Whistling In the Dark

Whistling In the Dark

by Lesley Kagen


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Whistling In the Dark by Lesley Kagen

It was the summer on Vliet Street when we all started locking our doors...

Sally O'Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died. She swore she'd look after her sister, Troo. Keep her safe. But like her Granny always said-actions speak louder than words. Now, during the summer of 1959, the girls' mother is hospitalized, their stepfather has abandoned them for a six pack, and their big sister, Nell, is too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that Sally and Troo are on the Loose. And so is a murderer and molester.

Highly imaginative Sally is pretty sure of two things. Who the killer is. And that she's next on his list. Now she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can, relying on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780451221230
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/29/2007
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 249,848
Product dimensions: 5.33(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Lesley Kagen is an actress, voice-over talent, and restaurateur, as well as the author of two previous national bestselling novels. Whistling in the Dark has been translated into five languages and was a Midwest Choice Honor winner. Land of a Hundred Wonders, an Indie Next pick, was also nominated for a Midwest Choice Award. She lives near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The morning Mother told us she was sick, Troo and mewere just laying in the lime summer grass, smellingthe bleach comin’ off the wash that jitterbugged onthe line and getting ready to play that name game with her.“It’s important for you to understand who you’re dealingwith so you can know what to expect from them,”Mother said, pulling another sheet out of the laundry basket.“You’ve got to remember that people are different inthe city.”

How could we forget? She musta told us this over a gabilliontimes since we moved to the house on Vliet Street.We were a mother and her three girls. And I supposed I hadto count Hall, because that would be the charitable thing todo. Hall was Mother’s husband. Her third husband.

Troo and me, we liked our own daddy better than Hall,but he died two summers ago after a car crash. He was onhis way back home to the farm after a Milwaukee Bravesgame. Our uncle Paulie, who was riding shotgun, wentthrough the windshield and got his brain damaged when hehit a fire hydrant so he had to go live with my Granny overon Fifty- ninth Street. Some man at his funeral called ourdaddy, Donny O’Malley, lush. I didn’t know what that meantso I looked it up the next day in that big dictionary they hadover at the library. Lush is an adjective that means luxurious.That man was right. My daddy was lush. Stuffed with lushness.Like a chocolate cake with chocolate filling and chocolatefrosting.

Mother shook out the wet white sheet and said, “Andone of the ways you can know what to expect from somebodyis by knowing what country they originally came from.Right? People’s last names can tell you just about everythingyou’ll ever need to know about them.”

Troo and me groaned because the name game was gettin’kinda old and was about as much fun as a splinter underyour thumbnail, but Mother, she loved this name game evenbetter than Chinese checkers.

“I don’t have all day.” Mother gave us her do- you- smelldog-poop look, so Troo called out “Latour?” real quick.

Troo was gorgeous- looking. Red wavy hair that stoppedat her shoulders and freckles across her nose only. And shehad the kind of blue eyes that looked like the sky when it justwoke up in the morning and hadn’t turned that blue jeancolor it got later on in the day. Troo was thin except at herlips, which were poofy and made her look a little pouty allthe time, which was true some of the time. And she had longfi ngers, which were good for playing the secondhand pianowe had in the living room. Mother thought pianos made afamily look high- class. Granny told me that piano businesswas a little stuck- up of her daughter since Mother grew up inMilwaukee just a few streets down from where we lived now.Right across the street from the Feelin’ Good Cookie Factory,which was known far and wide for its chocolate chipcookies. (What Granny really said, because she was alwayssayin’ stuff like this, was, “Helen should know by now thatshe can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”)

Mother cupped her hand around her ear, so Troo yelledlouder, “Latour?”

Helen and Troo. “Two peas in a pod,” Granny also alwayssaid. “Just look at ’em.”

I didn’t look like Troo. Or Mother. My eyes weren’t bluelike theirs. Mine were green and they sat under eyebrowsthat were almost invisible to the naked eye but had somebulkiness to them. I was not as tall as Troo even though shewas younger than me. I had long legs but small feet andhands because I was born a month early. And I had no freckleson my face. Not one. But I had been told once or twicethat I had darling dimples and nice thick blonde hair thatMother and Nell got in an argument over every morningwhen they tried to put it into one fat braid that went downmy back. Nell was my other sister. But only a half of one.Nell’s father was Mother’s first husband, who she told medied of smelling ammonia.

Mother answered, “Latour is French.” She took a littlewhiff of her wrist that I knew would smell like Evening inParis, her favorite. “The French speak the language oflove.”

Troo wasn’t even paying attention. She was lookin’ overat our next- door neighbor’s house and wondering if the storieswe’d been hearing about the place were true. Because wewere sisters born only ten months apart, which made uspractically twins, her and me could have the mental telepathythat lets you read somebody else’s mind even if they don’twant you to, so I pretty much always knew what Troo wasthinking. “Kenfield?” she hollered out.

“Kenfield is English,” Mother said. “They like to keep astiff upper lip. That means they don’t like to show whatthey’re feeling.” She bent down to take another sheet out ofthe basket, and when she did her hair came undone from thewhite ribbon. I was always surprised by how long it was.And when the sun shined on it, even though it was red, youcould see the gold hiding in it. I thought she was more beautifulthan the movie star Maureen O’Hara. And so must themen on the block because they set their beer bottles downwhen she walked by and sometimes, if those beer bottleswere all drunk up, they gave her a low wolf whistle she pretendednot to hear.

Troo nudged me with her elbow and started giggling.“O’Malley.”

Mother shook her finger and said, “Troo O’Malley, beingsilly never got anybody anywhere in life.” But the cornersof her mouth went up just a smidge to let us know thatwe were better than everybody else and not just potato headsor micks, as the kids on the block who were Italian and Polishand German liked to call us. We called them wops (loud,but great cooks) and Polacks (not so smart) and bohunks(thick- ankled), so I figured it all came out in the wash.

Somebody down the block yelled, “Ollie, Ollie, oxenfree,” and Little Richard singing “Tutti Frutti” drifted byout of a car radio. That’s how it was on Vliet Street. Somethinglively was always going on. Except for dead Junie Piaskowski,who everyone on the block said was murdered andmolested. Sara Heinemann hadn’t been murdered and molestedyet when Mother fastened the last clothespin on theline and said, “O’Malley sisters, come over here. I have somethingto tell you.”

Of course, I let Troo sit next to Mother on the stonebench near the pink peony flowers that were falling all overthemselves because I made my daddy a couple of promisesbefore he died. And if there is one thing you’re gonna get toknow about me, it’s that I was a girl who wouldn’t break apromise even if her life depended on it.

Right when the sun was going behind the trees, Daddymade everybody else go out of the hospital room and askedme to come lie down next to him in his bed that he couldmake go up and down whenever he wanted.

“Sally?” He had all these tubes coming out of him. Andnext to him was a machine that ping ping pinged just like thesubmarine in that movie Troo and me had seen at the UptownTheater called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

“Yes, Daddy?” He didn’t look so much like himself anymore.His face was swelled up and he had cuts around hismouth and bits of blood that didn’t seem to wash off. Alsohe had a big purple circle bruise from the steering wheel goinginto his chest. Something had collapsed in there, the oldnurse said.“You need to take care of Troo,” Daddy said ever so quietly.His usually fluffy red- as- a-pile- of- fall- leaves hair cameinto points on his forehead. “You need to promise me that.”

I patted his hand that felt smooth because the old nursehad just put some cream on it. “I promise. I’ll take care ofTroo. Cross my heart. But I gotta tell you something reallyimportant, I’m—”

“You have to tell Troo for me that it’s okay,” Daddy interrupted.“Tell her the crash wasn’t her fault.”

Troo was in the hospital too, down the hall from Daddy,because she was also in the car when it ran into that big elmtree on Holly Road. Since she was sitting in the backseat,she didn’t get as hurt as Daddy or Uncle Paulie. She just gota broken arm that ached sometimes now before it was gonnarain.

Daddy took in a breath like it was the hardest thing he’dever done, and when he let it out he said, “And tell yourmother that I forgive her for what she did. Promise?” Thenhe started coughing some more and a little pink spit cameup onto his lips. “I’ll be watching, Sally. Remember . . . thingscan happen when you least expect them so you always gottabe prepared. And pay attention to the details. The de vil is inthe details.” Then Daddy went to sleep for a minute butwoke up again and said, “And Nell is not the worst big sisterin the world. There are one or two that’re worse.”

The old nurse came back into the room then and saidDaddy was either delirious or hilarious. I couldn’t quitecatch it because she had a funny way of talking.

Troo’s fault that Daddy was in the hospital? How couldall this be Troo’s fault? Troo couldn’t drive a car, she wasonly seven years old! Oh, Daddy. And I had no idea what hewanted to forgive Mother for and why he couldn’t tell herhimself, but maybe it was because she was crazy with grieflike the doctor said.

Even though Daddy had fallen asleep, I whispered,“Roger, wilco and out.” That’s how we always said good- byeto each other. Just like Penny said good- bye to her uncle SkyKing when he was up in the clear blue of the western sky inhis plane the Songbird. Daddy and me just adored that TVshow, watched it together every single Saturday morningbecause Daddy was a pilot, too.

And then the old nurse said, “Visiting hours are over.”“But I gotta…,” I tried to say, but she shook her headin a way that I knew there’d be no gettin’ around. What Iwanted to tell him would have to wait until tomorrow. I putmy hand on his whiskery chin and turned his face towardmine so I could give him a butterfly kiss on his cheek, becausethat was his absolute favorite, and then an Eskimo kisson his nose because that was my absolute favorite.

Daddy’s funeral was three days after I made him thosepromises. I never did get to tell him I was sorry.

Customer Reviews

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Whistling in the Dark 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 86 reviews.
1louise1 More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful story and a teaching guide, in story form, for children and parents as a preventative measure. Kagen explores the uncomfortable subject matter,that of predators preying on innocent children, with warmth and wit, to create this heartwarming, endearing story. Expertly written from a child's point of view, the characters are real, believable and charming. A POWERFUL PIECE OF WORK! You will live this story, as I did and find yourself chuckling one minute and wiping tears from your eyes the next. JUST BEAUTIFUL!
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
It's 1959, and in ten short years Sally O'Malley has had a very busy life, both real and imagined. Two years ago her daddy died in a car accident and left Sally, her mother, her little sister, Troo, and her older half-sister, Nell. Shortly after her daddy died, Sally and family moved into the city of Milwaukee from their farm. It wasn't long before her mother met Hall and he became her third husband. Now her mother is sick and has to go to the hospital, and nobody knows how long she'll be gone. Nell is too busy with her boyfriend to pay much attention to her younger sisters. Hall is taking his solace in alcohol and other women. Which leaves Sally to take care of Troo. Since she promised Daddy she would look after her, that's exactly what she intends to do.

It's pretty hard to watch, take care of, and try to raise a little girl when you're still one yourself. Especially when you're on the loose for a whole summer and you don't know where your next bath, much less next meal, is going to come from. Add in the rumors of a serial killer who's after children... Between their real problems and Sally's overactive imagination, this summer will be anything but dull. Making it through the summer is only the beginning.

This a book with so many different levels. It's the story of a girl who is forced to take the first step away from childhood. It's the story of a damaged family. It's the story of women who don't know their own strength. It's a story of the underlying terror of a murderer, and at the same time a story of freedom. It's a story of a simpler time. Underneath all of that, it is the story of a city.

The characters in this novel are strong and well-written. The plot is interesting, and takes more than a few surprising twists and turns. The story is actually extremely plausible for the time frame, back when people didn't lock their doors and neighborhoods took care of their own.

The part that touched me the most though was the amazing ability with which Ms. Kagen has managed to evoke the feeling of the time and place. I grew up in Milwaukee (I swear I had no idea), granted it was a few decades later, but the feeling was almost exactly the same. I don't know how else to explain it, but reading this book felt like going home.

A multi-layered book that more than delivers on all levels. For me, it was worth it the first time, and will continue to be so again and again.
Lannie More than 1 year ago
This is a beautiful story weaving the uncomfortable predators, preying on innocent children, subject matter with warmth and wit to serve as a powerful tool to educate. This is powerful, wonderful, heartwarming, endearing and charming!!!! There aren't enough stars for this one, in my book!!!! A must read for all!!!! I also recommend, ROSEFLOWER CREEK, by J.L. Mills and EXPLOSION IN PARIS, by Linda Masemore Pirrung....two more winners that deserve more than 5 stars!!!!
harstan More than 1 year ago
In 1959 in Milwaukee ten years old Sally O'Malley believes that a child killer is coming for her and her younger sister Troo. She believes she has no one to keep her or Troo safe as their dad is dead, their mom is in the hospital, their stepfather is an alcoholic, and their older sister Nell is too involved with her boyfriend. Sally also feels that their neighbor police officer David Rasmussen killed Junie Piaskowski and Sara Heinemann because he has a picture of the former on his wall.-------------- As she had vowed to her daddy on his deathbed, she will protect Troo at all costs. If that means dying the frightened courageous Sally knows a promise is a promise. She and Troo begin their own brand of preadolescent investigation with the objective to prevent David from killing them. Sally will learn the truth, but it is a bigger shocker than if the cop was a homicidal pedophile.--------------- This investigative historical thriller is more a cautionary coming of age tale than an amateur sleuth pedophile serial killer chiller as the mystery is at best loose and used more to enable readers to better understand what Sally and Troo are thinking. Sally makes the story line work as an every child in any time period vulnerable to predators. She needs to keep her deathbed vow to her daddy even if it means her death. Readers will obtain a feel for Milwaukee when the baseball Braves still played there, but it is the cleverly developed warning that children think differently that makes Lesley Kagen¿s tale a fine read.------------------ Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel pulls on your heartstrings and teases your mind all at the same time. Kagen did a miraculous job of interlacing heart-felt moments with heart-pounding mystery!! I truly identified with so many of the characters. I laughed and I cried. This is a that you can't put down, but still try to pace yourself so that it never ends. If her debut was this good, I can't wait to see what Kagen comes up with next!
crimekitty763 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely adored this book. It is te story of every hometown in USA. The characters are very well developed and extremely recognizable. I found myself putting childhood friends faces to the various characters. OMG Sally O'Malley could have been me!! Even though this is a murder mystery/child molestation story, it is handled veery nicely -- not gory or erotic. I could not stop reading even when it was 3 AM. I have recommended this book to all of my friends.
LCH47 More than 1 year ago
This amazing, wonderful, endearing story will tug at your heart and the plot will keep your mind reeling until the last page. The plot is grave, but the author manages to weave enough wit, warmth, and great spirit into this story to make it an uplifting and emotional read. Set in 1959, in Milwaukee, the story follows two tough little girls, the O'Malley girls, through an unpromising summer. Their mother is in the hospital fighting for her life. Their step-father has abandoned them for booze and another woman and their older sister is too wrapped up in her boyfriend and her teenage life to take care of them properly. The neighborhood is no longer safe, not after two young girls were found murdered after being sexually molested. Sally is convinced she's going to be his third victim. There is so much more than this. I was enthralled all the way through with this delightful, moving, poignant book! Don't miss it! Other wonderful books that left a HUGE impression on me: ROSEFLOWER CREEK, EXPLOSION IN PARIS, SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME, REDEEMING LOVE.
sandyswker More than 1 year ago
The most interesting and fun part of this book was that it was written in a child's point of view. Sally O'Malley is a very clever and smart child who sometimes gets things a little mixed up. Since the book is written in a young girl's voice, you find yourself trying to outwit her. You think so many of her perceptions are not quite right. And, you second guess her. She manages to put herself into precarious situations and you worry about her. She is delightful! She keeps you reading! It was so hard to put this one down! I enjoyed every page! Some of the slang she uses is not always politically correct, but, if you were a child of the 50's or 60's you remember hearing the same slang when you were younger. And, she is never mean or degrading and loves everyone for the most part. And, the people she doesn't like are just not very likeable. This was a fun reminder of a different time when things seemed simpler...more black and white with much less grey. And, I have to say, I grew up in a big city and I know that even though people say that there was not as much danger when we were growing up they are just plain wrong! I remember some really scary things happening in our neighborhood. Sally and her friends have a very scary summer and Sally is just the person to tell about their experiences.
zuri More than 1 year ago
I found it particularly interesting how the title was referenced with that said, it is a nickname, as most of the characters have in this story and how each name came to be is not given right out the gate and you had to wait patiently throughout the book as they were reveled, if at all? With such a mass of books and titles out there why did I choose this one? First, I was cleaning my room and saw 2 book titles written on the back of a small piece of scrap paper from quite some time ago. Second, it was on our past book club selection list. The way I see it if it's on the list even if unpicked it must be good and as with this one I just open the book and begin to read without any idea what the book is about. This can have its pro's and con's. I was hugely amused right away by the era and the setting. All the places the girls visited I knew of, I could place myself on that exact street as I grew up and lived there as well so I would get excited when she would reference specific things that I either long forgotten about or is no longer there. As with time, this taking place in the 50's, so does change. not just in our surroundings but how we live our lives today. This book really made me think and the whole time I'm reading waiting for the story to either start, pick up, move on, get to the point in which I needed to remind my self of patience. These girls demonstrated great patience and bravery with every curve ball thrown at them. You did what needed to be done back then and there. You had to stand up for yourself as no one was going to do it for you and that displays confidence, self esteem. I bet those girls grew up and became doctors, lawyers etc. anything they set their mind to. I must run along now as the street lights just came on so I need to go in the house and get ready for bed.
maddgabe More than 1 year ago
My mom gave me this book sometime ago and I finally found it in the bottom of a drawer. Started reading just out of bordem one day and instantly fell in love. From the beginning the author has instantly drawn you into her characters and into the story. A friend of mine saw me reading it one day and decided to buy it to read along with me, then another friend and another...we all loved the book and it has brought us to start our own book club! I still daydream sometimes of Sally and Troo O'malley and what they went through and how they prevailed. Again such a great book. Can't wait to read more by this author.
msbosh More than 1 year ago
Several days after finishing Lesley Kagen's fine first novel I'm still thinking about the people in it. She did a good job of creating interesting and memorable, if not totally believable, characters.

Troo and Sally, the two pre-adolescent girls at the heart of the story, are colorful and conniving, which is a nice departure from the sweetness and innocence we see far too often in coming-of-age fictional females.

Ethel is clearly the author's favorite (my paperback copy includes an interview with Kagen in which she says as much), and it's hard not to develop a strong affection for her. A woman in her situation, in the segregated Milwaukee of 1959, would probably not talk and behave as she does. It's unlikely an adult would be that open about sharing family secrets with neighborhood children. She's just not believable here. Neither is Dave, the cop. He's just a little too good. But they are both important to the story, and I found myself rooting for them despite myself.

As others have mentioned here, there are some nice details about mid-century Milwaukee that will bring back memories for a lot of readers Vliet Street, the Braves, Lake Michigan, and the Milwaukee County Zoo are all lovingly depicted. Samson the gorilla was a huge draw, definitely the zoo's most fascinating attraction throughout my childhood, and Sally's affection for him is totally deserved.

I found myself really bothered, however, by the fact that Samson's name was spelled incorrectly (as "Sampson") throughout the novel. Why did the author do this? Was it because of some copyright concern? Or was it simply a case of editorial neglect? If so, someone didn't do their homework. It undermines my respect for an otherwise promising author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this story told from a child's perspective. While in the background there is a child molester and murderer loose, there is also every day life that these children are facing. Parts of the book are sad, however the narrator makes you laugh out loud several times. I enjoyed how every bad smell was somehow compared to Dr. Sullivan's breath and the letter that Sally wrote to Hall near the end of the book was priceless!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was very easy to read and you couldn't help being drawn into this book. The book was about two sisters, Sally and Troo. The story is told by Sally, a character I really learned to love and her little sister. At times the book was sad and I felt so sorry for the two sisters but then by the time the book ended it had the kind of ending that I liked. I have never read this author before, and would gladly read another one of her books. I would highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a sweet story about 2 young sisters who survive a rough summer on their own, while their mother is hospitalized with hepatitis, and their drunken stepfather spirals out of control. All of this happens at the same time that a murdering child molester strikes in their neighborhood. The author does an amazing job of bringing this neighborhood to life--by the time the book ended, I felt like I lived on their block! The story also is an excellent mystery, that keeps you guessing until the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a unanimous favorite in a group that seldom agrees about the books read! Not being from the Milwaukee area, we found the characters, neighborhood descriptions and plots to be universally appealing and believable to all. We loved Sally, Troo and Ethel's characters!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to say that I love to read and this book is awesome!! I live in New York and on my commute to work this is what I do, read. I'm just not able to put this book down. I've missed my stop on the train two times because of this book!! I didn't mind, I had more time to read. Love the character Sally, she is adorable. Can't wait for your next book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a standout novel for a first time author. This book captivated me and I am passing around my copy to all I know. I could hear Sally in my mind as I read the book, that is how well she develops this character.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an enchanting read! The characters, especially ten year old, Sally, 'the narrator', and her sister, Troo, were so endearing. This book is laugh 'til you cry funny, poignant, sad and supportive. The characters predicament is unpredictable and the plot is deceptively complex. One of the best debuts I've ever read. Ms. Kagen is destined for greatness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this, the characters were fun and easy to get involved with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was 6th grade when this story took place. Author captures it perfectly. Wonderful characters and plot. Evocative of To Kill a Mockingbird in its ability to capture an era.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So beautifully written! I couldn't put it down. I look forward to reading more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the two youner sisters and how they worked together to survive when their mother fell ill. There wa s mystery from the town's murders that kept the girls detective senses alive throughout the story which fun to read. I will definately be reading more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
TheTrillBruhBruhWhiteDude More than 1 year ago
This sopme good stuff you know. Got some deep stuff in it. Really good plot twist in it. I really enjoyed the characters and everything in it. You didn't really know the characters from the beginning. And throughout the story the author revealed different things about each character and I really liked that.