Two excellent crime stories, separated by a continent, couldn’t be more different, despite their similar titles. We have the East Coast version, The Psychologist’s Shadow, in which a psychologist (whose office is a mile from where I live IRL) is being stalked, and the danger is rising. Far away, on the West Coast, an AWOL Afghanistan vet ends up working as security in a Southern California strip club in Shadow Dance. Trouble ensues. Both authors are poets too. That helps the quality of the writing, and the reading is top-drawer too.
The Psychologist’s Shadow by Laury A. Egan
Fittingly, most of this story unwinds inside the head of psychologist Ellen Haskell, 36. Ellen has closed her Manhattan clinical practice and opened a new office in Princton, New Jersey, the college town where I live. Naturally, the mentions of familiar restaurants, stores, and roads is fun for me, but if you can conjure up a college town with its collection of characters and pressures, you’ll recognize it too.
What’s different about this novel is how well you get to know Ellen’s patients, as you journey through her week. As each patient’s problems are unmasked, you realize that any one of them could be the stalker plaguing her. She lives in a rural area some miles from town in a modern house with much glass. At night, everything inside is easily visible if someone were spying on her. Bit by bit, Ellen becomes convinced someone is.
As so often happens, a person who can offer sound advice or insights about other people seems not to carry that skill over to her own life. Slow to recognize danger. Reluctant to act.
You can almost believe Egan is herself a psychotherapist, so much of the patients’ stories is described with clinical sensitivity. But she is not. She is the author of a dozen previous novels, and has also published short stories and poetry, which may be why her language, even when talking about such elusive matters as feelings, is so clear.
Shadow Dance by Martin Ott
Buddy Rivet has ended his several tours in Afghanistan, somewhat—no, a great deal—worse for wear. He travels cross-country toward the disillusioning promise of California where his best friend Solomon St. James is working as a DJ in a strip club called, with deliberate irony, Club Paradise.
Solomon’s employer is Big Z Pourali, head of an extended Iranian family that believes it can write its own rules. The men are bullies, violent and abusive. The scheming, manipulative women—though attractive, unfortunately, to Solomon and Buddy—have their own agendas.
Rivet’s friend Solomon is gliding down a path to almost certain destruction, dealing drugs and consorting with would-be gangsters. Drugs, guns, alcohol, and sex—what can go wrong? Pretty much everything.
While all this may sound fairly bleak (and is), there’s humor too, and the quality of Ott’s writing lifts the story above its back-alley surroundings. He makes Rivet a perceptive observer, and what he sees are people who will always be on the outside looking in.
I liked Rivet, and I came to believe Club Paradise is only a temporary waystation on his journey to full adulthood, with new adventures to relate. You just have to hope he does find himself, somewhere, soon.