This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.
‘On the first morning of her new job at Heartfield House, a care home for the elderly, Annie Jackson wakens from a terrifying dream. And when she arrives at the home, she knows that the first old man she meets is going to die.
‘How she knows this is a terrifying mystery, but it is the start of horrifying premonitions… a rekindling of the curse that has trickled through generations of women in her family – a wicked gift known only as “the murmurs”…
‘With its reappearance comes an old, forgotten fear that is about to grip Annie Jackson.
‘And this time, it will never let go…’
In The Murmurs, by Michael J. Malone, we meet Annie Jackson. In her late twenties, she develops an undesirable condition, seemingly out of the blue: if she meets someone for whom death is imminent, she experiences a disturbing vision of their final moments.
Through conversations and research with her twin brother Lewis, Annie not only learns that she previously had such visions at the age of 12 – before the traumatic car crash that killed their mother and locked away Annie’s memories – but that other women in her family suffered similarly, and were confined to hospitals as a result of their “madness”.
Scenes from Annie’s childhood in the small, religious Scottish town of Mossgow, and the early years of her parents’ marriage, as well as a memoir written in 1818 by one of her ancestors, Moira, reveal that she has a bona fide curse – the eponymous “murmurs” – passed down the generations, and how this came to tear her family apart.
In the present day, meanwhile, the fact of her recently-recovered memories threatens to put Annie in grave danger.
The Murmurs is chock-full of thrilling Gothic elements and tropes. Witchcraft! A centuries-old curse! Scary visions! Secret family members! Tragedy! Memory loss! A creepy man of the cloth! Old-fashioned mental hospitals! Hard-faced nuns! I could hardly put it down.
Right from the start, I was captivated by the scary idea of the murmurs. I was agog as Annie experienced her first vision as an adult and attempted to avert the events she foresaw, only for them to play out as envisioned anyway, and found her reaction to this realistic and proportionate.
I enjoyed the scenes from Annie’s childhood and just before, which are brimming with fascinating drama and details that become important later on, while Moira’s account of the falling-out of an earlier set of twins has the feeling of a fairy tale.
I really liked Annie as a character, sympathising with her frustration about all that had been kept from her over the years, understanding her reactions to the trauma she went through as a child, and admiring her courage and will to live a normal life despite her curse.
I also appreciated how Annie had a good relationship with Lewis, as well as the family friends who took the pair in following their father’s death, not long after the loss of their mother. In addition to providing much-needed support, Annie’s brother and adoptive parents counter the tragedy in her life with comfort, stability, and joy.
This book is absolutely gripping, with cliffhangers, tension, and surprising revelations at virtually every turn. However, there were points where the author might have eased off on this without making the story any less compelling.
Annie and Lewis encounter a lot of people who withhold or ration important information. This is understandable in many cases, especially when they’re younger. In a few cases, though, it’s harder to explain, and just seems to create un-needed extra suspense for the reader, and avoidable worry and grief for the poor twins.
Convenience is also a bit of an issue, with Annie not foreseeing every imminent death in her vicinity, and the police/CPS playing fast and loose with evidence, and being either too credulous or too disbelieving, in service of the plot. Again, I think these could have been resolved without detriment to the story.
The Murmurs is a thrilling and gripping novel, teeming with Gothic hallmarks.