Monday, July 13, 2020

Shadow Stitcher Book Review

I read a lot of fantasy novels and mysteries--so I was excited to add a book to my reading list that combines the two.  This morning, I am sharing my review of Shadow Stitcher by Misha Handman.  Check out my thoughts, learn about the author and the book--and check out an excerpt from the novel too!

Misha Handman
Urban Fantasy / Mystery

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About the Book

Basil Stark isn’t the man he once was. A reformed pirate and private detective, he walks the line between criminal and hero, living in the corners of what was once the island of Neverland, its magic slowly fading into the new world of the 1950s.

When a routine missing-persons case turns into a murder investigation, Basil finds himself pulled into a tale of organized crime, murder, unstitched shadows and dangerous espionage. With only a handful of fellow outcasts and a stubborn determination to bring a killer to justice, will he survive the many people who want him dead?

My Review

The author creates a fantastic cast of characters in his Everland. I was never a huge Peter Pan fan--so I wasn't sure how I would feel about a modernized fantasy/mystery pulling from Neverland and the magic that it held. I was immediately drawn to Stark and Holly--and into the world that Handman creates in Shadow Stitcher. While the characters work through the mystery--readers pick through pieces of their pasts and explore an evolved Neverland in Handman's Everland. 

Shadow Stitcher Offers Readers a Unique Storyline.  I enjoyed the author's writing style and character development. While I didn't think I would enjoy the Peter Pan tie-ins--I found that I enjoyed the overall story very much. I am sure that true Peter Pan fans would have followed some of the novel's twists and relationships a bit easier than I did--and I think reading the first book featuring Basil Stark may have added more details that I felt I was missing from time to time. Yet, I thought Shadow Stitcher was a unique blend of fantasy and mystery sure to interest fans of both.

Would I Recommend Shadow Stitcher.  The book was paced very well with just enough humor, twists, and action to keep the novel flowing from page to page. Whether you are a fan of Peter Pan and Neverland--or if you enjoy a well-written fantasy or unique mystery--I think this book and the series should be on your reading list. While this book is a standalone novel, I would like to read Crocodile Tears, an earlier book in the Basil Stark Investigation series (or even re-read Peter Pan). I feel there were pieces of the characters and the mystery that I didn't quickly put together at times. I enjoyed the author's writing style--and his characters--and I look forward to following the characters through more adventures in future books.

Buy the Book

Read an Excerpt

Thursday, February 5th, 1953

There is a game I like to play whenever a client walks into my office. I sit him down — or her, occasionally, but usually a ‘him’ — and ask the simple question, “How can I help you today?” Then I start to count. I’ve found that you can tell quite a bit about someone from how long it takes for them to respond.
            My latest client does not disappoint. As I silently count, I consider the man sitting across from me. Jack Harding looks to be in his fifties, although looks could be deceiving, especially for those who have lived in the city for some time. I myself don’t look a day over thirty in a good light, despite the fact that I am … well … I don’t know exactly how much older. Old enough to remember a time before the city existed.
Regardless, my client appears to be in his fifties. He is slightly portly, with thinning grey hair and a pair of thick glasses. His suit is well-made and carefully pressed, so I gather that he has some money, but I don’t recognize him, so he can’t be too important. There is a small amount of sweat beading on his brow, despite the fact that it is quite cold outside and my office is not well heated. That, combined with the five seconds he spends composing a reply, suggests to me that he is about to give me a problem that seems important and embarrassing to him, but which is actually quite mundane. The fact that he's playing with his pocketwatch without opening or looking at it is even more evidence.
            “Well, Mr. Stark…” he begins, stammering slightly, “I hope that you can help me.”
            He’s stalling.  I glance at Harding’s hands, crossed in his lap, and am not surprised to see a ring on his finger. It will be about a woman. A younger woman, most likely. I give him a polite smile. “Mr. Harding, helping people is what I do.”
            That is not technically correct. What I do, more often, is help one person in a manner which upsets several others. Occasionally I help no one at all, and upset a great many people. But I’ve found that, despite what my mother taught me, it’s more important to be polite than to be accurate.
“Um. Yes.” Harding’s return smile is forced. “I need you to find someone.”
            “Well, Mr. Harding, finding people is one of my specialties. I am particularly good at doing so discreetly.” I lean forward slightly, fixing my best smile on my face. I’ve been told that it can use all the help it can get.
            “Ah. Good. Good.” Harding smiles again, and with some effort I manage to restrain a sigh. This is, bar none, my least favorite part of a case.
Fortunately for my increasingly-frayed patience, my assistant chooses this moment to enter the room with a tray, a pot of tea, and a pair of china cups. “Would you care for some tea, Mr. Harding?” she asks politely.
            “Ah, yes, thank you. No coffee, I suppose?”
Holly and I share a quick look, and then she smiles brightly. “Of course, Mr. Harding. Just let me warm up the pot.”
            “Seems a nice young lady,” Harding says once Holly has left the room. “Piccadilly?”
            I nod once, refraining from comment. Mostly, I’m curious to see where Harding intends to go from here. Many of my clients try to show how open-minded they are by making a comment about how kind I was to hire a Piccadilly Indian as a secretary, and prove themselves to be anything but in the process. Others make crass comments regarding her beauty, suggesting that I keep her for more than her dictation skills. A few simply show their disdain for my life choices, which I am sadly used to. One particularly foolish gentleman suggested that she was my half-breed daughter, which was absurd. Aside from the both of us having black hair, I look nothing like Holly. She takes after her mother — short, bright-eyed, a bit round, and rather gorgeous. I am taller, bony, and I have never been described as handsome. A few people have charitably called me rakish. Usually I get ‘weathered,’ and once I was termed ‘horse face.’
            I am pleasantly surprised when Harding does none of the above. Staring down at the teacups between us, he simply returns my nod and finally starts to speak. “My marriage has not been a happy one, Mr. Stark. It was clear quite early on that my wife and I were not suited for one another.”
Oh dear. “It’s not my place to judge, Mr. Harding, only to help. I take it this missing person is someone … close to you?”
Harding smiles faintly. He pauses when Holly returns with a steaming mug of coffee. Taking it from her with a smile and a nod of thanks, he applies a liberal dose of cream and sugar before stirring. Once she has left, he continues. “Yes, quite close. Angela Vickers is her name. I have a photograph.” Reaching into his jacket, he comes out with a well-worn and folded photo. I take it, then carefully unfold and study it. Definitely a young woman, even younger than I would have guessed — not much older than Holly, unless I miss my guess. She’s smiling, eyes twinkling and hair pale, wearing a glittering evening gown and a fashionable hat.
“Your camera, I suppose?” I ask.
Harding nods. “I’m something of a photography enthusiast.” He takes a sip of coffee, makes a bit of a face, but then takes another. “I first met Angela at a formal dinner I was attending. I must admit that she was not there as a guest, but as a hostess.”
“You became smitten, and asked her to attend some other event with you, I suppose?”
Harding colors and a wistful smile crosses his face. “That’s right. Not one of my usual haunts, mind you. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but I was delighted when she accepted. Over the past few months, she has been … well, lovely.”
Typical. “You bought the dress and the jewelry she is wearing in this picture.”
Harding’s smile fades as my tone gets through to him. “I bought her some gifts, yes. The smile on her face was worth every penny.” He takes a deep breath. “And for the first several months, it was wonderful, only … in the last few weeks, I’ve felt that something was worrying her. Nothing that she would admit to, of course. She claimed to be perfectly happy. But Saturday night, she wasn’t at her flat when I arrived to pick her up, and now I can’t find her anywhere. The landlord has informed me that she moved without paying her last week’s rent, and I can’t locate her. Frankly, I’m at my wits’ end.”
“Have you spoken with her friends?”
“Well…” Harding bites his lip, taking a long sip of coffee to cover his distress. “I don’t really know many of them, you see. We mostly attended events that were more … upscale.”
Oh dear.
I pick up the photograph again. “Mr. Harding, I hesitate to suggest this, but you do realize the most likely explanation?”
Harding nods, staring down at his coffee. “You think she’s grown tired of the old fart. Now that she has the gifts I bought her, she’s moved on to greener pastures.” He looks up. “But I didn’t imagine her distress, Mr. Stark. I can’t go to the police; I really have nothing but my intuition to rely on, and besides, if it got out that I’d been seeing a girl on the side, the scandal would be very bad for my career. But you’re known for your discretion. I would just—” He breaks off and swallows heavily. “If you do find her and she doesn’t wish to see me again, that will be the end of it. I just want to know that she’s not in any trouble.”
I consider this and the photograph for several moments before responding. “May I hold on to this for a few days?”
Harding looks up hopefully. “You’ll take the case?”
I nod. “I’m sure Holly explained my rates to you. I’ll need her address and any other information you have on her, as well. I can’t guarantee anything, Mr. Harding, but I’ll look into it. And rest assured, I will be discreet.”
            Harding stands with a broad smile, taking my hand as I follow him to the door and shaking it enthusiastically. “Thank you, Mr. Stark. Thank you so much.”
I warn him, “Don’t thank me yet, I might wind up taking your money and finding nothing. A missing person who intends to stay missing isn’t easy to find. She might have taken a ship back to America by now.”
“Nonetheless,” Harding says. “If anyone can find her, you can.”
“Thank you for the vote of confidence, Mr. Harding,” I say. “Now, tell me everything you know.”
Once I have the lady’s address and supposed work address, along with what Harding can remember about her friends and a list of the presents he gave her, I escort him to the office’s front room, and wait while Holly hands him his coat. “I’ll be in touch as soon as I have any information,” I say. As the door closes behind him, I breathe out slowly, turning to look at Holly. “Really?”
She smiles a bit bashfully. “Oh I know, Uncle Basil. But it’s just so romantic!”
            Holly is not actually my niece. But I am a friend of her family’s, I have known her for her entire life, and she’s never gotten out of the habit of calling me that. It’s not worth the energy fighting her on the subject.
“Romantic. Right.” I shake my head, pacing back and forth. “You know that I’ve already solved this case.”
            She sits on the edge of her desk, giving me a dubious look. “I’m listening.”
“An older man meets a young lady who successfully charms him. He spends several months courting her. After winning enough expensive gifts from him, she vanishes into the night. You know exactly what happened.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” Holly protests.
I raise an eyebrow. “Angela Vickers,” I said. “That dreadful movie you dragged me to last year? Angela Vickers was the name of Elizabeth Taylor’s character. So not only do we have a fraud, but a fraud with a dreadfully poor imagination.”
“That movie won six Academy Awards, Uncle Basil.”
“Dreadful,” I repeat.
“And yet you remember the name of one of the main characters,” Holly points out. “Over a year later.”
This was not an argument worth having. “As I was saying, we have someone who has clearly constructed a character, and the character that she has constructed is telling: a high-society debutante, someone flashy and friendly who lures men to their destruction. She accepts a great many gifts from her rich, much older benefactor who works in—” I break off, a thought occurring. “What does Mr. Harding work in?”
“Port authority,” Holly says, trying to hide a smirk. When I change the subject, she tends to assume that it’s because she’s won. “He’s their Human Resources director.”
“God save us from government,” I mutter. “Where was I? Yes. A rich benefactor, a government-type with money to spend and an unhappy marriage. Rich, but not extravagantly so. She grows uncomfortable — or so he believes — and eventually departs without so much as a note.” I shake my head. “In deference to your romantic ideals, Holly, I’ll give you three possible solutions to this situation, all of which have the same ending.”
“Go on,” Holly says, sitting back behind her desk and artfully posing her chin in her hands.
Ignoring her, I continue. “The first solution is also the most likely. Harding’s gifts were getting less impressive as his funds ran down, or else our ‘Angela’ felt that they were about to. She has left in search of greener pastures. The second solution, slightly less likely, is that our mysterious vixen only wished for a certain amount of money, and has departed to live her own life. The third, and I should note by far the least likely option, is that … well … let’s be honest. Harding is a bit of a sad sack.” As I talk, I start pacing around the room. Our space isn’t large. technically, it has three rooms — my personal office, the reception, and a small kitchen. I don’t mind, but it does mean that when I start to walk and talk, I find myself turning around frequently.
Holly is used to me. “I can’t argue with that,” she says. “I felt sorry for him just getting his coffee.”
“It’s entirely possible, if not plausible, that his paramour started to feel guilty about bilking him so thoroughly and has decided to move on to someone she feels is more deserving of her tricks.” I shrug, pulling on my coat. “Unfortunately for our Mr. Harding, all three of those stories have the same ending and that ending involves me wasting quite a bit of time tracking down a woman who does not want to be found, learning that she does not want to be found, and returning to explain to Mr. Harding that, as mentioned—”
“She does not want to be found.” Holly mimics my expression and intonation, and then smiles. “So why did you take the case?”
I pause by the kitchen door and turn to face her. “I enjoy being able to pay the rent,” I say dryly. “Harding seemed to be aware of how unlikely this little mission is. If he wants to spend his dollars confirming what he already knows, my conscience is clear. Besides, I could use the fresh air.”
“I know the feeling,” Holly says, sitting back in her chair. She frowns as I grab my coat. “Are you heading out now?”
            I consider the current tram lines and the area of town I intend to canvass. “I don’t see why not. You can lock up behind me and head home for the night.”
This is clearly not the response that Holly wants to hear. “It’s almost six, Uncle Basil,” she points out. “Dinner is at seven.”
“According to Harding, our mystery lady lives in Marooners. Fifteen minutes on the tram, twenty minutes to talk to a few people and have a glance at our mystery lady’s apartment, twenty minutes to get back to Piccadilly Cross. Which leaves me with five minutes to freshen up before dinner.”
“Mom is going to flip her top if you’re late.”
 “Plum won’t even notice. Besides, I’ve been late plenty of times before. Also, I am not going to be late because I have a schedule.”
“Totally. Flip.” Holly lets the syllables roll across her tongue.
“Holly, we don’t get enough clients that I can afford to leave a case be. I’m just checking out the apartment.”
Holly shakes her head. “I’m just saying, it’s not good manners to ditch a dinner invite. Repeatedly.”
“I’m not ditching anything,” I say, putting on my hat, picking up my cane for protection, and opening the office door. “I’ll be at your house by seven.”
Leaving Holly grumbling behind me, I walk out into the waning light of winter in Everland.

About the Author

Born on Vancouver Island, Canada, Misha Handman spent his early life immersed in the arts, with one parent a teacher and the other a manager of theatre and opera. Moving across the country to Ottawa, and then Toronto, he began writing at a young age – first writing comics and designing card games for his closest friends and then, buoyed by their approval, gradually expanding out to submissions to magazines and short story collections, and graduating from the University of Toronto with a classic English degree.

Misha has always believed in the importance of entertainment to our health and well-being. He is also interested in our shared fictional history, working in game design to develop collaborative games and story-driven experiences and exploring the new worlds that we are sharing. His fascination with these things led to the development of his first novel, Shadow Stitcher, as an exploration of the English classic “Peter Pan.”

When not writing, Misha spends his time in Victoria, Canada, working as a professional fundraiser for charities – a job he describes as “helping people to help people.” He continues to work on game design on the side, and is always excited to see the myriad ways that people approach story construction and creation, both as a voracious reader of genre fiction and a dedicated player of games.

Connect with the Author

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