Summary from Amazon: You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet–and inspired more than one copycat.
Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim–were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and suffering from dementia, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.
It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Paul learns that Detective Amanda Beck is investigating another copycat that has struck in the nearby town of Featherbank. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.
It wasn’t just the murder.
It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again…
I chose The Shadows as an add-on for my Book of the Month package because it had an interesting premise. I’ve always been a sucker for stories about past traumas coming back to haunt people and so I thought this would be an engaging read.
I also appreciated the internet-cult angle of the book which promised to look at urban legends and how they are represented in today’s society. Rather than being told around a campfire or on the floor at a slumber party, these tales are told through internet forums and chat rooms where they are discussed and, unfortunately in some cases, replicated.
Despite my initial enthusiasm, however, the novel itself is disappointing to say the least.
All the important plot beats are there, but none of them are fleshed out enough to leave any lasting impact.
To make things worse, we don’t even have interesting characters to gravitate towards. North is more interested in telling us what happens rather than who it happens to or why. The story has all the impersonalness of a third-person omniscient narrator, but is told from a first-person perspective; a weird dichotomy to be sure. Perhaps you could argue that the narrator is traumatized by the event and is trying to distance himself from the narrative…..but I don’t buy that.
I hesitate to call this novel “bad,” but it is most certainly unfinished. To me this feels more like a second or even third draft. It’s not as clunky as a first attempt, but it needs another two or three goes before it’s ready to be pushed out into the world.
It’s pretty sad because I think if he had done a couple more drafts to really flesh out the themes of this novel, he could have had a Stephen King- level success story on his hands.
North had an opportunity to explore some interesting concepts: dreams and how they affect our reality, urban legends and the lasting impact they have on society, death and how it touches our lives. And yet he doesn’t delve deep enough into any of these subjects to leave an emotional impact, preferring to retreat into the murder-mystery aspect of the novel.
As someone who grew up in a small town where a young person died due to unforseen circumstances, I found the portrayal of Hague’s death and its aftermath to be unconvincing.
The fact that this is just treated as a mishap was a missed opportunity as this event leaves little impact on Paul. We know he doesn’t like Hague, but that should be inconsequential. When you are young and you witness someone die (especially in such a violent way) it is an eyeopener. You realize for the first time that you are not invulnerable and this can lead to some damaging behaviors.
Another problem with this story is everything appears to be happening around the main characters rather than to them. For a better part of the story, the most dramatic events occur when the main characters aren’t even there.
Paul is technically involved with Charlie’s cult, but he is always a reluctant member, only engaging in the group’s activities because of his best friend. As such, he is never willing to give himself over to the possibilities that lucid dreaming provides. He thinks it is a stupid practice from the get-go so there is no reason for the reader to become invested either. Yes, it is later revealed that his girlfriend, whom of which he meets again as an adult, was actually a fabrication as she was murdered when they were younger. However, I believe it would have been better if the concept of lucid dreaming had been used in other ways. For instance, the writer could have made the entire relationship a figment of the MC’s imagination.
Just food for thought.
This wouldn’t be an issue if the story had more than two character perspectives, but since we are limited to Paul and Amanda’s POV, the reader doesn’t feel involved in any of the action. Normally I think multiple perspectives hamper the momentum of the story but, in this case, I think it could have benefited the reader.
I was especially disappointed by the story’s climax….if you can even call it that.
Paul is running through the forest at night, desperate to escape his pursuer, as Amanda calls his name from a distance.
He is running, running! And then…..flash forward.
Yeah, he flashes forward…right when it’s getting interesting.
And then, it turns out the murderer–the main antagonist–just kills himself.
There is no final confrontation between them and the protagonists. He doesn’t cap himself in front of them after realizing there is no way out. He doesn’t even have any final words.
They find him in the woods after the fact….
WHAT IS THE POINT IN HAVING THE MAIN CHARACTERS THERE IF YOU AREN’T GOING TO DO ANYTHING WITH THEM?!
How in the hell did North write a story where the main characters barely leaves an impact on anything? Everything happens around them or in spite of them. They have so little agency, so little….ANYTHING!
The last episode of Game of Thrones was better than this!
Okay, perhaps that’s going too far.
Nonetheless, I cannot believe this ending. It was so lazy, so dispassionate, so…..blah!
I want to say I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed….but I am a bit angry.
I know nothing about Alex North so I could be talking out of my rear, but it truly feels like he was pulling punches for some reason. I don’t know if this story is somehow too personal for him to tell (again, I know nothing about the guy), but he was holding out on us for some reason.
Perhaps he’s more of a plot writer than a character writer.
I do not know.
But, whatever the reason for his reluctance to explore characterization, the end result was a disappointing novel.
3 thoughts on “Thoughts on “The Shadows” by Alex North”
Aw, what a shame, but great review!
I don’t know if this is the same problem, but I remember Anne Lamott describing an early draft of a book of hers that was like this. In her case, she didn’t want anything bad to happen to her characters, so she didn’t let it. Result: nothing happened in the book. Fortunately, her editor had the courage to tell her so.
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Thanks Jennifer! Yeah, that’s a pretty big issue. You’re kind of supposed to ruin your character’s lives lol. Perhaps not permanently, but they are supposed to have a rough go of it for a while at least. Maybe certain writer’s should have a “director’s cut” draft that they keep to themselves where nothing bad happens to their characters, that way, in the real version they can destroy them in a way that isn’t totally heartbreaking to them.
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I totally agree with you. I liked the whisper man more. This one fell flat for me.
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