Because this novella is inspired by one of the most popular stories by one of the most popular horror writers of all time, it would be impossible to talk about Kristin Dearborn’s Whispers without comparing it to The Whisperer in Darkness.
Whispers shares the looming, dense forests and paranoid isolation of Lovecraft’s original, while bringing it bang up to date. Gone is the arcane, dramatic language of the original text - and, let’s face it, a lot of stories that tackle the Mythos - in favour of very naturalistic dialogue and a snappy, tense pace. Dearborn’s characters - thrown together after a chance encounter - are fleshed out, complicated and fascinating. It’s interesting to note that both our protagonists are women, something sets them apart from Lovecraft’s own narrators. Going even further, the character of Sarah is a well-built, ruddy woman who totes a shotgun and wrestles with her longing for and need to push away intimacy - very different from willowy, cerebral author-inserts.
But just talking about this story in comparison to The Whisperer in Darkness would be doing it a disservice. As I said, these characters are fascinating to follow. Both Sarah and Neveah are flawed, complicated women, with histories that influence their behaviour and their relationship with each other. It’s never totally clear exactly how much one values the other from one chapter to the next. The beginning to middle of the story, consisting of these two women, alone in the mountains except for something out in the woods, watching them, is brilliantly written. Dearborn ramps up the tension, letting it explode and unravel in the final act.
If I was to offer a negative about this story, it would be that the last chapter ends very abruptly - I was left gasping after I finished it, with so many questions! But I thoroughly enjoyed this novella, both as a fan of Lovecraft and as a lover of horror in general, and I think that readers - both veterans and newcomers to the Mythos - will get a rush out of this thrilling, compelling story.