There is an unquestionable pattern to my dark fiction reading habits, whereby I will usually alternate between the prolific and the up and coming – giving awareness to the new voices whose book descriptions are a catalyst to take an entire novel-length journey. This, the debut novel from Richard Schivar, will pique constant reader’s curiosity just enough: here we are presented with uncomplicated plot strands and Lovecraftian overtones evocative (perhaps) of something fashioned from the early pen – or pseudonyms – of Dean Koontz.
Jaded police detective Sam Hardin is trying to pick up the pieces of his life after the untimely death of his wife Anna. Now a single father to a teenage girl and a brain damaged four year old boy, he finds more succour in the bottle and immersing himself in police work than attending to family. When a series of bizarre murders at an abandoned warehouse lead to the uncovering of an ancient ceremonial dagger, Jack suddenly finds himself thrust into the realm of an ancient God who not only inhabits human form, but has personally marked his son for possession, thus beginning a new reign of terror on earth and the termination of the human species.
A novel that begins with promise, Shadows of the Past quickly dovetails into a confusing mish-mash of somewhat clichéd characters and uneven scenes that are never fully realized or resolved. Sam Hardin is a rogue cop with a giant chip on his shoulder. His depression, regret and perpetual lamenting a propos of past decisions slowly begin to grate on the reader, shedding light on a protagonist who isn’t exactly likable and sometimes hard to believe. His nemesis in this madness, Jack Griffith, stumbles upon the ancient blade on a routine night whilst working the storm-drains … and it is here that things become even more perplexing, culminating in a confusing sequence where even Stephen King’s Pennywise makes an entirely unwelcome cameo. Richard goes on to use the description ‘fathomless black eyes’ roughly two dozen times over the course of two hundred pages. The final showdown, an epic stand-off between Sam Hardin and Jack Griffith in the snow, has the distinct flavor of formula – a prescription for pulp (horror) fiction throughout the eighties and early nineties.
Even though puzzling at times, there were enough adequate and redeemable moments in the novel to show a writer in the early stages of ambition. Richard Schivar has a flare for stylish prose and – although the author has a propensity to repeat the same word two (sometimes three) times in a sentence – occasional flashes of brilliance gave me insight into someone who will eventually find the rhythms of coherent structure over the extended length of a novel.