If you’re after the sort of flippant humour you might have come to expect from Adrian Plass, then The Shadow Doctor might disappoint you. But I doubt it. You’ll be surprised – and a little confused – by the Doctor’s mysterious encounters and baffling remarks, but you’ll gradually come to realise he has an unusual and uncanny depth of perception, and a disquieting way of exposing shaky beliefs and practices.
Jack is a young, overenthusiastic but insecure Christian, whose clichéd spiritual advice and evangelistic advances often seem to fall on deaf ears, especially those of his charmingly warmhearted granny Alice. When, in his confusion after her death, he finally heeds her advice and takes contact with the illusive Shadow Doctor, he finds himself catapulted into a life of inexplicable coincidences involving desperately hurting strangers seeking help from his mentor.
While he consider everyone he meets to be ‘the most important person in the world’ and takes their every word very seriously, the Doctor’s approach to resolving their hangups often involves apparently frivolous remarks and ridiculous suggestions. Much to Jack’s dismay.
He is also able to express some very perceptive insights at times. One of my favourites bursts out after Jack almost scolds him for failing to ‘evangelise’ his client: ‘If there is a God, a being who has created an entire universe, it seems eminently possible to me that he might be able to arrange the next step in this lady’s journey towards him without depending exclusively on further contributions from me.’
Later, we discover the Doctor has dark secrets himself. Through extremely painful personal experiences he has come to reject many a trite traditional Christian platitude and phony ritual. What remains of his faith turns out to be brave, risky and, above all, honest.
As usual, Adrian Plass’s style is entertaining, very readable, and contains some witty turns of phrase. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.