The Shadow Knows

“What evil lurks in the hearts of men…the shadow knows.” There’s a reason The Shadow was such a popular character, first in pulps in the thirties and then television,  comic books, movies, and radio (with personal fave Orson Welles! But that’s a separate thought.) The Shadow was—let’s just say it—a shady character. A vigilante.

By definition, a vigilante is a citizen or member of a self-appointed group of citizens who undertake law enforcement in their community without legal authority, typically because the legal agencies are thought to be inadequate. I’ll admit, when I think vigilante, I think Batman. But doesn’t this definition describe many amateur sleuth protagonists?  Isn’t this the motivation at their core, the reason they risk life and limb to solve mysteries in their own backyards?

Crime fiction continues to be one of the most popular genres of fiction, and many readers connect with the character who is acting in an unofficial capacity: amateur sleuth or former cop who has left the force either voluntarily or not by choice. We appreciate that they’re fighting to find the truth, and we support them in the often illegal choices they make in order to get answers. We’re like the shadow over their shoulders, knowing that the bad guy must be caught, and rooting not for the police but for the person who makes the effort to right the wrongs that have been done.

At a recent cozy mystery panel, I polled the audience. “Show of hands: how many of you have investigated a local murder?” You can guess how many people raised their hands (none). But—like fans of The Shadow—we crave stories where the bad guys don’t win. As long as evil lurks in the hearts of men, we’ll continue to follow amateur sleuths into danger.

Diane Vallere | @dianevallere


Author: Diane Vallere

Diane is the author of four mystery series. Like her character Samantha Kidd, she is a former fashion buyer; like her character Madison Night, she loves Doris Day movies, like her character Polyester Monroe, she lives in California; and like her character Margo Tamblyn, she has a thing for costumes. Find out more at

6 thoughts on “The Shadow Knows”

  1. I always think of Batman too, Diane! I suppose Iron Man is too. They’re both cut from the same cloth–billionaires who can finance their work. I suppose maybe Spider-Man is a poor vigilante? Newspaper photographers who live with their aunts don’t tend to make much;)


  2. I think that sentiment applies to anyone who reads crime fiction – amateur or pro. We crave stories where the good guy triumphs. My husband would call this a desire at the core of the American psyche. Simply put, we like “happy” endings. Good triumphing over evil, marriages – all that happy stuff that we don’t always get in real life.


  3. There’s something intriguing about the character who takes the law into his own hands to avenge a lawless act. We want to peak into his mind and heart to make sure he has the right motives, he is careful in his investigation and that the sentence fits the crime. Darkness and nobility swirling around together. Great topic, I shall be musing upon this as I go out in my day. Thanks!


  4. My first thought was the “lawmen” of the old west who were often as shadowy as the subjects they pursued. Interesting characters are hard to define, but in the end, order is restored for us mystery readers.


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