Whispering Shadows by Jan-Philipp Sendker (3 out of 5)

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This cover ^ is NOT the final cover. This was the cover on the advance reader copy that Wendy sent me. I prefer it to the final copy…which is below….

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Anyway..now that the cover comparison part of the blog review has passed…. I have to tell you that I’m a fan of Jan-Philipp Sendker. I read his first two fictional books, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats and A Well-Tempered Heart. And loved them both! This novel seemed to have a bit more of intrigue stacked on the shelf, though. His writing is beautiful, be fooled not. As much as I enjoyed Whispering Shadows, this did not measure up to his debut novel. That’s a book I still pick up and read time and time again. Months from now, I may go and re-read this and find some hidden joy in it. I love his writing, I love the backdrop of Hong Kong for much of the novel, and I love the imagery he projects in his story settings. However, truth be told, this did not move me. I knew I was in trouble when the first 24 pages passed and I was bored. Then the talk of people being worked to death and starving in fields; you know it’s going to be more of a bleak car ride than his previous two trips. And it was.

The novel starts out with Paul (our hero) recalling his son’s death from leukemia. This does indeed set up the novel in way of Paul’s inner struggle to move past his son’s death at such a young age. His marriage to Meredith also crashes and burns after their son dies. Paul moves to a quiet, peaceful place and settles into a pretty quiet, normal routine in which he spends quiet time mourning his boy and being a recluse. Until he get pulled, unknowingly, into the murder of an American citizen in Hong Kong. He makes a fleeting connection to Elizabeth, a distressed mother looking for her missing son, and after the body of her boy is found, Paul finds a renewed purpose in life and sets out to investigate what happened, to try to help bring justice to the murdered and peace to the mother. Bear in mind, reader, that Paul has ZERO experience.. and his detective friend Zhang, familiar with Hong Kong and its shady underpasses, REALLY bugs him into doing it, once his doubts start to surface. In the meantime, while this is going on, you have Paul rebuilding his life and falling in love with a woman who he’s been quietly attracted to, Christine. So you have rebuilding going on as well as trying to solve a mystery that has absolutely nothing at all to do with Paul. Except that the Elizabeth’s pain at losing her son mirrors his pain at losing his son. Paul and Zhang uncover all sorts of shadiness involving secret companies, money, and the Hong Kong syndicate, but really, it was hard to care. I honestly cared more about Paul finding love again with the lovely Christine, than I cared about who killed Michael, the seemingly self-absorbed young man who is murdered. It was hard to connect with anyone. I really thought that Paul is a great character, and Christine as well, so I hope happy ever after is in their future (since this is the first in a new trilogy, that’s possible). I liked the character of Zhang, especially after his backstory with the bad guy is revealed (killing a Buddhist monk? Not cool. Ever). The characters, the good guys, are written so well. Michael’s parents? I wanted to beat the father with a tire iron, and I wanted to send Elizabeth to rehab. Something about those two really bugged me while reading this.

The resolution of the book is well written, and makes perfect sense when tied in with the narrative. Jan-Philipp does an astounding job of bringing you into Hong Kong and making you want to stay forever. Paul, Christine, and Zhang are well written, in-depth, humans who are realistic and sympathetic characters whom you root for, in the battle of good vs evil. And that, friends, is about all I found to be enjoyable. The Cultural Revolution enjoys a great retelling here in Jan-Philipp’s hands, but I just didn’t seem to connect at all to the murder plot. I cared more about poor Paul finding love and belief in living life again. I cared about Zhang bringing the murderer to justice. That was all, folks. The rest? Seemed like filler to me. I hope he regains his swing in the next two installments. This man can write! This book just isn’t the best I’ve read by him.

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~ by generationgbooks on March 24, 2015.

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