I’ve commented before on the number of books set in the not-too-distant past. Obviously for some – like Bloody January which I read recently, Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series and Lynda LaPlante’s young Jane Tennison books – the time is almost another character in itself – the setting pivotal to the plot; but others just remind us of when things were different. A couple of my favourite series, the Robert B Parker Spenser series; and (the late) Sue Grafton’s alphabet series area (were, in the case of the latter) set just
a couple few several decades ago. (Seems like yesterday but time flies, I mean… weren’t we worried about the Y2K bug just a couple of years ago?!)
Anyhoo, it’s a time before technology (as we now know it) was rife, before we had facts and information at our fingertips and, in some ways (given what we’re often exposed to), the opportunity for innocence was lost.Shadow Man
by Alan Drew
Published by Corvus Books
on January 24th 2018
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Crime Fiction, Police Procedural
Southern California. 1986. Detective Ben Wade has returned to his California hometown of Rancho Santa Elena for a quieter life. Suddenly the town, with its peaceful streets and excellent public schools, finds itself at the mercy of a serial killer who slips through windows and screen doors, shattering illusions of safety.
As Ben and forensic specialist Natasha Betencourt struggle to stay one step ahead of the killer, Ben’s own world is rocked again by a teen’s suicide. Ben must decide how far he is willing to go, and how much he will risk, to rescue the town from a long-buried secret, as well as from a psychotic murderer.
Ben Wade is still very much in love with his wife Rachel when this book opens, though they’ve been divorced for just over a year. It’s an amicable separation though and they share supportive joint custody of 14yr old Emma – who’s savvy for her age and on the cusp of cynicism and womanhood.
It’s a time of change for Ben and the masterplanned community he polices as well. Rancho Santa Elena is actually not that far from LA, but a world away from his old life as a cop dealings with deaths, gangs and drugs. In fact he mentions he’s now akin to a glorified security guard at one point. But… it offers him the balance and family life (albeit a broken one) he desired.
The serenity is however shattered with a number of murders – in quick succession. Interestingly, Ben seems to expect the culprit – knowing what he’ll find at the first crime scene and there’s a brief mention of a series of manual strangulations and I wasn’t sure whether we’d come into the murderous spree part way through and just meeting the killer, or they’d started afresh.
Amidst the killings is another death. A young boy who may, or may not, have died by his own hand. It seems improbable there would be two killers on the loose, but Ben believes there’s more to the death of the young teenager than meets the eye. The boy also reminds him of himself and his own childhood – both were star swimmers, taken under the wing of a local coach who helps them through difficult times in their personal lives.
I really liked Ben and Drew offers readers a lot of insight into his character. We learn about his childhood as well as how he feels about his ex-wife and her new boyfriend, about his daughter and her journey into womanhood, his life in law enforcement and potential relationship with medical examiner, Natasha.
Drew writes from Natasha’s point of view as well and in some ways I found her loneliness a little confronting. With it however, comes her own backstory (and trauma) along with the kind of understanding and resolution that only comes with time and maturity.
Initially I found the writing a little wordy and detailed (though perhaps I needed to know what sort of knife could cut through flyscreen) but settled into a happy rhythm with this book and zoomed through it in a night.
This is Drew’s second book though I gather it’s very different to his first novel (published in 2008). I think he’s got some great characters in Ben, Natasha, Rachel and Emma and would happily read more if this became a series.
Shadow Man by Alan Drew was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.