The Whispers by Heidi Perks

When Grace moves back to the small town in the UK where she grew up, she has a young daughter in tow and an absent husband, and she’s hoping to rekindle her friendship with Anna, who has a child the same age. As children, they were inseparable, but Anna is part of a clique of four mothers, and they have no room for anyone else, especially Grace. After a night out with her friends, Anna fails to return home, and Grace is worried, especially when it seems like the friends know a lot more than they are saying. Where is Anna and what happened that night?

As Grace tries to find out if her friend is ok and what happened, the story spools back to the weeks leading up to the night Anna went missing and we hear her story as well, learning that she’s keeping a dark secret. There are also short sections between chapters that I really liked, where the book is written from the outside, from the perspective of the other mothers at the school. I loved the way they were all gossiping about the clique and Grace, and what happened to Anna, speculating. It was funny and very real. It also adds to the story, because they show normal life going on, while Grace is panicking and running around trying to find things out.

This book reminded me a bit of Liane Moriarty. In fact, Grace was living in Australia before moving back, which might be a nod to that author. Like Big Little Lies, this book involves mothers connected by their children’s school as well. That said, this is a little more in the thriller territory than Moriarty’s books, and Perks has her own unique voice.

A lot of domestic thrillers are focused on unreliable women narrators or toxic marriages, but this one explored friendship. It talks about how formative our childhood friendships are, how friendships can be more important and more supportive than marriages. Some women are closer to their friends than their husbands, and when these friendships are complicated or break down, it can be a whole grieving process. This is an excellent situation for this kind of book, it drives the plotting, and it’s really deftly handled. It made me think a lot of my own childhood friend, whose house I basically lived at when I was growing up. I think a lot of people can relate to having a close friend like that and the memories that go with it.

I really liked the characters in this book. They all felt like people I may know, recognizable but not cartoonish or stereotyped. Grace is very interesting, her life is complicated and she makes an interesting entry point to the story and an intriguing, well realised character over all. I found the idea that there was something sinister in the friendship group such a great hook, and then as the story developed and went in a certain direction (no spoilers), I was turning pages. I think domestic thriller books can suffer from not knowing where to go with the premise after it’s established or trying to have such an original twist that it all becomes unrealistic, served with overly simple characters, but this one avoids all those pitfalls and delivers. If you like this genre or a mystery that starts at the school gates, this one is for you.

Read It If: you were part of a tight knit group at school or had a childhood best friend, this one is an entertaining thriller that feels fresh and unpredictable.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for the copy of this book for review.

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