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Call of Shadows Paperback – March 26, 2012
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Ehlert is a haunted man, and the story behind the ghost who haunts him is a tale of true, heart-breaking tragedy. I can't talk too much about this novel without spoiling the surprises -- and boy, there are surprises on almost every page. Just when you think you have it all figured out, when you're sure you know where the story is going, Dave Smith makes a sharp turn to the left and takes you on a detour through the shadowy streets of magic, mystery, and mayhem. The wizard Ehlert is the kind of anti-hero we don't see too much of nowadays: elegant, quietly confident, and all-too dangerous. He's not an over-the-top, flamboyant pretty boy tossing off one-liners and worn-out cliches with a smarminess that would make Hollywood proud. Oh, no. His sense of humor is subtle and dry, but this guy is also as dark as he is unassuming. This is urban fantasy for adults. This is what Harry Potter might have grown up to become if he lived in a more realistic world and had tragedy scarred his soul, instead of his forehead. Ehlert stands right up there, shoulder to shoulder, with Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and all the great characters right out of Black Mask, Weird Tales, and the Golden Age of Pulp Fiction. Ehlert is a man with a past veiled in shadow, and a future that is just this side of grim: he's a man caught in a present that doesn't quite seem suited to him. And the tragedy of his life, the one thing that keeps him going, that gives his life purpose, is the soul of this novel. But for me, the heart of this novel is the lovely, the endearing and unforgettable Ava Beaudine. Once you meet her, you'll never forget her. She'll steal your heart while Ehlert battles to keep evil forces from stealing her life, as well as her soul.
This is a taut, excellent thriller, with crisp dialogue, solid characterizations, hard-hitting prose, explosive and violent action, and a plot that'll keep you guessing and turning the pages. I'm reading it for the fourth time. Give it a shot -- you may find yourself reading it more than twice!
Visit Dave's website at: [...]
--- Joe Bonadonna, author of MAD SHADOWS:THE WEIRD TALES OF DORGO THE DOWSER, also available thru Amazon.
Full disclosure II: I am a professional writer, so whatever that may imply about my own moral failures, I feel safe in claiming my opinion to be grounded in some level of experience. That doesn't mean the reader of this review and I have the same taste of course, but I know the difference between quality writing and the other kind, and I ask you to trust me when I say this book does not suck.
Reading a novel written by someone you know is a unique experience. In the first chapter or two, I could almost hear Dave's voice whispering in my ear as I read. In the hands of a lesser author, this could have easily become tedious, and it's one reason I have in the past shied away (somewhat) from reading books written by friends. But about 20 pages in, "Dave the guy I know" fell away and there I was: engrossed in the story. The characters, the situation, the imagination, took hold of me, and by god, I found myself looking forward to picking up the book again and again.
Dave has written us a fine yarn. The publisher is advertising this as "modern pulp" and that's not an incorrect assessment, but I urge you the reader not to let that predetermine your expectations. There is a lot of character in these thar hills. There is also fighting and adventure and revenge and intrigue. There is friendship. There is magic. There is horror. There is even philosophy.
Call of Shadows occasionally reminded me of the mystery writing of Ross MacDonald. Dave's images of rundown motels and broken cafes planted in the rocky outskirts of Chicago called to my mind MacDonald's descriptions of backwater California in the 1950s. At other times, the fantasy element took over and Dave's roots as a sword-and-sorcery writer shimmered through. There are no swords in this book, but there are daggers and knives--both physical and verbal. Dave doesn't waste a lot of words here and that's a very good thing. The writing is streamlined and punchy, and his technique of occasionally replaying a snippet of conversation is used to impressive effect. In short, the author makes his point and moves to the next--the hallmark of a writer who knows how to write.
So I can offer an unqualified recommendation in favor of this book, even though it was written by a friend of mine. This pleases me, as I won't be forced to buy him lunch. I'm giving it four stars only because five-star ratings are for Huckleberry Finn, The Grapes of Wrath, and Night, by Elie Wiesel. In 50 years, I may grant Dave another star. Perhaps if he buys ME lunch. Until then, I'll just look forward to reading his next book. And the one after that.