W.B.’s Book Report: The Shadow

When the library delivered the audiobook of The Shadow by James Patterson and Brian Sitts, I thought, uh oh, I don’t want this to be the precedent-setting 100th book I read this year. I’ll wait to finish Several small sentences about writing until after I listen to the widely panned reboot of the iconic 1930s and ’40s pulp hero.

But no, Verlyn Klinkenborg had to hook me with the second half of his clinic about writing brilliant sentences, and the next thing I knew, it was the 99th.

And so I hit triple digits for the first time in my life with a book best known as “NOT THE SHADOW!” All caps. The consensus is don’t bother reading this if you love the old pulps or the radio show. 

“The Green Lantern movie of Shadow novels. Avoid at all costs” reads one of the dozens of one-star reviews at Amazon. 

The thing is, I kind of liked the Green Lantern movie. And like the film, the Sitts-Patterson Shadow is not terrible after all.

OK, if I were to reboot the Shadow, I would not drag him out of 1937 and plop him in a dystopian 2087. I would not give him a feisty teenage sidekick, and I would not pull new Shadow superpowers out of my hat. I haven’t immersed in the source material, but even I can tell the authors have taken liberties with the legend, unforgivable liberties for many readers.

But taken on its own merits, it’s OK. It reads more like a young adult novel than a pulp adventure, but I like young adult novels.

The book is more respectful of Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane than I was led to expect. And the villain of the piece is a figure who appeared in four of the classic pulps.

And of course, I’m a sucker for stories where the government is the source of all that is wrong with society and led by a megalomaniacal fiend who schemes to kill as many innocents as he can. You know, just like real life. 

I’m not sure I would recommend avoiding The Shadow at all costs, and I do suspect my time would have been better spent finding and reading one of the original Walter Gibson novels. But if you’re curious, go ahead and try it. 

Or hunt down The Golden Master, where Shiwan Khan first appeared. That’s what I plan to do.

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