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Shadow Life
Decter, Michael
In his thoughtful fiction debut, Decter follows the life-changing experiences of a 60-year-old Toronto politicia devastated by the outcome of a trial of an alleged child murderer where he has served as the jury foreperson. Matthew Rice is despondent after the jury he serves on fails to reach a unanimous verdict. Retreating to his island home on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay seems like the only answer, but Matthew’s idyll is marred by the news that the alleged murderer has struck again—and the discovery that Matthew’s biological mother is not the woman who raised him, leading him down a path that will change his life.

The first in a planned trilogy, Shadow Life charts Matthew’s journey to discover more about his birth mother. That lands him in Australia and Ireland, as he uncovers secrets about his Irish heritage and the complex history of his ancestors. Though his travels across the world expose mysteries of his family’s heritage, Matthew is able to find a renewed sense of purpose in the process. Decter excels at gradually increasing the novel’s pace after Matthew’s realization that his father lied to him about the identity of his mother, offering readers an inside view of Matthew’s emotional upheaval—and the impact of the jury verdict is juxtaposed alongside that inner turmoil. Decter quickly hones in on the mystery surrounding Matthew’s mother, and although this knowledge leaves him questioning everything he thought he knew about his family’s heritage, Decter skillfully highlights Matthew’s tenacity in facing the uncovered secrets head-on.

While the smooth plotting, polished prose, and light touch of adventure will lure readers in, Matthew’s ability to reinvent himself, from a person escaping disappointment and considering withdrawing from a failing world to a man who finds in his trauma the wherewithal to build a new purpose, also proves engaging. Matthew’s quest to reveal his family history in Ireland leads him not only on an academic journey to learn the accomplishments of his ancestors, but also back on the path to rediscovering love.

Takeaway: A compelling novel of a man, shaken by injustice, searching for his family history.

Great for fans of: John Strelecky’s The Cafe on the Edge of the World, Andreas Hartinger’s The Brave Child.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A