranormal visitations. Charlie won’t stay dead, and soon ghosts from Rose’s past are creeping back into her life. People she’s killed in the line of duty, family she thought long buried, every one of them under the influence of Rose’s greatest fear, the Whispers themselves.
You see this book deals with the blending between worlds, their world and our world, and sometimes the walls between these worlds is rather thin, sometimes Whispers break through, and sometimes so does something else. The supernatural element in this book is damn scary, I found myself at numerous times feeling unease creeping up my spine as I shivered from the things that Hightower puts to paper and shows exactly how great a storyteller she really is. The dread and the horror are on point in this book – they are inescapable and all consuming, there is no escape, the only way to escape is to silence those Whisperers once and for all, but what is the cost?
Hightower has created in Rose McFarland a protagonist who seems to exist outside of the book that she resides, such is the mastery of character work undertaken. Everything about Rose was thought out and put across brilliantly, her brashness, her not taking any crap, her messed up past, her own scars, how she interacts with the characters around her and how she is trying to be the best mother she can whilst defending her children from whatever is coming for her and her loved ones. What I loved about it is that she is a strong woman, think Ripley in Alien but on steroids – she is the character the story hangs from, she’s the capstone of the piece and with her the story has extremely strong foundations for the craziness to run free.
The book itself reads like a Kathryn Bigelow movie – action packed and character driven like ‘Point Break‘, horror filled like ‘Near Dark‘, the ingeniousness of ‘Strange Days‘ whilst also being infused with the thriller elements of ‘The Hurt Locker‘ & ‘Zero Dark Thirty‘. Whispers in the Dark screams to be turned into a film, I just wonder if someone will answer that call – maybe someone should drop Bigelow a copy?
Although it’s a rave review, I did have some issues with it keeping my attention towards the final quarter of the book, the first three quarters I was zipping through, then I hit a wall and I had to push through it. It didn’t become boring, it was just that I found myself wanting to do something else (this may have more to say about me than the book as I was in the middle of final edits for my own book) it seemed to lose the hold it had on my. But when I returned I could still jump back into the book, enjoy the characters and not feel like I’d missed a beat.
Whispers in the Dark is a gripping read, one full of horror and populated with intrinsically brilliant and interesting characters. You feel the pain, the hurt and the horrors in blinding clarity, with prose that is hypnotic and that doesn’t pull any punches. Some might say you can even hear the whispers of the dark as you drown yourself in Hightower’s beautiful prose – If you’re after a cinematic experience, think Kathryn Bigelow at her very best, then check this out!
Whispers in the Dark is published by JOURNALSTONE and is available here.
Laurel Hightower grew up in Kentucky, attending college in California and Tennessee before returning home to horse country, where she lives with her husband, son, and two rescue animals. She works as a paralegal in a mid-size firm, wrangling litigators by day and writing at night. A bourbon and beer girl, she’s a fan of horror movies and true-life ghost stories. Her debut novel, Whispers in the Dark, was published in 2018.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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