Dark Whispers is a psychological thriller which is so gripping I had knots in my stomach while reading it. It combines two aspects that I really enjoy reading about, counselling sessions between psychologist and patient, and investigation into crimes in the attempt to stop a killer.
It is refreshing too that the protagonist, Megan Wright, is not a conflicted, dysfunctional alcoholic plagued by demons etc. She is an ordinary young woman, practising as a psychologist with an annoying mother and an anorexic sister. She has a very witty, self-deprecatory turn of phrase that adds humour, a counterpoint to the horrible events that take place. The writer introduces Megan via her New Year’s resolutions and these set the tone for this very endearing, plucky character. For example,
- Embrace my extra 4kg (“How blessed am I to live and love in this temple”)
- Be (even more) patient with mommy dearest (“I am as a hollow reed. Troubles pass through me as the wind…”)
I find this hilarious and, even better; her dog’s name is Oedipus. Her boyfriend, Mike, is a bit of a player but love blinds her to his faults. Although the novel is set in Johannesburg, the location, where much of the action takes place, is the Acacia Clinic.
What I particularly loved about the book was the contrast between Megan’s ordinary domestic life and the chillingly scary investigation she embarks upon, once she discovers what has happened to one of her patients. Alta had a gynaecological procedure that went awry and she has no recourse because the gynaecologist claims it was necessary. Megan hypnotises Alta, with her permission, in an attempt to discover more and she is convinced that what she finds out about the procedure during hypnosis is true. She uses various avenues to establish the facts and is not afraid to bend the rules, because she cannot make a direct accusation without more information. I find myself clenching my fists and exhorting Megan to be careful, as I do not want her to be in danger.
The dialogue is excellent and adopts different tones, depending on whether Megan is chatting to her receptionist, Patience; her gay friend, Wade; or involved in a counselling session. Good dialogue that flows and is authentic can make a novel seem like real life.
The writer is a psychologist and this makes the counselling sessions she has with her clients authentic. It adds an interesting dimension to the novel. While she is trying to discover the truth about the gynaecologist, he is doing the same to her and he visits her as a patient using a false name. She has two new patients signing up on the same day so neither Megan nor the reader know which one is the perpetrator. It is really tense and gripping.
The writer uses the effective device of including chapters, or inserts, in italics that are windows in to the mind of the perpetrator. In these, the reader learns of his modus operandi as well as the childhood experiences that set off his own trauma. His pathological need for perfection is rooted in a childhood of rejection and cruelty. It is said that damaged people damage others; it is certainly the case in this situation.
There are some gruesome, violent scenes, although they do not pre-dominate, so Dark Whispers is not for the faint-hearted. In one scene, I found myself reading very fast so as not to visualise what I was reading; similar to closing one’s eyes in a movie.
Joanne Macgregor is a fresh new voice on the thriller / suspense / crime fiction scene and I certainly hope there is more to come from her. Convincingly scary and suspenseful with a good dash of humanity thrown in.