Title: The Night Whistler
Author: Greg Woodland
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: August 2020
Trigger Warning: Animal cruelty and death; domestic violence
The Night Whistler is a slow-burn thriller set in a small Australian town in the 1960s. When local animals begin to turn up dead under suspicious and violent circumstances, Detective Mick Goodenough fights for a full investigation into the cruelty. Haunted by a previous serial killer case, Goodenough believes that the animal deaths are a gateway to more serious crimes…And he is right.
Debut author Greg Woodland has written a deeply atmospheric—and at times nostalgic—story reminiscent of Jane Harper’s The Dry. There are elements of small-town Australian life that feel authentic and are superbly written, immersing the reader in the hot, sticky summer of 1966 in Moorabool. Woodland has expertly weaved character arcs into the greater plotline, creating a well-rounded story that has a slow yet readable pace.
The plot is split into two voices: Goodenough and Hal, the adolescent son of the woman targeted by the Night Whistler. Hal is precocious and adventurous, taking it upon himself to begin investigating the Night Whistler’s identity alongside Goodenough. I really enjoyed the unlikely bond between Hal and Goodenough. I found Hal’s characterisation brilliant since it can be difficult to write believable younger characters, and Woodland has achieved this without taking away from the mystery of the Night Whistler.
This thriller is not ideal for anyone that is sensitive to animal cruelty, and I found that some aspects of the violence was unnecessary to the plot. There was gore for the sake of it which made me feel uncomfortable. There’s nothing wrong with feeling uneasy while reading a thriller; however, I believe that the elements that make a reader feel tense should be working to further the plot. If you’re a fan of gore, I would recommend this book!
There are certainly a few major trigger warnings in this book, such as animal cruelty, death, and domestic violence. I was expecting more emphasis to be placed on the Night Whistler; however, this plot line is not addressed until the second half of the book. The first half concentrates on how the killer taunts the town, particularly Hal’s mother with sinister phone calls and late-night visits to their home. Woodland expertly established an intense feeling of being watched within the first half of the book.
The Night Whistler is a strong debut novel. It is a thriller that I would recommend to fans of Australian noir/gothic. Woodland has strengths as a crime author; however, he lacked the nuance of seasoned authors, such as Jane Harper or Chris Hammer. I found myself wanting more from this story, which goes to show that the talent for crime writing is there. I see so much potential in Woodland’s writing and I can’t wait for more!