It’s 1984, and the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials are underway in Buffalo, New York. Jeff Dillon is one of the Olympic hopefuls, a skilled, experienced runner putting everything on the line to make a name for himself in the sport. What Jeff doesn’t expect is to come in dead last, his dreams of Olympic glory dashed in mere minutes. On the sidelines after the race, defeated and stinging from the loss, Jeff meets Bill Atlee, an Olympian who won the marathon trials in 1928. He offers to coach Jeff so he can make the podium and come back on top after the disappointing setback. As the two strike up an unlikely—and what should be impossible—friendship, Bill helps Jeff overcome his personal and physical struggles. They soon learn their lives aren’t so different after all.
It’s definitely clear that James K Dill’s RACING SHADOWS was written with all the passion and enthusiasm of a real-life marathon runner. There’s a lot of personal experiences as well as research that went into creating the novel’s world, and it shows. Jeff’s journey is rendered with an accurate attention to detail, an inside look at the sport that comes alive on the page. And it’s not just the smallest aspects like the casual lingo seasoned runners share back and forth, or the famous runners throughout Olympic history, but also the speed and precision of the racing scenes. Those are the most exciting highs in the novel, saturated with adrenaline and pulse-pounding tension. The climactic race gives a satisfying payoff, too, with a touching moment to close the characters’ intertwining story arcs. There’s supernatural elements lightly woven throughout with a hint of intrigue, and while it’s a familiar ghost story, it lends an interesting perspective between the two men.
At times, RACING SHADOWS does move at a pace that’s a bit too brisk, skirting past some character development and rushing through plot points. That often creates dialogue that feels somewhat stilted, but the characters’ genuine feelings shine through, and there are a few especially poignant scenes. As Jeff struggles with conditioning himself and shaking off doubt and physical limitations, RACING SHADOWS devotes a thread in the plot to the mental obstacles that runners often face: how obsession can take things away, how depression can push them to the brink. Where the story really succeeds is grappling on subjects that are beyond the sport, which makes it relatable to those who might not be runners themselves. It offers a realistic look at depression and mental health that bonds both Jeff and his mentor Bill together across decades. It’s refreshing to see an athlete and his coach talk so openly about their issues with mental health and seek out treatment, as well as actively working through their problems without the stigma that often surrounds it.
A fast-paced read surging with adrenaline, RACING SHADOWS offers an honest look at the losses and triumphs of a marathon runner through a fictional lens, told with heart and a genuine love for the sport.
~Jessica Thomas for IndieReader