THE SHADOW FRIEND by Alex North (Michael Joseph, July 2020)
Dark crime author Steve Mosby made a spectacular re-entry into the crime writing ranks last year with his first novel under the Alex North nom de plume, The Whisper Man. The book was a bestselling hit across the world and a regular inclusion on a number of ‘Best of the Year’ lists for 2019.
He has now followed it up with new Alex North novel, The Shadow Friend, which is just as good as the The Whisper Man, if not better.
Twenty five years ago in the small English town of Gritten troubled teenager Charlie Crabtree and his friend Billy Rogers committed a shocking and unprovoked murder. Billy was caught, but Charlie was never seen again. For Paul Adams it was a day he will never forget, as the victim and the killers were friends of his. He left Gritten, vowing never to return, but now that his mother is dying he has to come home. Haunted by the past, and some creepy events in the present, Paul immediately regrets the decision to return, as it seems as though someone wants him to finally to confront the truth about what really happened that day.
Meanwhile Amanda Beck, still traumatised by the events in The Whisper Man, is investigating a new gruesome murder that seems to be a copy of the killing by Billy and Charlie. Troubled by the prospect that Charlie may be behind this killing too, she heads to Gritten and finds that the bloodletting is not yet over.
North skillfully weaves together the past and present, alternating between Paul’s recollections of the lead up to the killing twenty five years ago and his responses to the mysterious occurrences in the present, while using Amanda’s investigation to ground the story and fill in the blanks in Paul’s knowledge. It is a clever strategy and North uses it well to ramp up the tension as the plot progresses.
The story is a little slow to start with, but once underway it is very compelling read with a sneaky late-plot twist that changes your perspective on what had happened up to that point. The creepiness and the suspense build considerably over the final chapters and North delivers a good climax with neat surprises and some adrenaline producing moments.
As with The Whisper Man, North excels with his compassionate, credible characterisations and his ability to vividly recreate childhood experiences. The depiction of small town England is also well done and adds flesh to the story. The suggestive horror elements are probably more toned down this time around, but the plotting is tighter and the book’s main twist is cleverly concealed until its well timed unveiling.
I thought that the conclusion was probably a little too neat, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed The Shadow Friend and quickly it devoured over a couple of days.
Four and a half stars out of five!
The Shadow Friend was released in Australia at the beginning of July and will be released in the United Kingdom on 9 July 2020. It was released in the United States on 7 July under the title The Shadows.
Here is a link to my review last year of The Whisper Man: https://murdermayhemandlongdogs.com/the-whisper-man-by-alex-north-michael-joseph-a32-99/