Every March I start saying to my daughters, “This is the last cold day.” It begins early in the month and continues until a week or so after St. Patrick’s Day. Technically the first day of spring is March 20th, but here in Albany, New York, it’s about 30 degrees on March 23rd and it snowed last night. But today really is that last cold day, because tomorrow is in the fifties and the weather will stay over forty during the day until next fall. So that’s how I know today is meant for reviewing my winter re-read of Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli.
For those not familiar, Tom Piccirilli is one of the late 20th – early 21st Century’s finest authors of thrillers, crime noir, and horror. I have featured his work on the blog before, and will again, because I feel his prose occupies a space that is uniquely insightful with regard to the crisscrossing of American cultural forces, and is also so skillfully rendered that it always reads with excellent pacing.
Shadow Season represents one of the novels where Piccirilli has already switched from crime noir-horror mashups to more straight ahead crime noir. It tells the tale of an ex-cop turned private school English teacher who is snowed in at his school’s campus in upstate New York. But Finn contends with something more than an already daunting list of trials from his time in law enforcement. Finn is also blind and must contend with a looming threat to St. Valarian’s Academy for Girls. Walking from building to building while three plus feet of snow is falling is no small feat even for one who is 100% fit—for someone who can’t see yet still detects that there is foul play afoot, it becomes intense and nightmarish.
Piccirilli already knows how to layer an elaborate description into a story without slowing the pace. But in Shadow Season, he delves into descriptions that are at once surreal in their engagement of a blind main character, but also stark in their realistic language so as to keep the mood of the sharp, hard-boiled crime novel alive. Many of the characters he interacts with are given faces from those Finn knew when he could see. This weaves in his backstory as a New York City cop without bogging the narrative down with backstory. It also meshes the present and past, the worldly and the dreamlike, in a web that is clear yet splendorous. When the plot reveals exactly what type of criminal threatens his colleagues and students, the reader has already developed an intimate concern for the Irish expat groundskeeper, the school’s alcoholic head mistress, and the deviant and snide, yet also talented and at times crying-for-help, students. The reader also witnesses a fusion of Finn’s quiet life as a teacher with his volatile past—the love of his life Dani, and Ray, his partner on the police force. Such are brought together in a story that walks the edge of triumph and tragedy, contrasts the animosity and kinship of the urban and the rural, and calls into question which is which.
So when winter comes around again, give Shadow Season a try. It will be there, as will all of this author’s many amazing books and stories, likely to continue to grow in their reputation and importance in the years to come.