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Ashley's Shadow by Charlie Carlson
Review by Don Smith
Luthers Publishing  ISBN/ITEM#: 1877633755
Date: 2006

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In 2005, reporter Brad Kirby is on the hunt to solve the murder of a waitress from 1934. Her ghost begins to guide Kirby in his investigation. He encounters the strange, the truth, and romance, while attempting to piece together a mystery.

In a small Floridian town in 1934, the body of a waitress had been found. She had been brutally stabbed. Ethel Allen, who used to sling beer's for Jack's Tavern, had last been seen with her boyfriend as they were attempting to leave the town of Eau Gallie.

Bill Kelly, her boyfriend, had gone missing and local police suspected him of the crime.

In 2005, Brad Kirby, a writer with Dead End Magazine , was on his way from Miami, some 180 miles south of Eau Gallie, to gather information about the forgotten crime. He wanted to investigate and, if he was lucky, solve Allen's murder. Kirby's editor had promised a $5,000 reward for any writer who helped close an unsolved murder.

In Eau Gallie, Kirby meets Erin, a waitress at Ashley's Tavern - formerly Jack's, and the two of them encounter the spirit of Allen, a local psychic named Indigo Blue, ghost hunters, and a variety of other colorful characters in the small town.

With their help, Kirby and Erin begin to piece together Allen's murder and both discover their unusual connection with the 1934 homicide.

Somewhere in between Carl Hiassen and Kinky Friedman is Charlie Carlson. Ashley's Shadow is filled with the same quirky characters and mystery that pops up in any of Hiassen's novels and Carlson write's with the same wit and local flavor for Florida that Friedman writes for Texas.

However, in the forward, Carlson admits that this book had been intended for a screenplay, but when plans for the movie fell through, he turned it into a novel. Carlson regularly writes books in the "strange but true" genre that writer Robert Damon Schneck has pioneered (see the review of Schneck's book The President's Vampire).

And the hasty way this novel was put together is the book's Achilles heel. Ashley's Shadow needed to be expanded by a good 100 pages, and had Carlson the time, the book would have been near perfect. Instead character motivation and explanations for a variety of scenes in the book are left by the wayside. And not in that It's up to the reader to decide kind of way.

With that said, the good news is that Carlson continues to write in the "strange but true" genre. But here is hoping he takes another stab (pun intended) at fiction. And at the risk of being hyperbolic, Carlson really, really is very good.

He just needed more time and effort.

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