Friday, May 13, 2022

Book Review: "The Shadow" by James Patterson and Brian Sitts

The Shadow by James Patterson and Brian Sitts (Arrow, 2021)

I was slow to learn about Conde Nast’s plans to revive and revitalize the classic pulp and old-time radio hero, the Shadow, and when I learned that James Patterson had been tapped to pen the new titles—this is the first of an intended series—I was perplexed and skeptical. Patterson’s an extremely prolific writer and best-selling author who now mostly plots thrillers and young adult books, primarily working with co-writers. Despite his potential sales appeal to readers, he would not have been on my short list of authors to put pen to paper in place of Walter B. Gibson writing as Maxwell Grant. Maybe Andrew Vachss, Max Allan Collins (who had a hand in several Dick Tracy books), or Paul Di Filippo. Perhaps even the recently departed Mike Resnick. But Patterson?

My skepticism was well placed. There’s very little of the original Shadow in this book, at least very little of Gibson’s tenor and tone, pulp stylism, or the characteristics that made the supernatural vigilante hero so popular originally. Much of that has been jettisoned to reassert the Shadow for a new, modern audience, particularly a young adult readership. In fact, the Shadow is largely eclipsed by a distant teenage relative, Maddy Gomes, who is developing supernatural powers of her own. This might very well be a YA novel.

The opening of the book is as close as we come to the original pulps and radio show. It’s set in 1937 New York City, and Lamont Cranston is about to propose to Margo Lane. They are poisoned, and Cranston rushes the two to a hidden laboratory for treatment. Fast forward to 2087 and a dystopian police state of a city, a global government, and the still-alive Shiwan Khan as world president, oppressing the populace and planning a new, ever cruel approach to world domination.

Most of the book involves Cranston’s revival, rediscovery of his powers, search for Lane, and assessment of the threat posed by Khan. In parallel, we learn more about the state of the world, the lives of teenage Gomes and her grandmother, and their lineage. Not only does Gomes discover and develop her own powers, similar to Cranston’s, but he develops new powers that were never addressed in the original stories. 

Those are occasionally referred to, with commentary on Gomes’s appreciation for the old magazines and radio program. ”Inspired by me, obviously,” Cranston says. “But I never dressed like that. Never even owned a hat. Never carried that ridiculous gun. I guess they had to jazz things up to goose their sales.” That was humorous at first but soon became irritating, as though Patterson was trying to disavow himself of—and distance himself from—the original. 

In a May 2021 Forces of Geek review, Steven Thompson wrote, “[I]f you absolutely felt the need to use the Shadow, why go out of your way to change him so much that he really isn’t recognizable as the Shadow any longer? Only a few of the names are the same by the end of the book. Change those and you have all new characters.” Ain’t that the truth! Not only is this more a Maddy Gomes book than a Shadow book—a teenage heroine for a teenage readership—the Shadow we do get is largely divergent and almost unrecognizable from the original. That might meet the perceived needs of new, younger readers and retain copyright, but it doesn’t serve older, long-time fans.

Conde Nast hopes for additional titles in the series, and for films to spring from the books, as well. Additionally, Patterson has been tapped for a Doc Savage novel expected by the end of the year, with a sequel already scheduled for next year. Unfortunately, if this novel is any indication, my hopes for those are low. Will I still read them? At least the first Doc Savage. To be honest, we’re better off returning to the paperback reprints and pulp reprints, such as those published by Sanctum Books.

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