The action happens at night, in places called the Tombs and the Combat Zone. Amongst deserted streets and crumbling, abandoned buildings, we meet folks whose lives are lived out in the nighttime hours - a newspaper photographer, a mafia henchman, a homicide detective, a runaway. Charles de Lint paints a dark picture in "From A Whisper To A Scream."
The depths and mysteries of voodoo, and our own childhood play the nastiest tricks in a story that tells of runaway Chelsea's impending and violent encounter with her father and her past -thought to have died years before. Brought into the tale is Jim McGann, photographer for a city newspaper. His camera lens, and his need to make aesthetic, if not logical, sense of what's there lead him through life. In this violent and dark story, "what's there" is the appearance of graffiti near several brutal murder scenes that states simply "Niki."
One of the city police detectives working to find the murderer is Thomas Morningstar, a Native American who seemingly has grown out of the milieu of his heritage. He's left the reservation for the city, and left the ancestral spirits for cool, informal logic and formal police procedure. In the course of the investigation, Thomas Morningstar meets with a voodoo priest, and is invited back to the reservation to speak with the tribal shaman, both of whom intimate that spiritual forces are involved in the goings-on in the Zone.
Pulling all of these people together is the increasingly alarming, strange series of murders in the Zone. All four victims were blonde, teenage women, three of them hookers. A witness to the fourth murder gives a consistent, but very puzzling description of the attack. Jim McGann identifies the same woman in several photographs he's taken of the crime scenes and crowd shots of several of the murder scenes. By chance Jim comes across Chelsea. We quickly learn that Chelsea knows, like the voodoo priest, that spiritual forces are involved; in fact, she's convinced that she knows the identity of those forces, and she's terrified.
Charles de Lint draws a circle of new characters into the story in each of the first four chapters, and the growing list, twists of plot and sorting out of voices kept me busy. Then through the next half or more of the story, the unfolding of the central murder mystery kept me hooked. De Lint achieves a consistency and logically satisfying development of most of the characters. This, and not the plot development, is the most deeply satisfying aspect of the story. In spite of some weak narrative and rhetorical devices (in one place, he introduces a character's flashback with "He could remember a day..." - ellipsis included), his characters do come through looking and behaving in ways consistent with the tone and logic of the story. The fate of Ryan, mafia henchman, I thought was especially well developed in this regard.
I am rather surprised that the most frightening, aspects of the story are more psychological than spiritual or magical in nature. The reality of the vulnerability of children and women in our world is grim and saddening, beyond tales of the supernatural. De Lint feels this, and pens his most graphic and disturbing passages and dialogue in this vein. For the sake of the story, the supernatural elements are entertaining, but most so when in the service of the deeper emotional and psychological mysteries and tragedies of modern life. "From A Whisper To A Scream" is a gritty, dark, but satisfying story of the violence not so much of the city, but of human relationships, and the potential for affection and compassion.