I have a particular fondness for Shadow Games. It is not only a terrific novel, but it was my introduction to the work of Ed Gorman. The year was 2000. I made a habit of studying and writing in a library not far from where I worked as a pizza delivery driver; a job I won’t recommend, but a job that treated me well as I navigated the college scene. My usual table was tucked at the back of the fiction stacks. I sat, my back to the wall, facing a bookshelf packed with the latest genre titles making study nearly impossible since the stories beckoned me.
There was one title that, day after day, caught my attention. It was a mass market paperback, black background with orange-red print and the large white Leisure Books’ logo—a publisher I miss badly—at the top of its spine. Its title, Shadow Games. When I finally relented and read Shadow Games, sitting right there in the library, its tale of Hollywood ambition, perversion, and lost potential, all told in a darkly humorous tone, made me a lifetime fan of Ed Gorman’s work.
It is the story of Cobey Daniels, a child television star, musician and, as the novel opens, the playwright and star of his own one man show. The play is autobiographical and humorously recalls Cobey’s life as a fallen Hollywood superstar. A life that has had more than a few public scandals. The most serious involved a sixteen-year-old girl in a Miami, Florida mall causing Cobey’s three-year stay in a Missouri mental hospital. But Cobey is better now, the addictions and mood swings are behind him. Or so Cobey thinks until he awakens in a Chicago apartment, difficulty remembering his name, a headless woman lying in a pool of her own blood on the kitchen floor.
Shadow Games is a dark ride across American pop culture—hero worship, sex, vanity, dizzying unreality, hypocrisy, cynicism and downright craziness. It is a crime novel at its center, but its view of Hollywood and its fandom illuminates modern culture in a manner both convincing and familiar. It is dark, possibly one of the three or four darkest tales I’ve read, but its humor—
“‘I know a lot of people think I’m a goody-goody because of my role on the show. Well, what’s wrong with being a clean-cut, all-American teenager?’
“Cobey Daniels, interviewed in Teen Scene, August, 1984”
“(Reporter) The police are saying that you pulled a knife on the waitress because she wouldn’t serve you liquor. Any comments?
“(Cobey) Yeah, just one. Why don’t you go f*ck off, you asshole?
“Cobey Daniels responding to KABC-TV reporter, May, 1985”
—lifts it from what, in lesser hands, could have been a deeply depressing story to a very readable and damn good novel.
Shadow Games, as it should be, is back in print with a high quality trade paperback from Short, Scary Tales. It has been, from what I can tell, lightly edited by the author and is titled Shadow Games and Other Sinister Stories of Show Business. It includes four of Ed Gorman’s finest short stories, “Scream Queen,” “Riff,” “Such a Good Girl,” and “Pards.” Do yourself a favor and buy it right now.
This review originally went live May 11, 2016. Unfortunately, the Short, Scary Tales edition has left print, but Shadow Games is still available as an ebook.