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The Whispering Wall Hardcover – October, 1996
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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This Australian psychological drama was first published in Britain in 1969. It describes the terror of a paralyzed stroke victim, Sarah Oatland, who cannot move or speak, but who overhears voices through the wall plotting a murder. Sarah manages at last to communicate her knowledge via eye-blinks to a young girl who visits. When the villains discover that she knows their plan, Sarah's life is in imminent danger, and the suspense and terror build.
From Publishers Weekly
Australian Carlon (The Souvenir) ratchets up the psychological suspense in this story of a victim who is unable to react to a gradually realized threat until pushed to the limit. Sarah Oatland, a well-to-do widow bedridden by a stroke, can't move or speak, but she can see, hear and think. She is tended by her greedy niece-in-law Gwenyth Oatland and a patronizing nurse, Cornelia Bragg. Gwenyth divides Sarah's house into three apartments, renting one to a single mother and her inquisitive 10-year-old daughter, Rose. Valma and Murray Phipps move into the rooms beneath Sarah's bedroom, where a vent in the wall allows her to overhear their conversations. With Sarah, we learn the Phippses plan to murder Valma's stepfather, former singing idol Roderick Palmer, and we experience Sarah's frustration at her helplessness. Rose discovers that Sarah can blink in response to questions; as their communication ends Sarah's isolation, the book subtly loses its claustrophobic tone. But the Phippses realize Sarah knows their plot and determine to kill her, too. With enormous effort, using letter games and Scrabble, Sarah attempts to warn Roderick. From her sure-handed establishing of Sarah's awareness and limitations to the dramatic climax, Carlon proves herself as masterful a wielder of suspense as Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine, and Margaret Millar.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
In The Whispering Wall, first published in 1969, the heroine is Sarah, a sixty-one year old woman paralyzed by a stroke. She can't move or speak and can just barely raise and lower her eyelids. A second heroine is eleven-year-old Rose, who eventually finds a way to communicate with Sarah.
During the day Sarah's nurse pushes her bed up to the window and against the chimney wall. What no one realizes is that voices from the room below are faintly projected up that wall. Sarah, though "laid out like a fish on a slab," in the words of her nurse, knows better than anyone what's going on in her house.
And in fact, horrible things are going on. A murder plot is afoot, and only the speechless, motionless Sarah can foil it.
Old Sarah with her blinking eye is one of the most engaging characters I've ever encountered in crime fiction. The author does a brilliant job of contrasting the liveliness of Sarah's mind with the helplessness of her body. Carlon herself was deaf from age eleven and lived a secluded life. This may explain her fascination with themes of isolation.
There's a good Afterword in this Soho Crime edition summarizing Carlon's life and her significant contribution to crime fiction.
Patricia Carlon was a British discovery. Her own country, Australia, ignored her for forty years before publishing her. Happily I found her among my Amazon's recommendations. Since Carlon has gone in and out of print over the decades, I intend to grab up all her mysteries without delay.
Her impatient and greedy niece has parceled out Sarah's beloved house to tenants. But, as Sarah is angrily absorbing this outrage, she hears a murder plot through a trick of acoustics in the wall. And then a child, one of the new tenants, discovers Sarah can communicate in blinks.
The plot devices are a bit dated - relying on numerous hidden eavesdroppers and architectural devices - but Carlon's spare writing skillfully communicates the frustration and terror of Sarah's condition and the dilemmas she faces about communication, given her and her hearer's limitations. And along the way, she also learns something more about life.
Ms. Carlon is a gifted mystery writer along the lines of Peter Lovesey.
This novel is not lily-white, yet it does stop short of some of the more blatant evil that has crept into some of Carlon's other books.
The Whispering Wall is well-crafted without being too dark, and it is a good selection to start with if you would like to give this Australian author a try.