Score: 88/100 (8.8 out of 10)
Shadow of the Gypsy follows a man named Josh Barlet, initially appearing to be just a Black Mountain News journalist in a secluded town, whose past comes back to haunt him, pulling him back to his dangerous roots.
Josh is drawn back to his hometown, which he fled under suspicious and mysterious circumstances, after he learns that an ominous face from the past, Zharko, has finally tracked him down and now holds the cards. Zharko is a member of the dangerous and ruthless Russian mob which is executing illegal activities around Asheville and Litchfield.
However, Zharko isn't the only familiar face that Josh encounters en route to his harrowing return. Josh realizes that returning to his hometown would mean potentially reuniting with his childhood friend and long-time love interest, Molly, whom he has heard is wed to an assistant school principal named George.
Zharko knows Josh personally and intimately, including about Josh's love for Molly and desire to keep her safe. He is able to use this knowledge to blackmail and strong arm Josh into one more job—Devlin's “upshot”--to fulfill an old contract and make everything come full-circle.
Josh is seen as the perfect person to pull of this job because he is viewed as a “good boy, who is always obedient, makes no waves or hides what is happening.” This is ironic because it seems like Josh always hides what is happening.
Shadow of the Gypsy is an ambitious crime thriller with promising characters and an interesting premise.
However, we have to admit that it really got bogged down in the weeds. What do we mean by that? Well, the book really takes its sweet time getting to the point and fleshing out any sort of discernible, distinguishable plot. For perhaps the first hundred pages, we felt like we were left in the dark about what was even going on. We weren't sure if we were reading a book about a small town boy returning to his roots, a former gangster who wanted out but found that impossible, a book about the perils of immigration the experiences of Gypsies and Russian immigrants, a love story about Josh and Molly, or a shoot-em-up/beat-em-up crime thriller. It never feels like the book really commits to either of these, rather attempting to do all of them at 20%.
It really feels like this book's narrative meanders and can't just get to the point.
What's kinda hilarious is that the narrative seems to be—at least subconsciously—aware of this. What evidence do we have of this? Well, some of the actual dialogue admits this. For example, Paul (Josh's boss at the tabloids) says, “Will you quit wasting my time and give it to me plain?”
When Paul later asks, “What is going on?” Josh simply replies with a quote that pretty much encompasses this book, “I'm not exactly sure, which is the whole point. You could say the upshot is all a mystery.”
It was strange how many times we started and stopped this book only to start and stop again, coming away with a surprising little information.
The author, Shelly Frome, is an absolutely brilliant person, a Professor Emeritus of Dramatic Arts at Columbia University! He's also a very prolific author with numerous books to his name.
This book almost comes across like a fun side project, a collection of some great, interesting ideas that the author attempted to tie together. It doesn't seem like something that was quite all there--wrapped up with a card and a nice bow. It's rough.
There just seems to be something... off about it. It's really hard to say why that it is, but we think it has to do with framing compounded by the complicated way that information is presented. For example, a lot of the dialogue is deliberately vague and usually sandwiched between the bad broken English of many of the characters.
Yeah, we really didn't enjoy the author's take on broken English. It reads/sounds almost cartoonish, like something from a comedy, not a serious action-thriller or drama. That kinda tarnishes otherwise interesting characters like Zharko and Vlad, who became annoying to read.
Now, with all that said, this book does have some bright spots and positive/promising things about it.
J.J. comes across as one of the hottest, coolest female characters that we've read about this season. She greatly outshines and overshadows Molly as the female lead. Because of that, the main romantic dynamic also gets overshadowed due to a much more interesting potential love interest.
The other thing that we admired was that there were many impressive philosophical, character-building moments in this book.
For example, there's a powerful allusion (and also direct references) to the story of Jonah and the Whale from the Old Testament of The Bible. This is fitting because Josh is a lot like Jonah. He was someone who had a duty to do and an obligation, but he ran from it instead of taking responsibility for it.
Also, Josh constantly draws inspiration from President Theodore Roosevelt, the Rough Rider himself, who remains famous for his toughness—even giving a long speech after just being shot by an assassin, shrugging it off like a flesh wound. But, ironically, Josh seems to fall short of his own idealism and veneration of Teddy Roosevelt. Josh tries to be stoic, mysterious, and strong, but he's actually a softy and very vulnerable. You get the impression that Josh might crumble over if you so much as look at him with disdain. But Josh is, ultimately, a secret badass who does have the potential to turn on that next gear and become a Teddy Roosevelt.
The book also does try to say something about the experiences of Gypsies, Russian immigrants, and immigrants/immigration in general. They had been viewed with disdain, distrust, and suspicion for centuries—pushed into corners where they were practically forced to pursue unscrupulous means to survive like crime. Many of the characters in this book are the products of this, victims of a system that doesn't stop churning out desperate people.
The other thing this book does well is to explore the question of whether or not a man or a human being can ever become a new man or a new human being. Can you ever really change?
One line reads: “We are who we are.”
Another theme in this book is the concept of home. What is a home? Is home what/where you make it? Is it a specific place? Is it a specific thing? Could it be a person (i.e. Molly)?
One line from a poem in this book reads: “Take the journey, find your way home.” This line replays multiple times, becoming increasingly relevant.
You can check this book out on Amazon!