Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, October 26, 2012


In His Shadow by Dave Zeltserman (2002)

Johnny Lane is a Denver's most famous private eye, in part because of his monthly column in the Denver Examiner, "Fast Lane," which pulls its subject matter from Lanes' case files.  Two decades earlier, Lane had risen to fame because of newspaper headines proclaiming MAN GONE BESERK SHOT TO DEATH BY HERO DETECTIVE.  Suddenly, Johnny Lane's services were in demand and the demand kept growing and growing.

Two of Lane's latest cases are keeping him busy.  In the first, he is hired to find Debra Singer, a sixteen-year-old runaway who Lane finds working in an adult sex club.  He discovers that Debra's father had been sexually abusing her for years, and Lane is torn about returning her to that home.

The other case involves Mary Williams, a young college student determined to find her birth parents.  The Williams's, her adoptive parents don't approve of Mary's search but are willing to support it.  For reasons he can't fully understand, Lane offers his services to Mary at a large discount with no expenses.  The trail leads to a lawyer in Oklahoma City who has been dead for fifteen years.  Lane keeps digging and uncovers family secrets and bodies begin to pile up.

I won't go any further into the plot except to note that Zeltserman dedicated this -- his first book -- to the memory of Jim Thompson, one of America's greatest noir writers.  And no wonder.  You can almost hear Thompson whispering in Zeltserman's ear when he wrote this.

In His Shadow is a brutal novel, fast-paced and twisting like a rattlesnake.  But it is also a first novel, written by a hand that would become far more sure and secure as displayed by his later books.  There are flaws here, but there is also powerful writing. 

Dave Zeltersman is now justly recognized as one of the best crime writers in the business. Zeltserman revisited and revised the book in 2004 under the title Fast Lane.  I haven't read the revised version, but after seeing the leaps and bounds Zeltserman has made in his career, I can't wait to.


For more of today's Forgotten Books, go to Patti Abbott's blog pattinase.


  1. He's still way too under-appreciated. He should be among the names we read on lists of award nominees regularly. He's a lot more inventive and original than hundreds of "bestselling" authors in the genre. The truly good writers are rarely ever the popular ones. At Boucherson not one of the booksellers had any of his books for sale. NOT ONE! Criminal.

  2. Well, a new author for me but consider me impressed and better informed - I shall do something about my current ignorance!

  3. Jerry, thanks for giving this attention to In His Shadow/Fast Lane. The difference between the two was I self-published In His Shadow back in 2001 without any professional editing, and when it was published in 2004 by Point Blank Press, I needed to cut about 40 pages in length so the chiropractor was completely removed, Lane's folksy manner toned down, and a few other sections scaled back. And I had the benefit of Allan Guthrie line editing the Fast Lane version. No real reason to read Fast Lane after reading In His Shadow--still the same story.

    John, I appreciate the sentiment. I'm hardly alone in this regard. Ed Gorman, for example, is one of the best out there in a number of genres (mysteries, horror, Westerns) and should be FAR more popular than he is. Same with Bill Crider. And here are two excellent writers who both had their first books come out around the same time as Small Crimes, and if there was any justice they'd be bestsellers now--Roger Smith whose Dust Devils is one of the best new crime thrillers I've read, and Paul Tremblay, whose The Little Sleep and No Sleep Til Wonderland are two of the best PI novels that I've read in the last 10 years. The publishing industry has over the last decade paralleled society where the top 1/10th of 1 percent keep doing better while the rest of us authors are squeezed into a smaller and smaller piece of the pie. In my own case, I've got 2 film deals, and if either of them get made it should change things, so I'm hopeful.

    1. Dave, thanks for clearing that up.

      I agree with you about both Ed and Bill; both should be household names. I have Paul Tremblay on Mount TBR and will him much closer to the top. I've never read Roger Smith -- something I'll correct as soon as possible. Thanks.