Source: Review copy
Publication: 9th July 2020 from Michael Joseph
The victim was his friend. So was the murderer.
Twenty-five years ago, troubled teenager Charlie Crabtree committed a shocking and unprovoked murder.
For Paul Adams, it’s a day he’ll never forget. He’s never forgiven himself for his part in what happened to his friend and classmate. He’s never gone back home.
But when his elderly mother has a fall, it’s finally time to stop running.
It’s not long before things start to go wrong. A copycat killer has struck, bringing back painful memories. Paul’s mother insists there’s something in the house.
And someone is following him.
Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.
It wasn’t just the murder.
It was the fact that afterwards, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again . . .
“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’”
– George Bernard Shaw
I loved The Whisper Man with a passion so was at once very keen and seriously filled with trepidation to read The Shadow Friend. It only took a few pages for me to be gripped by what is another fantastic read. There’s something about the unique combination of chilling writing and a strong emotional heart that gets to me every time and that’s what makes The Shadow Friend quite so successful.
With echoes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, yet very much a distinctive and bold book, The Shadow Friend is a fabulous blend of very scary and emotionally resonant that really touches the core.
Paul Adams has come home after a long absence to look after his elderly mother whose mind jumps in and out of reality. And reality is something that looms large in this book; because what is real and what imagined is fertile territory for Alex North and here he exploits the fine line to full advantage.
Paul’s childhood was traumatic. He lived in Gritten, a dying post-industrial town on the edge of woods that everyone called The Shadows, not too far away from Featherbank, which first appears in The Whisper Man. His closest school friend, James was murdered and two of his classmates were suspected of his murder.
One disappeared, the other was prosecuted but Paul has never been able to forgive himself for not protecting his friend; for not seeing what was coming. Now it is only his mother who can draw him reluctantly back to a place he cannot be comfortable in.
The story flits from past to present and is seen through Paul’s prism and from the perspective of Detective Amanda Beck (who investigated The Whisper Man). Beck is investigating the death of a teenager; a death that is strikingly reminiscent of the murder Paul lived through 25 years ago.
North examines the dynamic of teenage friendships, manipulation, peer pressure and bullying through the lens of this murder and shows us the immense impact that the past has on our character; how much it shapes our present.
Paul and to a greater extent, James had wanted to belong, to be insiders rather than loners and there were those who, even as young as they were, would seek to exploit and manipulate that. Using the idea of dream culture the teenagers had sought to make their sleeping hours active rather than passive experiences and that triggered a series of events that resulted in the death of one of them.
Now another teenager has been murdered and Paul is getting very concerned that his mother, herself caught somewhere between a dream world and reality, is in possession of knowledge that could help solve this crime.
Throughout the book, North builds in elements of a low level ‘something’s not quite right’ atmosphere that gets stronger as the book progresses. There’s that edgy feeling that won’t go away as you sense that there’s something that Paul isn’t quite grasping; something that is creating danger for him. We get signals for that all the way along as the story chills us with signs and portents; as the atmosphere deepens and darkens and grief, lucid dreams and a murderer on the loose all combine to make for a doom laden read that requires company to make you feel safe reading in your home.
As the tension rises, so the pace of the book quickens and when the full story is revealed it comes as a shock. What you thought you knew is not at all what you suspected. I love that unpredictability in a book and this one carries it off beautifully.
Verdict: A beautifully structured, character driven, tense and chilling read. Well layered, it creeps up on the reader to provide a read that is intense, chilling and shocking, and which focuses on relationships and is underscored by a remarkable sense of dark place.
Alex North was born in Leeds, where he now lives with his wife and son. He studied Philosophy at Leeds University, and prior to becoming a writer he worked there in their sociology department, The Whisper Man was an instant Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller, and is an international sensation, with rights sold in 28 languages. The Whisper Man has a significant Hollywood film deal with the Russo Brothers, directors of the Avengers series.