Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Delia's Shadow (Delia Martin #1) by Jaime Lee Moyer

Life has not been easy for Delia.  Her family died in the great earthquake in San Francisco, leaving her on her own, with the exception of her best friend Sadie.  Delia is a haunted woman and she sees ghosts.  Seeking to get away from the supernatural, Delia moves across country but when a particular ghost becomes insistent about invading her dreams and showing her horrible images of San Francisco, Delia knows that she must return home to get to the bottom of what she is being shown. What Delia does not know, is that the trip home will place her in the middle of a hunt for a serial killer.  

Despite the hunt for a serial killer and a thread of romance running through the story, Delia's Shadow is not really a compelling read.  It's the sort of book to pick up to kill time while waiting to do something else.  It moved along at a steady pace, to a highly predictable ending.  There were no twists or turns to engage the readers and at times, the characters were awfully tiresome. The story quite simply was flat.  

For a period novel, Moyer really failed to give us a strong sense of the setting. I had great difficulty picturing the time period, let alone believing it. For instance, men did not wear Fedora's in 1915, as the style became popular in the 20's. There were no real descriptions to give us a strong sense of time or place;  nothing to tells us what the culture was like.  Little things like talking about the music people were listening to, or a more vivid description of the clothing been worn would have gone a long way in giving the setting a more life like feel.

There are several female characters in this story, yet the real action always seemed to come down to the men.  The male characters were constantly fretting over the women and ordering protection for their safety.  At no point did any of the women actively think about how to protect themselves.  The gender roles were rigid and strictly enforced throughout, with the exception of  Esther, who lived a bohemian lifestyle by taking on lovers instead of a husband.  Moyer stopped just short of having her female characters clutch their pearls.  

San Fransisco has always been a multicultural city but beyond one mention of Chinatown and Annie, the Black maid, you wouldn't know that from reading Delia's Shadow. For me, Annie was one of the most frustrating characters in the book.  Annie had no backstory to speak of and existed only to smile, and feed people.  In essence, Annie is a Mammy - there to comfort the White characters with no real identity of her own. Annie even sings Negro Spirituals and we are continually reminded of how wise Annie is. It was so ridiculous that I wonder if Moyer has ever interacted with a living Black woman?

Then we have the antagonist Ethan, who sent letters to the police containing references to Egyptian mythology.  It turned Egyptian mythology into this mysterious dark thing that consumed people.  Ethan was also abused as a child and this was used to explain his little penchant for murdering and abusing people. This is yet another terrible stereotype and one that follows people who were victims in their childhood. Does growing up being abused damage a person? Yes, most certainly, but then to suggest all who are abused become like their abuser is terribly stigmatizing and wrong. We should have been given a different motivation for Ethan's actions.  There was no nuance to his character, nor did we learn anything about him beyond his history as a victim. 

I wanted to like Delia's Shadow, after all, who doesn't like a good ghost story?  It didn't help that everyone quickly believed Delia and started having supernatural experiences themselves, or that the ghosts themselves were rather passive.  The ghosts seem to just hang around and add nothing substantial to the plot.  It was like one long tea party for them.  There is little to recommend Delia's Shadow and nothing about it that is original, or in the least bit striking.  At best, it's mediocre and will kill time if you're bored, but if you're looking for true entertainment value, I suggest you look somewhere else.