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BLACK SHADOWS is a tightly written piece of noir fiction, inviting obvious comparisons to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The story follows a private detective whose routine surveillance work soon spirals into a much larger case, involving the theft of a valuable jewel and the truth behind the death of his partner ten years before. When done right, this historical crime subgenre can transcend its traditional audience and appeal to all kinds of mystery readers.
In general, this is a very swift and compelling read. The pacing is taut, the dialogue snappy, and the action—especially in the explosive beginning—comes in short, quick bursts. The characters play nicely to type: the possibly morally suspect private investigator, the smoldering femme fatale, even the secretary with a heart of gold. The voice feels pitch perfect and draws the character smoothly back in time. It almost feels like the reader has stepped into a black and white movie from the 1940s.
Black Shadows is not a book I would normally choose to
read, but I’m so glad the opportunity was given to me.
We are introduced to the main character Errol
Christopher Black, a rookie private detective as he tucks into a large bloody
porterhouse steak. Detectives Terry Shadow and Dyke Spanner of the Shadow Man
Detective Agency are helping him work his way through a now half empty bottle
The story unfolds in NewarkNew Jersey
in 1935 where mobs rule, and we are witness to a typical shoot out of the time.
As the table is upended to afford some form of protection from the flying
bullets, they realise that they are not the intended targets but Terry Shadow
meets his untimely end with two clean bullets to the head.
Ten years down the line we find Errol Christopher
Black with a new partner, Hermeez Wentz and now based in Manhattan at the Black and Wentz Detective
Agency along with his very obliging secretary Ava Jameson.
Errol seems happy to take on run of the mill cases and
his new client Claudia seems to fit into that category. She tells of a straying
fiancé George, along with the discovery of a lipstick and pair of lacy panties
which don’t belong to her.
As he takes on what he considers to be a routine
surveillance case, Errol is unexpectedly drawn back once more to the mobsters
and gangs of that time.
His one time partner Dyke Spanner is shot to death and
Errol finds himself on the trail of a blue diamond coveted by hoodlums and
beautiful women alike.
The story unfolds with many twists and turns, whilst the
reader is witness to the beautiful women that Errol chooses to bed, in his
quest for the diamond and the elusive George. Murder is not a rare occurrence
either. To state more would give away too much of the plot.
The strength of the writing led me to imagine that I
was entering into a 1940’s movie with Humphrey Bogart in the wings.
I also firmly believe that with the right exposure, there
is potential here for a film.
Many times during reading BLACK SHADOWS I was convinced
that I had all the answers, only to be completely wrong footed by the superb,
imaginative writing of Simon Swift.