In Shadow Puppet, the seventh Dan Sharp mystery, Toronto writer Jeffrey Round turns a fine, almost perfect book with a minimalist finale. There are funny moments, dramatic turns, heartfelt found-family subplots, and creepy scenes as Sharp hunts down what he suspects is a potential serial killer at large in Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. It’s a story that could be ripped from the headlines regarding actual events in Toronto’s Gay Village, yet as Round indicates in the preface, he penned the tale before the revelations came out about a real-life serial killer preying on the community. (See this piece in Vanity Fair about accused serial killer Bruce McArthur.)
Dan Sharp is hired to track down a missing young man who is part of Toronto’s LGBTQ+ community. He inadvertently stumbles on a possible link between other missing young gay Muslim men in the community and navigates nightclubs, creepy characters, and even a perilous dating scene.
|Published by Dundurn Press, 2019.|
The novel is sprinkled with several horror allusions that I appreciated. These include the creepy old basement and the ancient furnace at the Viking apartment building setting, the latter of which reminded me of the furnace in Stephen King's The Shining ("It creeps," the caretaker said in the opening scene of that novel.). Thankfully, though, the furnace does not blow up and destroy part of the Viking and the serial killer therein. (I was prepared to feel cheated if this Deus Ex Machina occurred and was very relieved with it didn't). I like how Round deals in horror tropes but works them in so that they are part of the texture of the story and simply the scarier aspects of Sharp's job.
The pop culture references, dashed throughout, work nicely to add levity to Sharp’s bleak investigation, which occurs in an early Canadian winter. My absolute favourite was a comparison of a leather-man character to The Incredible Hulk.
However, I was mildly disappointed that the story did not feature a character with the last name Moran, as Tony Moran did in The God Game, the previous Dan Sharp novel in the series. Thus, I did not see my surname throughout a Dan Sharp novel a second time.
The date scenes that Sharp endures/experiences are painfully accurate. His exchange with a fanatical/paranoid/egotistical body-builder is a particularly humorous scene that had me laughing aloud as I read it in bed. A scene where the P.I. makes inquiries at the Mr. Toronto Leather competition was also a particular delight where contestants and audience members alike lavish him with far too much unwanted attention in the spotlight. Admittedly, this scene was particularly enjoyable for me, as I have written many news stories about Ottawa’s Mr. Ottawa Leather competition for Capital Xtra, xtra.ca (I used to call it the leather beat. Get it....?). It’s a ridiculously funny scene, but believable and demonstrative of how Dan has an appealing look to even the leather crowd.
The epilogue is a kick to the heart, but I won’t spoil it.
While Shadow Puppets is the seventh Dan Sharp mystery, it occurs between The Jade Butterfly and After the Horses, the third and fourth Sharp novels. The only flaw in the book I see is that a reader familiar with the Sharp mystery series will know that Dan will likely make it out unscathed. On that note, Round’s foreword, explaining this in-between continuity to readers, remains a wise editorial choice.
For the next editions of the books, perhaps Dundurn Press should number them in chronological. As well, Dundurn should eventually market all the Sharp books in a set. That would be an undeniably sexy gift set.
(Both of my suggestions, I’m guessing, may already be in the works.)