Charles de Lint (writing as Samuel M. Key), From a Whisper to a Scream (Berkley, 1992; Orb, 2003)

From a Whisper to a Scream is the second of Charles de Lint's books written under the Samuel M. Key pseudonym. (The significance of the pseudonym is explained in the Angel of Darkness review, and more information is also available on de Lint's Web page). From a Whisper to a Scream is also noteworthy in that it was the first full-length novel de Lint set in his much beloved city of Newford, specifically that part of the city known as The Tombs.

In 1988, child murderer Teddy Bird was shot and killed by officer Thomas Morningstar, thus putting an end to a series of unsolved cases. It is now 1990 and the killings have started again.

Local newspaper photographer Jim McGann has noticed graffiti with the word "Niki" scrawled near the crime scenes -- with the same woman always in the vicinity of the graffiti. Is this woman connected with the crimes in some way? Perhaps street musician Cindy Draper can help, as she knows the woman's true identity.

As the pseudonym would appear to tell us, this is a very dark novel. Not as gruesome as Angel of Darkness, perhaps, but it covers territory involving child abuse that some readers may prefer not to tread. These reprints of the Key novels underplay the fact that the books were originally pseudonymous (making mention of it only in a small line of text on the back cover); thus I feel compelled to warn de Lint's readers that its contents may not be what they would normally expect.

As a "horror novel," From a Whisper to a Scream does not succeed as grandly as Angel of Darkness (although it is perhaps unfair to compare them). The subject matter may have turned me off, but I think it was more the pacing. Whisper is simply a slower read than its predecessor, although it really picks up at the end.

But what it lacks in pacing, it more than makes up for with character. These inhabitants of Newford feel like real people, people I would like to revisit (and probably will, given that de Lint's Newford tales often interlace). His well-known ability to write believable females truly shines here as well.

From a Whisper to a Scream is a typically well-written de Lint novel and will certainly be of interest to fans curious about the early days of Newford -- so long as they don't mind limiting their visit to the town's darkest alleyways.

[Craig Clarke]