Phyllis Whitney Revisited

When Phyllis A. Whitney died a few years ago, at the age of 104, most if not all of her novels were out of print. Out of print, but not forgotten by two or three generations of mystery readers. I found a few of her late novels (she was 94 when the last one was published) at Half Price Books and enjoyed them, so I was delighted when Open Road Books began releasing Whitney’s tales of mystery and suspense in digital format, and I’ve been stashing them away on my Kindle.


The premise of Listen for the Whisperer (first published in 1972) intrigued me, perhaps because it involved a reclusive former Hollywood star (and I was reading a novel about Mary Pickford at the time), and it hopped to the head of the digital TBR shelf. The novel is set in Bergen, Norway (Whitney visited all her settings, right up into her 90s, and made them near-characters in her plots), and centers around Leigh Hollins, a young woman seeking to meet her birth mother, one-time movie star Laura Worth, who abandoned Leigh to her father at birth and abandoned Hollywood after a scandal involving the murder of her director. Leigh is very angry with Laura, but she soon sees that her mother may be the victim of a campaign of fear—or she may be delusional.


The novel seems slow by today’s suspense/thriller standards, the violence is mostly off-page and never graphic, and the romantic element is very low key and far from central to the story. (Although her books are now sometimes called romantic suspense, Whitney considered herself a mystery writer and was frequently honored as one.) But Whitney uses her atmospheric setting skillfully throughout the book (sending me to find pictures of the Fantoft Stave Church, an important location in the story, on the Internet), throws suspicion on everyone, and saves her truly dangerous suspense for the climax of the book.


I probably read Listen for the Whisperer back when it came out (the Mystery Book Club was my lifeline back then when I lived far away from bookstores and didn’t have much money), but I have no memory of it. I enjoyed it this time around, and I have quite a few more waiting on my Kindle.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Deborah Hughes
    Apr 06, 2018 @ 17:44:26

    One of my favorite of hers is “Mystery of the Green Cat”. Was lucky enough to find a hard-cover edition that was being given away by a Tacoma elementary school. This book inspired me to visit San Francisco. Great character development! Loved it as a young girl and still love reading it.

    Liked by 1 person


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