The Streets of Shadow

By Leslie McFarlane

Reviewed by Jeff Salter

Though Leslie McFarlane published uncountable adult [meaning “NOT juvenile”] stories in magazines and papers – including several novel-length pieces that were serialized – this is the only adult title I could find that was later released as a complete monograph. Originally appearing by installments in Munsey’s Magazine during 1929, this was later published in early 1930 by Dutton. It was certainly the most successful of McFarlane’s adult novels, going through three printings.

My copy was republished in 2018 by Fiction House Press and features the original artwork which accompanied the magazine installments in 1929. I wish more of McFarlane’s adult novels survived in monographic form.

For those of you who do NOT know, McFarlane was the first – and most critics agree – the best of the ghost writers [collectively, Franklin W. Dixon] for the venerable Hardy Boys series. Working from outlines supplied by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, McFarlane wrote 20 of the first 26 HB titles — thereby bringing to life the characters, settings, and tone of most of the titles that followed in that franchise’s lengthy publishing history. [NOTE: all of the first 36 HB titles – including McFarlane’s 20 – were drastically revised and shortened beginning in 1959. So if you’ve only read a “newer” version of these old titles, you haven’t truly experienced the full flavor of McFarlane’s writing artistry.

And the “full flavor” is what we see in The Streets of Shadow — McFarlane’s novel for adults. What sets apart this adult fiction title is that McFarlane worked from his OWN plot outline, with his OWN characters and settings.

It’s a marvelous detective tale, set in Montreal [Canada] some hundred years ago. The characters – whether civilized or sinister – are fully drawn and the settings are vividly depicted. After the plot shifts into high gear, the suspense becomes intense.

Central to this story are two murders, for which an ex-con [Hinkey Lewis] is framed. Attorney Michael Brent agrees to defend him, but Lewis was caught at the scene of one crime after interacting with the victim and a cop a few minutes prior to that murder. Case closed. And he’s linked to the other murder elsewhere.

What can Attorney Brent do with such a hopeless defense? Well, he has to find the real killer or killers, of course. For that, he must prowl around the seedy criminal underbelly of Montreal society with danger on every dark, shadowy corner. During this investigation, Brent happens upon a beautiful maiden [Norah], just arrived from England after her mother’s death. It’s too complicated to explain here, but Norah traveled here believing her step-father [Midge Tapley] was in good stead. Imagine her horror to discover Midge not only lives in a trashy flop house, but he’s a flunky for a small time crime boss [Raoul Laboeuf].

Once Brent encounters Norah, he can’t get her out of his mind… and as things develop, he suspects she’s in dangerous proximity to Laboeuf and his nefarious activity… possibly including those two recent murders.

Should Brent descend into this seamy Montreal ghetto alone and unarmed? No!

Does he go anyway? Yes.

All in service to his innocent client [Hinkey] and in search of the lovely maiden [Norah].

To relate much more would spoil a dandy detective tale that rivals the travails of Sam Spade, the Saint, the Falcon, Mike Hammer, and other Private Eyes of that literary generation. Suffice it to say that Brent gets himself into inescapable danger. How he copes and if he survives leaves the reader guessing… and I’m usually pretty good at figuring out the whodunnit and howdunnit.

I especially liked two of the supporting characters: Minton (Brent’s dutiful and insightful clerk, advisor, and confidant) and Dryborough (owner of a second-hand book shop and Brent’s regular drinking buddy). It’s through interactions with these two that we learn a lot about Brent and his new murder case… details that would otherwise likely unfold in dreary exposition.

Two caveats:

1. There’s a lot of slang – 1920s Montreal criminal culture – that takes some getting use to. For example: a watch that’s stolen and hocked is called a “turnip.”

2. In the beginning several chapters I found Attorney Brent to be rather UN-likeable. He was far too cocky and lazy … and he knowingly took advantage of his long-suffering clerk, Minton. But by the middle of the book, I was rooting for him anyhow.

Highly recommended if you enjoy good hard-boiled detective adventures. Additionally recommended — just so you can experience the writing craft of McFarlane when he’s working with his own characters, settings, and plots… and aiming for an adult audience. It’s terrific.

[jLS # 602]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
This entry was posted in Miscellaneous. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Streets of Shadow

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Sounds like a fascinating story, and one I should add to my TBR list. Though I’ve read several mysteries set during this time period in the UK, I haven’t ready any based in the US, so this would be an interesting change. The original artwork would be nice to see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Well, actually set in Canada. But, yes… the interior illustrations are typical of that period. Just picture some of the art in the old Police Gazette.


  2. I think that I have heard some of his stories online, perhaps the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine podcasts, I don’t know, but I will take your word for it and, if I can’t find printed form, look for well-read audiobooks,(like the one that I will post a review on tomorrow.)
    It truly irks me that there are words that have been hijacked for other meanings when they have sufficed for many decades, if not a century or more. Heaven knows how long ‘adult” meant ‘for grown-ups’ and not ‘smut’, and what else can we really use?
    I understand that they changed the Bobbsey Twin books for one reason early on is that the awful attempt to portray the speech of their housekeeper, (possibly a former slave or child of slaves), was beyond racist and very difficult to read. However, with all the new revisions, she might sound like she’s this side of an English professor, although I have not read them again. The series was trashed, as it was a part of history as to how things were. The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie and others have been made politically correct. Why did they just not make new series?
    I tell writers to please try not to put in too much slang or cultural references in to their stories if they want them to be read into the future, but I dare to guess this fellow wanted to show how much he knew and never thought that you would be reviewing his work in 2022!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Excellent points.
      McFarlane spent some time as a salaried newspaper reporter, but went “free-lance” for much of his writing career. Later in life, he worked with some sort of national film board (Canada) in a salaried role. But mostly, he cranked out adult stories (under his own name) and juvenile books (as a ghost writer) for the dollars to pay his rent and utilities.


  3. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I always enjoyed the Hardy Boys books so I imagine I’d like McFarlane’s adult work as well. Too bad McFarlane can’t read this review. His chest would puff up a few inches for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I’ve read a biographical treatment of McFarlane… as well as his own partial memoirs.
      For the most part, he didn’t talk about his “ghost” work on the juvenile books — he considered them a necessary task to earn his $100 (or so) per title. And in those days, that check would make the difference between the McFarlane family surviving another few weeks or not.
      Later in his life, it’s evident he was quietly pleased that the books he ghost-wrote had achieved such popularity with their intended audience… though he still bristled at his Hardy Boys connection being the “lead” in any story written about him.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s