Shadow Stitcher: An Everland Mystery by Misha Handman

Front cover of Shadow Stitcher by Misha HandmanThe mean streets and crumpled suits of crime noir intermingle with icons of a children’s classic, creating a detective tale where the endless joy isn’t completely gone but has become frayed and dirty.

Decades ago, the adult world reached Neverland. The glorious war between the pirates and the Lost Boys has been replaced by politics, business, and organised crime., and attempts to make childhood magic a commodity have only made it fade faster. Hook’s former first mate Basil Stark makes a living as a private detective. When a businessman hires him to find a missing paramour, he assumes it is just another tawdry tale of a man being conned by a pretty face; however, as he looks deeper he finds evidence of a remnant of the childish past acting with very adult intent.

Handman blends JM Barrie’s Peter Pan with pulp detective stories, producing a 1950’s US city where a new generation of Picadilly Indians live in their own enclave protected by treaty, fairy dust is cut with various substances to make a recreational drug, and the remaining inhabitants of Neverland from before civilisation arrived have started to age. Skilfully echoing the threads of darkness that lie within Barrie’s original tale, the novel resonates with the cynicism and violence of classic noir without losing the sense that this is the same world of eternal childhood japes that the Darlings found. The more fantastical elements, such as fairies, maintain a certain otherness that produces an engaging counterpoint to the solidity of American urbanity and capitalist corruption.

While Handman does not actively go out of his way avoid the obvious metaphor of adult concerns destroying childhood innocence, this is very much a gritty thriller filled with fast-paced action, dogged investigation, and a protagonist who is as much criminal as hero rather than a veneer of story over a portrait of human nature.

Unlike some novels that revisit to classic settings, signature elements of Neverland are fully integrated into the plot rather than merely appearing; thus, while Handman does not shy from allowing a reader’s potential knowledge of Barrie’s world to lead them astray, the events unfold as they do because they occur in Neverland rather than their unfolding also taking the reader on a tour of Neverland.

Stark is a most engaging and characterful protagonist—if not one who will necessarily appeal to readers who wish their detective to possess, or at least achieve by the end of the book, a moral clarity. While neither Barrie nor adaptations of Peter Pan portrayed Hook’s pirates in particular depth and nuance, Handman manages to infuse a sense of continuity without engineering circumstances to be ones that happen to be especially amenable to the skillset of a pirate.

The supporting cast are a sound fit for the setting and plot, built around detective noir tropes but given individual tweaks that make them more than stereotypes. Handman’s handling of those who have come to Neverland after modern civilisation had settled in is perhaps particularly realistic, with a few seeing the events of Peter Pan as childish imagination, a few assuming they mean other equally implausible things are true, and many having let the differences become mundane unless they are forced to acknowledge them.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel greatly. I recommend it to readers seeking gritty urban fantasy or crime noir.

3 thoughts on “Shadow Stitcher: An Everland Mystery by Misha Handman

    1. Occasionally, but not very often.

      As reviewing all the books I read like this would take more time than I want to spend on it, I prioritise review copies I’ve been sent; as most authors/publishers who contact me have found me through my reviews, I don’t tend to get sent books I won’t like, so that slants the deck.

      With several authors valuing my reviews enough that they send me everything they release, that effect has amplified over the years.

      With several books per week to chose from, if I’m not reviewing a book I’ve been sent then I still have options so—as my audience is likely to be mostly people who share many of my tastes—I tend to choose something I’ve enjoyed rather than something I didn’t. Which slants the deck again.

      I also enjoy more than one aspect of “good” writing; so, if a novel has an average plot and unexceptional prose but several really engaging characters I might still enjoy it; equally, I might really love an author’s world-building and their use of language but find the plot has too many coincidences to create tension.

      Equally, I know that while my audience are likely to be people who share my tastes, they don’t all share all of my exact tastes: for example, I know people who will mark a book down for each imperfection in grammar and syntax and others who judge a book on whether the plot is fast or slow.

      Thus, while I’m aware that what affects a person’s enjoyment of a book unconsciously can be a broader thing than what they think they care about, my aim with the bulk of each review is to capture what sort of book it is so people who care about dialect/plausibility/worldbuilding/&c. can all get a feel for whether that is a significant thing (one way or the other) in this book.

      So, when I review a novel I disliked, the majority of the review is likely to feel very similar to that for one I am likely to re-read except for the last paragraph which will probably say something like me not being the target audience rather than baldly stating the book objectively isn’t good.

      Liked by 1 person

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