This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
15.07.20 / Legend Press / Psychological Thriller / Paperback / 272pp / 978-1789551150
Target Audience: Readers looking for a classic psychological thriller with more modern twists featuring a lead you can easily invest in.
About The Shadow Bird
Three months into her new role as a psychiatrist at a clinic in New York, Erin Cartwright is asked to evaluate the case of a man who murdered his mother and sisters at the age of seventeen.
Found not guilty by reason of insanity and held in a maximum-security psychiatric facility for twenty-seven years, Timothy Stern is now eligible for release. Upon learning the crime occurred in the same village she once visited as a child, Erin is on the verge of refusing to take the case, when a startling discovery triggers memories she’d rather keep hidden, and a suspicion the wrong man is behind bars.
“Hailstones clattered against the window, and she jumped as if struck. When a blast of wind rattles the glass, the desk lamp flickered. She stared at it, expecting the electricity to cut out, plunging the ward in darkness. As it flickered again, she tensed, praying for the gods to be kind. In that moment, hands clasped in her lap, desperately hoping the lights stayed on, the role she was meant to play in Tim’s life clicked into place.
She couldn’t walk away. Not after stumbling upon a doorway, however narrow, into Tim’s damaged psyche. Any other doctor would have dismissed that jumble of words as the product of a delusional mind. But to Erin it was a coded missive from Tim’s past, of his life before he killed his family. Impossible to turn her back on him now.”
The Shadow Bird by Ann Gosslin
Ann Gosslin’s The Shadow Bird is a fascinating yet alarming psychological thriller that ensnared me with its excellent depictions of the menace of guilt and the beauty of innocence. I have to admit that I feared that TSB was going to be a shade generic. I have read my share of novels where psychologists with chequered pasts finding peace with their own history through aiding someone else in trouble. Ann Gosslin managed to defeat my concerns with ease, taking these familiar tropes and flipping them on their head, and in doing so gave me another stellar psychological thriller to ramble on about.
The centre piece for this novel is Erin Cartwright. Working as a psychologist in New York, trying to help young women suffering with severe trauma, Erin is dedicated to bringing light into the lives of those who are lost and alone. Erin has spent most of her life carefully paving over her own past and locking away the suffocating turmoil that comes with it.
Erin recently returned to America under the guise of being British, born and bred. A cover she is desperate to maintain at all cost. As part of Erin’s new position she is required to do Pro Bono work, an aspect that Erin feels is unnecessary time away from her patients. When Erin’s boss confronts her with the case concerning a murderer from Belle River, Maine, she initially declines (though is later forced to except) fearing that going anywhere near that place, and her history within it, will destroy everything Erin has worked tirelessly to build.
In 1977 seventeen year old Tim Stern Jnr came home from work and in a fit of insanity murdered his two sisters and his mother. Tim was found three days later covered in blood wondering in the wilderness in a fugue state. During Tim’s murder trial he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has spent the last twenty-seven years in Greenlake psychiatric facility. The doctor in charge of Tim’s care has requested Erin Cartwright specifically to be a part of the decision of whether or not to release Tim back into the world. All they need is an honest, unbiased opinion on the fate of a man who slaughtered his family in a place Erin has fought so hard to forget.
Despite being scared of losing everything, Erin knows there is more to the story and in attempting to close the case on Tim, she opens doors that cannot be closed. Erin has to explore every possibility, even those that are closely linked to her own pain and suffering, as a person’s fate hangs in the balance. The Shadow Bird is a not only a captivating thriller but an important reminder about danger of labels and the importance of treating the mentally ill effectively and with the respect that any patient deserves.
Initially I did wonder what tone Ann Gosslin was shooting for with this story. The novel is definitely well written with the right amount of mystery, suspense and depth. But the start flits between calm professionalism and heart palpitating worry. Erin’s mind is a mile a minute and it was hard to get a good read on her. Though it swiftly becomes clear as the narrative begins to heat up that Erin is a character to invest in.
I will go as far as saying that there wasn’t enough of her. AG could have gone into way more detail Erin’s character and her past and I would have happily kept going as each dimension of her personality and presence developed brilliantly with the story.
The narrative was memorable and was paced really well. Plenty of great moments, sub plots and suspense surrounding Tim and his life before the facility. I do have two minor issues that I must acknowledge though. I did find the opening hook to be a little convenient, that particular case at that time felt just a tad questionable. Also I don’t know if it was meant to be known or not but I felt the truth was evident a lot earlier than I expected. That being said, those two points really did not effect my reading experience with The Shadow Bird. There was a lot more going on than I thought there would be and with a satisfying lead character like Erin and some enticing themes, I had an interesting time with this novel.
Themes such as the stigma of mental health, the sexism still that’s prevalent in medicine to this day and the fact that facing up to trauma is a better solution than ever bottling it up. Ann Gosslin took the familiar tropes we have seen in tense psychological thrillers, in both film and book, and used them as an opportunity to shine a light on their absurdity and unfairness. I thought that was great choice and it certainly refreshed the format for me.
Overall I believe that The Shadow Bird is a must read. It is enticing, curious and most importantly full of chills and thrills. I hope that this isn’t the only novel featuring Erin Cartwright that we are ever going to see. Ann Gosslin already has another novel coming out next year and I am very much looking forward to seeing what AG has in store for us.
About Ann Gosslin
Ann Gosslin was born and raised in New England in the US, and moved overseas after leaving University. Having held several full-time roles in the pharmaceutical industry, with stints as a teacher and translator in Europe, Asia, and Africa, she currently works as a freelancer and lives in Switzerland.
The Shadow Bird is Ann’s debut novel. Her second novel, The Double, will be published by Legend Press in 2021.