In the bloody, violent days following the implementation of Order 66, the Jedi have been slaughtered, their temples burned, their fellowship broken by the newly-formed Empire, with the Emperor’s protégé, Darth Vader, tracking down those few to survive and escape. One Jedi, Jax Pavan, has gone to ground in the slums of Coruscant, the city-planet that serves as the very heart of the Empire. Here, among with fellow ex-Jedi Laranth, hardboiled reporter Den Dhur, independent-minded droid I-5YQ and Vader’s own former personal aide Haninum Tyk Rhinann, Jax Pavan has formed a small detective agency. Now the group looks to aid those with nowhere else to turn, enabling the persecuted to flee Coruscant and providing justice for those who can’t, or won’t leave. But things are never as simple as they seem.
When Jax Pavan and his friends are hired to discover who murdered a famous artist, their search takes them from the grungy streets and bars of Coruscant’s worst areas, up into the gleaming towers that house its wealthy elites, with a suspicious, incorruptible cop getting uncomfortably close to shutting down their investigation permanently. Meanwhile, Darth Vader, intent on finding Jax, has employed the notorious bounty hunter, Aurra Sing, to hunt down the former Jedi. And a wild card, Captain Typho of Naboo, has come to Coruscant in order to learn how his former Queen and unrequited love, Padme Amidala, really died, and to avenge her murder at all costs. These three goals will cause the various players to cross paths repeatedly, often in violent and unpredictable ways. Before it’s done, mysteries will be solved, secrets revealed, and culprits uncovered, but at no little cost to those involved. All in all, it’s just another day on Coruscant.
Street of Shadows is Star Wars meets Dashiell Hammett, noir mystery in a space opera setting, and Michael Reaves pulls it off perfectly. He hits all of the beats one would expect of such a book, from the strong-willed, hard-headed detective with a traumatic past, to the femme fatale in need of justice. Only in this case, most of the cast are exotic aliens, the gun fights are replaced by lightsabers and energy weapons, the faithful family retainer is a droid, and the fast cars are really hover vehicles, proving that some themes are universal and can survive transplantation. I’ve been an on and off fan of Star Wars, with the so-called Expanded Universe running hot and cold for me depending on the material and the author, but I’m pleased to say that Michael Reaves does an excellent job of using the Star Wars setting to craft an enjoyable story any mystery fan might just enjoy. If your experience with Star Wars starts and ends with the movies, you’ll at least know the setting and trappings, even if the only characters that carry over from the big screen are Darth Vader and Captain Typho (and it’s interesting to see a secondary character like him get a continuation to his story, such as it is). I do have to give Reaves credit for tossing in one of the most time-honored, clichéd-because-it’s-tradition, mystery tropes there is, one that only hit me after I’d finished the book and put it aside, since it works out quite nicely for the sake of the story. While I can’t elaborate for fear of spoilers, I will say that it makes sense as far as motivations and executions go. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Street of Shadows, because it’s a strong story with memorable characters, and it shows just how well the Star Wars setting can be adapted to allow for all manner of themes. I’ll be looking forward to the third in the series.
Originally reviewed for SF Site, 2008