Written by Darren Shan — You’ve got to take your hat off to Darren Shan. His horror/fantasy books for teens are getting boys to read books, even in this age of Xbox, Facebook and Lethal Bizzle. Lady of the Shades, however, is a crime story with a hint of the supernatural that’s aimed at adults and although Shan has written a few grown-up books with a crime slant in the past, we’ve not taken any of them out for a test drive.
Like Shan himself, main character Ed Sieveking is a horror author. He’s quiet, articulate, and a loner. Living in a London hotel, he befriends a fan called Joe. The bearded Geordie becomes his researcher and drinking buddy, and they start looking into the existence of ghosts and spontaneous human combustion as potential plot drivers for Ed’s next book. Ed’s a rational guy and no expert he interviews about ghosts can convince him that they exist. The trouble is, he can see six of them. They follow him around all the time.
As if that wasn’t enough torment for the American, enter Deleena Emerson. He meets our slinky femme fatale at a party, held on a cruise down the Thames. As he falls for her this lady of mystery plays hard to get, will only see him at night, and avoids meeting Ed’s only friend, Joe. Eventually, he discovers that her real name is Andeanna Menderes, wife of notorious London gangaster Mikis ‘The Turk’ Menderes. Years of physical abuse and emotional neglect have driven her into Ed’s arms but if The Turk finds out, he’s a dead man. Bond Gardner, The Turk’s right hand man, has a habit of erasing potential problems for his boss, and Menderes has hired assassins in the past too. Nonetheless, Ed and Andeanna swear their love to one another.
However, Ed is followed around by ghosts for a reason. Blood has been spilt in his past, and lots of it. Soon Andeanna and Ed hatch a plan to eliminate The Turk for good. Andeanna has thought about it in the past but feared it would destroy Gregory, the son she had with Menderes. Now, she can see no other way to freedom and Ed seems more than keen to kill The Turk.
So far, so noir, but the book veers into the supernatural as Ed deals with his ghosts and they take on greater meaning in the story. He even sees a medium to reach out to someone on the other side. Assassins and gangsters come into play, Ed has to take on an alias and use his writerly research skills, and as the plot twists hither and thither men are murdered, bodies need to be disposed of, and tracks covered.
In one or two places it lags a little. Ed is struggling to find out who knows what about Andeanna and a lot of information is delivered through dialogue. However Lady of the Shades has a brilliant, jaw-dropping ending that will make you smile – maybe even laugh outloud. This book isn’t overly gritty. Shan’s writing is as smooth as a good Irish whiskey. He doesn’t waste words, but it never feels spare either, with detail and poetic touches drawing you to Ed and his self-absorbed ways.
Through all the sordid killing and lies, plus the ghosts, Shan cleverly deals with themes including guilt, madness and love. Can we love people who decieve us? Do our minds simply believe what we want them to believe? Lady of the Shades has one or two answers for us to ponder. Read it.
Lady of The Shades comes out 30 August 2012.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars