The Shadows, by Alex North

Seven stars

Eager to get my hands on the latest novel by Alex North, I prepared for a spine-tingling piece that would keep me thinking well into the night. While the reviews have been mixed, I tried not to delve too deeply into what others have said so that I might create a narrative all my own to present to others. Paul Adams was accused of murdering one of his fellow classmates when he was a teenager. It was only when another classmate confessed that Adams was released, but the bitterness of being targeted lingered. Adams left for university and never looked back, rarely thinking of the events of those school days. Twenty-five years later, Adams returns when his mother has taken a serious fall and is hospitalised. Back to the small English town proves to be a sobering experience, creating a slew of flashbacks from his youth. The narrative explores a group of boys with whom Adams spent time in school, led by Charlie Crabtree. Charlie convinced the boys to document their dreams and they would gather to speak about them, the more sinister the better. Charlie taught the boys about instilling reality into their subconscious moments, while also recounting tales of Red Hands, one of the local ghosts that inhabit the forest. It is said that Red Hands is one of The Shadows, a group of ghosts responsible for evil happenings around town. While Adams remembers this and many other events, he is all but sure that Charlie orchestrated that murder years ago to summon Red Hands himself. Meanwhile, Detective Amanda Beck is working a grisly case in which two boys are accused of murdering their classmate. Her research brings her to discussion about Charlie Crabtree and his dream journal, which discusses some planning of a murder years ago. Beck sees the similarities and wonders if there might be a copycat killer on the loose, or if Crabtree has resurfaced after disappearing all those years ago. When Beck comes to town to talk with some of those who might remember the earlier murder, she discovers that Paul Adams is anything but helpful. What might he know and could his memories be the key to solve multiple murders? An interesting thriller that lacked the psychological edge I hoped to find that would have made it stellar. Recommended to those who enjoy a story full of well-timed clue reveals, as well as those who need a little whodunit (and how) to fill their reading experience.

I am still trying to get a handle on Alex North and the writing style that comes from these novels. They are well written and I have no issue with the narrative development, but there is not enough eerie undertone for my liking. There are crumbs, to be sure, but I need more. Paul Adams is perhaps too innocent a protagonist to work effectively in the scare factor. He teaches creative writing and has always had a passion for the written word, even as a teen. His return to town provides the reader with a massive backstory and offers up some interesting character development, parts quite concerning for the attentive reader. Adams struggles to handle what happened in the past with revelations his mother delivers while she is convalescing. He sifts through it all and tries to make sense of it, without plunging himself back into the horrors of his youth that led to his quick departure. Other characters provide some interesting perspectives throughout this piece, some adding attempts at making the plot a little darker, while others forge ahead to solve the crime that sits at the centre of this narrative. The banter between many of the characters keeps the narrative moving and the plot thickens as it needs to, but never reaches that jaw dropping stage. The story was sound and North does well to develop it throughout, though I struggled with the past, present, and Detective Beck present, perspectives that bounce around throughout. I wonder if this is one reason I felt a lack of a psychological thriller factor to this piece. There are some wonderful reveals that North embeds throughout the novel and I applaud that approach. I enjoyed the novel and the story, even if it did not reach the scare factor I hoped to find herein.

Kudos, Mr. North, for another entertaining. I am eager to see what else you have in store for us and hope the mixed reviews do not get you down too much.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Whisper Man, by Alex North

Eight stars

In an apparent debut novel, Alex North takes readers on a chilling adventure of loss and betrayal that spans a handful of decades. Propped up by much chatter across Goodreads, the book has been on the virtual bookshelves of many, which led me to want to be part of the action. Tom Kennedy has been trying to deal with the death of his wife, which has thrust him into being a single parent. After making the decision to move away from all his emotions triggers, Tom and his son, Jake, settling into a new community and hope for the best. Their new environs are rocked by the disappearance of a school-age boy, which has parallels to a set of five murders two decades before by the ‘Whisper Man’. While the police scramble to find the little boy, the Kennedys are pulled into the centre when Jake begins having nightmares about someone coaxing him to follow while whispering in his ear. Jake and Tom are soon offered a safe house until things return to normal. The case takes a turn and soon there is a scramble for answers, just as Jake disappears. Where could he be and might Tom have to face the Whisper Man to ensure Jake’s safety? There’s something eerie underneath all this, as if Jake were a target all along and is the true plaything of this presence that is everywhere and nowhere at the same time. North surely delivers something that will keep the reader forging ahead late into the night to discover hidden truths. Recommended to those who enjoy something chilling with hints embedded in a strong narrative.

I suppose I watched from the sidelines long enough and wanted a chance to chime in on what I thought of this book that has been plastered all over Goodreads. Many have opinions, which span from sensational to downright bleak. I find myself somewhere in the middle, having enjoyed the book but am not feeling a tingle from the base of my spine and up into my brain. Tom Kennedy proves to be a decent protagonist, having taken his son and uprooted him to find a better life. Battered and bruised by his wife’s death, Tom seeks solace in a new surrounding, but soon discovers the horrors follow him, like a scent on the wind. What follows is a true test to Tom’s character as he seeks to find answers before he losing everything he loves. Others complement the story well, as North seeks to inject an eerie twist at varying points of the narrative. From the hapless coppers who turn up evidence after it has gone cold to the other school children who help create the Whisper Man persona, and even someone in the shadows who seems ready to caused havoc on a quaint community. The story is strong and moves along well, differentiating itself from other chilling thrillers with kidnapping at its core. Alex North deserves many of the accolades that are lauded upon him, though I felt a certain reserve, almost a holding back, as if this debut were an attempt to test the waters before writing a second novel to really rock the reader to the core. I will certainly keep my eyes open for more by the author and hope to be knocked off my feet.

Kudos, Mr. North, for this debut under your new name. Speculation mounts that this pseudonym allows you to reinvent yourself and I look forward to new revelations.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: