REVIEW: The Whispering Room by Amanda Stevens
Dear Ms. Stevens,
As part of my ongoing effort to expand my reading (and Harlequin) horizons, I decided to give this novel from Mira a try. New to your work, I wasn’t sure what to expect but the idea of an evil gene sounded interesting. And while I thought some things were awfully convenient, I’m glad I made the decision I did.
Evangeline Theroux is a New Orleans homicide detective known as ghoul girl by her co-workers. I’ll leave it up to other readers to decide whether that’s an affectionate nickname. (I don’t consider it one under the circumstances.) The past year hasn’t been easy for her. Her husband, also a cop, died in the line of duty and even though she’s always thought something was fishy about the way he died, it seems like she always runs into a dead end when trying to pursue it. She also has a baby boy who reminds her too much of his father, even while she struggles to raise him by herself and work a job where her co-workers all expect her to snap at any minute.
Evangeline’s latest case involves the high profile death of a lawyer. It’s just what she needs to distract herself from her life but things don’t work out that way. The FBI is involved and one of the first things they do is get her pulled off the case. If that weren’t bad enough, she has reason to suspect that they also know the truth behind her husband’s death. Complicating things even further, Evangeline is contacted by a woman who claims to have information about the case but wants to speak only to her.
The concept of an evil gene is an interesting one. Can evil — the propensity to perpetrate violence upon other people, specifically in this case — be passed on? It was the idea that drew me to this novel in the first place, and I certainly understand Evangeline’s fascinated skepticism. It’s just so outlandish. I’m one of those who believes nurture will win out over nature, if all other things are equal, but at the same time, you can’t help but wonder. Is it possible? And if it is possible, can it triumph over nurture? Evangeline’s reaction was entirely believable to me, and there’s no denying that Lena presented it in an earnest and compelling way.
On the other hand, I figured out the main mystery pretty early on in the book. It was a little hard to miss with all the emphasis on a certain hair color. I thought the clues were nicely set up so that a reader could fit things together but a few were a bit too obvious for my tastes. When so little attention is given to most of the other characters, it’s very noticeable when certain characters’ traits are emphasized over and over again. And because it was so noticeable, my reader senses immediately knew it was that way for a reason. And because it was that way for a reason, logic would then offer the only available conclusion. Other readers might not find this to be the case.
While I thought the subplot involving the truth behind the death of Evangeline’s husband was necessary in terms of wrapping up loose threads and providing closure to the past, I can’t help but think it was a little awkwardly balanced with the evil gene storyline. At times I wasn’t sure which one was more important. I don’t think this is necessarily a flaw to the book but I found it distracting at times.
Along those lines, I’m not sure what the minor subplot involving Evangeline’s parents was supposed to accomplish. To illustrate how black and white Evangeline is? To reflect her relationship with her husband? To show what a mess Evangeline’s personal life is? It could do all these things and more, but it didn’t seem to live up to its potential. It was a throwaway conflict that never really came up again.
For readers wondering if there is a romance, Evangeline does find it here but it’s neither the focus nor the point of the book. It’s just one of many pieces that fit into the theme of letting go of the past and moving on into the future. The murderer never learned that lesson and as a result, repeated the mistakes of the past again and again. True, the murderer didn’t see it that way, that those actions were a mistake, but that doesn’t change the fact they didn’t stop to think that nurture could win out over nature in the end. B-