Alexandra Sokoloff is an award-winning author of dark fantasy works who has gained world-wide renown over the relative short course of three novels. BOOK OF SHADOWS, her latest --- and arguably best --- book, finds her blurring the genre lines between horror and crime fiction with memorable results.
Sokoloff’s primary strength lies with her descriptive imagery --- there are passages in THE PRICE that I will remember as long as I am alive--- and she gets right down to business in BOOK OF SHADOWS. The mutilated corpse of college student Erin Carmody is discovered in a Boston landfill, which brings the investigative powers of police homicide detective Adam Garrett and Carl Landauer to bear. Garrett, a rising star in the department, is nicely balanced by the cynical, dark-humored Landauer, and they are almost immediately able to hone in upon a likely suspect.
Jason Moncrief is an extremely peculiar young man with a penchant for death metal and an apparent fatal attraction to Erin. His quick apprehension is a plus for Garrett and Landauer, given the status of her father in the Boston community. The ritualistic aspects of the murder, and the presence of dark art paraphernalia in his room, make it all the more likely that Jason is responsible for Erin’s death. Garrett is reluctant to do further investigation when minuscule elements of the case don’t add up. The fact that Tanith Carbarrus, an exotic-looking bookstore owner who has attracted his unwilling but unwavering attention, is convinced of Jason’s innocence does Garrett no favors either, particularly with Landauer, their boss, and Carolyn Davenport, the Assistant District Attorney for Suffolk County who is prosecuting the case and who also happens to be Garrett’s love interest.
Garrett slowly comes to realize that there is much more at stake here than the trial and conviction of a murder suspect. Someone --- or something --- is tampering with forces that are better kept away. As more murders are revealed, Garrett’s core beliefs are soon rocked when he experiences events that are far beyond that for which he is prepared or with which he can adequately deal. And as Garrett soon learns, he and the rest of the world may well be running out of time.
I was a bit late to the rodeo in reading BOOK OF SHADOWS, but in actuality I could not have timed it better, given that it is close to Halloween and events such as those described here become much easier to believe. Sokoloff, straying just a bit from her comfort zone without leaving it entirely, demonstrates a masterful ability to combine the supernatural with police procedural, while throwing in just enough dark humor to keep it from surrendering to an unrelenting grimness. And let’s not forget the frightful aspects of the book. There were a few scenes that made me jump; one in particular, brought on a cardiac moment the likes of which I haven’t experienced since I read about Danny Torrance meeting the twins while riding his big wheel through the Overlook Hotel in THE SHINING. Seriously. There are also some great erotic scenes; one in particular will have you looking for a “Love a Witch” or “I Troll for Wiccans” bumper sticker. Or maybe both.
I’m not sure if BOOK OF SHADOWS is the first of a projected series, but if the prospect is up for a vote, then Sokoloff has mine, early and often.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011