“Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin,” by Gerry Mandel

Gerry Mandel’s debut novel “Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin” melds the genres of love story, mystery, and time travel while tracing layers of creative process. Most of all, though, Mandel’s novel is an old-fashioned morality tale for this age.

With an unassuming style Mandel investigates important life questions. What is the nature of integrity? Why is it important? How do you resolve the tug between desire and making good? Shouldn’t an artist be judged by his art, not the dips and turns of his personal life? Shouldn’t personal life remain–well, personal?

These questions inform the core of the novel’s plot, character, and descriptions. Mandel’s dialogue crackles with relaxed humor while pursuing the mystery and moral challenge.

Cooper Thiery, Midwestern native, lands in Hollywood for an assignment of a lifetime–make a documentary at FlashBack Productions. The subject is Charlie Chaplin–the film maker Cooper’s been passionate about for decades. But, who recommended him–really? How do all the clues and resources come his way–and, from whom?

Be patient. With wry wit and an easy narrative voice author Gerry Mandel answers all these questions in this page-turning novel. The novel is set in the Hollywood of the 1920s and the Hollywood of today that seems hell-bent on dragging Chaplin through the dirt.

Some of the personalities we meet in the 1920s scenes include Fatty Arbuckle, William Randolph Hearst, and Doug Fairbanks. Mandel gives us a front row seat to Chaplin’s greatest movies and haunts as secrets from Chaplin’s past are revealed. The dilemma is to tell or not to tell.

Along the way Chaplin materializes to both direct and misdirect Cooper’s search for the truth. Chaplin’s slight of mind tests Cooper’s loyalty. Matisse said that “Creativity takes courage.” So does saying “no” and walking away. What Cooper does with that struggle lies at the heart of this compelling story.

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