James Patterson’s book mill wrote a Shadow novel. It came out in July, and even though I’m a big fan of the character and do a decent job of following new releases, it slipped under my radar.
Not really a loss, I’m sad to say.
Before I start my review: I love the Shadow. I like the old pulp books, warts and all. I listen to mp3s of the radio show with Orson Welles from time to time. I spent more money than I’d care to confess tracking down issues of the DC comics that I bought off the newsstand as a kid in the 70s. Some day I’ll track down copies of Howard Chaykin’s mind-bending roller-coaster run from the 80s.
I even like the movie with Alec Baldwin.
And there are many, many other adaptions I’ve never read. The Shadow gets around.
I don’t think that there’s a “canonical” take on the Shadow. Changing him to fit the times or your story is just fine.
And, he started out as a pulp character, so a mass-market author like Patterson pointing his empire at the Shadow makes sense to me.
But this particular take? Wow.
The book opens in 1937 with the Shadow, as Lamont Cranston, having dinner at a fine restaurant with Margo Lane, his lover and partner in crime-fighting. Lamont has a surprise for Margo. Margo already said she had one for him, too. But the Shadow’s nemesis, Shiwan Khan, has someone poison their meal. Cranston manages to get them out of the restaurant and to one of his secret headquarters, where a doctor is waiting.
And we cut to 2087 where, in short order, Cranston is revived and plays sidekick to a precocious teenager.
That’s an excellent opening for a Shadow novel. If it wasn’t inexplicably spread over three short chapters, it would feel like many other action novels. Even the short chapters aren’t necessarily bad. They do their job; hustle you along like Pringles urging you to find the bottom of the can.
But this is not like other novels.
Here’s an excerpt from the liner notes:
Only two people know that 1930s society man Lamont Cranston has a secret identity as the Shadow, a crusader for justice. One is his greatest love, Margo Lane, and the other is his fiercest enemy, Shiwan Khan.
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 19, where the protagonist is talking to Lamont Cranston:
“So, are you a fan of the Shadow?” I ask. “I mean, from the radio show? That was on during the 1930s, right?”
Lamont is staring out the window. Nobody I know has the slightest interest in an obscure comic book hero from the past century. But there’s something about the Shadow that always appealed to me—especially his power of invisibility. I mean, how cool would that be?
“Wait!” I have another thought. “Are you an actor?” That might explain the fancy tux and the handsome face. “Were you on the radio? Did you play the Shadow? Were you the Shadow?
“An actor?” Lamont says. “You think I’m some kind of fake?”
“I just figured…maybe that’s why you picked the name.”
So, only two people know (knew) that Lamont Cranston was the Shadow if you don’t count the people that listened to the radio show or read the comics.
Did the person who wrote the liner notes read the book? Did Patterson read the liner notes? Did he read the book? I get the impression he writes these books the way Jim Davis writes and draws Garfield.
That’s arguably a nitpick. You could squint and say that the liner notes refer to whether or not people knew that the Shadow actually existed. The book is set in a world where Lamont Cranston, the radio show, and the comics exist, so maybe the liner notes author was as confused as I am.
But enough about the packaging, let’s talk about the World President.
Oh yeah, 2087 has a World President.
You learn this when two city councilwomen (their term, not mine) visit him.
That’s right, two members of the city council go to visit the World President. The guy who we are later told is a “single, solitary man (that) holds all the power” meets with city council members, and personally kills them to get them out of the way. (This isn’t a spoiler, it’s the scene that’s intended to show you that he’s a no good very bad evil man.)
He lives in a mansion in what was once called “Manhattan’s Museum Mile.” (That’s an area around the southern end of Central Park.)
But the city is described like this by our protagonist:
But being out on the street reminds me how bad things are everywhere. The only businesses still left for us are little shops selling basic foods and stuff like batteries, soap, and candles.
The rich people and government types get everything they need in their neat daily deliveries. They don’t even need to step outside of their mansions. And mostly, they don’t.
So the guy who runs the world lives as a shut-in in a slum? He doesn’t live on his own private island. Or in, I don’t know, some city that isn’t a slum? No. He stays locked in his mansion and makes sure no one on the city council disses him.
He’s Shiwan Khan, BTW.
This could have been a surprise or at least an interesting reveal, but the liner notes spoil that, too. And even though he’s only referred to as “World President” in the opening scene, guess how he kills the city council people? Yeah, poison dinner.
Take away the Shadow and his democratically elected world nemesis, and this book feels like YA. Maddy, the main character, narrates in first person, between third person chapters that follow the other characters. She’s a teenager. She sounds like a teen, and she thinks like a teen. I don’t read a lot of YA, being neither young nor adult, but it seems well done to me.
But how many YA readers are there that are interested in the Shadow? How many even know who he is? Don’t get me wrong, I’d be thrilled if the answer was thousands. Or even hundreds.
Hell, tens would be nice.
But I bet the answer is, well, none. YA and a pulp character from the 1930s go together like skateboards and cantaloupe.
A Shadow novel in the tradition of Alex Cross would be riveting. One of Shiwan Khan’s killers turns serial killer, and Cross and the Shadow have to track him down, only to find that Khan is after the rogue assassin, too.
You can have that one for free, Patterson book mill.
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