by Stephen Dedman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Shadow Bites is Stephen Dedman’s sequel to his debut novel, The Art of Arrow Cutting. Although his characters remain the same, this novel has a very different flavor to it, partly in testament to Dedman’s growth as an author, but also due to his decision to write a completely different novel.
While The Art of Arrow Cutting focused on Michaelangelo Magistrale (Mage), Shadows Bite focuses more on Mage’s friend, Charlie Takumo, who has remained in Los Angeles while Mage has gone gallivanting around the world to learn how to you the focus, the source of his magical powers, to heal and alleviate suffering. Unfortunately, the daughter of the Japanese “businessman” Mage defeated in The Art of Arrow Cutting seeks vengeance and believes that Charlie is the link which will reveal Mage’s whereabouts.
Shadows Bite is not just a tale of vengeance, however. In fact, Haruko Tamenaga’s attempt to avenge her father, Tatsuo, is only a minor plot. Kelly Barbet, a returning attorney from The Art of Arrow Cutting, gets involved in a strange case in which a nurse, Gaye Lind, is arrested for body theft in a strange case involving a missing and mutilated corpse. Kelly looks to Charlie for assistance, and they soon find themselves involved with Solomon Tudor, a movie-producer turned Satanic cult leader and a group of possible vampires.Dedman handles his main characters as well and likeably in Shadows Bite as he did in The Art of Arrow Cutting, however, his plot is a little more convoluted as Charlie deals with the threats of the vampires and the Japanese underground. At first, Charlie is unable to distinguish the sources of the various attacks since he does not realize that anyone other than Tamenaga's people are after him. In some ways, this works to Charlie's benefit since the two factions are equally unaware of each other.
Unlike many vampire novels, the characters in Shadows Bite have ready access to any number of popular culture depictions of vampires. Charlie stops in a used bookstore and buys several horror novels when he realizes what he is up against while patrons of a goth bar full of vampire-wannabes sit around reading vampire magazines such as Dreams of Decadence. Dedman plays with all the different legends as well and his vampires are not limited to a single type, making characters encounters with them more tense as they do not know exactly what type of vampire they are facing.
Neither of the villains in Shadows Bite have the presence of Tatsuo Tamenaga. His daughter has neither the fortitude or amiability Tatsuo had. She is merely a shadow of his power, trying to hold on to his empire through intimidation and little else. Solomon Tudor has more strength and raw power, but he is not as likeable a character as Tatsuo was. Enough new characters are added, both allies for Charlie and his adversaries, that characters are not a problem in Shadows Bite. Unfortunately, the novel relies a little too much on knowledge of the events in The Art of Arrow Cutting for a full appreciation, something which could have been avoided with a little more focus on Haruko's vendetta.
Despite wrapping up loose ends, Shadows Bite has an unfinished feel to it, possibly because of the small role played directly by Haruko or Dedman's quick dispatch of her storyline. Nevertheless, it is an intelligent mixture of vampire fiction and literature noir, which could easily have been longer and more detailed without losing any of its audience.
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