Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Whispers and War

Sunday afternoon. Got the blood flowing, the lungs wheezing then settled in the sauna/ Jacuzzi until my skin resembled a giant scrotum. (There’s an image to conjure with, ladies.) While sat among the fizz and bubble of the Jacuzzi I looked out of the window and thought that I might just have enough energy to cut the grass (or the lawn, as the wee fella calls it) when I got home. However by the time I had dried off, dressed and jumped in the car... it was raining! Let me repeat that exclamation mark!

I love it when a plan comes together.

This of course meant that when I got home I could settle on the sofa with John Connolly’s latest novel, The Whisperers which has been burning a hole in the corner of my eye ever since it arrived from those lovely people at Hodder.

Can I just say, the man is class? If you haven’t read him and you’re a fan of thriller novels WHERE THE FECK HAVE YOU BEEN?

The father of an Iraq war veteran asks Charlie Parker to find out why his son committed suicide. The soldier was the 3rd in a small group of army colleagues who had done so. Charlie discovers that the group were smuggling antiques (circa 2500BC) from an Iraqi museum. Among them is a gold box with a complicated locking system. Locks that were designed to hold something mysterious. Something that shifts, writhes and pushes against the walls of the box. Something that whispers.

I just LOVE the way Connolly brings the supernatural into the thriller genre. He does this with a suggestion of demonic forces and with the creation of really, really bad men. The kind of men we spook our children with, while scaring ourselves.

The better novels have elements other than a straightforward narrative and clever man that he is, JC uses The Whisperers to discuss the effect of war on soldiers. Being a very, very clever man he does this without lecturing. We get the information in digestible chunks that makes us assimilate the detail, wonder at how people could be treated in such a way, but never at any time are we at a remove from the story.

As long as man has fought combat stress has been with us. In World War1 it was called Shell Shock. In WW2, it was “battle fatigue”. Now we call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There are figures that show as many soldiers are dying when they return from service as there are while on active duty. Unable to process the stresses of combat they take the ultimate way out. Also, significant numbers of veterans end up on the street or in jail. Here in the UK, ex-servicemen are by far the largest occupational group in prison.

You can argue about the futility of war, the waste of lives and the rights and wrongs of the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan – and being a pacifist I would probably agree with you... but the fact of the matter is that these men and women are being sent out to battle and then on their return to “normal” society are being abandoned by the very people who asked them to put their life on the line. They deserve much, much better.

The decision makers should hang their collective heads in shame.

(BTW, my review of the book will be posted on Crimesquad.com shortly. I’m sure you can guess it’s going to be favourable eh?)


  1. I'm one of the WHERE THE FECK HAVE YOU BEEN brigade, Michael, so thanks for putting me straight.

  2. That description is so challenging that I'm moving on to the subject of the blog - John Connelly. I haven't read him, only Michael Connelly, and didn't realize there was a supernatural aspect to his thrillers.

    What's a shame is that this issue has been around from war to war, and yet our soldiers are still ignored and treated as disposable, most of them young men who lose their opportunity for a full and or normal life.

  3. Thea - I hear you.

    Bill - the first one was Every Dead Thing. Give him a go, I'd be interested to hear what you had to say.

    Marley, the supernatural element tends to be of the ghosts/ demons variety and is v.subtle. He really is a fine writer.

  4. I agree Michael although I wasn't too impressed with Bad Men, the only one of his I have read that doesn't feature Charlie Parker. Looking forward to your review.

  5. Good call, Ricky. Bad Men was a relative disappointment.

  6. First of all, belated 1st birthday wishes to you and your baby and many more of them ( birthdays, not babies!) Never read John Connolly but feel compelled to read this sad war tale in a macabre kind of way. I am hoping he is as good as RJ Ellory.

  7. Hey Alison, fancy seeing you here. Yeah, would heartily recommend JC. If you do, let me know what you think...