The primary character in Robert Aiellos' suspense tale Shadow in the Mirror is Grant Mongomery, a retired mentalist -- one of those skilled "magicians" who seem to read people's minds or communicate with the dead. He's an interesting character, one with enough substance to build a series around. The second "Grant Mongomery" book, this follows The Deceivers.
To be a mentalist requires some abilities reminiscent of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. As the author says:
"To perfect the art of cold reading takes years of practice. You have to be an amateur psychologist. You learn to interpret eyes and facial expression, posture, eye contact, movement of the hands and body, tone of voice, how a person is dressed, how he or she speaks, and a thousand other signs."
Doyle's great detective uses these skilled observations in his investigations. It is a bit disappointing that, having cleverly created this potentially Holmes-like character, Aiello has chosen not to write a detective novel in which Grant Montgomery displays these skills. Rather, Aiello spins a suspense novel in which, while Montgomery is of course a primary cog in the running of the plot, these abilities are not really utilized. Perhaps next time.
The author presents us with a tale of cold-hearted murder and with a character, the daughter of the first murder victim, who is the epitome of crazed evil: Lona Everett. Lona and her identical twin sister, Lorraine, are the daughters of Maynard Everett, an ex-mentalist, long retired, Grant Mongomery's former mentor and still, although Grant hasn't seen him in years, his close friend. A decade or so ago, Grant and Lorraine were lovers.
Lorraine, the opposite of her sister in character, contacts Grant and tells him her father is very sick. Could he take the time to visit him? It might cheer him up. Grant of course agrees to do so and, with that agreement, is thrust into the midst of Lona's diabolical murder plot. Her father has invested his money wisely over the years, is now rich, and Lona wants that money. Her father's illness is not natural but induced by Lona, who, each day, squeezes the juice of a belladonna berry into her father's tea. Not enough poison to kill outright, but enough to make him very ill, and susceptible to suggestion. While her father is under the influence of the poison Lona is whispering in his ear that it would be a good thing for him to come over to the "other side", to kill himself and end his misery.
Added to this is a subplot in which Grant's life (and that of his girlfriend, Colette) is threatened by Jack Florentine, a gangster who Grant helped put into prison for a few years. Florentine is now out, wants revenge and means to have it. He is a brutal character without conscience who gets his "kicks" out of beating up defenseless women.
The plot unfolds in what is a rather standard mechanical manner, but the book provides what it purports to, that is, a very good read and some true suspense. There are one or two false notes struck along the way but for the most part they neither slow down the action nor interfere with the primary plot. One such false note is the reaction (or overreaction) of a gardener who sees, for the first time, the twins, Lona and Lorraine together:
"(He)...looked at them with his mouth open...His first impulse was to drop to his knees and beg forgiveness for having cheated on his wife last Tuesday."
Identical twins are hardly such a rarity that viewing them would make someone react in such a way. Simple bemusement might be a more natural reaction. The "lover's conversation" between Grant and Colette at one point strikes readers as a bit clichéd, too. But neither of these objections is significant and neither interferes with the enjoyment of a book that is meant primarily to entertain. This Shadow in the Mirror succeeds in doing. There are a few real chills along the way, Lona's brutal and black-hearted final destruction of her father, chief among them. It is a scene that may induce real horror and revulsion in many who read it. To paraphrase Shakespeare, Lona acts like the flower of love on the surface but is in fact the serpent underneath. That she commits patricide, sinking her poisonous fangs into her own loving father makes her murderous deed, cold-blooded as it would be effected against anyone, all the more horrific.
Having succeeded in killing her father, Lona needs only to kill her sister to inherit the entire family fortune. No sooner is her father buried then she is taking all the necessary steps to assure that Lorraine follows him to the other side. It is up to Grant Mongomery, who suspects Lona's guilt, to do what he can to assure she doesn't succeed and to try to see that Lona is brought to justice. He has to do this without getting himself killed by either his enemy, the gangster Florentine, or Lona, who knows he suspects her and wants him out of her way. More than once, he comes close to failing in his efforts to stay alive. Shadow in the Mirror is, all told, an enjoyable nail-biter of a book.