The bones of the story are good. Not great, but compelling enough to make you want to read to the last page. It centers around Sally and Troo O'Malley. Their father is dead, their mom is in the hospital, and they are left with their abusive, drunk stepfather. Oh and a murderer/child molester is on the loose. Sounds interesting, right? It could have been.
My main problem with the book is the fact that the author spends so much time reminding us that the story is set in the 1950's. Let me say that again: The story is set in the 1950's. How about a few more times? The story is set in the 1950's. The story is set in the 1950's. It gets annoying doesn't it? That's what it was like reading this book. On almost every page there was a reference to an obviously '50s era product, person, song, etc. After a while it just seemed silly, as if the author sat around with back issues of Life magazine trying to see what was popular at that time. I understand she was trying to set the scene, but most of the time it was unnecessary. For instance when Sally mentions the smell of her father's Aqua Velva, she could have just as easily referred to it as "aftershave". What ten year old girl even knows what brand of aftershave her dad wears? These types of references were on almost every page. The kids eat oleo on Wonder Bread and drink Ovaltine. Can't we just say margarine, bread, and chocolate milk? Or can't we just leave that part out altogether? Really, it doesn't add anything to the story.
Then there are all the obvious 1950's names: Dottie, Fast Suzie, Nell, Troo, Junie, Sally O'Malley. I kept waiting for Wally and The Beav to show up. Or maybe the Fonz. OH OH OH, and don't even let me forget the "Indian" girl that lives four houses down from Mary Lane....do you want to know what her name is? Judy Big Head. I swear to god...Judy Big Head.
Which brings me to the stereotypes: families with a lot of kids must be Catholic, Italians are hairy, and so on. Again, I know it was the 1950's and prejudices existed that just wouldn't fly today, but it got so old after a while and added nothing to the story.
As I mentioned, the two main characters are Sally and Troo O'Malley, the two most unrealistic little girls in the history of literature. The author is horrible at writing in a child's voice. From reading this book, I would assume that the author thinks that kids speak just like adults only they say comin' instead of coming and musta instead of must have. Anyone who has been around a child knows this isn't true. You cannot make a character be a child just by giving them a poor vocabulary and improper language skills.
About three fourths of the way through the book I was able to overlook some of the more irritating parts, and I tried to just focus on the who-done-it aspect of the story. Hmmm....Who could the murderer/molester be? The author sets up the possibility of it being any number of people: the juvenile delinquents in the neighborhood, the slightly creepy brain damaged uncle, the 'light in the loafers' man visiting from California. (But no, it wasn't him. He ran off with the cross dressing gay Catholic priest. Of course there's a cross dressing gay priest! This woman left out not a single cultural stereotype.)
So which one did it? None of them! The murderer/molester ends up being a very minor character that was only mentioned briefly once or twice throughout the book. I think the author committed a heinous sin by having the killer be this completely undeveloped character.
Despite all my complaints, Whistling in the Dark isn't the worst book I've ever read. I feel like it was a really good idea for a story that ultimately ended up being boring and unimaginative. This was the authors first book though, so maybe there's hope. She definitely left herself a lot of room for improvement.