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Whispering Shadows


Whispering Shadows

WHISPERING SHADOWS is an impressive work by any standard. Written by critically acclaimed German author Jan-Philipp Sendker and translated by Christine Lo, the book is strong and almost never flags from beginning to end. It is very much a character-driven novel, both of person and of setting. China and Hong Kong, interchangeable to many but full of stark differences, are as much characters here as are the people who move throughout. They’re not so much fish out of water as they are fish in strange and occasionally deceptively familiar ponds.

Paul Leibovitz is the primary mover and shaker, in spite of himself, in WHISPERING SHADOWS. When we meet him, he is all but a total recluse, living, ironically enough, on an island off the teeming city of Hong Kong. We quickly learn that Paul wasn’t always as he is now. At one point a successful consultant and devoted father and husband, he now wears the sorrow of personal tragedy like a funeral cloak. He maintains an arms-length relationship with Christine, a Chinese expat in Hong Kong and an attractive single mother who runs a fledgling travel agency, and Zhang, a Chinese homicide detective who struggles to maintain his integrity in a sea of bribery.

"WHISPERING SHADOWS is wonderfully told and beautifully written. The ending is a surprise, a nugget that one hardly expects to find at the end of a path full of thorns."

Paul’s isolation is cracked when he has a fleeting, chance encounter with an American woman named Elizabeth Owens on a train. Elizabeth and her husband, Richard, have business interests in China. Those interests are run by their adult son, Michael, who has gone missing. In spite of his voluntary isolation, Paul feels compelled, albeit reluctantly, to help the parents. He proceeds to do so, against the advice of Christine, whose bitter experiences in China give her good reason to urge restraint. Paul nonetheless contacts Zhang, who quickly enough is able to provide him, and thus the Owens, with tragic news early on: their son has been murdered. A suspect is quickly identified and a confession obtained, and the book ends.

Actually, that’s not quite what happens. The confessed killer has a solid alibi; he could not have killed Michael. Paul discovers evidence that points in the direction of another individual, a powerful and influential figure in the roaring Chinese economy. Zhang is driven by a sense of duty and justice, but knows that any effort he makes at revealing the truth not only will be futile but also will have a devastating effect on his wife and child, not to mention himself. As the story unfolds, the book becomes more than a mystery, asking this question: Can justice (whatever that may be) always result in the greater good when the path to it is not always clear.

WHISPERING SHADOWS is wonderfully told and beautifully written. The ending is a surprise, a nugget that one hardly expects to find at the end of a path full of thorns. Is justice ultimately done at the conclusion of the novel? That is the question that Sendker tantalizingly leaves for those characters who survive to the end --- and to the reader --- of this mysterious, bittersweet book.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 17, 2015

Whispering Shadows
by Jan-Philipp Sendker

  • Publication Date: February 9, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/37 INK
  • ISBN-10: 1476793654
  • ISBN-13: 9781476793658