10 Oct 2010


I have just finished reading this thrilling book by Simon Swift, and below is my review.


Black Shadows is not a book I would normally choose to read, but I’m so glad the opportunity was given to me.

We are introduced to the main character Errol Christopher Black, a rookie private detective as he tucks into a large bloody porterhouse steak. Detectives Terry Shadow and Dyke Spanner of the Shadow Man Detective Agency are helping him work his way through a now half empty bottle of claret.

The story unfolds in Newark New Jersey in 1935 where mobs rule, and we are witness to a typical shoot out of the time. As the table is upended to afford some form of protection from the flying bullets, they realise that they are not the intended targets but Terry Shadow meets his untimely end with two clean bullets to the head.

Ten years down the line we find Errol Christopher Black with a new partner, Hermeez Wentz and now based in Manhattan at the Black and Wentz Detective Agency along with his very obliging secretary Ava Jameson.

Errol seems happy to take on run of the mill cases and his new client Claudia seems to fit into that category. She tells of a straying fiancĂ© George, along with the discovery of a lipstick and pair of lacy panties which don’t belong to her.

As he takes on what he considers to be a routine surveillance case, Errol is unexpectedly drawn back once more to the mobsters and gangs of that time.

His one time partner Dyke Spanner is shot to death and Errol finds himself on the trail of a blue diamond coveted by hoodlums and beautiful women alike.

The story unfolds with many twists and turns, whilst the reader is witness to the beautiful women that Errol chooses to bed, in his quest for the diamond and the elusive George. Murder is not a rare occurrence either. To state more would give away too much of the plot.

The strength of the writing led me to imagine that I was entering into a 1940’s movie with Humphrey Bogart in the wings.

I also firmly believe that with the right exposure, there is potential here for a film.

Many times during reading BLACK SHADOWS I was convinced that I had all the answers, only to be completely wrong footed by the superb, imaginative writing of Simon Swift.

T K Geering 10/10/2010

Here is a taster of the first chapter ....


23 October 1935

Newark, New Jersey

When the shooting started, I was tucking into a nice, bloody porterhouse steak. A generous portion of mashed potatoes, string beans and turnip accompanied it, swimming in the tasty juices from the meat. A half empty bottle of claret stood in the middle of the table and a basket full of bread rolls sat at the edge. Three other men were eating; Terry Shadow was on my right, a small, wiry Irishman faced me, and Dyke Spanner was next to him.

The first few shots took us by surprise, but as they were not meant for us it did not really matter. A small man dressed in a brown suit was firing a pistol, but it was his partner, a larger, angrier, uglier man that was doing the damage, pumping the room full of shotgun blasts. Three of their intended targets were sitting in the far corner, and were all badly hurt in the opening exchange.

Dyke Spanner turned the table on its end, sending the plates of food crashing to the floor, before firing a volley of shots in the general direction of the mayhem. The wine survived, snatched by Terry Shadow seconds before, who was now drinking it straight from the bottle. We all cowered behind the table as it started to splinter before us, firing the odd shot back in the direction from where they came.

"Stop firing that fuckin' gun," shouted Terry in between gulps. "They're not here for us."

He was right. The intended hit was taking a piss in the bathroom. He was shot eight times; suffering mortal wounds to the abdomen, but amazingly didn't die for another 23 hours. The others all joined him in the death roll, as did Terry Shadow only moments after he scolded Dyke Spanner and myself. He died with a third of a bottle of claret in his hand and two clean gunshots to his head.

The moment Terry died I knew that it would change everything. There was no guarantee I would walk out of here alive. In fact, the chances were looking slimmer by the second, as all four of the killers’ targets were now approaching their end. But if I were to survive, my whole life as operative for The Shadow Man Detective Agency would be different.

Terry Shadow was the founder, owner and overall supremo of The Shadow Man Detective Agency. We averaged thirty cases a week, from debt collecting to missing persons. By far the most popular, however, was mob work. We did everything for the wise guys except pull the trigger. It didn’t matter if it was surveillance; tailing future hits, recovery; finding frisky treasurers that tended to go walkabout, or troubleshooting; which just about covered most things. If it paid, we did it. But most often it was security.

New York was full of would-be gangsters. There were regional mobs everywhere, all with their own tribal territories controlling protection rackets, narcotics, gambling and women. Everybody wanted a piece. It was these guys that we dealt with most. Transporting a name safely was a quick and well-rewarded job, even if the risks were supposedly high. Luckily the mobs tended to leave outsiders alone, which made my life a lot easier. We only lost one man in three years and didn't discriminate, working for anybody who paid well. New York wasn't short of those.

The bank balance swelled, but all our reputations suffered. Some weeks we pulled in twenty grand clear and all went home happy. It couldn't go on forever. Don't get me wrong, I didn’t particularly like what we were doing, but it wasn't my conscience that got the better of me. After all, I was only following orders. It had to end sometime. I would never spend all the money anyway, and although I had a reputation as a mob hanger-on I was hardly one of the boys. With Terry dead, the end was in sight. I decided right there and then, as bullets fizzed around my ears and blood splashed all over the carpet, that enough was enough.

It was the silence that broke my thoughts. A faint patter of footsteps, the slamming of a door, and then nothing. I checked myself over and to my surprise I was not hurt. The table was nothing more than firewood, there was broken glass and pints of blood splattered all over the floor, but I was in one piece. I looked over at Dyke Spanner and his smile told me that he too was unhurt. Our third dining acquaintance was gone.

The peace was broken by a stocky, heavy-set man, bleeding desperately from the middle, stumbling out of the bathroom. He had a smoking cigar between his teeth and a rather disheveled fedora in one hand. In the other shaking hand he held a gun, which he raised and pointed at every man in the room before lowering it and swearing resignedly to himself.

Of the other three targeted men, one was unconscious, one was absent and the other groaned aloud in a pool of his own blood. Dyke tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Errol, we should go. We don't want to be caught up in any of this. Let's get the boss to a hospital and scram."

I nodded watching in amazement as the man embraced his unconscious friend before leaping to his feet and pointing at me. "Kid come here."

I looked at Dyke and he shrugged.
"I said come here," repeated the dying man, more in hope than authority.

I holstered my weapon and walked through the debris to the man. The only other survivor had staggered his way through to the main tavern and could now be heard ringing for medical assistance. We all knew it would be too late. Dyke stayed nearby.

Up close he looked exactly the same as in all the news pictures. Although he was physically a small man, he still exuded an aura that a dying man should not be able to hold. His deep-set eyes were wild and darted around, even though he was talking to me and I was close enough to smell his breath. He was sucking a peppermint but he still smelled distinctly of death. His nose was crooked and had been broken many times, his chin square, his ears large but unobtrusive and his lips thin and colourless. He looked like a man I had seen many times and yet he was a man I had only just set my eyes upon.

"Come on Rolly," urged Dyke Spanner.

The last words of Arthur Flegenheimer have since been the subject of much myth and speculation. There are many pages of transcript from an official stenographer, which formed the basis of Bill Burroughs’s 1969 story. To me, most of it was the nonsense of a dying man, a proud, powerful and incredibly vicious, but nevertheless a dying man. The last words he uttered to me may or may not have been similar nonsense. When he finished talking about gloves, Hitler and the trouble with Jews he looked at me square in the eyes and said, "Think big, son, think big. And whatever you do steer clear of the wise guys, they’ll kill you!" and he patted me several times on the back.

Before I could reply, Dyke Spanner grabbed me by the shoulder and hauled me out of there. "The cops are here we gotta go," is all he said.

So I cleaned my hands of the mob, refused all offers, however handsome, and kept to the private stuff. With Terry gone it was now Errol Christopher Black who was the boss. It wasn't fear of dying, most mobsters died on the job that was a fact, but I had lost fear years ago. I simply decided that it wasn't for me anymore and took my low-life standards elsewhere.

Dyke Spanner refused to follow.................


Simon said...

Great review, Tee.

I have to agree with everything you say, honey! xx

Soooz said...

Terrific review Tee. Simon deserves all the accolades "Black Shadows" is a fast-paced terrific read.