False Shadows by BV Lawson

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False Shadows by BV Lawson
Publisher: Crimetime Press
Genre: Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (50 pages)
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Scott Drayco was a man who had everything going for him: handsome, brilliant, a talented classical pianist in the prime of his youth. After violence scarred him physically and emotionally, he turned to an FBI career and now freelances as a crime consultant, taking on cases other people often don’t want to touch. From a suspected serial killer who plays mind games with Drayco, to murder and revenge at 20,000 feet, these eight stories of literary suspense delve into the darkest mysteries of the human soul.

In THE DEVIL TO PLAY, first published in “Static Movement,” Drayco tries to prevent the theft of a rare violin that appears to be cursed;

In BLOOD ANTIPHON, a suspected serial killer plays mind games with Drayco, who learns the two men are connected in a most disturbing way;

In THE CLUE ROOM, Drayco receives a mysterious invitation from a woman who most people believed died years ago;

In the VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH, originally published in “Midnight Screaming,” betrayal leads to attempted murder-by-flash-flood in America’s desert southwest;

In TERROR OF THE MIND BANDIT, a man with dementia thinks the staff at an assisted living home are trying to kill him, and Drayco begins to suspect there may be something to the man’s claims;

In THE FINE ART OF JUSTICE, Drayco and the “world’s most diminutive attorney,” Benny Baskin, get more than they bargained for when they visit a reclusive violinist;

In THE TRADITION THIEF, originally published in “Rope and Wire,” Drayco teams up with a Native American Sheriff to find the link between stolen artifacts and the suspicious death of a medicine man;

In OUT OF THE CLOUDS, Drayco discovers murder and revenge at 20,000 feet.

Some puzzles are easy to figure out. Others keep you up at night ruminating over clues that never quite fit together the way one might expect them to do so.

Including the same investigator for all eight crimes in this anthology allowed me to get to know Scott Drayco at a much more leisurely pace than would otherwise be possible in a short story. While attempting to solve the mysteries before Scott does was challenging, the gradual exploration of this character’s troubled past is what truly endeared me to False Shadows. Scott has certain mannerisms and habits whose origins are eventually explored, and learning why he acts certain ways was even more rewarding at times than learning the identities of the criminals he pursues.

“The Devil to Play” acknowledges that it doesn’t answer all of the reader’s questions while still providing enough hints to propel the plot into a satisfying conclusion. In this tale an anonymous would-be thief threatens to steal the Lady Ambrose Stradivarius, an extremely valuable violin currently being shown at a museum. When a smoke bomb is set off Scott must figure out how anyone could steal a violin in less than a minute of chaos. I was completely stumped by this case, and seeing how Scott pieces the clues together provides valuable insight into his personality and character. This tale left me wishing for more information about how the thief came up with such an unusual plan.

A few of the stories in this collection never quite gelled into compelling mysteries despite their attention grabbing premises. In “Terror of the Mind Bandit,” for example, a man named Floyd Lachance who is suffering from dementia repeatedly finds rotting eggs thrown against his door and hears someone playing a violin when he thinks he is alone. The clues about what is happening to him dribble out slowly, but Scott’s attempt to piece them together left me with almost as many questions as I had in the beginning. Had some of them been introduced earlier or this tale been given more space to develop it would have easily become my favorite piece in this collection due to the author’s crisp use of vivid adverbs and adjectives to describe what is happening in key scenes.

By far the best mystery in this novel was “Blood Antiphon.” In it, Scott is called in to interrogate a suspected killer whose unsettling connection to him is gradually revealed as the two men engage in an uneasy conversation about motives and their pasts. It is in this tale that the author’s talent for short, evocative descriptions is illuminated. My favorite quote from “Blood Antiphon” is as follows: “the man’s overall appearance might be unexceptional, but his eyes were not. Looking into them was like shining a light into dark water and watching ordinary objects twisted into distorted, colorless shapes.”

False Shadows kept me guessing until the very end. I’d recommend this book to experienced mystery readers who enjoy wrestling with skillfully placed hints that don’t easily reveal their secrets.

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