173 pages
ISBN 1-55128-102-3
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Henry G. MacLeod

Henry G. MacLeod teaches sociology at both Trent University and the
University of Waterloo.


John Worsley Simpson began writing mystery novels in the late 1990s.
Undercut, which was nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First
Crime Novel in 1997, introduced his grouchy Toronto homicide detective
Harry Stark.

Shadowmen opens with the violent murders of two successful Toronto
businessmen, exactly a month apart, while they are engaging in their
fitness activities. Both are age 42; the jogger is a hit-and-run victim,
the swimmer is strangled. When a third man the same age is murdered a
month later by a blow to the head with a curling stone, Detective Stark
is assigned the task of finding a serial killer. He is partnered with a
young detective constable, Noel Harris. They are such polar opposites
that Harris is used to demonstrate how grouchy and patronizing Stark can
be. The success of police procedurals often derives from the camaraderie
of the partners. In Shadowmen the focus is on Stark, a loner with a
passion for scotch and jazz at Carbo’s piano bar, for smoking
Gauloises at Sid Holtzman’s deli, and for defending the rules of

The trail leads Stark to Cranmer College, a high school for the sons of
Toronto’s elite, where the three victims and one of the teachers were
involved in witchcraft and possibly pedophilia. The mystery deepens with
the death of another, but much younger, graduate of the college. As more
murders occur and complications arise, Stark becomes distracted by his
romance with the associate principal, Diane Shapton, before finally
resolving the mystery.

Simpson writes with a satiric style. His intention may have been to
create an amusing character and to satirize the mystery genre, but
readers may find Stark’s temperament irritating. His grouchiness
nevertheless is offset by a strong, interesting plotline, and defenders
of the English language may enjoy a grammarian who solves crimes of both
language and murder.


Simpson, John Worsley., “Shadowmen,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024,