Some time ago, I posted an article titled: Ghostly Grounds: Explorations Outside of the Haunted Houses of Film and Literature In this article, I write about the creepy environments in which authors and filmmakers “build” their haunted houses. I have a large section dedicated to “the forest;” a very popular landscape of myth and legend, often harboring fanciful and horrific things – elves, witches, werewolves, and ghosts to name a few. Then I give examples of popular haunted house stories that include haunted forests: Evil Dead, The House on the Moor, and The Haunting of Lake Manor Hotel.
I wish I had read Michael Bray’s Whisper – Whisper Trilogy Book 1 before writing this article. It is the epitome of the “mysterious forest” archetype. I certainly would have included this modern horror novel in the article. There is more than wind stirring in the trees that surround “Hope House” – the subject of Bray’s book. Hope House is an historical abode built upon cursed grounds. There are presences lurking in the neighboring forest; perhaps as many as there are trees. One can only guess at the total. Likewise, one can only make guesses about their nature. Are they evil? What do they look like? (for they go unseen – in the beginning!)
These woodland entities make their presence known to Steve and Melody Samson, the newest homeowners of Hope House, not by sight, but by alternative sensory pathways. In the rustling of the treetop leaves, Steve hears whispers; whispers that eventually call out his name. Also, a certain “feeling” continually haunts both Steve and Melody. They feel as if they are being watched by multiple sets of eyes. For me, it is always scarier when spirits are felt before there is a direct confrontation; heard before they are seen. And this is what happens here.
The story of Hope House and its surrounding grounds unfolds in three different periods of time 1) The present time: a couple buys a house in the woods 2) 150-200 years ago – the construction of Hope House, built with slave labor on cursed grounds by an opportunist blinded by his own ambition 3) thousands of year ago – a cannibalistic tribe and a supernatural tragedy. Bray effectively juxtaposes these time periods. Never was I confused. Whenever a time jump occurs, it happens in just the right place. The storyline keeps on flowing while these jumps serve to heighten the overall suspense. These trips back in time reveal exciting clues and interesting back-stories.
There are interesting side characters in Whisper. There is a slimy real-estate agent with dark secrets, a drunken crone who knows things, a seemingly inconspicuous bartender (but things are never what they seem). All of these characters know things that our main characters Steven and Melody do not. What do they know? Read the book to find out!
The book has its flaws, some of which have to do with editing. There are some grammatical errors here and there. Aside from grammar issues, too often Bray uses “a smile” as a one-size-fits-all way of describing facial expressions. Characters seem to smile on every occasion – when they are arguing and when they are in turmoil. Then there are a couple of minor issues I had with some of the plot points. There are some areas that would benefit from further development. There are noteworthy events that find their place in the story and then stay put, never to resurface again, missing out on opportunities to establish a stronger link to the larger story. Also, some of the story resolutions are bit trite for my taste.