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Assassin of Shadows


Assassin of Shadows

American book-buying habits being what they are, the single most complimentary thing I can say about ASSASSIN OF SHADOWS is that it reads like a Jack Reacher book. It is a minor scandal that the American public, as spendthrifty as they are in every other area of commerce, is so miserly in terms of buying books, but there we have it. As a people, we purchase books from authors we like and ignore most of the rest. But occasionally we will take a flyer on books that are similar to those we've liked, and many an author has, in their deepest reservoirs of their desiccated black hearts, aspired to be the next Clancy, the next Grisham, the next Ludlum.

I do not honestly think that Lawrence Goldstone (whose nonfiction I have read and enjoyed) is specifically trying to be the next Lee Child (not that it would be such a terrible thing if he were). The resemblance between Jack Reacher and Goldstone’s Walter George is only skin-deep anyway. George is an imposing, hard-bitten Army veteran like Reacher, but he has a respectable job, a place to live and a partner. He’s almost immediately given a job worthy of someone of Reacher’s talents: investigating the murder of President William McKinley.

"ASSASSIN OF SHADOWS is a close period-piece cousin to the Reacher series, but it finds its own way and reaches its own conclusions while exploring a dark --- and almost forgotten --- chapter in American history."

The McKinley assassination is one of those nuggets of history that has fallen out of the popular imagination. Compared to Booth or Oswald or even Guiteau, the name Leon Czolgosz is scarcely remembered. The assumption made at the time --- and in this novel --- is that Czolgosz was a patsy, a dupe of some larger organization of anarchists. It is George’s job to run down this lead --- together with a Presidential directive not to pin the blame on the anarchists without evidence.

What Goldstone does most effectively in ASSASSIN OF SHADOWS is to put his hero in constant conflict with everyone around him. George is brave, determined and formidable, and surrounded by people who, for various reasons, don’t want him to do his job. But he keeps on, relentlessly, until he finds the thread of the conspiracy. This should sound familiar to any Reacher fan, and Goldstone blends the period details with the procedural format very effectively. (There is a lot of train travel in this book, as George goes back and forth from Chicago to Buffalo to Cleveland, following up on leads.)

The other main source of conflict for George is his partner, Harry Swayne, who exists primarily to needle him. The relationship between them is skewed a bit by two salient facts: Swayne was George’s superior in the Army (where they fought the Sioux in the Dakotas), and he is trying to get George to marry his sister. So there’s an odd brother-in-law dynamic between the two that is more than a little annoying. Goldstone solves this by periodically dropping Swayne out of the story.

The joke in the book, which may or may not be a joke, is that Swayne spends the time when George leaves him behind in the local whorehouse. Swayne’s presence solves a problem in the Reacher books, which are all either first-person narrations (which is fine) or third-person limited, which doesn’t work so well for Reacher because he’s so quiet. You have to put Reacher constantly around other people so he can move the story forward. Swayne is there to talk to George and help out with the fighting; when he’s not needed, he drops out of the story very efficiently.

But George is always there, doggedly pushing the case forward, running down clues, and acting honorably once they lead him down a very dark path. ASSASSIN OF SHADOWS is a close period-piece cousin to the Reacher series, but it finds its own way and reaches its own conclusions while exploring a dark --- and almost forgotten --- chapter in American history.

Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds on June 21, 2019

Assassin of Shadows
by Lawrence Goldstone