The Deadly Shadow is an uneven, if fun, Choose Your Own Adventure book. Although it’s the fifth book in the series by Richard Brightfield, this is only the second one I’ve reviewed on this blog, the first being the horrendous Secret of the Pyramids. This time around Mr. B. gives us a good solid spy adventure with some pretty outlandish twists, and while the book’s ambitions are probably beyond its grasp, at least it’s fun.

The Deadly Shadow by Richard Brightfield (illustrated by Don Hedin)
Published: July 1985
Number in the CYOA Series: 46

Secret agent adventures are a little tricky in CYOA-land. I suspect they’re hard to do in a children’s series because the typical things that fictional secret agents do, at least in a world where James Bond sets the paradigm–romance beautiful women, blow up the bad guys, look dashing in a tuxedo at a Monte Carlo casino–are very adult-oriented, and if you tone them down for kids it tends to become either corny or dull. That was the problem with Edward Packard’s Your Code Name Is Jonah, and it’s an evident limitation of The Deadly Shadow too, but this book is at least far more successful than the previous effort.

In this book, “you” are, of course, a secret agent. You work for the SSA, the Special Security Agency, and your boss, M–er, I mean “T”–sends you on a mission to find a man named Dimitrius. The Russians are also looking for him. When you ask T what the deal is with Dimitrius, the answer is a bit surprising: “He may explode with the force of an atomic bomb!” Well, that’s a new one, I admit! The explanation is a bit sketchy–they often are in these books–but it seems Dimitrius was the subject of some sort of scientific experiment to try to make him invisible which went terribly wrong, and now he’s a human bomb. You’re part of a global intelligence dragnet to bring him in before the Russians do. Dimitrius evidently has a taste for gambling and for collecting art, so your first choice is which undercover identity to choose: art collector or professional gambler.

This is a terrific grabber and one that’s very unique in the series. What it lacks in logic (a human bomb? What, did he swallow plutonium?) it makes up for in originality. The hunt for Demetrius quickly assumes a quick-moving, globetrotting character, much as R.A. Montgomery’s The Lost Jewels of Nabooti, and based on the choices you make you could end up having adventures in Rio de Janiero, Mexico City, Paris or Hong Kong. That’s a lot to cover in 118 pages, but Brightfield manages to pull it off for the most part, though the decisions and transitions are necessarily pretty abrupt and bare-bones.

Richard Brightfield’s The Deadly Shadow takes a lot of cues from James Bond, especially the “kiddiest” and most outlandish of the Bond films, that being Moonraker.

When you do encounter Dimitrius, some pretty outlandish things happen. As you find out in a couple of the plots, not only is he a walking bomb, but evidently Dimitrius can travel short distances in time. When he does this, his shadow becomes deadly: anyone who touches it will explode, or die, or something. The book gives us the requisite James Bond-ian henchman, Big Fist, who has a bionic arm to replace the one destroyed by Dimitrius’s shadow. As depicted by illustrator Don Hedin (a/k/a Paul Granger), Big Fist even looks a bit like Jaws, the famous James Bond henchman played in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker by tall guy Richard Kiel.

You’ve heard me mention James Bond a couple of times, and there’s definitely a lot of influence here. Because of the time in which this book was written and the general kid-friendliness of the plot, The Deadly Shadow most resembles the 1979 Bond film Moonraker, which was the silliest and most outlandish of the Bond films. Incidentally Moonraker contained a sequence taking place in Rio de Janiero and involving a chase on the cable cars up to Sugar Loaf, the iconic mountain in Rio, and The Deadly Shadow does too. The Hong Kong gambling sequence is right out of about a dozen Bond films. Brightfield was obviously trying to channel the British super-spy, and the results are mixed, but at least it’s fun.

A problem with The Deadly Shadow is that in only one of the plotlines do you really figure out who Dimitrius is and what exactly happened to him. For the vast majority of the book he’s just an unexplained mystery, appearing and exploding at will. I do like the plot where he’s using his time travel abilities to steal priceless works of art from the Louvre, and another where he uses the same abilities to cheat at gambling–the trope later used in Back to the Future II where a time traveler looks up the winners of horse races in the newspaper, then goes back in time and bets on the winner. These are done pretty cleverly. Though scattered and lurchy in how they progress, the plots in The Deadly Shadow at least form a semi-cohesive whole, and Dimitrius, though not really fleshed out as a character, is one of the more memorable villains of the series. I mean, the guy can freaking explode! How cool is that?

It’s far from the top echelon of Choose Your Own Adventures, but The Deadly Shadow is at least a pretty good time. Kids will probably love it, and if they can get past the cheese factor, adult readers will at least enjoy it. It’s corny and quite outlandish, but this series has the latitude to be that, and although it doesn’t always work, here there’s no harm in trying.

Grade: B+

Next on my review list is Jay Leibold’s Spy For George Washington, one of the more memorable of the “historical” CYOA books.