#BookReview: SHADOW MAN by Alan Drew

What Dennis Lehane does for Boston, Alan Drew does for Southern California in this gritty thriller about an idyllic community rocked by a serial killer—and a dark secret.

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.

With eerie, chilling, fine prose, Alan Drew brings us into the treacherous underbelly of a suburban California town in this brilliant novel of suspense about a man, and a community, confronted with the heart of human darkness.

Release Date: May 23, 2017

Amazon / Amazon UK / Amazon CA

 

My Review

I’ve finished this book, clearly, since I’m here writing a review. Now I’m trying to come up with the right words, which I’m finding a challenge, because, while I enjoyed aspects of the story, I’m also supremely irritated. First, I’ll tell you that the writing is good. Alan Drew is a talented guy. But I’m thinking that he has his genre wrong. Or the marketing is wrong. This book is not at all what it claims to be.

Within the first line of the book’s description, in bold type: “…gritty thriller about an idyllic community rocked by a serial killer…” This is not a thriller. Not even a little bit. And, I’m sorry, but I’m really tired of publishers tossing the word “thriller” around in order to sell books. This story is far too slow and meandering to be a thriller. I’d call it literary drama. The content is heavy on introspection and reflection.

You started to believe you deserved more than you had, deserved what your neighbor had – and they always had more – and once you started thinking like that there was an anxiousness that set in on you, a rotating dissatisfaction.

Next, the description leads us to believe this book is about a serial killer. It’s not. The first few pages start by putting us in the serial killer’s mind, which is, again, a cue that this killer is a central figure within the story. He’s not. The bulk of this story is about Ben, his family drama, an illegal immigrant teen boy who may or may not have committed suicide, and a link to something that happened to Ben as a teenage boy. This is a major storyline, and an issue that deserved, and should have had, its own spotlight. The serial killer aspect feels like a sideline, something sprinkled in to give the story the necessary grit needed to label it a thriller. We don’t feel any urgency within the town or even the various police departments. Most of the time, we’re not even chasing that case. We remain wrapped up in Ben’s emotional issues. Then, at the end, there is an attempt to link the killer with the dead boy, which feels like a cheap stretch in order to get the two storylines connected.

Ben is a likable character. He’s well-developed and complex, a mix of cowboy loner and broken hero. The other characters are more two-dimensional, supporting roles to Ben’s lead, and the serial killer is a combination of stereotypes.

One more thing I want to note is that this story takes place in the 1980s. It’s not a problem that this isn’t within the description, but I wish there’d been an author note at the start to help orient readers. I was thrown off at first by some of the content because I didn’t realize the story took place 30+ years in the past.

I did enjoy Ben’s story, the main story, apart from the serial killer. I think the description sets false expectations going in, and the author’s attempt to weave the serial killer thread into an otherwise dramatic, emotional story, hurts what could have been a powerful reading experience.

*I received an advance copy from the publisher, via Amazon Vine, in exchange for my honest review.*

 

Thanks for reading. 🙂