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The Whisperers: A Thriller [Hardcover]

John Connolly
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 13 2010 Charlie Parker Mysteries
“‘Oh, little one,’ he whispered, as he gently stroked her cheek, the first time he had touched her in fifteen years. ‘What have they done to you? What have they done to us all?’ ”

In his latest dark and chilling Charlie Parker thriller, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly takes us to the border between Maine and Canada. It is there, in the vast and porous Great North Woods, that a dangerous smuggling operation is taking place, run by a group of disenchanted former soldiers, newly returned from Iraq. Illicit goods—drugs, cash, weapons, even people—are changing hands. And something else has changed hands. Something ancient and powerful and evil.

The authorities suspect something is amiss, but what they can’t know is that it is infinitely stranger and more terrifying than anyone can imagine. Anyone, that is, except private detective Charlie Parker, who has his own intimate knowledge of the darkness in men’s hearts. As the smugglers begin to die one after another in apparent suicides, Parker is called in to stop the bloodletting. The soldiers’ actions and the objects they have smuggled have attracted the attention of the reclusive Herod, a man with a taste for the strange. And where Herod goes, so too does the shadowy figure that he calls the Captain. To defeat them, Parker must form an uneasy alliance with a man he fears more than any other, the killer known as the Collector. . . .

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About the Author

John Connolly is the author of Every Dead Thing, Dark Hollow, The Killing Kind, The White Road, Bad Men, Nocturnes, and The Black Angel. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


War is a mythical happening…
Where else in human experience, except in the throes
of ardor…do we find ourselves transported to a
mythical condition and the gods most real?

James Hillman, A Terrible Love of War

APRIL 16, 2003

It was Dr. Al-Daini who found the girl, abandoned in the long central corridor. She was buried beneath broken glass and shards of pottery, under discarded clothing, pieces of furniture, and old newspapers used as packing materials. She should have been rendered almost invisible amid the dust and the darkness, but Dr. Al-Daini had spent decades searching for girls such as she, and he picked her out where others might simply have passed over her.

Only her head was exposed, her blue eyes open, her lips stained a faded red. He knelt beside her, and brushed some of the detritus from her. Outside, he could hear yelling, and the rumble of tanks changing position. Suddenly, bright light illuminated the hallway, and there were armed men shouting and giving orders, but they had come too late. Others like them had stood by while this had happened, their priorities lying elsewhere. They did not care about the girl, but Dr. Al-Daini cared. He had recognized her immediately, because she had always been one of his favorites. Her beauty had captivated him from the first moment he set eyes on her, and in the years that followed he had never failed to make time to spend a quiet moment or two with her during the day, to exchange a greeting or merely to stand with her and mirror her smile with one of his own.

Perhaps she might still be saved, he thought, but as he carefully shifted wood and stone he recognized that there was little he could do for her now. Her body was shattered, broken into pieces in an act of desecration that made no sense to him. This was not accidental, but deliberate: he could see marks on the floor where booted feet had pounded upon her legs and arms, reducing them to fragments. Yet, somehow, her head had escaped the worst of the violence, and Dr. Al-Daini could not decide if this rendered what had been visited upon her less awful, or more terrible.

“Oh, little one,” he whispered as he gently stroked her cheek, the first time that he had touched her in fifteen years. “What have they done to you? What have they done to us all?”

He should have stayed. He should not have left her, should not have left any of them, but the Fedayeen had been battling the Americans near the Ministry of Information, the sounds of gunfire and explosions reaching them even as they sandbagged friezes and wrapped foam rubber around the statues, grateful that they had at least managed to transport some of the treasures to safety before the invasion commenced. The fighting had then spread to the television station, less than a kilometer away, and to the central bus station at the other side of the complex, drawing closer and closer to them. He had argued in favor of staying, for they had stockpiled food and water in the basement, but many of the others felt that the risks were too great. All but one of the guards had fled, abandoning their weapons and their uniforms, and there were already black-garbed gunmen in the museum garden. So they had locked the front doors and left through the back entrance before fleeing across the river to the eastern side, where they waited in the house of a colleague for the fighting to cease.

But it did not stop. When they attempted to return over the Bridge of the Medical City they were turned back, and so they stayed with their colleague once again, and drank coffee, and waited some more. Perhaps they had remained there for too long, debating back and forth the wisdom of abandoning what was, for now, a place of safety, but what else could they have done? Yet he could not forgive himself, or assuage his guilt. He had abandoned her, and they had had their way with her.

And now he was crying, not from the dirt and filth but from rage and hurt and loss. He did not stop, not even as booted feet approached him and a soldier shone a flashlight in his face. There were others behind him, their weapons raised.

“Sir, who are you?” asked the soldier.

Dr. Al-Daini did not reply. He could not. All his attention was fixed on the eyes of the broken girl.

“Sir, do you speak English? I’ll ask you one more time: who are you?”

Dr. Al-Daini picked up on the nervousness in the soldier’s voice, but also the hint of arrogance, the natural superiority of the conqueror over the conquered. He sighed, and raised his eyes.

“My name is Dr. Mufid Al-Daini,” he said, “and I am the deputy curator of Roman Antiquities at this museum.” Then he reconsidered. “No, I was the Deputy Curator of Roman Antiquities, but now there is no museum left. Now there are only fragments. You let this happen. You stood by and let this happen.…”

But he was speaking as much to himself as he was to them, and the words turned to ash in his mouth. The staff had left the museum on Tuesday. On Saturday, they learned that the museum had been looted, and then began to return in an effort to assess the damage and prevent any further theft. Someone said that the looting had commenced as early as Thursday, when hundreds of people had gathered at the fence surrounding the museum. For two days, they were free to ransack. Already, there were rumors that insiders had been involved, some of the museum’s own guardians targeting the most valuable artifacts. The thieves took everything that could be moved, and much of what they could not take they attempted to destroy.

Dr. Al-Daini and some others had gone to the headquarters of the marines and pleaded for help in securing the building, for the staff was fearful that the looters would return, and the U.S. Army tanks at the intersection only fifty meters from the museum had refused to come to their aid, citing orders. They were eventually promised guards by the Americans, but only now, on Wednesday, had they come. Dr. Al-Daini had arrived just shortly before them, for he had been one of those assigned the role of liaison with the soldiers and the media, and he had spent the previous days being passed up and down the military ranks and providing contacts for journalists.

Carefully, he raised the head of the broken girl, youthful yet ancient, the paint still visible on her hair and mouth and eyes after almost four thousand years.

“Look,” he said, still weeping. “Look at what they did to her.”

And the soldiers stared for a moment at this old man covered in white dust, a hollow head in his hands, before moving on to secure the looted halls of the Iraq Museum. They were young men, and this operation was about the future, not the past. No lives had been lost, not here. These things happened.

After all, there was a war on.

DR. AL-DAINI WATCHED THE soldiers go. He looked around and saw a swatch of paint-spattered cloth lying by a fallen display case. He checked it and found it to be relatively clean, so he placed the head of the girl upon it, then wrapped the cloth carefully around her, tying a knot with the four corners so that he might more easily carry her. He stood wearily, the head now hanging from his left hand, like an executioner bearing to his potentate the evidence of the ax’s work. So lifelike was the girl’s expression, and so troubled and shocked was Dr. Al-Daini, that he would not have been surprised had the severed neck begun to bleed through the material, casting red drops like petals upon the dusty floor. All around him were reminders of what had once been, absences like open wounds. Jewelry had been taken from skeletons, their bones scattered. Statues had been decapitated, so that the most striking aspect of them might more easily be carried away. Curious, he thought, that the girl’s head, exquisite as it was, should have been overlooked, or perhaps it was enough for whomever had broken her that her body was ruined, enough to have removed a little beauty from the world.

The scale of the destruction was overwhelming. The Warka vase, a masterpiece of Sumerian art from about 3500 B.C., and the world’s oldest carved stone ritual vessel, was gone, hacked away from its base. A beautiful bull-headed lyre had been reduced to kindling as the gold was stripped from it. The Bassetki statue base: gone. The statue of Entema: gone. The Warka mask, the first naturalistic sculpture of a human face: gone. He passed through room after room, replacing all that was lost with phantasms, ghosts of themselves—here, an ivory seal, there a bejeweled crown—so that what had once been was superimposed over the wreckage of the present. Even now, still nearly numb at the extent of the damage that had been done, Dr. Al-Daini was already cataloging the collection in his mind, trying to recall the age and provenance of each precious relic in case the museum’s own records might no longer be available to them when they began the seemingly impossible task of recovering what had been taken.


Dr. Al-Daini stopped walking. He swayed slightly, and his eyes closed. A soldier passing by asked him if he was okay and offered him water, a small gesture of kindness that Dr. Al-Daini was unable to acknowledge, so grave was his disquiet. Instead, he turned to the soldier and gripped his arms, a movement that might well have ended his troubles on the spot had the soldier in question had his finger on the trigger of his gun.

“I am Dr. Mufid Al-Daini,” he told the soldier. “I am a deputy curator here at the museum. Please, I need you to help me. I have to get to the basement. I must check something. It is very, very important. You must help me to get through.”

He gestured at the shapes of the armed men ahead of them, beige figures in the darkened hallways. The young man before him looked doubtful, then shrugged.

“You’ll have to let go of my shoulders fi...

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Read them all July 9 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Still one of my favourite series. The story needs a new multi-series protagonist for Charlie to go up against, but still a good quick read on the beach or plane.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Whisperers Jan. 26 2013
By Linda J. Leclair TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Another Charlie Parker book. Good reading and kept my attention from beginning to end. I would recommend this book for all Charlie Parker fans.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the Strongest Charlie Parker Dec 13 2010
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
I am a loyal fan of Connolly's Charlie Parker novels. He has created compelling characters and an ever-so-slightly twisted world that draws you back time and again. Unfortunately this entry did not have the same pep, pace or suspense of its predecessors. One would think that enigmatic artifacts looted during the recent Iraqi conflict would provide great background, however, the book is highly procedural and linear versus the near irreverence and smokey atmosphere of the previous entries. He does supply some interesting facts on the war in Iraq including the Stryker units, the neat mythical "Juba" sniper, and returning soldiers' struggles back home. In short, there was no real mystery here so Connolly ends up leaning too much on the mystical and horror aspects of his writing and this throws the book off balance when compared with his previous and more nuanced books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars War Crimes Aug. 15 2010
By Ted Feit TOP 500 REVIEWER
There is always the element of the supernatural in a Charlie Parker novel. And "The Whisperers" is no exception. However, reality plays an important part in the theme, giving the author the opportunity to reflect on the horrors of war and its effects - especially combat stress - on the lives of those who fought them.

There are veiled references to the condition in the Iliad; during the Civil War it was known as "irritable heart;" "shellshock" was the term used during World War I and its aftermath; for World War II it became known as "battle fatigue" and "war neurosis;" then "post-Vietnam syndrome"; and today "post-traumatic stress disorder."

The plot involves a group of Iraqi veterans (all from Maine, Parker's bailiwick), who return home to set up a smuggling operation. One by one they commit suicide, and Parker is retained by the father of one of them to learn the reason for his son's death. This leads Parker to travel an unexpected path

As a result, we meet some old friends, Angel and Louis, who always manage to cover Parker's back. But more important, Parker has to work with an old nemesis, The Collector. And the eerie Herod, a man with strange tastes, and his shadow, the Captain. The characters and the plot interweave on various levels, with prose that mesmerizes the reader. The book is highly recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  55 reviews
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Demons of war July 13 2010
By SD - Published on
I confess that I was drawn to The Whisperers for the Raiders of the Lost Ark-like cover alone. I found out once I received it that The Whisperers is part of a series featuring PI Charlie Parker; however, I could still follow the story and got hints of Parker's past throughout so that I got a great sense of his character and troubled history.

The Whisperers by John Connolly (and apparently the entire series) is a thriller with supernatural elements (most of which worked for me).

The cover is well-chosen as Parker's investigation into an ex-soldier's suicide eventually leads him to the discovery of ancient artifacts looted from a museum in Iraq now being smuggled across the border to Canada. As Parker continues his investigation, he learns about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and finds hints that the tragedies befalling the veterans one by one might have a more sinister and horrifying cause.

"They left you this way. Your emotions are no longer under control. You are no longer under your own control. You become depressed, paranoid, removed from those who care about you. You believe that you are still at war. You fight your bedclothes at night. You become estranged from your loved ones, and they leave you.

"And maybe, just maybe, you start believing that you are haunted, that demons speak to you from boxes, and when you can't satisfy them, when you can't do what they want you to do, they turn you against yourself, and they punish you for your failings.

"And maybe, just maybe, that moment of obliteration comes as a relief."

Connolly does an admirable job of not trumpeting political opinions about the war in Iraq - instead he shines the spotlight on the war's effect on the soldiers, how physically and emotionally shattered they become, the treatment (or lack thereof given to them), what little compensation they receive for laying their lives on the line, and what happens to them once they finally come home.

The Iraqis are not painted as the enemy here - another aspect of this thriller I liked --but there are plenty of villains. You have the government who is not taking care of its soldiers, other ruthless smugglers, and a revolting, face-is-being-eaten-by-a-disease killer by the name of Herod.

Connolly hits almost all of the marks for a great thriller - steady build up of suspense; surprises that keep the plot moving; intriguing, well-drawn characters; and an insightful, pertinent take on current events.

Some of the supernatural elements confused me - I'm not sure if it's because they're a continuation from prior books in the series. For example, the character called the Collector showed up in the last 3rd of the book as a vaguely omnipotent presence with an unidentified purpose and could either be good or evil. Again, I'm not sure if he's merely a literary device or part of an overall, running theme. My curiosity is sufficiently piqued regarding the Collector's role, as well as Parker's dark past, so that I intend on picking up the rest of the series.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Close, but No Cigar July 19 2010
By Jodi L. Castagnier - Published on
I have to admit I have been waiting for this book to come out since the moment I finished the last one. Unfortunately, it did not meet my expectations. The last third of the book was where I felt the story really came together.

The information on PTSD was too much and I felt it distracted from the story and the overall Charlie Parker series. I understand it was important, but really it could have been summed up in a chapter instead of continuing to pop up.

For me, the Black Angel was the culminating book for what I think is main plot of Charlie Parkers life. I think the super natural elements are important. I think that a show down between Charlie Parker and the super natural beings will ultimately close this series. I think we've seen peices of it in the Lovers and Whisperers, but that John Connolly has stepped back from it being a focal point. I think in his next book it should be brought to the front more.

I felt this book was a slow read. There was just too much information to sort through before the story got going.

I am still a fan and am eagerly awaiting the next one...
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Charlie is back... Aug. 1 2010
By J. Prather - Published on
John Connolly is one of my favorite authors because he possesses the uncanny ability to combine exciting supernatural elements commonly found in horror fiction with the gritty realism of a good hard boiled detective novel. The Whisperers is no exception. Connolly succeeds in creating an atmosphere ripe with tension from the very first page. While I knew where this was going pretty early on, the myriad of characters he introduces and his haunting style kept me glued to the story just so I could figure out where all these players were going to fit into this puzzle laid out so expertly before me.

I have read all the Charlie Parker novels, and I can see where some might not like this one as much as the previous ones. First, this one is not really about Charlie. Some of the previous ones have been so personal to Charlie, this one stands out as being markedly different. Secondly, the supernatural elements of the story are more in the forefront from the very beginning. I for one was glad to see Charlie taking on cases again. It felt like the return of Charlie Parker, private detective instead of Charlie Parker man of vengeance and despair. It was nice to see that Charlie himself might have a future.

Charlie is called into action by the father of an Iraqi war veteran anxious to learn more about his son's apparent suicide and his connections to some of the men he served with in Iraq. What follows is a tale that is not all that original, but still very compelling. Antiquities stolen from the Iraq National Museum have found their way back to the United States along with a few entities that nobody expected. The author tells a darkly human story of greed and sacrifice, while also exploring some very ancient evils.

All of the information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was very interesting and served to further connect the reader to all the characters, making their role in the events both more understandable and sad. Louis and Angel are back, but with a somewhat smaller role this time. As always, they lend a delicious amount of tension and drama to any scene they are in. The villains in this tale are both old and new, and while I thought I had this all figured out, by the time the end rolled around I was in for some unexpected surprises.

The bottom line: this is a good read for any fan of crime or supernatural fiction. Though not quite as intense as the more recent Charlie Parker novels, still an edge of your seat page turner sure to satisfy. Recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good But Not Great For Parker Fans Aug. 6 2010
By TMStyles - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
John Connolly is one of the finest writers in fiction today. Through his signature character, Charlie Parker, Connolly effectively melds the thriller/suspense aspects of a private detective with the supernatural world that seems to lurk in the shadows around us. There may be very few signature characters in the thriller genre that are as complex, as powerful, yet as vulnerable as Charlie Parker. I have seldom been disappointed in the complexity and the credibilty of Connolly's plotting, detailed storylines, and breathless pacing.

Connolly's ability to develop and flesh characters so finely that you sometimes "feel" them in the room with you is extraordinary. The author is a master of establishing mood and motivation through the psychological maneuverings of his characters and his readers. Connolly's work is at once atmospheric, moody, dark and disturbing--yet compelling and hard to put down. He can establish mood, a sense of disquiet, peril, or supernatural unease with a few well turned phrases. And his ability to build suspense and an impending sense of doom that is almost palpable to the reader is amazing.

In "The Whisperers", Charlie is unwittingly drawn into a case that, like most others, ultimately has a supernatural flavoring to it. A smuggling ring operated by ex-Iraqi war veterans is shipping Iraqi antiquities to buyers in Canada. Parker unearths the scheme as he investigates the suicide of a former Iraqi soldier---a suicide that soon leads to the discovery of a suicide cluster among the former vets involved in the smuggling ring--clearly, they brought something home from Iraq that is more deadly than gold and jewels. Old characters (The Collector) reappear and new evil forces appear (Herod and The Captain). Everyone seems interested in one certain antiquity (a lead lined gold covered box) for very different reasons. Might the fate of the world hinge on who finds and employs or contains this certin antiquity? But, of course, it might.

In "The Whisperers", Connoly's noteworthy writing and creative imagination is still at work yet the novel fell short of expectations for me. There was simply not enough of Charlie Parker and his internal musings, self-introspection, and philosophical asides. Notably, there was an absence of Parker's thirst for revenge, especially after an egregious, tough-to-read sequence of his being tortured. Additionally, there were just brief cameos for Louis and Angel, two of the most enigmatic and intriguing backup characters in thriller fiction. Succinctly, there were just too few of the elements that drew me to the Parker series so many years ago and too many interactions through outside characters combined with lengthy discourses on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I highly recommend this series to those attracted to intense, pyschologically intricate, suspense thrillers but this may not be the best one to start with. If possible, read them chronologically, if possible.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars While THE WHISPERERS may not be quite the equal of some of Connolly's other works, it is still a book you will not want to miss Aug. 16 2010
By Bookreporter - Published on
I have never taken a trip via passenger train. I had been considering making such a journey until I read THE WHISPERERS, John Connolly's new Charlie Parker thriller. There is a passage in the book involving a short train ride, an elderly lady and an invisible passenger that will stay indelibly fixed in my memory, and not in a way that makes me think of unicorns and cotton candy. I just know I won't be able to get on a train without thinking of that scene. So that's one more for the list. What list, you might ask? Well, over the course of nine Parker novels, three stand-alone works and some short stories, Connolly has managed to provide enough image-laden, frightening vignettes that I stay out of woods, try to avoid taverns, never look at or through fogged-up windows... The list goes on.

This passage is just one of the unforgettable scenes you will carry with you from THE WHISPERERS, a novel that is occasionally frustrating but ultimately rewarding. It begins at the commencement of the second Iraq War, with the pillaging of a museum of antiquities. Some items are irreparably vandalized, while others --- particularly an enigmatic box --- find their way to the United States courtesy of a group of veterans who are seeking to supplement their post-war compensation. Disparate members, however, begin committing suicide once they reach stateside. The father of one of these soldiers doesn't buy the official diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and hires Parker to investigate his late son's life and find out what may have caused him to end it so tragically. Parker is initially unaware of the smuggling operation, and thus is walking exposed to danger from a number of sources. The smugglers do not want him nosing around their business, given that his reputation precedes him, and figure that they can scare him off early with a bit of carefully applied force.

There is another, though, who is pursuing the smugglers as well: Herod, whose bizarre appearance reveals the rot and decay that inflicts his body physically and spiritually. He is a man of strange and unusual tastes and methods, and he wants that aforementioned box, not so much for himself, but for a client of sorts --- an entity known by many names throughout many ages, and is known to Herod as the Captain. In and of itself, the box is desired by the Captain not so much for what it is as for what it contains. And you don't want to know the answer to that. Parker is not so blissfully unaware of this; he merely thinks that he is in mortal danger from a smuggling ring. Angel and Louis are there to help, of course, but it is the unannounced, unexpected and uninvited presence of the Collector that puts Parker on notice that what he is investigating goes far beyond the trivial affairs of Mankind. the Collector identifies himself as God's Killer; he wants that box as well, and will do anything he needs to do in order to get it.

Connolly draws together elements of mystery, horror, suspense and, yes, humor to create THE WHISPERERS. If that's not enough, he populates the narrative with what are perhaps the most riveting and unforgettable protagonists and antagonists --- some of whom continue to be sorted out after more than a decade --- that you will find in fiction today. Even the names of the characters are unforgettable. Herod? Just those two syllables taken together are enough to creep you out. There is also a passage near the end where Connolly flirts with a boundary, doing so in such a way as to render it shocking and horrific. In the hands of a lesser scribe, what is done would have been totally objectionable. I won't describe it, other than to tell you that it involves the Captain --- who manifests himself in this scene as...something else --- and a man tied to a chair.

Extremely dark humor is present in THE WHISPERERS as well. The repartee among Louis, Angel and Parker is unequalled --- I would be first in line to buy a collection of such conversations culled from all of the Parker novels --- and one of the final vignettes in the book, involving The Collector and Herod, is unforgettable. You'll never look at an ashtray again without thinking of it.

At times, though, the book reads somewhat like a horror novel wrapped around a political sermon. Having read nearly every word Connolly has published, I know this was not necessarily his intention. Connolly has made his political positions known in prior volumes, but always in a subtle context within the heart of the novel. Here, the discussion of those positions almost hijacks the story, interrupting rather than easing the flow of it. And that's unfortunate, because some of Connolly's best and most imaginative prose can be found here. Nevertheless, it's worth wading through the political dissertation to get to it.

While THE WHISPERERS may not be quite the equal of some of Connolly's other works, it is still a book you will not want to miss.
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