Published by: Cormorant Books
Release Date: October 1, 2022 (Canada), November 23, 2022 (US)
For fans of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom series, Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy and Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides comes Shadow Life – the debut novel from Michael Decter, set for release with Cormorant Books on October 1, 2022.
The first book in a planned trilogy, Shadow Life introduces readers to Matthew Rice – a successful sixty-year-old Toronto politico who finds himself suddenly unmoored after serving jury duty on a devastating child murder case. Retreating to his cottage on an isolated island in Georgian Bay after being placed on medical leave, Matthew spends his evenings nursing scotch and old memories as he tries to evade the encroaching nightmares borne of the trial.
It is not long before Matthew’s trips down memory lane lead to Pandora’s box in the form of a missing birth certificate, and the thread of his life begins to unravel more spectacularly with the discovery of a long-buried family secret.
As Matthew’s desire to uncover the identity of his real birth mother sparks an investigation that will take him from Sydney to Boston to Dublin and back to the rocky shores of Quarry Island, readers are drawn into Shadow Life’s atmospheric and delicate web where memory and myth will ultimately collide to reveal self-discovery and new love.
"In his thoughtful fiction debut, Decter follows the life-changing experiences of a 60-year-old Toronto politicia devastated by the outcome of a trial of an alleged child murderer where he has served as the jury foreperson. Matthew Rice is despondent after the jury he serves on fails to reach a unanimous verdict. Retreating to his island home on Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay seems like the only answer, but Matthew’s idyll is marred by the news that the alleged murderer has struck again—and the discovery that Matthew’s biological mother is not the woman who raised him, leading him down a path that will change his life.
Shadow Life charts Matthew’s journey to discover more about his birth mother. That lands him in Australia and Ireland, as he uncovers secrets about his Irish heritage and the complex history of his ancestors. Though his travels across the world expose mysteries of his family’s heritage, Matthew is able to find a renewed sense of purpose in the process. Decter excels at gradually increasing the novel’s pace after Matthew’s realization that his father lied to him about the identity of his mother, offering readers an inside view of Matthew’s emotional upheaval—and the impact of the jury verdict is juxtaposed alongside that inner turmoil. Decter quickly hones in on the mystery surrounding Matthew’s mother, and although this knowledge leaves him questioning everything he thought he knew about his family’s heritage, Decter skillfully highlights Matthew’s tenacity in facing the uncovered secrets head-on.
While the smooth plotting, polished prose, and light touch of adventure will lure readers in, Matthew’s ability to reinvent himself, from a person escaping disappointment and considering withdrawing from a failing world to a man who finds in his trauma the wherewithal to build a new purpose, also proves engaging. Matthew’s quest to reveal his family history in Ireland leads him not only on an academic journey to learn the accomplishments of his ancestors, but also back on the path to rediscovering love."
- Publishers Weekly BookLife
Shadow Life is a novel about a man named Matthew Rice, whose life unravels after he delivered a verdict of not guilty in a trial about a murder of a child. He decides to learn more about his mother, who he never knew and ends up living off-the-grid on an island in Georgian Bay. But will this big adventure be enough for Matthew to find peace?
Michael Decter is a writer who was born in Winnipeg and currently lives in Toronto. He has written about healthcare and investment and has written a memoir. Shadow Life is his first novel. https://www.cbc.ca/books/the-best-canadian-fiction-of-2022-1.6674493
"I’m intrigued by this debut from the Winnipeg-born, Toronto-based political insider. The well-known economist and health care authority (and former deputy minister of health for Ontario) is a self-confessed book lover who collects rare titles by 20th century women writers. This is the first in a planned trilogy about Matthew Rice, a 60-year-old Toronto politico with a penchant for good scotch, who is reeling after serving on the jury for a child homicide case. He takes a medical leave to retreat to the majestic landscape of Georgian Bay, where he questions his memories and personal mythology."
– EZ - Everything Zoomer 'The best book to read in October' #9 Shadow Life by Michael Decter
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"In this novel, a man learns the story of his heritage following a stressful murder trial.
Matthew Rice is in a Toronto court, the foreman of a murder trial jury. Against all his personal beliefs, Matthew tells the judge that the jury could not reach a verdict, which results in a mistrial. This decision goes on to haunt Matthew. The fact that the defendant, Henry Dawson, is cleared of the charges of murdering a child settles over Matthew like a suffocating blanket, particularly when another kid is killed two weeks later. Needing help with his mental health, Matthew begins seeing a psychiatrist. Then, after losing his wallet, he tries to attain a copy of his birth certificate only to learn that the record of his birth in Canada is messier than he realized. Upon learning that the woman who raised him did not give birth to him, Matthew begins a journey of self-discovery as he travels to Australia to learn about his biological mother. Later, he flies to Ireland to discover more about his heritage and acquire his birth mother’s diary. Decter’s smoothly written story is a bit all over the place. Initially, it appears to be the tale of a man who is fed up with the sociopolitical climate of Canada: “The tectonic plates of his beliefs and Toronto’s civic realities ground against each other.” Matthew is also doomsday-oriented, hoarding propane tanks and liquor for when the country disintegrates. The author seems to be gearing up to make his protagonist’s distress regarding the mistrial a striking example of a broken judicial system, fueling Matthew’s disdain. But then the story rapidly shifts its focus to Matthew’s upbringing and his birth mother, which are compelling elements. Unfortunately, readers will feel as if the book morphed into a different novel when they weren’t looking. Additionally, there are a lot of passages that concentrate on Matthew driving his boat—which are intriguing but puzzling.
A family tale with engaging prose but an undisciplined plot."
– Kirkus Review
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"A hopeless man sets out on a genealogical quest in the empowering novel Shadow Life.
A man’s efforts at self-discovery reveal family secrets and a new way of approaching the world in Michael Decter’s allegorical novel Shadow Life.
Matt, an aging public servant, is already disillusioned with contemporary life when he is called to jury duty. The case’s outcome and its consequences devastate him further. Hoping to lick his psychological wounds, he retreats to his remote cottage on Georgian Bay—his “Fortress of Solitude.” He considers spending the winter there, far from the troubles of a world that he no longer recognizes or wants to be part of.
Georgian Bay is vivified as a desolate, sometimes dangerous place. Even with friends around him to talk and drink with, Matt feels as moody and isolated as the lake is. He drives his boat across its waters and hoards supplies in anticipation of global catastrophe. His opportunity to relax among beauty becomes a haunting, claustrophobic prison of his own making; his darkest thoughts and fears are given free rein. His solitude is further shattered by the discovery that his parents were not the people whom he thought they were. Soon, he’s traveling the world in search of the truth, his family members, and inner peace.
The prose is sometimes bland, rendering passages about Matt’s boating misadventures flat and unmoving. The story picks up once Matt, through circumstances no one could have predicted, finds out about his true ancestry. This sets him on a quest to reconstruct the life of his spirited, courageous birth mother, whose existence he was never before made aware of. His personal discoveries also spark an interest in the larger historical events that influenced his mother’s life. But his discoveries don’t promise to be a cure to his troubled circumstances.
Throughout the book, a few people distinguish themselves through strong emotional reactions and their devotions to people and places; some secondary characters, including Matt’s friends at the lake, evade these memorable qualities. There are stiff conversations, too, that hinder people’s development. And minor inconsistencies, such as the length of time that Matt’s father has been dead, are present throughout.
For Matt, it takes a second calamity and one final discovery to reach a resolution. There’s fitting symmetry to the story’s conclusion, which, in some ways, ends where it began—if with a clearer sense of hope for its hero. Shadow Life is an empowering novel in which a troubled, hopeless man decides what’s worth fighting for.
–Foreword Reviews, Clarion Rating: 3 out of 5, Reviewed by Eileen Gonzalez
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The Court Clerk read each of the charges as she had done four months earlier when the jury selection for this trial began.
“Henry Dawson. You are charged with one count of murder. You are charged with one count of statutory rape. You are charged with one count of kidnap. You are charged with one count of forcible confinement.”
Matthew Rice rose in the jury box and faced the judge.
“Your Honor, as foreperson of this jury, it is my duty to report that the jury is unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the charges.”
A thin, ghastly smile spread over the defendant’s face. It was a cruel and victorious grin. Matthew turned away from the defendant Henry Dawson, angry to his core. And defeated. His anger did not the blunt or diminish the sense of failure that overwhelmed him.
“I have no choice but to declare a hung jury,” the judge said, solemnly. “You are dismissed with the thanks of the court for the time and effort you have expended as jurors.”
He then declared a mistrial, before turning to the lawyers for the prosecution. “Does the Crown wish to seek time to consider its position on a new trial?”
“No, Your Honor. The Crown will not seek a new trial.”
The judge sat silent for a moment before he declared, “the Defendant is free to go.”
Matthew’s hands developed a mild tremor. He could not bear to look at the mother of the murdered child. And he could not shut his ears to her cries of anguish and loss that echoed through the courtroom. His own heart felt like it would break. Matt’s eyes filled with tears as the jurors followed the court constable back to the jury room to collect their belongings. In his heart he knew he had failed to convict a guilty man, a killer of a child. In his head he was reeling, looking for the rational world and not finding it.
It was eight o’clock on Sunday night. The jurors were escorted into the sub-basement of the courthouse and sent home in taxi cabs, some individually and some sharing the ride. Matt found nothing to say to his fellow juror in the cab, each sat in silence as the city passed by, lost in their own thoughts. The streets of Toronto had never seemed so barren and cold.