“Puzzling and frustrating, even if it is enthralling at times” – Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina

When James Earl Ray’s FBI case files were declassified a few years ago, Antonio Munoz Molina found a minor link between himself and this man who murdered Martin Luther King. Minor though it might have been, it was enough to fascinate the author. The link came in the form of Portuguese city Lisbon, a place that they had both used as an escape during particularly turbulent times in their respective lives. This link might seem somewhat tenuous when you consider that Molina was escaping a busy family life and distraction from writing his first novel, while Ray was escaping the 375,000 law enforcement officers who were trying to bring him to justice for murdering one the most important figures in this planet’s history.

And that link will continue to feel tenuous throughout Like a Fading Shadow. Flitting from a chapter focusing on Ray’s attempts to evade justice to a chapter about Molina’s struggles to write his debut work is an odd way to tell either story, and this book does suffer for that. There is just too little to pull the pieces together. Like a Fading Shadow would have been better as a semi-fictionalised account of Ray’s final weeks of freedom, with the philosophising over writing and family life left for a separate publication. But that isn’t too say that there weren’t things to enjoy.

Molina is a masterful writer, and anyone involved in the trade will gain something from hearing about his trials and tribulations in the early days. And when he uses the FBI files and his own research to piece together the assassin’s movements it is often captivating and believable. A closing quarter that switches things to the perspective of Martin Luther King is probably the highlight, showing how well Molina can get a grasp on his subject when he resists the interruptions of his own life story.

Any Cop?: Unfortunately, the way Molina shoehorns in his own story into the midst of this hugely important historical event comes off as a blatant act of narcissism. There is nothing wrong with writing about your own life, particularly when you are a figure that many would like to read about, but why would you put it alongside the story of how such an important figure was killed? A bizarre choice makes this book puzzling and frustrating, even if it is enthralling at times.

 

Fran Slater

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