Shadow by the Bridge

by Suzanne Zewan

Synopsis

Shadow by the Bridge is a fictionalized account of a series of unsolved murders that took place in Linden, N.Y. , in 1917, 1922 and 1924. The story is told from the point of view of Fritz Reynolds, who, at the age of 11 in 1917, witnessed the first murder.

In 1917, Linden was a small farming town where neighbors helped neighbors, where there was peace, where there was a true sense of community. All of this is shattered by the murders, leaving the townspeople in a state of fear and suspicion.

Shadow by the Bridge follows Fritz’s life as he and his family cope with the series of tragedies, as Fritz falls in love, and as the normal parts of life go on despite the horrific events of the past few years.

Theme of the Book

The book is both a coming of age story in which the reader follows the path of Fritz’s life, through fear and guilt to find love and happiness. It is also a story of the effects of violence and tragedy on a small community. Despite the closeness of the community at the beginning of the story, the unsolved murders lead to neighbor mistrusting neighbor and to the near dissolution of the community as fearful people move away.

What I Liked About the Story

Ms. Zewan has captured the life of a small farming town in western New York perfectly. The characters she writes about include the town gossip (Helen), the kind, generous neighbor (Martha), the aggressive barkeeper who sells prohibited hard cider during Prohibition (Anton), and the typical teenage boys (Fritz and Leon) who get into trouble, fall in love, work hard, and dream of the future. There is Junior, the somewhat strange and slow but essentially harmless young man and his sister, Valerie, who would have been the prom queen and head cheerleader if Linden had had such things. These are all real people. The reader will certainly recognize the character types from life.

Fritz is particularly well-drawn. He is a young man beset by both fear and guilt for not confessing that he’d witnessed the first murder. His inner conflict is well described and mirrored by his physical illness. But, as any young person, Fritz sometimes forgets the fear and guilt when he is in the presence of Valerie. Then he is much more interested in expressing his love for her and in sharing his dreams for the future.

The atmosphere of fear in the town is palpable. We find townspeople armed, even Valerie has learned to handle a shotgun. People begin to leave the town, seeking safety in a larger city. There is suspicion as neighbors begin to wonder about each other. Fritz often sees a shadowy figure near the bridge, foreshadowing further mayhem.

What I Didn’t Like About the Story

There are two elements of Shadow by the Bridge that I found disappointing. The first was the love story between Fritz and Valerie. While this helped to fill out both characters, I found that it took up too much of the book and was more detailed than necessary to the plot. I ended up skimming many of the scenes between the two.

The second, and more serious, criticism is the lack of background to the story and the lack of any indication of what parts were factual and what parts fictionalized. After some Internet research, I did find information about the crimes which, indeed, have never been satisfactorily solved. I was left wondering why the author changed the names of the victims but kept their initials. The book could use an Afterword to explain some of the missing information so that readers know what is ‘true crime’ and what is novel.

Final Say

The cover of Shadow by the Bridge now indicates that the book is based on actual events. Knowing this, readers will appreciate the story more. It is an interesting study of crime and its effect on a small community.

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