________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 12 . . . . November 18, 2011


The Shadow Killer. (Rapid Reads).

Gail Bowen.
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2011.
87 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-876-9.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Most nights I ride my bike to work. But the city is in the middle of a heat wave, so tonight I’m on foot. The pavement beneath my feet is soft with heat. The stench of rotting garbage hangs heavy in the air. It is not a pleasant walk, but this is my neighbourhood. And as I pass by, the hookers and drug dealers mumble greetings. I mumble back. . . .

Our local drugstore is grim. Its windows are crisscrossed with protective bars Several signs announce security cameras and warn that there is cash on the premises.

Tonight there’s something new: a sign with a picture of a fancy set of golf clubs and a reminder that says Don’t forget Dad on His Special Day. Ours is not neighborhood where people have reason to remember Dad on his special day. Or on any other day. Most people in this part of town would be hard-pressed to identify their dads in a police lineup.

Looking at the display of Father’s Day cards reminds Charlie Dowhanuik of his own father, and it’s not a “Hallmark™ moment” for him. Then, a casual glance at the stack of local newspapers by the drugstore’s cash counter features two stories which catch Charlie’s interest: one involves the son of the man owning CVOX, the radio station for which Charlie is a late night talk show host, and the other is a publicity photo of a politician who now leads the political party which Charlie’s father led for many years. Rising Star/Leader Dad (as Charlie irreverently calls him) is beaming, but the Leader’s wife and their three children “look as if they’d rather be eating ground glass than sharing a family moment with Dad.” Particularly compelling for Charlie is the impassive face of Leader Dad’s son, reminding Charlie of his own unhappiness as the son of an overwhelmingly popular and successful politician. Arriving at work for the show that kicks off the Father’s Day weekend, Charlie receives one of his father’s thrice-yearly phone calls. However, it’s ten minutes away from air time on “The World According to Charlie D”, so the call is left to voice mail.

      Waiting in Studio D is the show’s producer, Nova Langenegger, clearly disturbed by having received an e-mail reading: “For all of us, being dead would be better than living with him. When Charlie said ‘no man is a man until his father dies,’ I knew what I had to do.” The message is unsigned, save for an e-mail address: Loser 1121@anonymous.org. It doesn’t take Nova or Charlie very long to discern that Loser1121, whoever he is, has plans to kill his family, and that the best plan is to encourage Loser1121 to phone into the show, have Charlie talk with him, and, of course, give the police some time to find him before this becomes a Father’s Day which will be memorable for all the wrong reasons.

      While June 20th is a long night for Charlie and Loser1121, The Shadow Killer is a swift and compelling reading experience. In less than 100 pages, readers find the connection between those two newspaper stories which caught Charlie’s attention in the drugstore, learn some of the reasons for Charlie’s difficult relationship with his own father, and, of course, the identity of Loser1121 is discovered, just in time. And, as in the two previous Charlie D stories (Love You to Death and One Fine Day You’re Gonna Die), the relationship between Nova and Charlie continues to simmer with romantic possibilities. Romance, suspense, witty dialogue, and swiftly-drawn but completely believable characters make this a book which offers something for everyone. Fans of Bowen’s other “Rapid Read” novels will not be disappointed, and those who haven’t yet experienced her work can start with this one. The Shadow Killer is a book which will appeal both to adult readers and to reluctant senior high school students. The exploration of the father-son dynamic will resonate with readers of both genders, and the swift-moving plot will keep readers engaged, regardless of their reading skill level. The Shadow Killer is a great choice for senior high school libraries, but both the theme and some of the language make this unlikely to appeal to readers under age 16.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters, a retired teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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