While James Swain's follow-up to DARK MAGIC grabs the reader with a real séance and a heartstopping “soul-napping” right at the beginning, there are many implausible scenarios that follow. Given that suspending logic is a requirement for enjoying paranormal tales, there still needs to be reasonable sequences of events and characters. Apologies to those who don't have the same criteria.
Peter Warlock (yep, that's his name) is a young magician who amazes audiences with his tricks and illusions. He pays for kids from poor neighborhoods to attend matinées and always performs a special show geared to his young audience. However, magic shows are not all that Peter does.
"Swain does an excellent job of painting the evil characters. They are as despicable as any I have ever encountered."
Peter has another occupation that is not known to the public. With the help of a group of psychic friends, he is able to move into different realms, often to the exact place where an evildoer is plotting his next crime. In this case, he finds himself in the presence of a serial killer who has already murdered countless women. Peter begins thinking of the man as Dr. Death because of his appearance: a portly man in corduroy pants and a blazer with patches on the elbows, looking for all the world like a college professor. Yet the items he has on his workbench belie his innocent look: “a handgun, a hunting knife, a ball of twine, nickel-plated handcuffs, a black hood, and a bottle of clear liquid.”
Swain does an excellent job of painting the evil characters. They are as despicable as any I have ever encountered. Dr. Death and his cohort, Ray, are not only in league with the Devil but also have their own particular agenda designed to satisfy their blood lust. The good guys are a little less resolute. Holly, for example, is a witch who is part of Peter's séance group. While she is secretly in love with him, she is deceptive toward him and uses her witchcraft to spy on him and his girlfriend, Liza.
The relationships among the characters take second place to the endless action provided by the shadow people and the evil spirits that are motivated by all sorts of nefarious motives. Through it all, Peter is struggling with a secret that he has kept buried all his life --- a secret that could be as dangerous as the threat it comes against.
For James Swain fans, like myself, who are expecting a Jack Carpenter or Tony Valentine adventure, be aware that SHADOW PEOPLE is nothing like either of those series. There are no casino scams or card sharks here --- only real-life magicians and evil spirits that can destroy a home and its contents in a matter of minutes. And then restore everything just as quickly. I have come to expect my favorite authors to go off the reservation every now and then; I love them anyway and hope they get back on track soon.
Reviewed by Maggie Harding on June 14, 2013