Title: Whisper Lake (The Turning, Book 2)
Author: Micky Neilson
Publisher: Self-Published on Amazon
Format: eBook (410 pages)
Summary (from Amazon): “In this prequel to The Turning, the year is 1991. Jason Emblock, a U.S. soldier in Iraq, is sent back home to the small town of Whisper Lake after a vicious animal attack. But the beast that bit him was no ordinary animal. Now Jason is becoming aware of the changes–enhanced hearing and sense of smell–even as he reconnects with his lover, Celine Armistead, and seeks to confront his childhood friend, CJ, who tried to force himself on Celine while Jason was away. CJ’s life has its own complications: drug addiction and a strained affiliation with the violent drug trafficker Boil, whose schemes threaten to destroy Whisper Lake. But the deadliest threat may not come from Boil; because the beast within Jason… is about to slip its leash.”
Whisper Lake opens with an author’s note: I know you’re thinking, ‘If Whisper Lake is a prequel, shouldn’t I read it before The Turning?’ Actually, I started this series in the middle, but I intended it that way. The twists and turns will be more meaningful if you read The Turning first, then Whisper Lake. And yes, there is already a sequel in the works.”
When I devoured Micky Neilson’s previous book, The Turning, I couldn’t put it down. It was a solid throwback to old-school wolf lore with a few fresh twists, and Whisper Lake is no different. Jason Emblock begins his story like most protagonists in this subgenre: as the victim of a vicious attack that nearly kills him. From there he returns to his hometown to recover and deals with the burdens that he now has to bear. In fact, the characters’ struggle to accept the fallout from their decisions is a consistent running theme throughout the story, and it serves the narrative well.
The overall tone of Whisper Lake differs from that of The Turning, in that the latter was a more suspenseful cat-and-mouse game, centered on the POVs of no more than three major characters (and quick vignettes of minor ones). Whisper Lake puts the spotlight on a wider array of actors on the stage. With that being said, no one player is lost in the game. From tragic hero Jason to stubborn survivor Celine to the troubled CJ, every character is fully realized and given ample attention. While the narrative changes POV from chapter to chapter, it’s never confusing, and always compelling. Neilson treats everyone as an essential portion of the story. There’s no gristle here; everything serves the narrative.
The main antagonist, greasy druglord Boil, is a far different villain than the calculating Alexander (the assassin) of The Turning. Boil is a physically repulsive sleazeball who has, through his legitimate transportation front and illegal drug-running business, secured a financial grip upon the small town. He has the gift of gab and knows how to whip a crowd up into a frenzy. He bypasses traditional channels of PR and presents himself directly as a man of the people. Despite his facade, Boil is not a gentleman, and accepts zero responsibility for his actions. The current political relevance of this antagonist, whether intentional on the author’s part or not, made me loathe him with a passion. Nielson has a gift for crafting great villains, and Boil is right on the money. He succeeds in doubling the tension in the story and driving the external conflicts that the protagonists are going through, in addition to their internal struggles.
While Whisper Lake is a werewolf tale at it’s core, it avoids treading the same worn moonlit path done in werewolf stories past by interweaving its lycanthropy with high drama and elements of crime thriller. While the same struggle exists between humanity and primal desires that we’ve seen since The Wolfman, the protagonists (and an antagonist) mirror the same conflict in non-wolf-related decisions. Whisper Lake takes a fresh turn in wolf lore, making connections with an ancient Babylonian goddess and a second deity who harnesses the power of the moon. Neilson has, again, made a slight but fitting contribution to the werewolf mythos.
There is a point early in the story in which it’s revealed that a female character had terminated her pregnancy some time in her past. I want to take a moment to sing praises about the delicacy with which abortion was discussed in Whisper Lake. The character who had terminated her pregnancy was neither a hero nor a villain as a result of it, and when a friend came to her asking for advice for a similar situation, she gave the best advice she could, which was to relate her own experience and say that it was the right decision for her, at the time. She offered the most important thing she could in such a situation: her support. Kudos to the author for treating the issue with finesse and not exploiting it for sensation. Considering the themes of the book (bearing the burden of consequences and accepting responsibility for the things that happen in one’s life), this bit of backstory makes sense and gives a fair bit of insight into the character’s decisions later on.
Whisper Lake delivers the goods and expands upon elements hinted at in its predecessor. I heartily recommend this book to readers who enjoyed The Turning, and anyone who fancies a taut bit of wolf lore by extension. 5/5 stars. Grab it on Amazon.