Review: The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner


Title: The Shadow Tracer

Author: Meg Gardiner

Published: Michael Joseph: Penguin Australia June 2013

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Status: Read from June 21 to 22, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

The Shadow Tracer is a rare stand alone thriller from author Meg Gardiner who is best known for her popular series, one which features Jo Beckett, a forensic psychologist, and the other, Evan Delany a journalist with a law degree.

The protagonist in The Shadow Trace is skip tracer, Sarah Keller. Since the night Sarah sister was murdered and she was forced to flee with her newborn niece, Sarah has been careful to remain off the grid. For five years she has been living under an alias, raising Zoe as her own, staying one step ahead of the violent, criminal cult that want to claim Zoe for the family when a minor accident, which leads to Zoe being hospitalised for treatment, uncovers a shocking secret and with their cover threatened, Sarah is forced to take Zoe and run.

The cult wants Zoe not only because she is family and therefore one of God’s ‘chosen people’ but also because she is unknowingly a key to part of their criminal enterprises. Without the intervention of a rogue FBI agent with vengeance on his mind, Sarah and Zoe may have stood a chance of escaping the clan’s assassins but Agent Harker’s single minded agenda complicates everything.

Sarah is uniquely placed to avoid the attention of those who are pursuing her and Zoe having spent her years on the run working as a skip tracer. There is just enough character development to make sense of Sarah’s motivations. I really liked the way in which she was portrayed as capable, resourceful and fiercely protective of Zoe. Yet despite the burner phones and untraceable pre-paid credit cards, with both the clan and the FBI hunting her, Sarah is forced to reach out to US Marshal Michael Lawless, despite being wary of him and his motives.

Though the plot isn’t entirely credible, the breathless pace overrides any real concerns. With the feel of a movie script due to several cinematic action scenes including a brutal murder in an isolated farmhouse during a snow storm, a dangerous car chase along a freeway and a final bloody confrontation in an airplane graveyard, The Shadow Tracer is an action packed thrill ride. The villains are suitably scary given their amoral and relentless, deadly pursuit of a an innocent five year old. And though the focus is firmly on the the frantic action, Gardiner still finds the time to introduce a subtle element of romance, or at least chemistry, between Sarah and Lawless.

This stand alone novel should be welcomed by Gardiner’s fans and tempt new readers to delve into her backlist. The Shadow Tracer is an entertaining, action driven thriller from an author Stephen King endorses as a ‘suspense superstar’.

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Review: Dark Horse by Honey Brown

Title: Dark Horse

Author: Honey Brown

Published: Penguin Australia April 24th 2013

Status: Read from April 22 to 23, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

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My Thoughts:

Having read After the Darkness last year I thought I knew what to expect from Honey Brown and while I was rewarded with a compelling story of psychological suspense, the shocking twist in the tale of Dark Horse took me by surprise.

After a messy divorce and the reluctant sale of her property Sarah Barnard can’t face a day of forced celebration with her parents and so just after dawn on Christmas morning, she packs supplies and canters into the bush upon her beloved horse, Tansy. Distracted, Sarah doesn’t notice the change in the weather until a torrent of water is rushing towards her. With no way to retreat, Sarah and Tansy are forced to seek higher ground and take refuge at the site of an old bushranger’s hut in the midst of being renovated. Resigned to waiting for rescue, Sarah establishes camp, content in her solitude, but then a man calls to her from the darkness, and Sarah is no longer alone.

From the moment Heath whistles to Sarah from the edge of the campsite I believed I knew the path the story would take but the twist in the plot left me breathless, catching me unaware. In hindsight the clues are there in the story, hiding, at times, in plain sight, but Brown masterfully plays on the reader’s expectations and with careful, but never obvious, manipulation, subverts the truth.

Sarah’s reason for being on the mountain is seemingly clear while Heath is the enigma. He appears untruthful, giving vague answers to even the simplest of questions and as Sarah’s suspicion of him grows, so does ours. The tension builds as Sarah battles her intense attraction to Heath, who is young, fit and handsome, even though she suspects him to be dangerous. Brown skillfully develops a relationship between Sarah and Heath that is, if not entirely understandable, feasible, despite the obvious contradictions.

The sense of unease that permeates the narrative comes not only from the situation but is also carefully cultivated by Brown as she creates a disquieting landscape of thick fog, unstable ground and howling winds. Lashed by rain and in danger of flooding, the mountain is a threatening presence. Sarah and Heath’s battle against the elements, and their isolation, heightens the suspense whilst enforcing intimacy with the need to keep dry and warm.

Once begun, I found it impossible to put Dark Horse aside. The pace is compelling, the tension superb and the plot veers into a breathtaking twist. Dark Horse is a finely crafted, stunning psychological thriller that I can’t recommend strongly enough.

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