May 6, 2015

Revisiting "Whispers And Lies" - A Masterpiece Of Mystery By Joy Fielding

If there is one suspense book that strikes me the most PSYCHOLOGICALLY, it's Whispers And Lies (referred as W&L below), by Joy fielding, one of my favorite contemporary mystery writers. I wrote a review years ago, but that's not enough. I even wrote an email to the author a while after I read the book and was thrilled to receive her kind reply. I also purchased a copy for my friend in China. How my friend enjoyed it I do not know (her English might be obstacle of enjoying the story thoroughly), but all these years, this book remains as the best psychological thriller to me, and that's why I purchased another copy recently, and re-read some of my favorite parts of it.

W&L starts slowly and gently, with the main character Terry Painter, a middle aged single woman and hard working nurse, interviewing her potential tenant of her cottage, the 29 year-old good looking Alison Simms:

"She said her name was Alison Simms.
The name tumbled slowly, almost languorously, from her lips, the way honey slides from the blade of a knife. ..."

This is one of the most unforgettable opening lines I've read in literature, simple, casual, sensitive yet foreboding. Then the story line revolves around Painter's inner world, her psychological progress along the change of her life stirred by her new tenant Alison. Painter has an instinctive intimacy toward Alison, yet her long term single life made her extremely reserve and cautious toward others, so she cannot help to doubt Alison's kindness to her, and suspects her some seemingly very strange actions along with several new people come with Alison. The middle section of story is a bit slow, awkward sometime, however, the last 20 percent the story definitely worth patience: it's an explosion after long accumulation, like a volcano that erupts with silent text, word by word, blow readers' minds away.

One of comment in goodreads compares Fielding's writing of her character's psyche to the knife of a surgeon, which I understand as extreme precision. Yes, regarding to revelation of distorted mind, the damaged heart beyond repair, I hardly find any other books can compete with this one. At the last part of book, Fielding leads us walking into the deepest pit of a sick mind so naturally, so invitingly and so realistically that even readers would feel like everything the murderer does makes perfect sense.

This reminds Highsmith's books, Strangers On A Train, Suspension Of Mercy, Talented Mr. Ripley, etc.  Except, I still feel the end of W&L is more thrilling. I would say, after reading this book, nothing else I read all these years in mystery genre have thrilled me that much. Not sure it's good or bad (lol).

It surprises me, or it doesn't surprises me I should say, that this book draws very little attention in North America. I guess the reason is simple, just like Highsmith's works, this book deals with sick mind. Living in US for about 20 years, I am convinced that this culture is for lightweight cartoon, superficial fantasy, exaggerated unfounded horror stories, not heavyweight psychological suspense like this. Guess nothing wrong with that either.

I have read many other books by the same author but I don't find any on the par with this one. However, there's still several other books of hers I enjoyed very much, such as See Jane Run, Still Life, Missing pieces, Now You see her, and her newest: Someone Is Watching (which, definitely has one the best endings).

I love Joy Fielding's style, because her "anatomy" of characters psyche. I hope in future I could read new works as good as W&L, but if not, I would say, by this book alone, She will remain as my favorite writer forever.


  1. Yun, this is an excellent review and high praise for the author! The opening lines really are unforgettable; they convey a strong visual impression with a touch of foreboding and the reader is drawn right into the story. I’m not familiar with Joy Fielding but I like psychological mysteries and what you write about the book makes me want to read it. Wonderful that the author herself replied when you wrote to her.

    You are so right about the reading preferences of many Americans: “…lightweight cartoon, superficial fantasy, exaggerated unfounded horror stories, not heavyweight psychological suspense like this.” Exactly and I could not have said it better! They want uncomplicated characters and simple plot lines; they want the story basically spoon-fed to them. They don’t want to be challenged to expand their horizons. Unfortunately, I find that same attitude reflected in many aspects of our culture in the US. That attitude is too limiting for me. Thank you for this review!

    1. Madilyn, I am so glad you caught this post. Thanks for your thoughtful reply and I wish one day you would read this book. It's extremely riveting and mind blowing, yet profound!