It is the dawn of a new century in San Francisco and Delia Martin is a wealthy young woman whose life appears ideal. But a dark secret colors her life, for Delia’s most loyal companions are ghosts, as she has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with an ability to peer across to the other side.
Since the great quake rocked her city in 1906, Delia has been haunted by an avalanche of the dead clamoring for her help. Delia flees to the other side of the continent, hoping to gain some peace. After several years in New York, Delia believes she is free…until one determined specter appears and she realizes that she must return to the City by the Bay in order to put this tortured soul to rest.
It will not be easy, as the ghost is only one of the many victims of a serial killer who was never caught. A killer who after thirty years is killing again.
And who is now aware of Delia’s existence.
Delia’s Shadow is one of those novels that feels like it really ought not to be my kind of thing; a period piece, a romance, a ghost-centred urban fantasy, a turn of the century story about the middle classes. And yet, Jaime Lee Moyer’s novel is compulsively readable.
That readability is driven by the style of the novel; it isn’t written in a faux-turn of the century manner, but rather in a very modern, engaging fashion. Moyer’s style is breezy and simple, without being slight; the use of limited-third and first person narrations for two different viewpoint characters, and the different voices each has, is very effective in conveying events and also the emotions and feel of the novel; and Delia’s Shadow has the kind of style that grabs the reader and won’t let go, without relying on forced suspense or failed cliffhangers but instead on a writing style that just keeps on drawing one back in with a combination of charm and simplicity.
The characters of Delia’s Shadow are a little less charming, though. That’s in part because Moyer spends a little too much time talking about how charming some of them are, and how she approaches writing flirting; and it doesn’t mean they are unengaging – in fact, both Delia and Gabe are written wonderfully engagingly, when they aren’t flirting, and the secondary cast – Sadie, Jack and Dora – are reasonably charismatic.The problem is that charming, here, tends to come across a little stilted, a little heavy and a little overbearing; these traits would be acceptable if the charm was occasional, but Moyer uses it rather too often, alongside an attempt at writing naivete that is more frustrating than meaningful; it moves from naive into oblivious rather strongly and in a significantly frustrating way. The characters of Delia’s Shadow are, then, let down by the minor notes of their character; this is unfortunate given that the individuality of voice, and the excellence of the depiction of the majority of their personalities, are very well done.
The plot of Delia’s Shadow is rather strange, combining as it does a whodunnit that is literally impossible to solve until Moyer allows her characters to solve it – we’re not expected to work out the solution, although much of the mystery feels as if it is written to suggest we are; the information is simply not presented to the reader to put together. The romance is similarly plain, and obvious – our two protagonists and leads inevitably fall in love despite not really seeming to have any chemistry beyond a vague mutual charmingness. On the upside, the tension of the serial-killer plot is handled well, with the building suspense and threat to the characters of the novel impressively well written.
In the end, then, Delia’s Shadow seems to manage to rise above its flaws to be a very readable and enjoyable read; Moyer may not be the subtlest writer in all respects but is a very gripping one.