Cover Image: The Shadow People

The Shadow People

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Member Reviews

Thank you to Net Galley and Polis for the opportunity to read an ARC for Shadow People. 

One of the aspects that drew me into Shadow People is the idea not just of supernatural body snatchers, but rather the idea of those of us living on the fringe of society or in the throes of mental illness are relegated to the shadows at best, especially when we aren’t able to mask enough to fit in. 

The novel begins with the seemingly normal Brandon Cossey trying to get up the urge to ask out a girl. He’s had a crush on her all semester and it’s his last chance. He’s slightly self-deprecating and definitely feels familiar — like that guy in high school everyone knows who he is but no one really knows him personally. Then, Brandon gets a call that sets him on a path that will change the way he looks at the world forever. 

Brandon’s childhood friend and pseudo brother, Jacob, is missing. Brandon immediately drives a couple hours to Utica to support Jacob’s mom even though this isn’t the first time he’s gone missing. Jacob has schizophrenia and frequently stops taking his medications, which leads him to go off grid for at most a few hours or overnight — never several days. 

Brandon feels guilty, worried something bad has happened to his once best friend. They grew up together and due to Brandon’s screwed up family, Jacob’s mom took him in as one of her own. Brandon found his rhythm, graduated high school, and is pursuing an advanced degree. Jacob got kicked out of high school for his violent outbursts and likely never even got his GED. The two different paths these boys take remind me of the Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken. Thus far, Brandon has followed the road of least resistance while Jacob has taken a darker, lonelier walk into paranoia and conspiracy theories. 

While Brandon visits Mrs. Balfour, he checks out the room his friend still lives in at 23. It’s a mixture of the past when Jacob was a boy and of a present where it’s clear Jacob is not on his meds. He stumbled upon Jacob’s zine, Illuminations, which gives Brandon a look inside the mind of someone he used to call his best friend before his best friend became a pariah, a freak, a weight he never signed up to carry. 

Brandon returns to Cortland, shaken by how disturbed his friend’s mind has become. A few days later, Mrs. Balfour calls again to tell Brandon they’ve found Jacob’s body at the bottom of a quarry in Minnesota. Brandon is struck by grief, guilt, and bewilderment. Jacob had gone off the rails before, but he always came back. Plus, Jacob didn’t even have a car so how did he get 1,000 miles away in just a couple of days? And what in the world was he doing in Minnesota of all places?

Brandon wonders if he hadn’t left, if he’d stayed closer, could he have saved his friend but he believes whatever happened to Jacob was by his own hand. Soon, though, he will meet up with Jacob’s crazy grandfather, Francis, and learn the hard way that “just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you”. 

Buttoned-up Brandon ends up going on one heck of a road trip, both to better understand what happened to his friend and what’s happening to him. He’s losing time. He’s seeing people who aren’t there — or are they? — and his tightly wound life is coming undone. Brandon learns more about himself than he ever expected and he finds the truth, not only about his friend, but also about the Shadow People. 

Joe Clifford writes with ease and a sense of truth that makes it feel like he’s known a few Brandons and Jacobs in his life, which makes the story all the more interesting. He’s blunt, descriptive, and layered in his storytelling, which puts you there with Brandon as he ventures down a rabbit hole that leads to a place much worse than any Wonderland he’s known. 

Sometimes the truth is a bitter pill, and Joe Clifford’s Shadow People is full of truth both in his characters and in the multi-faceted storyline — a caustic but much-needed commentary on those of us who live in the light and the rest of us, for whatever reason (drugs, mental illness, poverty, etc.), who don’t. I couldn’t put Shadow People down, so I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a twisty, crazy story that’s part whodunnit and part self-discovery.
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I didn't like it...
The book was written well, the author has a way with his words, but the plot was really underwhelming and lacking in many aspects, the sequence of events was really slow paced and by the time the author decided to add the twist to the mix, it was too late to salvage the storyline.
The lead character was a cool one, that and the writing were the only reasons why I managed to go through the whole deal.
Brandon was quirky, and he delivered a really good narrative style, it felt like i was there in his mind throughout the book which was nice.
Overall, i don't recommend it.
*I received an ARC of this book in exchange of an honest review via netgalley and the publisher*
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I wanted to read this book because it sounded just like the type of books I enjoy; those with a twist at the end. What I got was not that. Sure a twist at the end but the build-up was slow and lacked something more. The main character's struggle was interesting when it came to his insight and understanding of mental health. But other than that there was not much that I liked with this book sorry to say.
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Thank you Netgalley for the opportunity to preview The Shadow People by Joe Clifford.  
I immediately was hooked by this book - Wriiten in first person, you are in the head of a young man who learns his best friend is missing.  Meet Brandon whose voice is vivid and urgent - and who suddenly realizes his life is going to change drastically.
Brandon lives with his best friend, Jacob and his family in upper New York.  Brandon has lived with them since he was a child. He was abandoned by his family and Jacob's family took him in.  Jacob was his best friend up until the time he went off the rails.  Since then Brandon and Jacob have been estranged.   Strange things begin to happen to Brandon and get worse when Jacob's body is discovered in Minnesota.  
Brandon's quest to find out what happened to Jacob lead him on a shadowy road where Brandon starts to question his own sanity.  When he starts seeing shadows, he knows that something or someone is following him and they mean him harm.
This is a quick and fun read.  I really liked it.  4 stars - Recommend.
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Great thriller! I was kind of creepy but that the way I like my thriller. Also really fast pace, which is a must for this genre in my opinion. I also like the writing of Joe Clifford, an author I didn't know about and will search more of his previous (if he has) or future (I hope they'll be) books! I recommend reading this one!
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Is this a suspense book, or a psychological mystery? The pendulum seems to swings back and forth not  pulling either genre completely off. I didn’t always care for the authors style of writing,  but I did like the character of the grandfather. But on the whole I would not recommend this book and it is nothing like or as good as The Whisper Man which it’s being compared to.
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I have no idea what to make of this, but thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for allowing me the opportunity to try.  voluntarily leaving this review.
Yeah, this was... something. I had no idea where it was going, and when it got there I was completely unprepared. The Shadow People. Are they delusions? Are they genuine, supernatural replica/replacements? Are they something else? Did Jacob really die in a bizarre accident? Was it suicide? Murder? Did the Shadow People get him? Just how unhinged was the grandfather? Was he actually on to something? Is the protagonist an unreliable narrator? He starts out relatable, likable, then he turns into a "nice guy" in a cringe-inducing scene where he aggressively kisses a girl without her consent and throws a tantrum. And then he changes again.
You know how folks describe books as a roller-coaster ride"? In this case, the coaster would be The Wild Mouse- twisting, jerking, unpredictable, you feel like the bolts could come loose at any second and send your car flying off the tracks.
I read this in a single sitting because I needed to know what was really going on. 
The characters were reasonably well developed. Usually I hate first person narration, because it is so easy to tire of. The character narrating has to be written just right or it gets unbearable, quick. Here, it worked alright. He wasn't unlikable, and there wasn't a lot of superfluous tangential thoughts. He kept it straightforward and on topic for the most part, which helped. 
The grandfather character was particularly well formed. I think we all know someone like him- a curmudgeonly jerk who revels in ignoring social etiquette. Likewise, the mother character, despite having a relatively minor role, was well drawn. My only gripe was Sam the manic pixie dream girl. Yeah. It was bad. It kind of cheapened the whole thing for me. She was described as Duckie from Pretty in Pink, but, you know, hot. Lots of men's vests and ties and being generally hip but also vulnerable. Oy.
The story, though. It was so strange that I know it will stick with me for a while. The ending was both a relief and a major anticlimax, but the little "post-credits" style scene was kind of nice. I'm still not sure if I totally get it, but it didn't leave me frustrated or feeling cheated, so that's alright with me.
I liked it.
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Someone watched the Unsolved Mysteries segment on Blair Adams, huh? 

Anyway, there's a dreamlike quality to this book, as if it takes place in a world almost, but not quite, like ours. I like it!
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“Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away….(Stephen Stills)

You might be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not following you.

In his 2021 novel “The Shadow People,” Joe Clifford once again takes one of his anti-heroes, Brandon Cossey, and sticks him in Cortland,NY, a part of the fading industrial northeast. As we soon learn, Brandon is the least hero-like of any of Clifford’s protagonists. A college student at SUNY Cortland, from a broken home, who struggles to ask a classmate out, Brandon’s carefully-arranged world is ripped asunder when his best friend, sorta-stepbrother disappears mysteriously. To top it off, the friend, Jacob Balfour, is a schizophrenic who has been institutionalized.

Finding his missing friend leads Brandon down a twisty rabbit hole where tinfoil hats and conspiracy theories don’t seem so unreal. Is Brandon paranoid or is someone really after him? Why do people close to him keep disappearing? What do the police know? Perhaps the answer is a road trip with Jacob’s off-his-meds tough guy eighty-year-Old grandfather on a trail of run-down motels, meth-heads, and sinister people.

What makes this odd sorta-crime novel work, of course, is the way the narrative voice captures Brandon’s confusion, fear, and paranoia.
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This review is for an ARC copy through NetGalley. This book interested me because of the described plot sounding something like The X-Files, with possible conspiracies and mysterious Shadow People abducting people. From the start I already had mixed feelings about what I was reading. There was something that felt "off" about how it began and the writing style. There seemed to be way too much description of the protagonist's thoughts and what he was seeing - he always seemed to describe everything in two or three ways as if doing so once wasn't enough. But I stuck with it and found that as the story progressed it did become more interesting, more engaging, and the mystery within built slowly but steadily. As Brandon tries to find out what happened to his former best friend, he encounters conspiracy material and others who claim to know about The Shadow People. And begins to question his own beliefs and reality. Do they exist or are they the product of a mental disorder? The deeper he goes, the more likely they seem. A strange boy seems to show up near him only to disappear before Brandon can reach him. Strange men appear wherever he goes. Are they following him? Trying to abduct him? The deeper down the rabbit hole he goes, the more questions he finds and more dangerous his position becomes. Ultimately, he does find explanations for what he's sought, and while they made sense, I was a bit disappointed they weren't more than they actually ended up being. In the end, I found the book to be like a reasonably well-made indie film as opposed to a major studio big-budget production - not as flashy or as polished, but still an enjoyable ride for what it was. 3.5/5*
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Thank you NetGalley and Polis Books for sending me an ARC of this book!!

This book follows Brandon, who is just about to finish his undergrad. He learns that his childhood best friend Jacob, who suffers from schizophrenia, has committed suicide. Honestly, he isn't shocked. What is shocking is where and how his body was found. Jacob doesn't have a license, so how did he get states away? In a quarry? Where he fell and burned to death?Jacob's grandfather, who also suffers from schizophrenia, is convinced that Jacob was murdered. This is when things get weird for Brandon. People are following him. He doesn't know who to trust. He doesn't even know if he can trust himself. 

This is my first book by Joe Clifford but it will definitely not be my last. IMMEDIATELY, I was hooked by the writing style. It was very conversational, casual, and fast. Being 24 myself, it felt like I was talking to a man my age. I really enjoyed that and I think it played a HUGE part into me reading this book in a day. Brandon, the narrator, was hard to like at times. I think that was the point? To be honest, it rang true with a lot of 23 year old men I know. Condescending, know it all, pretentious - very on brand. It was very realistic how he spoke, his thoughts, how he interacted with people. With that being said, I did end up liking Brandon, and feeling sorry for him. I think having him as a narrator was a super smart choice because a handful of chapter into the book, you start to question if he is entirely reliable. At first you just think he's weird or misguided, but then you start to question it. I really enjoyed Francis and thought his grumpiness was hysterical. I wish we could have gotten into his head because I bet his thoughts would have been fascinating. 

This book honestly makes you question what you know. It is hard to explain but I promise you will understand when you read it. 

I loved the conspiracy theory element to this book! I don't know a lot of conspiracy theories, I don't follow them, but that element to this story was super interesting.

I will admit that it has a sort of slower start, and you don't get into the thriller aspects right away.The pacing in the beginning felt a little off to me, and like we were focusing on irrelevant things, but I promise that it is worth it you guys! THE TWISTS AT THE END. I NEVER SAW THEM COMING. I read a lot of thrillers and I have never read an ending like that before. Stunned is an understatement. It really came out of left field, but in a good way. 

All in all, I REALLY enjoyed this thriller and would definitely recommend it!!!
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Holy Cow!!! What a crazy twisty wild read! 
I was hooked from the third page! 
I devoured this book in a day! The Shadow People was so creepy but in a good way! 
You won't wasn't to miss this
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Brandon is saddened, but not surprised when his old friend Jacob commits suicide. Brandon figures that Jacob has finally lost his battle with schizophrenia. But that doesn’t explained why he was found so far from home, burned alive in a quarry. Upon investigation, Brandon learns that Jacob has become a self published journalist, looking into all manner of conspiracy theories. Jacob’s grandfather warns Brandon that his grandson had uncovered a secret so monstrous, he was killed for it. Brandon might have been able to push aside the outlandish theory if he didn’t find himself being followed, tormented by a group of doppelgangers. Together with Jacob’s grandfather, Francis, the two men try yo uncover the truth that killed Jacob, before it kills them
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My first time reading Joe Clifford and all I can say is WOW! I was seriously impressed by this dark and twisty story which followed Brandon as he tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the disappearance and death of his childhood friend Jacob. The storytelling was sophisticated and intelligent, injected with some seriously creepy moments that actually made me hold my breath at times. As Brandon uncovers more about Jacob's final days it had echoes of an equally mind-boggling true crime case I read about once (although I won't mention which one to avoid spoilers). I read this book in 24 hours it was so riveting and I think this would translate to the screen very well.

A couple of minor points would be that the last third of the book feels slightly rushed in comparison to the start of the novel and the focus seems to shift away from the mystery of the titular Shadow People. But overall this was an exciting and original read and I can't wait to check out other books by the author.
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