Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling

Nimrod's Shadow

I romped through this carefully worked piece of fiction and enjoyed it all the way as a tale. I was brought up short finally and inevitably, by the sad consequences of Samantha’s delusion. This was a stark contrast to Reilly’s very grounded way of ultimately living in the world after having seen beyond everyday reality in his role as artist.

I was immediately intrigued by the significant placing of the Leonardo da Vinci quote, presumably meant to anchor the plot. It has taken me a while to understand for myself how the complex web of the title, the references to Da Vinci in the text and the plot all worked together. For me, ‘Nimrod’s Shadow’ remained the fingerpost about what was happening. We were all meant to follow Nimrod for the truth about the death of Gower. The shadow of Nimrod in the painting of the boy in the greenhouse (called ‘The Crime?’) was repeatedly called up but it was a metaphor and not the answer. Perhaps that’s where Samantha got lost. She identified with the painting, lived through it and tried to live in Reilly’s head a century before as if this was a reality. So for me the bigger theme of the interrelationship and interaction between the artist, the artwork and the viewer is played out here very successfully.

I loved the images the author created through words both of the actual paintings by Reilly and of the actual street-life a century previous. The descriptions of the same painting in the same words by the critic Gower and then by Samantha a century later was a masterstroke and engaged us in two ways of seeing across a century. In the same way, the author painted images within the storyline: we are shown Samantha starting from her sleep in Keith’s house as ‘a flash of pink in the black’. Only later, when we learn of Keith’s deception, do we know that this is how Keith saw her with sensuous eyes.

A pleasure to read and visualise with quite a bit to reflect upon.

Ginny Wilkinson

I enjoyed this book – the humour and the quirkiness. An unlikely but entertaining murder mystery. It was light but with enough substance to make it worth reading. The descriptions of the poverty of Victorian life, the reality of prison were grim. But he was not trite – on the whole the people that Reilly came into contact with were kind, humane, understanding rather than the stereo-typical cruel, one dimensional characters often portrayed in Victorian England.

I loved the quotes from Leonardo da Vinci, the detailed descriptions of the paintings and especially the dedication and drive of Reilly to paint: ‘each day confronting the fear but pressing on’ (p 23)

The ‘star’ of course was the dog, Nimrod and he played a key role in the tale right to the end. One funny bit for me was the description of how he, the dog, paced his walk to the speed of Reilly because humans keep stopping, to chat with other humans, and starting. I love this way of turning things on their head.

In the first page we really had a picture of Reilly and his studio – so concise, simple and graphic – effortless to read.

It’s not until you are well into the book that you realise that this is not going to be a straight forward yarn and so your interest is maintained.

The author manages to weave the 2 interconnected tales, one set in Victorian England and one in the present day together with clarity. The connections and coincidences are at times ridiculous but this only adds to the enjoyment.

When reading a who-done-it, I often get confused with the number of characters in the story but not in this case. This meant that I could simply read and enjoy the book and not have to refer to my usual hand-written list of characters.

I see that this is the ninth book by Chris Paling. I will look out for another.

Angela Greenwood

Interesting topic for a book- uniting the debauched & greedy lives of characters in 2 periods of history.

The intense hero Reilly was a well developed character with human flaws, such as his naivety when out of his comfortable sphere of painting.

Mountjoy bought real warmth to the story & prevented it from becoming too gothic & sombre in its manner.

Nimrod as the silent witness to all the Edwardian action was quirky and yet endearing. The descriptive element of prose giving him thoughts & understanding.

Samantha’s downward spiral into temporary insanity seemed a little farfetched; I have been moved by art work but not to such a degree that I lost all rational thoughts!

Her past was touched upon but not enough to enable us to believe in a possible mental delicacy.

When prison was mentioned my immediate thought was that the governing bodies would become the “villains” of the tale. The journalist however certainly stole the show, with his lack of milk of human kindness and his carefree walk over others towards his own ambitions.

The ending ties up all loose ends in a satisfactory but rushed manner, almost making me come to the conclusion the author just wanted to finish it with no further twists or turns.

Overall a provoking book into human frailty

Clare Whiteley

My thoughts are on the whole it was an enjoyable read, plenty of scope for discussion if it is a book group read. I liked the idea of the past and the present and the threads linking the two. I did feel, however, that the “past” was more plausible and the characters more real whereas the “present” had some fairly unbelievable aspects i.e. some of Keith and Samantha’s various exploits.

Liz Brown

A powerfully written novel, revealing the immense power of artistic influence and its dominance throughout the years. Characterisation is strong. Reilly is depicted as a touch eccentric, eccentricity being a characteristic of many creative types. Samantha, though psychologically complex, remains passionate about Reilly’s ghost in a strange surreal way. All that occurs, occurs against a against a backdrop of murder, mystery and suspense. In my opinion this is a gripping read filled with intrigue. Very original.

Anita Mackwood

Enjoyable read.

Interesting, likeable characters about whom the reader cares what happens. Good to know they escape at the end – hope is the future.

The two time zones were acceptable and did not break up the story. Liked the “quirkiness”. Reilly and Nimrod go for a walk but is it Reilly who is distracted by the smells etc. – or is it Nimrod.

Stresses the importance of art and its effect on people- in both strands. The subtle humour made me smile.

Anne Hardy

A good enthralling read. Kept me guessing as to Reilly’s fate almost to the end.

A clever way to write a novel with each chapter alternating between Edwardian England and the present day.

What strange characters! I empathised with Reilly and Mountjoy and the gallery owner. At first I felt sympathetic towards Samantha but later thought she was both callous and cold-hearted. She probably had mental health problems.

It is one of those books which leaves me thinking: “What happen next??” i would love to see Reilly’s exhibition…oh, I nearly forgot, he wasn’t real was he?

Mary Loy

This was an exciting book which was spoilt by the many implausible experiences of the present day characters. The re-telling and re-discovery of Reilly’s experiences were masterful. The haunting painting of the boy looking through the broken glass, the exploits and personality of the dog, Nimrod, and the descriptions of everyday scenes of a century age were excellent. Unfortunately the author could not match them to the parallel story set in modern times. The novel felt as if he had run out of ideas and wanted to end it as quickly as possible before anyone found out. Did Samantha have a lasting breakdown? Did she end up writing a book about Reilly? Will we found out in a sequel – The Return of Nimrod’s Shadow? It was an enjoyable book but with a little more polish and a little less imagination it would have been brilliant.

Mike Young

Nimrod’s Shadow is a thoroughly readable and an engrossing book with a dual plot and a limited number of major characters. These characters are portrayed wonderfully well and are entirely believable. They drive the story along marvellously well.

The first plot is set in Edwardian England and surrounds a poor artist named Reilly who owes his friend Mountjoy a café owner some money. He decides to mount an exhibition in the café to raise money and before the exhibition the art critic Gower agrees to value his work. Gower’s body is then found in the nearby canal, the motive appears to be robbery and his missing wallet is found in Reilly’s possession. Local journalist Pardrew does his best to incriminate Reilly even before the trial has started.

The parallel plot intertwined with this is concerning a young office girl Samantha Dodd alienated from office life, apparently with few friends and coping with the recent bereavement of her mother. She sees one of Reilly’s paintings in a local art gallery and is entranced by it. This leads her to giving up her job, taking work in the gallery and forming a very on-off relationship with the gallery owner Keith Blake. Ultimately when she is trying to recover more of Reilly’s original paintings to exhibit, Brian a local builder accidentally plunges to his death while trying it on with her and afterwards she is implicated with his death.

Both stories have their parallels: Reilly’s paintings, suspected murders and even Nimrod, the artist’s dog also features prominently, latterly being a stuffed exhibit. Without knowing it Nimrod casts a shadow over both plots: In the first he accidentally felled Gower on the canal bank and in the second his removal from the coffee shop implicates Samantha in Brian’s death.

Before the start we are given a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci concerning the properties of shadow and that it ‘stands between darkness and light’. Shadows or areas where the truth is not known, lurk behind the story. Both deaths were tragic accidents yet they are both suspected to be murders. Both events are shadowed by doubt. Reilly is accused of being a thief and a liar; Samantha is suspected of trying to steal paintings from Blake and also of murder. These suspicions are as much a shadow of reality than they are real, but events in the shadow must be allowed to play themselves out.

Ultimately the truth wins out but with a heavy price to pay for it. Both Reilly and Samantha’s lives can never be the same again.

The story is beautifully crafted with some lovely detail in particular that of prison life and also public life in and around Old Cross where Reilly lived.

Lesser known writers like Chris Paling deserve every credit for books like this. I have read many books by more famous modern day writers, and I have to say this book leaves many of them ‘in the shade’.

Andy Dalby

SHIPLEY READING GROUP

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