By Veronica Lando

Publisher/Year: Harper Collins 2022

Publisher’s blurb

The whispering wild will take your child if you dare to look away …

The stunning Aussie crime debut from the winner of the 2021 Banjo Prize for Fiction.

Callum Haffenden swore he’d never return to Granite Creek. But, thirty years after a life-shattering accident, he’s thrust back into the clutches of Far North Queensland and a local legend he worked hard to forget.

When a man goes missing in the rainforest, the past begins to resurface, breathing new life into memories of previous tragedies – two girls lost, seventeen years apart. In a town where it’s easiest to turn a blind eye, the guilt runs deep and everyone in Granite Creek has something to hide.

In his search for answers, Callum fights to keep his feet firmly on the trail as he battles the deafening call of the rainforest burrowing into his ears. After all, everyone knows that the worst things in the rainforest are those unseen.

Reviewer: Ola Kwintowski

The Whispering, Veronica Lando’s debut novel, opens with a mysterious old rhyme: ‘the whispering wild will take your child, if you dare to look away’ – this sets the mood and hints at the secrets that lurk beneath the surface of the characters. Set in a small town in far north Queensland, at the edge of a rainforest overgrown with thick wait-a-while vines, the story’s plot progression is just as intricate and twisted. Together with protagonist, Callum Haffenden, readers are snagged into unravelling the truth behind the accident that sent Lachlan Wyatt to his death – at the cusp of a cyclone hitting town, through a tropical downpour and humidity to match. Brows will moisten during this mystery.

The story unravels through two perspectives, in the current time and thirty years prior, when Callum was only 17 years old. Lando presents the view that ‘the rainforest seemed to swallow the concept of time’ – this allows the tension to build between both perspectives as lies and truth intercept. Memories are triggered that help piece the puzzle together, but they also prove to be unreliable and biased. Lando anthropomorphises the rainforest and it becomes one of the characters –also under scrutiny for Lachlan’s death. The rainforest whispers and ‘calls’, it ‘swallows’, ‘blocks the outside world’, ‘presses against you’ and it utilises the elements, such as the trees that ‘…pulsate(d) in the wind, bowing down to a silent call’ and water, that ‘clawed at my skin like the talons of a grey goshawk’. There is a menace within the luscious foliage and reaching tendrils of vines. However, like all of Lando’s characters, the deeper you go within each one you learn that things aren’t always as they seem. Beneath the layers there is a new truth to be uncovered – just as you think you know someone, a tiny detail will flip perspective.

Interweaved in an engaging plot, are many important, albeit difficult, themes. Lando delves into domestic violence from the angle of the abused and the abuser. Matters concerning sexual abuse, physical abuse, misogyny and bullying are at the core of the plot. This is handled with utmost care and deliberate consideration that deserve commending. It opens an important conversation and explores how people are affected both directly and indirectly, immediately and over time.

This is a story of family, love, mystery, the lies we tell and the truths we hide – it’s a story of origins, new places and wet socks (that can’t get a break in the wet tropics). A thrilling and entertaining read. Lando’s writing style is gripping and unputdownable. Her writing is full of suspense and tension, and a great sense of pacing that keeps the story moving forward and will keep you guessing till the last page. I highly recommend this novel and hope that Lando continues her writing journey with another gripping story on the horizon.