Saturday, June 19, 2010

Unique Blend of Bitter and Sweet Makes For Another "Charming" Thriller

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

People on Vliet Street never lock their doors. Until the summer of 1959, that is, when the body of little Sarah Heinemann is discovered near the red rowboats on the lagoon. The scene is all too familiar for residents of the close-knit Milwaukee community. Just last summer, they buried Junie Piaskowski, another young victim of what is starting to look like a cold-blooded serial killer. The question on everyone's mind is: who's next? Ten-year-old Sally O'Malley knows the answer to that one, just like she knows the identity of the murderer. If only someone would listen to her without rolling their eyes over her famously overactive imagination.

Just when Sally and her younger sister, Troo, need protection the most, they've been abandoned by those who should be most concerned about them. Their mother's in the hospital for an extended stay, their stepfather spends his time getting sloshed to the gills, and the girls' older sister is too busy entertaining her boyfriend to care what kind of trouble the younger girls are finding for themselves. Left to their own devices, Sally and Troo spend the hot, sticky weeks playing Red Light, Green Light in the streets; visiting their favorite monkey at the zoo; shoplifting from Fitzpatrick's Drugstore; and showing up at their neighbors' houses just in time for dinner. Amidst their more innocent pursuits, the girls are intent on catching the murderer. Before he nabs one of them.

When the killer tries to grab Sally during a round of hide-and-seek, she knows the danger is not just in her mind. If only she can convince someone - anyone - to believe her. But no one does. She's the only one that understands: Unless she can catch the killer in time, it will be her body lying next to the red rowboats. Or her sister's. And she's not about to let that happen.

Similar to Tomorrow River in both tone and storyline, Whistling in the Dark, Lesley Kagen's first novel, also examines the moment when youthful innocence evaporates as irrevocably as the last day of summer vacation. Although it's not nearly as nuanced as Kagen's newest book, her debut moves along swiftly, capturing the reader with the warmth of its characters, the twists of its plot, and that particular kind of terror that can only come from watching a cold, calculating predator stalk something as defenseless as a child. It sounds wrong to describe a story like this as "charming." Yet it is, in a way. Like Tomorrow River, Whistling in the Dark has a kind of bitter sweetness to it that makes the story as triumphant as it is terrifying. While I prefer the richer, subtler Tomorrow River to this one, I still recommend Kagen's first novel to anyone yearning for a brisk, compelling read. It's not an easy story to read - in fact, it almost had me whistling in the dark - but once you get going, you won't be able to stop yourself. Trust me on this one.

(Readalikes: Tomorrow River by Lesley Kagen)

Grade: B

If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for language, some sexual content, and violence

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

4 comments:

  1. I think I have this book around here somewhere. I need to look. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Susan. I'll be on the lookout for this book because it sounds like just the sort of read that I love.

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  2. Well, it may be summer with kids all around, but you are still tearing through those books! Your write ups are awesome (as always.) I admire you in your choices of books, how you stretch yourself.

    Happy Father's day celebrations to your little family. Did you get your hubby a book!?!?!?

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  3. This sounds like a compelling story. I enjoyed your comparison of two books on similar themes.

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  4. This one sounds like one I might like. I never heard of it before but am always up for reading new authors too.

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