Shadow of Death
Shadow of Death by Jean Sorrell follows a young woman coping with the suspicious death of her sister amid Nazis and lepers in 1940s Mississippi.
Catherine Lyle is on a journey to retrieve her sister. Unfortunately, her sister was found hanging in a deserted mansion outside a leper colony under the care of a dedicated sect of nuns. Sister Gretchen was seemingly beloved by the patients, the other sisters, and nearly everyone who came in contact with her. Obviously, her suicide was faked. The only question is why and who. Catherine finds herself embroiled in a murder mystery where she’s not sure who can be trusted, not even the nuns. Evidence begins to mount, but nothing becomes clear. While attempting to solve the mystery, Catherine discovers a secret locked away insider her.
Jean Sorrell is a masterful writer. The most obvious example of that can be found in the first two or three paragraphs. Catherine is introduced by discussing her past history with dolls. The description swings wildly from cute and innocent to dark and violent and leads in perfectly to the news of her sister’s death. The entire introduction not only sets the scene while introducing the main character and the major plot point, but it also hints at the twists and turns ahead. It is quite literally a hook that should ensnare all readers.
Thankfully, the writing is strong throughout the whole novel. Catherine’s POV serves wonderfully as both a lens for the murder mystery and also for the inner turmoil, which is highlighted through clever use of flashbacks. These flashbacks appear organically and are triggered realistically by events currently unfolding. Catherine’s brief interludes to the past have an ulterior motive and add a layer of psychological suspense to the already tense story.
An interesting aspect of Catherine’s POV is her obsession with and talent for restoring classical paintings. Often scenes are described vividly but with an artistic bent appropriate for her character. It’s an interesting character trait that balances out the macabre events around her, such as when the sudden flight of brilliant white egrets against the sky stops her cold even during a particularly suspenseful moment.
Some minor editing/formatting hiccups aside, Shadow of Death is incredibly well polished. The aforementioned flashbacks are offset and feature unique fonts that make it clear when Catherine finds her mind wandering.
Shadow of Death by Jean Sorrell isn’t a typical murder mystery and artfully blends historical fiction with literary-thriller. The result is slow but engaging, with a sympathetic protagonist dealing with increasingly difficult choices.