Saturday, 26 January 2013


Once upon a time, Finn was a cop. Now he teaches English at a small girl's prep school in upstate New York. And he is blind; losing his vision in the attack that cost him his wife. His ex-partner on the force is in prison, and Finn has retreated into an existence where his past never matters—he has a relationship with the school nurse, and fending off another from a needy student—people he cannot see but he feels he can understand. And then, as the snows fall around Christmas, the school is suddenly under attack, and he seems to be in the centre of the assault, for reasons he finds impossible to understand.

The great thing about Tom Piccirilli's novel is the way the past dominates the present—Finn may be trying to avoid his past, but he finds it lives with him regardless of what he does. Yet to understand what's happening to him and his friends in the present, he has to try to face it, and pick it apart. He will uncover details about the corruption in the police force that drove him and his partner apart, that had more serious repercussions, and he will uncover facts about relationships he never really understood. Piccirilli's pacing is first rate—the very real threat, taking place in a blizzard, mixes with the flashbacks to keep the reader twisting.

Where he's less successful is in conveying Finn's blindness. He starts strongly, with other senses rising to the fore, and is particularly good with the way physical contact takes the place of vision. But as the action increases it more and more seems as if Finn sees, albeit badly. He resists letting Finn find some sort of miracle ability, which makes this just a small flaw, but it is something that's important, because it's so central to the story.

In the end, the way the story resolves itself was problematic. It reminded me of the weird terror pulps, in which the eerie threat was ultimately revealed to be something more mundane, and there's an element of this in what Finn finally discovers behind the terror at St Valerians. But Piccirilli redeems the story in the final confrontation, which is beautifully done; returning Finn to the condition of blindness we can understand, and bringing him to wholeness with his ultimate fate. Simple, you'd think, but not an easy thing for any man, blind or not. Nor for any writer.

Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli
Bantam (US) $7.99 ISBN 9780553592474

note: this review will appear also at Crime Time (

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