By Christopher Pike
Like a lot of
Christopher Pike's books, Whisper
of Death is not a particularly long read. In fact, it's
only about 176 pages long and that count includes an added sample
chapter of his book Master
of Murder. The main story is told in just 160 pages and I
must admit that it took forty of those pages before I became remotely
interested in what was happening in the book.
The central characters in the story are high school students Roxanne
and Pepper and the first quarter of the book concentrates on how they
meet and fall in love, and how their young and careless love leads to
Roxanne's unplanned pregnancy.
When her doctor confirms Roxanne's worst fears she is prepared to
consider having the baby, but Pepper is not keen on the idea and offers
to pay for an abortion. Roxanne goes along with the decision
and she and Pepper head off to the abortion clinic in the next town.
I found none of this interesting and did not particularly like either
of the characters, but once this over-long introduction was out of the
way the story managed to hook me in.
While Roxanne is driving back home, and Pepper is sleeping peacefully
in the passenger seat, she notices a red-haired hitchhiker at the side
of the road. The hitchhiker disappears though, and it happens so fast
that Roxanne thinks that the red-head was just a trick of the light.
Then when she stops for gas she finds the station deserted and wakes up
Pepper, who goes to investigate. He finds no sign of anybody.
When Roxanne arrives home her father is not there. But that is okay
because he is lorry driver and she never expected him to be home
anyway. She did expect her expensive new radio to work though, but it
doesn't. All it picks up is static and that is not okay at all. Just to
add an extra touch of weird to the situation, the TV isn't working
either and, although Roxanne can get a dial tone on the phone, that is
all that she can get—nobody she calls is picking up the phone. Feeling
spooked, Roxanne begins knocking on her neighbours' doors. No one is
home: the small desert town of Salem, Arizona is deserted and, until a
justifiably confused Pepper finds her, Roxane is alone. "Where is
everyone?" he asks and it is a good question.
The couple begin to explore Salem and eventually find three of their
friends from school: Stan, who is very fat and very bright and used to
coach Roxanne with her algebra; Helter, who was the school's
wanabee-bad dude, and Leslie Belle who was the School's designated
eye-candy. Once the gang are all together they compare stories and
Stan—who really is the brains of the outfit—helps them to piece things
together. It isn't long before he realizes the one thing they
all have in common is a girl called Betty Sue. They all knew Betty Sue
reasonably well, it seems, and yet none of them are keen to say just
how well they knew her.
But how could Betty Sue be behind the strange situation they
are in? Betty Sue is toast; she doused herself in gasoline and then got
busy with some matches.
This section of the story is very interesting and, at this point, I
couldn't put the book down. I liked the character of Stan straight away
and although the story is written in the first person—Roxanne's
viewpoint—once he arrived on the scene, Stan was the man as far as I
For a long time it remains a mystery as to what has happened to the
inhabitants of Salem, but when the gang visit Betty Sue's house they
find some stories, written by the dead girl, and each member of the
group has a starring role in his or her own story. Things get even
stranger from then on in and one by one they start to meet with
unfortunate ends that are not dissimilar to those mentioned in Betty
I stated earlier, I didn't really enjoy the beginning of Whisper of Death,
but I loved the middle of it. The last fifteen pages of the book,
however, is another story, well another viewpoint anyway—and even
another tense, for a while. All through the book the story is told from
Roxanne's viewpoint, in the first person and the past tense. Suddenly
it changes to present tense and then—before I even had time to get used
to that change—it changes again. Pepper becomes the viewpoint character
and the story is being told in the third person and the past tense.
Then—presto-chango—Roxanne returns as the viewpoint character, but the
story remains in third person and past tense. Finally
(phew!), Pepper is the viewpoint character. That's an awful
lot of changing about between characters and viewpoints and tenses!
Especially in such a few pages. It was more annoying than confusing and
the ending just did not work for me. I felt let down. Having said that,
overall, I did enjoy reading Whisper
of Death because the character of Stan and everything that
happenes in the middle of the book compensates enough for the rest of
the book to make my time spent with it seem worthwhile.
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