Book Review: The Book of Shadows

Anyone who has read more than three posts around here probably knows how much I enjoy the crowd over at Murderati, which is a collaborative blog written by several authors who were favorites of mine before I became a regular there and several others who became favorites afterward.

Not only are these people brilliant and funny—though occasionally deadly serious (with or without the pun) —they’re also extremely generous with their knowledge about all aspects of this writing schtick . . . And they sometimes offer free eBooks for review.

Which is how I came to spend most of Christmas Eve reading Alex Sokoloff’s The Book of Shadows.

I didn’t mean to.  I had a few hours before I had to ready the troops for the Christmas Pageant at the Children’s Service, and said troops were occupied with napping or staring into my spare Netbook.  So I figured I’d read a chapter or two of Book of Shadows, virtuously work on Pigeon for a while, and then dress everyone with time to spare.

Have you ever tried to get tights on a four-year old while trying to hold onto an eReader with one hand?

It’s about as difficult as you might think.  But so worth it.

Book of Shadows is an excellent story.

The mutilated body of a young woman is found in a landfill.  Her head and left hand are missing and strange symbols have been carved into her flesh, post mortem.  Even experienced Boston police detective Adam Garrett and his partner are unsettled and quickly hunt down and arrest a suspect whose inner demons are all too evident.

It’s a slam-dunk, high profile case that could put Garrett on the fast track to everything he wants . . . except something is telling him there’s more to this case than sex, drugs, and an Alastair Crowley wannabee.

And when a beautiful self-styled witch—from Salem no less—shows up and insists that not only do they have the wrong guy, but that demons aren’t just a metaphor. . . Garrett has to decide who, and what, to believe.  And what he’s willing to risk to close this case.

This story surprised me at first.  Knowing Ms. Sokoloff’s talents, I was expecting an immediate flavor of paranormal horror and instead, Book of Shadows begins as an unapologetic police procedural about a particularly gruesome, satanic-stained crime.

But slowly, steadily, the plot threads lead both Garrett and the reader off the familiar path to two possible realities, one a twisted mystery, one a mysterious horror.

Did the suspect kill the victim or love her? Is he schizophrenic or possessed?  Is Tanith an actual witch or only a mentally unstable fake?  Are demons real or drug-induced hallucinations? Is Garrett facing a dangerous psychopath or the Master of Illusions itself?

What makes this story so interesting is that these two realities aren’t parallel, but wind around each other in a masterfully-written, shifting pattern. I wasn’t sure until the end which was true—and I still have my doubts.

Which doesn’t mean the ending didn’t rock, because it did.

The characters are multilayered as well.  To be honest, I didn’t like Garrett at first.  He’s ambitious, ego-driven, chip-shouldered, and a bit of a hound—or an outright user—with the ladies.  He’s also stubborn as hell—at one point, Doubting Thomas himself would have rolled his eyes—but the thing is, he’s also a damn good cop who wants to catch the right bad guy, even if it tanks his career.  It’s kind of refreshing to have a jerk as a hero.

And Tanith might appear at first to be the lovely, altruistic psychic Wiccan who Knows the Truth™, but she’s neither omniscient nor infallible—nor completely honest.  And there are things in her past that aren’t easily dismissed by Garrett or the reader.

The secondary characters are well done, too.  I love Carl Landauer, Garrett’s partner, who uses every cop stereotype in the book as an effective blind for his sharp mind and decent humanity.  And Dragon Man, who reminds me of one of my favorite patrons, whom I’d give a violet quartz in a second, if I thought it would help.*

To sum up, Alexandra Sokoloff can write one hell of a tale—pun completely intended.  If you haven’t read her, yet, start with this one.

If you have, read it again.

I am.


Also wanted to mention that Ms. Sokoloff and a number of other horror writers you might know—including Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, F. Paul Wilson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Sarah Langan, and Scott Nicholson—have contributed to an eAnthology called Rage Against the Night, which is now available on Amazon and Smashwords for about four bucks.**

If the contributor’s list isn’t enough of a draw for you, all proceeds are going towards the purchase of an  eye gaze machine for Rocky Wood.  Mr. Wood is the current president of the Horror Writers Association who was just this year diagnosed with ALS. This machine will allow Mr. Wood to communicate with eye movements when he is unable to do so any other way.

I’m planning to send copies to a couple King, Straub, and Yarbro fans I know right after I hit publish on this post.  Why not do the same?


*Nope.  You want an explanation, read the book.

*Ms. Sokoloff’s post about this is here.