Friday, March 31

Shadow of Death by Patricia Gussin

Review by Gloria Feit

In Shadow of Death, author Patricia Gussin juxtaposes the lives of Laura Nelson, a young white woman, and the Diggs family, African-Americans living in the midst of the inner-city ghetto in Detroit, seemingly worlds apart but forever entangled with each other after one fateful night in the Fall of 1967, when Detroit was experiencing the worst civil violence ever anywhere in the US other than during the Civil War.  On that night, Laura is brutally attacked, and the aftermath of that horrific incident and Laura's decision never to reveal its secrets, forever alters both families' lives.  Ms. Gussin makes very real the atmosphere of hostility, racial unrest and poverty which pervaded the city during that period.

Laura is a first-year medical student, and her first patient, Anthony Diggs, is a young African-American man on life support, after sustaining a gunshot wound to the head during a robbery in the midst of the riots that plagued the city.  His brother, mistaking Laura for another blonde nurse who screwed up badly when Anthony was first brought into the ER, lies in wait for Laura and rapes her at knifepoint.  Fearing for her life, Laura shoots her attacker with an unregistered weapon she carries at her husband's insistence.  In her panic, she decides she has too much at stake – her career, her marriage, her two young sons – to risk anyone knowing about what happened, and decides to keep anyone from the knowledge that it even took place.  Once that decision is made there is no turning back.

The author does a masterful job of exploring these two families' lives, the one of a hardworking black woman struggling to enable her children to climb out of the difficulties facing them in a world of chaos; the other a young woman trying to balance a career she doesn't want to give up with being a 'dutiful' wife and mother, when the reality of those violent times comes crashing down on her.  Laura is a very human and compelling protagonist.  Nail-biting tension and suspense drive the story to its shocking climax.  This is, surprisingly, a first novel by the author, and it is a remarkable debut.

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