"The Shadows" | Reviewed by Jennifer Johnson
Adulthood is bleak for the teens of working-class Gritten, a town where the cycle of poverty and misery seems inescapable in “The Shadows” by Alex North.
It is fitting that large, centralized Gritten Woods is known locally as The Shadows—even more fitting that a kid like Charlie Crabtree would be a product of Gritten. He’s the kind of kid you don’t turn your back on, one who smiles while he describes the most horrific things without flinching.
When introvert Paul Adams and James, his bullied best friend, find themselves on the receiving end of yet another assault by school tormentor David Hague it’s Charlie who intervenes. Charlie eerily tells the bully how he dreamed of his death and later when David is victim of a sudden fatal traffic accident, Paul and James are spellbound by their new ally.
The two friends join Charlie and his sidekick Billy, the four hanging out in an abandoned classroom during school hours and in The Shadows on the weekends. Charlie, fascinated with the theory of lucid dreaming, encourages the rest of the boys to actively practice and document their efforts, promising that they will be able to connect in the dream world and ultimately escape reality.
Paul, skeptical and increasingly fearful of Charlie’s manipulation, pulls away and puts energy into a new friendship and budding romance with Jenny. As Charlie’s intentions and influence over the other boys becomes more sinister, Paul leaves the group.
Awakened to Charlie’s intentions and cult-like control over the other boys, Paul fears the worst and is sadly correct when his best friend is murdered. As horrifying as the crime may be, the truly terrifying detail is that afterwards Charlie vanishes into thin air and is never seen or heard from again.
Twenty-five years later, Paul returns to Gritten to visit his ailing mother. Until then, the traumatic events of his young life succeeded in keeping him away from home, not even returning for the death of his father. However, his mother’s impending death, and the guilt over his prolonged absence, finally draws him back.
While his mother is in the hospital, Paul settles into his childhood home and the memories of his youth flood back. From her hospice bed, delusional with age and illness, Paul’s mother insists that there is something in the house and while Paul dismisses her at first, he quickly discovers that her outbursts are more valid than he first thought.
With nerves already rattled from his mother’s manic lucidity, Paul begins to realize that he’s being followed. When the news breaks that a copycat killer is on the loose, one who seems to think and act just like Charlie Crabtree, Paul must find out what happened to his former friend before it’s too late.
Author Alex North manages to take us back and forth between present day and 25 years past offering sincere reflection on coming of age issues all without losing any of the suspense that this fantastic psychological thriller has to offer. Just when it seems like the mystery is solved, North sweeps in with a twist that will knock the breath out of you.