The Shadows by Alex North

This book was on my radar because I’d enjoyed Alex North’s previous novel, The Whisper Man. I listened to the first two-thirds of that one on audiobook and read the last third. My memory of it was that it was well-paced, well-written, and eerie… and that the resolution to the mystery was fairly disappointing. But that disappointment was negligible compared to my overall experience of the book, and I was eager to buy the next North novel when it came out. 

The Shadows, which shares a detective from the previous book, started out very slow for me. I’m not sure if it was the pacing of the book, or if I was burned out from reading multiple thrillers in a row, but I just could NOT get into it. It took me more than 100 pages – probably closer to 150 – before I felt like it got going. But then I was really glad I’d stuck with it, because it became extremely hard to put down.

Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Mini Plot Summary: We follow two main characters to the small, rundown town of Gritten. Paul has returned to Gritten – his hometown – for the first time in twenty-five years to care for his mother, whose rapidly declining health has landed her in hospice. Police detective Amanda is investigating a horrific murder that took place in her town of Featherbank – a murder that has ties to an equally disturbing murder in Gritten’s past. Paul knows the details of that long-ago murder all too well, because it involved his best friends. Including Charlie Crabtree – who disappeared after the murder and hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Everyone has always insisted he died, lost forever somewhere in the depths of the sinister forest known by townspeople as The Shadows. But now that Paul has returned to Gritten, a series of upsetting incidents remind him of Charlie and their troubled history… and these events keep escalating. Paul and Amanda must face up to their pasts as they try to figure out what’s going on – and discover what really happened to Charlie.

image from amazon.com

What I Liked About This Book: This book was full of genuine surprises for me. Because I read so many thrillers/mysteries, and because that’s the sort of television show I gravitate toward, and because I love trying to solve a mystery as I go along, it’s increasingly rare that I find myself caught off guard. But this book caught me off guard, not once but several times. I had a general idea of who I thought was responsible… and I was SO WRONG. Delightful. 

This book also felt very thoughtful to me, which I liked. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good ol’ mystery where all you have to think about is who killed whom and why. But I really enjoyed how this book prodded at some deeper themes – the relationship between parents and children, what inner strength means and where it comes from, how history informs the present, the power we have over our own trajectories and thoughts and dreams. I enjoy North’s writing style, and often found the imagery quite beautiful. 

As in The Whisper Man, we get to know the main characters (Amanda and Paul, here) quite well, and I really enjoyed discovering their backstories and how their histories motivated them. 

What I Didn’t Like About This Book: As with its predecessor, finding out the murderer’s identity was kind of a letdown. We get a chilling echo of something revealed earlier on in the book, which I enjoyed… but it also felt a tiny bit contrived, as though achieving that echo was the only reason for making the murderer out to be who it was. This didn’t ruin the book for me – what came before and what came after were too strong. But it was a little bit disappointing. 

There was one point in the book when I felt a little… manipulated. The plot hit a point that surprised me, and for a moment I could not understand how it could be true. The “explanation” for how it could, indeed, be true felt a little bit unbelievable, but also logical in the universe of the book, so I got over it. But it did stand out as a point that pulled me right out of the magic of the story.

Should You Read This Book? While this took a long time to catch hold for me, I would ultimately say it’s an excellent book that’s definitely worth a read. For me, it was a stronger and more cohesive book than The Whisper Man, with a similarly deeply creepy and unsettling backdrop that made The Whisper Man a gripping novel. The Shadows has cemented Alex North as a writer whose books I will continue to seek out.

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