T.L. Hines,
The Dead Whisper On
(Bethany House, 2007)

I was extremely impressed with T.L. Hines' debut novel, Waking Lazarus. Because of that, my expectations were high for his second novel, The Dead Whisper On. I was not disappointed.

Candace "Canada Mac" MacHugh was once a miner in Butte, Montana, as was Canada's father. Now, Canada is a sanitation engineer in Butte, and her life is going nowhere fast. But, while picking up garbage early one morning, her father whispered to her from the shadows, inviting her to meet him at his favorite bar that night. One problem: Canada's father died 11 years ago. But she has nothing better to do, so she goes to the bar, spends a couple of uneventful hours there, chatting with the bartender and some of her former miner-friends. Of course, none are miners now, as the mining business has gone bust in Butte. Canada is mildly disappointed that her father did not appear, but is hardly surprised.

But the shadows whisper to her, just outside the bar, and it is her father's voice again. Still unsure whether she is losing her mind or really experiencing something supernatural, Canada listens as her father invites her to join him, as part of a network, some ghosts (who sense impending tragedies) and some alive, in a seemingly noble venture to prevent disasters. So Canada gives it a try.

Canada hearing her deceased father whisper to her from the shadows is just the beginning of the strangeness. But is it really her father's ghost, or is it something less benign? To make things more exciting, how about adding in a golem who hunts down Canada and, according to Canada's father, is trying to oppose the good works of the ghosts. Is the golem really a golem? Is it really evil? OK, now we're beyond a standard, run-of-the- mill ghost story. Add an epidemic of spontaneous combustion and we've got a really interesting tale, with enough twists to qualify as a rollercoaster.

Hines has given us another complex thriller with The Dead Whisper On, with flawed but admirable, three-dimensional characters. Canada MacHugh is so well-written, that I felt that I knew her ... and wanted to help her. Her gang of mining buddies, who pitch in to help her fight evil, are very realistic sidekicks, with interesting quirks. Keros, who might or might not be a golem, is a mysterious, intriguing character, right to the end. The scope of this story is bigger than the tale told in Waking Lazarus, as the events that transpire in Butte might be the beginning of Armageddon, or pretty close, and a failure by Canada might mean the beginning of The End. But using Canada as the protagonist and main point-of-view keeps the story very personal.

Are there flaws in this tale? Yes, there are a few. I would have liked to learn more about Keros. Keeping him mysterious made him intriguing, but I wanted more. Also, I could have used a bit more detail about what the evil forces in Butte were planning. They could have tried to push Canada into despair, by painting their vision of the results of their victory. At only 217 pages, there was room to flesh those aspects out a bit. Also, as is often true in a story that involves unraveling mysteries, there are a few spots that are slower in pace, where Canada has to try to rethink everything going on, as she gets more, and often conflicting, information.

This is a faith-based thriller. For the first two-thirds of the book, I was not sure why it was labeled as such, except that there were no sex scenes or obscene language, and the 90-foot white marble statue of Mary that stands atop the mountains overlooking Butte was mentioned. Toward the end, when the true nature of the opposing forces becomes clearer, more faith-based themes emerge. In retrospect, many of Stephen King's tales have strong religious connotations. The main examples I can think of are The Green Mile, The Stand and Desperation. The Dead Whisper On has no more religious content than The Green Mile or Desperation, and probably less religious content than The Stand.

review by
Chris McCallister

20 October 2007

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