Shadow Play: A Mystery
by Rajorshi Chakraborti
Cover Artist: Photo: Tracy Morford / Rodrigo Carral design
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312642341
Date: 20 July 2010 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Raj Chakraborti is mentally unbalanced. Raised in Calcutta, India, he was a victim of a dysfunctional family. His fiancée died tragically. As a young man, he traveled from London to Rio de Janeiro to New York, and was always surrounded by perverse neighbors. Craving the limelight, he married a famous film director, Ana da Lima, and associated himself with controversial celebrities. Now, his career as a highly successful novelist is fading. He has an affair with a reporter, Sharon, who is assassinated by a hit man, Charles Robert Pereira. Afterwards, he finds himself a target of this same hit man.
Rajorshi Chakraborti's Shadow Play is one of the strangest, most bizarre novels I have ever read. I can safely say that most people will find it too perplexing to enjoy. One must concentrate hard when reading it to understand the events that are transpiring. The author breaks all the rules while crafting Shadow Play. First, he inserts himself as the novel's main character as though it is autobiographical. Second, Shadow Play consists of not one but two novels within a novel. Each novel is told in the first person from the point of view of either Raj or Charles. Third, chapters within each novel jump forward and backward in time. However, each chapter is clearly titled and dated to prevent confusion.
It wasn't the format of Shadow Play that confused me as much as it was my inability to differentiate between fact and fiction. I could never believe anything that was told by either Raj or Charles. Both were involved in the field of writing and both had bizarre dreams that made me question their sanities. For example, in Calcutta, Ray dreams of white horses falling from the sky into a deep chasm. In Manhattan, Charles dreams of white sharks appearing in a high rise apartment and attacking party guests. In the first chapter of his novel, Charles informs the reader that his decision to become a serial killer was influenced by his girlfriend who was a shape-shifter who killed her uncle. After turning into a cat, she fell from a balcony, became trapped in a giant spider's web and eventually fell to her death. I was disappointed when this supernatural element didn't become more prevalent in future chapters.
In fact, Shadow Play had the potential to be an awesome novel, but never succeeded beyond mediocrity. My favorite chapters were those involving Charles. He described how he randomly chose and killed his victims to prevent them from being traced back to him. It was an enjoyable hobby for him. (A means of releasing stress, I suppose.) However, a man, Faisul, has witnessed him kill on several occasions and wishes him to work for his organization. A drugged and bound Charles is taken to Rio de Janeiro where he feels trapped, always waiting for his next assignment while working in a restaurant. Unfortunately, I grew weary of Charles' tales of eccentric customers and yearned for him to describe in more detail who and how he assassinated.
Both Raj and Charles wasted too much time whining and complaining. I wished Raj had talked more about his dysfunctional family. Certainly, his wife Ana, a film director, had some scandalous stories Raj could have related to the reader. Ana, herself, claimed that Raj always wanted to be in the limelight; his disappearance was probably a means for getting attention. Raj, when angered, often ranted nonstop about capitalism, a subject that grew tiresome. I would find myself yearning for the next chapter in order to read about Charles. Unfortunately, towards the end, most of the hit man's narration pertained to his bizarre dreams.
The ending of Shadow Play was rather anticlimactic. Hoping for a bizarre twist that would reward my patience, I was sorely disappointed. The novel ended abruptly with no closure. In a mystery, readers crave closure. Most, if not all, questions should be answered. For example, I never really learned the true identity of Charles Robert Pereira. Not much background is provided for him in the manner of how he was raised as a child or exactly what made him decide to kill innocent people after his girlfriend's supernatural death; it is as though he is an extension of Raj's personality. As I wrote earlier, Shadow Play is very strange and bizarre and I can only recommended it to readers who enjoy avant-garde literature that dares to be different.
Despite the serial killer, Shadow Play is more of a psychological thriller than a true crime drama. More emphasis is placed on the psychological profiles of the main characters (especially that of Raj) than the crimes that are committed. At one time, we all fantasize about living another life--a glamorous life of wealth and fame that is enshrouded by mystery and intrigue.