cover image The Whispering Wall

The Whispering Wall

Patricia Carlon / Author Soho Press $20 (0p) ISBN 978-1-56947-

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. (Oct.)