Berkley Publishing Corporation
Released in 1980
reviewed by Brian James Lewis
WELCOME to the second installment of my Throwback Thursday Thrifty Thriller book review series! Today our subject is a battered paperback of the very dark and complex SHADOWLAND by horror writer extraordinaire, Peter Straub.
The book is broken up into three parts. In part one, our mysterious narrator speaks with Tom Flanagan about a book he wants to write about the summer that Tom spent with his friend Del Nightingale. It was not just any old summer vacation because they were staying with master magician Coleman Collins at his secluded mansion. The entire experience turned out to be a lot more than either boy expected. Especially Tom, who thinks that they are just there to learn some magic. After the introduction, we go to a creepy boys’ prep school and that is where our heroes meet. Del and Tom become good friends while suffering through a freaky series of events that include such weirdos as Skeleton Ridpath and the school’s new headmaster, Laker Broome.
Luckily Tom and Del find that they share a love of magic, and soon they are spending a lot of time together. Del is incredibly rich and treats the world with the indifference caused by such a condition. This sometimes puts he and Tom at odds with each other. That, and the fact that Del’s natural parents are dead, sets him apart from Tom, whose parents are more of the working class type. When Tom’s father starts dying from cancer, Del cannot relate. A person who connects very well with Tom, is Bud, the butler at Del’s house. Unlike the other rich white people, who think it to be below them, Tom shakes Bud’s dark skinned hand and treats him with the respect the quiet, mysterious man deserves. Both of them realize that although Del’s uncle is teaching him magic when he visits his home in Vermont, that being alone with Coleman Collins is not safe for him.
On what turns out to be Del’s final visit to his uncle’s estate, Tom accompanies him. It seems like everyone wants him to keep an eye on little Del and he feels it himself, that something is not right. However, Coleman Collins is a serious force to be reckoned with and seems to be omniscient, and if for some reason he’s not watching the boys, he has some bad-ass hired hands who are more than happy to rough them up. There’s also a strange device called, “The Collector” which Collins introduces as a sort of plaything, but it is far from that. The Collector collects peoples’ souls, their life essence, and there they stay unless Collins sees fit to release them. Coleman Collins doesn’t really give two shits about pulling a quarter from behind your ear. No, what Collins has tapped into is so evil that it makes the Devil look kind of wimpy.
Here come the boys who just want to levitate and learn the secrets of entertainment style magic. Tom wants to protect his little pal Del. Del wants to hook up with a female spirit named Rose that lives in the lake on Collins’ property and can’t see anything else. Coleman Collins wants the entire showcase. He wants to have enough power to run the entire world as he sees fit. The person who unknowingly has that power is Tom Flanagan. Collins aims to strip him of that power, kill his pesky little nephew, and for a good long while, live trouble free. Just when it looks like the show is over, Bud shows up and saves the day by telling Tom what his role in the magic world is supposed to be. Tom takes that ball and runs with it, but he can’t save everybody or fix everything. He’s just a kid, after all! SHADOWLAND has a LOT of stuff going on in it. There are multiple layers of stories, time travel, triumphs, defeats, and instead of really ending, the book perches uncertainly. The narrator goes to take a peek at the wreck that was once Coleman Collins kingdom and finds that the property has all been purchased by a Mr. Flanagan. Every square inch is fenced off, but…as the narrator looks on, he swears he hears voices speaking and something bubbling in the lake…
This is one hell of a great book from a writer who writes in many styles. If you liked Peter Straub’s collaborations with Stephen King, you are going to love this book. Grab it on Amazon while it’s back in print, or a used copy like I did. You won’t regret it!