Walking Shadow by Clifford Royal Johns (book review).

May 28, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

Benny Khan is a minor crook and lives by fixing payment cards fraudulently. The first sign that something major is wrong comes in the form of an overdue bill from the memory wiping firm, ‘Forget What’. As Benny tries to piece together what, if anything, he has had wiped, it seems that he is a player in an increasingly complex web of crime and lies. Soon his family and friends and even possibly the love of his life, seem to be mixed up in it with him. His search for his mashed memories lead him through a maze of criminals and gangsters. How far will he go to find out the truth?


This is a great book which harks back to the SF Golden Age. The Philip K Dick influences are waved like a flag in the reader’s face. Add a sprinkling of classic hardboiled crime fiction from the 40s and you have a pretty potent mix. The comparisons to Dick’s ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ are well founded, with both books dealing in altered memories.

Benny is on the run through the dark underbelly of a future Chicago populated with characters Raymond Chandler would recognise. Benny’s love interest, Carla, and brother, Arlo, represent stock film noir characters, sleazy accomplice and femme fatal respectively. Even Chicago itself is a frequent backdrop for such films. There is a sense of there being haves and have-nots in this world. Benny lives and works by skipping along the surface of the deeper criminal world.

The frequent double-crosses and plot twists serve to keep the reader guessing. Benny’s route to the solution takes many unexpected turns. Along the way, he is letdown by his close friends and surprised by virtuous police officers. We experience the story twists as Benny does. We feel his pain and confusion and have sympathy for him.

‘Walking Shadow’ is an excellent first novel. Clifford Royal Johns reveals a love of many writing genres, but writes clearly and with a nice narrative pace.

Overall, the story has a cinematic feel and has a fraught sense of urgency. Chicago is presented as a living city full of danger and opportunity. The technology of the memory wipe is only hinted at. The side-effects of such procedures is described in painful detail. Benny’s loses much each time the surgery takes place but as we learn eventually he has gained, too.

I enjoyed this book. I read the eBook version which was a high quality transcription. I didn’t see any faults, sadly this is not always the case with eBooks ,even from big name suppliers. I especially enjoyed the fusion of seemingly disparate genres. If you want to read something a little different but standing on the shoulders of SF literary giants, this is an excellent choice.

Andy Bollan

May 2014

(pub: Grand Mal Press. 244 page paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-93772-725-3. Kindle edition £ 1.84 (UK))

check out website: www.grandmalpress.com/

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Category: Books, Scifi

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  1. Great review! | Cliff Johns | June 9, 2014

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