In His Shadow
One of the great benefits of having friends who read is that there
is a tremendous give and take of book recommendations. Sometimes
you're thrusting books into their hands, other times they're
thrusting books into yours. And being the "thruster" is equally
enjoyable to being the "thrustee." This, of course, is true of
other activities as well, but that is a topic for another place and
another time. In any event, one of my best and longest running
friendships resulted in my holding a copy of IN HIS SHADOW by Dave
Zeltserman up to the light and reading it in one sitting. This is
one book that cannot be put down, in any sense of the term.
Zeltserman has studied at the knee of Jim Thompson. It is an
influence that he freely and graciously acknowledges at the
beginning of IN HIS SHADOW, but it would be obvious in any event.
Zeltserman though does not attempt a slavish imitation or pastiche
of Thompson here. Rather, he takes the basic building blocks that
Thompson used so often and so well and adds another room to the
house, if you will.
IN HIS SHADOW concerns Johnny Lane, a private investigator who has
his own newspaper column and a boatload of secrets. Lane is not the
rumpled knight in tarnished armor that Archer, The Continental Op,
or Marlowe wore. He seems to be cut from that cloth, at least at
first, when he is retained by a young woman named Mary Williams to
locate her birth parents. Zeltserman sets his readers up quite
well; Lane is not your typical private eye of detective fiction.
It's more than the fact that he's not a nice guy; he's a bad, bad
man. The reader has no idea how bad of a guy he actually is until
IN HIS SHADOW methodically unfolds and Lane's investigation begins
to take him places that he wishes it had not. The reader learns how
Lane conducts his business, treats his clients and lives his life.
This is a guy who is corrupt and Zeltserman expertly peels off the
layers of that corruption to reveal the depths of it below. He
also, along the way, breaks a taboo. Yet, as shocking as IN HIS
SHADOW is in places, Zeltserman never uses sex or violence
gratuitously, but only as a plot vehicle to move things along
toward their inevitable conclusion as Lane's recent and remote past
begins to catch up with him.
IN HIS SHADOW has found a European publisher and Zeltserman may be
poised to become a household name abroad before finding fame here.
However, if IN HIS SHADOW is any indication of the depth of his
talent, he will not labor in obscurity for long.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011