Shadow Show, published in 1976, was the final book of Pat Flower's career. I've talked about Flower a few times in my blog, because although today she is an obscure figure, she is an author who interests me. Born in Britain, she spent most of her life in Australia, and after a number of detective novels she concentrated on novels of psychological suspense. Even in her hey-day, she was never high profile in her native land, but her later books appeared in the Collins Crime Club and Edmund Crispin was among the critics who admired her work.
Shadow Show is a novel of suspense and paranoia. Richard Ross, the protagonist, is essentially an innocent who finds himself entangled in a web of crime and coincidence. He is a young accountant in an export business and he suspects one of his colleagues, Athol Cosgrove, of corruption. But he dithers, characteristically, before doing anything about it, and his hesitation proves costly.
Before long, he is being treated as a prime suspect in a murder case. He tells a number of lies to try to protect himself, and inevitably sinks deeper into the mire. He has a lovely wife, Laura, but their marriage has been affected by the death of their young daughter, and although he is good at his job, and liked by his boss, his involvement - and growing obsession - with the deeply unpleasant Cosgrove is investigated by a shrewd and painstaking cop called Forrest.
Kate Jackson has previously reviewed this book and I agree with her that Ross is something of a wet blanket. His irritating naivete is the reason we don't sympathise with him quite as much as would be desirable if we were to become deeply absorbed by his troubles and deeply anxious about his fate. The challenge for an author writing a book of this kind is to persuade us that the unwise choices made by the protagonist were somehow inevitable, and this is easier said than done. Several times during the story I found myself groaning about Ross's errors of judgement.
And yet. This book does have something that kept me engaged throughout. Pat Flower was a highly capable storyteller and the very last sentence in the novel, nicely under-stated, is genuinely chilling and impressive. It is a terrible tragedy that, the year after the book appeared, Pat Flower - who had long been troubled by poor health - took a fatal overdose. Her work is definitely worth a look.