Title: Delia’s Shadow
Author: Jaime Lee Moyer
Series: Delia Martin
Published: 17 September 2013
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: historical fantasy, romance, mystery
Source: review copy from the publisher via NetGalley
The setting is San Francisco, 1915, and Delia Martin is returning from a a self-imposed exile in New York. For most of her life Delia has seen ghosts but after the great earthquake that rocked San Francisco in 1906, there were so many that she couldn’t handle seeing them all, and fled. For some unknown reason, she didn’t see ghosts in New York, until one started haunting her – a young woman who also came from San Francisco and was murdered there by a serial killer 30 years ago. The ghost – referred to as Shadow – wants Delia to help solve the mystery of her death and stop the killer, who is stalking San Francisco’s streets again.
Delia is rich and could have any house she wanted, but prefers to stay with her best friend Sadie. Coincidentally, Sadie is engaged to Sergeant Jack Fitzgerald, who is investigating the serial killer with his good friend and partner Lieutenant Gabe Ryan. And it just so happens that Gabe’s father worked on the first case thirty years ago, so Gabe immediately spotted the killer’s pattern and realised they are hunting the same man. Sadie tries a bit of matchmaking with Delia and Gabe, and they all go to an international fair together, which is fortunate because it gets Delia and the detectives together right away. When the men learn that Delia sees ghosts, they share their own experience of seeing a ghost, which miraculously happens to be the same ghost haunting Delia! Shadow has been causing Delia to have dreams of her encounter with the killer, which is advantageous, because it means Delia can prove it’s the same ghost right then and there.
Luckily for Delia, everyone believes her about the ghosts, and they go to see a psychic who just so happens to have a tent at the fair. It’s a good thing that the psychic – Isadora – is the real deal and knows everything she needs to know about helping Delia deal with Shadow and figure out what happened to her. But of course Shadow can’t just lead them straight to the killer because then this would be a short story, not a novel. So Delia, the detectives and Isadora try to find the killer through the information they get from his victims’ ghosts. In the meantime, Delia and Gabe start falling in love.
I didn’t mean to write the plot summary like that, but I lapsed into snark mode because Delia’s Shadow is just so contrived and silly. It falls horribly flat in every way – as a mystery, as a romance, and as a ghost story. It’s not unnerving, tense, engaging or charming. Despite the fact that two of the major characters are policeman in charge of the serial killer case, there’s almost no detective work, like following clues, trying to understand the killer’s motives, how that influences his choice of victim, predicting what he might do next, etc. None of the interesting stuff that draws readers to crime novels. At most, they figure out that he’s following an ancient Egyptian ritual, but this is of no importance whatsoever. Gabe and Jack rely almost entirely on Delia and Isadora to make any progress in the case. Their only real job seems to be sending other policeman to provide a 24-hour guard service for Sadie and Delia, Isadora, and even Gabe’s landlady (because the killer might attack people close to the detectives).
Equally absurd, is the fact that they have the resources for 24-hour protection. Isadora gets a police guard right after they meet her at fair, based on the fact that she also saw Shadow and understands the connection to the killer. How the fuck does Gabe justify this to his squad? “Please protect this psychic. She saw the ghost of a woman the killer murdered 30 years ago.”
Mind you, no one ever questions Gabe’s decisions, and he and Jack are portrayed as exemplary detectives. Nevermind that there’s a killer running loose while the best policemen take Delia and Sadie shopping.
And then there’s the romance. I don’t usually enjoy romance, and I didn’t realise it would be a major feature of this plot. Also, it’s SO BORING. Gabe is still in mourning after his pregnant wife’s death in the earthquake, and neither nor Delia are looking for romance. Still, they hit it off immediately and their relationship progresses very quickly and smoothly. That’s part of the problem – it’s just too easy. Another problem is that, because the serial killer poses a danger to all the major characters, the romance – and the story in general – involves an awful lot of fretting about everyone’s safety, how terrible it’d be to lose someone to the killer, how difficult it is for Delia to see ghosts, how brave everyone is being, how very very dreadful this whole situation is. Basically a whole lot of mundane thoughts that people in this situation would naturally think about, but that don’t make for thrilling reading. A better author would have made it succinct but forceful. This is just a stream of blah blah blah.
And it’s all very traditional too. The men go out to investigate (not that they achieve anything), and make it their responsibility to protect the women. The women mostly stay at home wringing their hands, and only go out when escorted by men. Whenever Delia makes a major effort to get useful information from the ghosts, Gabe is there to hold her hand and catch her in case she swoons (which she often does).
No shortage of female stereotypes here. Sadie is a collection of them – she’s charm incarnate, likes matchmaking, and has a reputation as a gossip, but is a loving, caring person at heart. She makes little contribution to the story, except to connect everyone who does (Jack, Gabe, Delia and Isadora, who is also a friend of hers), and to be a perpetual damsel in distress
Delia annoyed the crap out of me with all her trembling, crying and worrying. And let’s not forget Annie, the black housekeeper, who is not just a female but a racial stereotype as well. Annie is happiest when she has people to feed, you can immediately tell she’s black because of her sentence structure, she sings hymns while working in the kitchen, has a forceful but caring personality (no one would dare refuse a plate of her pancakes!), and is full of wisdom.
Not that the male characters are any less cliche. Jack and Gabe are sturdy old-fashioned men, brave and strong and kind, worrying about their women and often sharing a chuckle over how smart and charming the girls are. Our villain is the very simplistic evil psychopath who kills people because of something that happened in his childhood.
The climax to this tedious story is predictable and surprisingly short. The killer only appears on the page for about five seconds. You get the sense that he was almost a sideshow, or an excuse for the drama and romance that characterises the story.
Honestly, this book got progressively worse as I read, and it continued to worsen the more I thought about it. Besides all the issues I’ve discussed, it’s riddled with plot holes and inconsistencies. And it has so much padding. Like descriptions of clothing and decor that are probably meant to build the historical setting, but which are totally irrelevant and will be forgotten the moment after you’ve read them. Or all the affection, concern, random observations and other useless blathering that comes out of the characters’ mouths. The author wastes words, and I felt like I wasted my time reading them.
haha, good review. I was much softer with my review of this!! On reflection there were a number of elements that fell down for me – I think that the setting wasn’t really well done and I thought the ending with the eventual killer lacked any credibility. On top of that it just seemed so silly that Delia didn’t just try and communicate with her ghostly follower. I didn’t mind the story though on the whole but thought it could do with improvement.
Lol, thanks! I felt I was being a bit harsh, but this book annoyed me so much. I also thought the setting was a failure – too many bland descriptions that don’t have the power to transport the reader. And that ending… blink and you miss the climax.
Now that you mention it, I was also annoyed with the way Delia seemed to think communicating with the ghost was somehow impossible. She’s seen ghosts all her life but doesn’t seem to know much about them. The ghost, in turn, could have revealed all the important info through the dreams. Of course that would make the story very short, so we have a list of sill reasons to prolong it, like Delia thinking she can’t communicate, or the ghost saying she couldn’t just tell them where the killer was, Delia had to search for him herself. I hate stupid excuses like that!
No, I didn’t think you were harsh. I wasn’t in love with this but I didn’t dislike it – it just kind of irritated me and I finished it which I don’t do these days if I’m struggling. I seem to have given you more fuel for the fire with my remarks! LOL. I was thinking of doing a post about blogging in the New Year – a discussion type post – about exactly this type of thing – how some people find it difficult to give a harsh review (which I confess I’m a bit coy about being critical myself – and yet I appreciate a review like this. Not just (like so often on Amazon) ‘I don’t like this book’. I want your reasons – which you gave so it’s all good. Grades is the other thing. When I first started I used to sort of score the books A, B, etc. Then when I looked back there was no real system. And a lot of my scoring depended on how I was feeling – so when I looked back – a book that I did think was excellent and given an A might be equalled by a book that I realised wasn’t in the same class. It didn’t make sense for me on reflection which is why I stopped and I must say i find it difficult to give the star reviews on Goodreads for that same reason.
That’s an interesting discussion, and one that’s particularly engaging for many bloggers. I don’t mind giving harsh reviews, unless I’ve met or chatted to the author. On a few occasions the author actually replied very graciously and thanked me for my time, which made me feel a complete twat (perhaps being nice is a good kind of payback because I wouldn’t feel bad if they were rude :D)
Giving reasons for my opinion is very important to me, because that’s what I want from other reviewers, and my favourite bloggers write long, detailed reviews. How else am I to know if I’d feel the same way? And the reasons themselves are interesting and add to the discussion, whether I agree or not.
I agree that rating is a problem. Like I gave The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms 4 stars on GR because there were some things that bugged me even though I loved it. Then I recalled that I gave A Game of Thrones 5 stars and maybe it was more exciting but it was also very long-winded and conventional in some ways while HTK was so fresh and inventive. So I changed the rating. And does Delia’s Shadow really deserve a meagre 2/10? Well if I look over the books that I rated 1-3/10, I might change my mind. And if I hadn’t read some really awesome books just before this one, I might not have been so harsh. I find ratings useful, but I think they should be taken with a grain of salt.
I completely agree – and btw you just made me lol. The thing is that you can kill people with kindness. Basically, if something’s not good then that’s that, although we all have differing opinions of course. With me, I find I no longer suffer books I really hate – except the odd one – so my reviews are mostly positive because I put the crap down (although there is the odd negative review on there – 50 Shades for example). But, what I tend to do is use my enthusiasm so if I’m all like ‘I loved this book, you must read it’ – then I really, really liked it, conversely if I just say ‘this books is about, blah blah’, and then give a few criticisms then, you know, I sort of think people will pick up between the lines, but that’s not always the case is it? It is an interesting discussion though. If you’re interested in passing it around and giving your thoughts let me know.
And, yeah, ratings – so difficult to do – and yet, I love to see other peoples’ ratings even though I don’t do them myself – so clearly I’m a mixed up poodle!
I’m a bit pedantic with bad books – even when I hate reading them I feel that since I requested them or agreed to review them, then I should follow through. And maybe someone will find that review useful. Plus reading bad books makes me appreciate the good ones that much more, and helps me figure out what makes a book good or bad.
Lol, I actually don’t read between the lines for lukewarm reviews. I’d just assume you thought the books was average 🙂
And yeah, I wouldn’t mind giving my thoughts if you want to do a discussion post or something. I’ve actually been meaning to write a post about my review/rating style for ages.