RARA-AVIS: In his shadow: Dave Zeltserman

From: Al Guthrie ( allanguthrie@ukonline.co.uk)
Date: 19 Dec 2002

Took a long time to get here, but it was well worth the wait.

IN HIS SHADOW introduces Denver PI Johnny Lane, a man with a winning smile, who's popular with the ladies and successful enough to have a regular column in the local newspaper column. From his opening case, the search for missing teenager Debra Singer, it appears that Johnny has a keen, albeit individualistic, sense of morality.

With the undertaking of a new case, the search for adoptee Mary Williams's biological parents, Zeltserman's casual prose style becomes edgier, more visceral (and the jokes become darker), as, propelled by seemingly good intentions, Johnny starts to pluck at the loose bandages hiding his own deep emotional scars. When finally unwrapped (gradually over the course of the rest of the novel), the naked truth is a painful sight.

Much has been made of the debt IN HIS SHADOW owes Jim Thompson (in fact, the novel is dedicated to him) and, yes, there are undoubted parallels. Still, good as it might have been merely as a Thompson pastiche, Zeltserman's book is far more than that. Hell, it's got a PI as a protagonist. It's also heartfelt and moving in a way that Jim Thompson rarely achieves and has the same kind of haunting quality that pervades William Hjortsberg's FALLING ANGEL.

In brief, IN HIS SHADOW is one of the top half-a-dozen books I've read this year. I look forward to reading more Dave Zeltserman in the future. And folks, if you haven't bought yourself a Christmas present, it isn't too late, you know.


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