Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Shannon Hodges: City of Shadows

My brother Shannon has had his first published novel republished, but we know from an interview with him that he has more novels lined up for publication -- some already written, some still within Plato's realm of ideal forms -- each awaiting its turn. Here's a summary of the story in City of Shadows:
When Bob Gifford takes up a one-year appointment as counselor at elite Biltmore College, Minnesota, he has no idea his life will soon be in danger. Okay, the hostility from most of his colleagues is evident from the outset -- as an orphan brought up in a boys' home, with degrees from obscure state colleges in Arkansas and Texas, he will never fit in to their privileged, blue-blood world. But it soon becomes obvious that workplace politics constitutes the least of his worries. One of his student clients dies in a car crash shortly after hinting that she has something to tell him about the recent, violent death of a professor on the Biltmore campus. Immediately afterwards, a home-made bomb explodes in Bob's apartment. Then he finds secret messages being left for him in the university library. Someone, or some organization, it appears, believes Bob is on the brink of uncovering a conspiracy. But what is it they think Bob knows? Who are they? And is he being encouraged to dig deeper or being warned off?

Gradually he comes to realize he can trust no one -- not the college staff, not his landlord, and not the police. It is even too risky to confide in Steve Washington, the flamboyant black colleague and fellow "outsider" who has been almost alone in offering Bob friendship, or Janet, the spirited Jewish woman with whom Bob has a tantalizing on-off relationship. And just when a new appointment in back-of-beyond Texas appears to offer an escape route, Bob comes closer than ever to death.

City of Shadows combines the qualities of a superior thriller with a deep understanding of human nature and insights into the claustrophobic, competitive world of academe. With as many twists as a mountain road, and set-piece confrontations that would have made Hitchcock proud, it is as entertaining as it is compelling.
Well, I also find it compelling . . . though I'm his brother and am thus not entirely objective even if I do have high standards. The plot is complicated, which is why I'm happy for the chance to re-read the story, but the characters are clearly delineated, and the dialogue is often snappy, and witty enough at times to make me laugh out loud.

At nearly 500 pages, it's long for a mystery novel -- or is it a thriller, and if so, is it long? -- but it sustains my interest as the layers peel away to reveal ever deeper levels of corruption and danger. Readers interested in this genre are invited to give it a try, as are readers of literature generally . . .

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