"The Shoemaker's Magician" Book Review
Written by Zach Rosenberg
Published by Agora Books
Written by Cynthia Pelayo
2023, 336 pages, Fiction
Released on March 21st, 2023
Hot on the heels of her landmark breakout Children of Chicago, Cynthia Pelayo cements her name as a horror legend with The Shoemaker’s Magician, a paean to film, magic, Chicago and horror. Pelayo leads the reader through the winding streets of Chicago, where the supernatural is very real, where monsters and magicians flourish.
When a brutal murder is committed near a Chicago theater, a homicide detective is called to investigate. His wife Paloma, Polly for short, happens to be an expert on horror films. A survivor of abuse, Polly realizes comfort in the macabre she finds on celluloid and teaches her beloved son Bela about this particular magic. Notably, Polly is writing a dissertation on Grand Vespertillo, the beloved horror host. With the mystery of a fabled lost film at the center of gruesome murders, Polly must conduct her own investigation with dark forces targeting her family.
The Shoemaker’s Magician is not a sequel in the conventional sense. Though there are references to Children of Chicago, Pelayo weaves a whole new story with brand new characters, save for one exception: the city of Chicago itself. A twisted, urban sprawl filled with creatures of myth and legend, but also with wonder and magic.
Chicago is powerful and cruel, offering evil and hope with either hand. Polly is a perfect viewpoint character; a survivor of abuse who engages heavily with the nightmares of celluloid so she might ease her sufferings. She’s a devoted mother who fiercely loves her son, and her knowledge of film bespeaks an absolute love of cinema from Pelayo herself.
Make no mistake, The Shoemaker’s Magician is a novel of love. Amidst the horror, Polly knows she loves Bela and will protect him from whatever forces hunt him. Facts about Chicago, both modern and antique, permeate the book. Pelayo also provides ample education on cinema and theater with their history in Chicago, but also film. This novel could not be written without a deep compassion and appreciation for its subject matter.
With so many streets to travel down, Pelayo chooses the most magic of them all.
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