Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA
One of the benefits of attending NECon every summer is the goody-bag you receive. What’s a goody bag? Oh, it’s just a bag filled with books. Free books.
Anyway, I’ve been attending NECon since 2001, so as you might imagine, I’ve built up quite a collection from these bags. I read in too many genres to read all the goody bag books, and so they accumulate, and every once in a while, I snag something off the shelf, most of the time years later, and read it. This experience always feels like Christmas.
Recently, the book I snagged was Shadow Man (2006) by Cody McFadyen. I knew nothing about Shadow Man before reading it, nor did I know anything about the author, but I was instantly interested in it because of its main character Smoky Barrett, an FBI agent who hunts serial killers. McFadyen would go on to write an entire series featuring Smoky Barrett. I was instantly interested because I’ve been working on a novel the past year or so where the main character is also a female FBI Agent.
I enjoyed Shadow Man a lot, especially the lead character of Smoky Barrett. It’s no surprise that McFadyen wrote an entire series for this character.
Smoky Barrett is an FBI agent who specializes in tracking down serial killers, and she’s the best the Bureau’s got. However, when Shadow Man opens, Barrett is on leave as she recuperates from a devastating traumatic event. One of the serial killers she had been hunting had broken into her home and in a vicious attack killed her husband and teen daughter, and nearly killed Smoky.
As Smoky returns to work, we meet her brilliant team, who are all experts at what they do. McFadyen does a tremendous job fleshing out these characters, presenting them as fully confident hot shots who are all veterans in the field and have seen it all, and then he goes about terrorizing the living daylight out of them. The madman in Shadow Man sets his sights on Smoky’s squad and in a relentless onslaught brutalizes them and their loved ones, shaking them to the core. This makes the novel quite scary, because as a reader, you’re thinking, if these guys are afraid—.
This new serial killer reaches out to Smoky personally and invites her to be the lead investigator on the case. He grabs her attention by raping, torturing, and murdering her best friend. He also claims to be a descendant of Jack the Ripper, and as such boldly taunts Smoky and her team, daring them to catch him, in effect saying that like the original Ripper he cannot be caught.
Shadow Man is a gripping novel that stays strong and fresh throughout. I’m not really a fan of the serial killer story, but I liked this one. What I liked best about the novel is McFadyen succeeds in making it very scary, and he does this by creating confident top-of-the-food chain FBI investigators, the type of folks who never lose a case, and then he puts them through hell as his serial killer methodically preys on them. McFadyen excels at describing their fear. It makes for a very unsettling novel.
Some of the crimes which occur in the story are downright brutal. A pet dog is dismembered, a teenage girl watches her mother raped, tortured, and gutted, and then is tied to her mother’s mutilated corpse for several days until the police arrive. As I said, it’s the type of stuff that shakes even the most hardened FBI investigators. It’s not easy material to read.
McFadyen also does an outstanding job entering the mind of a female lead character. Smoky’s thoughts and feelings come off as so genuine you’ll swear a woman wrote this novel.
If there’s one drawback to Shadow Man it’s that the identity of the killer, once made known, wasn’t a complete surprise, nor was it anything that made the novel better.
Shadow Man also suffers from a problem I find with lots of stories like this. So much care goes into writing a formidable villain that it reaches the point where as a reader you almost can’t believe the guy is going to get caught, and when he does get caught, it’s a disappointment. It seems too easy.
McFadyen is a victim of his own good writing here. He created such a clever villain I had difficulty wrapping my head around his demise.
That being said, McFadyen does cover all the bases, and everything in the conclusion to this story makes sense. It’s just a little on the predictable side.
Then again, a different more sinister ending might have made the book too scary.
Thanks for reading!