REVIEW: THE SHADOW TRACER BY MEG GARDINER

Book Cover: The Shadow Tracer

THE SHADOW TRACER

Author: Meg Gardiner
Michael Joseph RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

When I started The Shadow Tracer I couldn’t shake a strong sense of déjà vu … there was something very familiar about this story. I finally tracked down the book I was thinking of – it’s The Innocent by Taylor Stevens – and the superficial similarities are quite marked. Both feature a) greedy and powerful cults after a chosen child; b) a persistent female protagonist as protector and/or investigator; c) a Prophet aka narcissistic sociopath; and d) a prologue detailing a scene of terror just to set the mood. That’s about where the similarities end. The Shadow Tracer turned out to be an action-packed, suspenseful read that I finished in two sittings, whereas The Innocent failed to maintain my interest (which surprised me at the time as I usually like thrillers).

Sarah Keller is a young single mother living in Oklahoma with her five year-old daughter, Zoe. Her day job is to hunt out people on the run and bring them to justice – the “technical” term is skip tracer – and she’s very good at her job. Shortly after serving papers on an embezzler, Sarah is called to the ER; Zoe has been in a school bus accident. Although Zoe is OK, tests have revealed something Sarah has kept secret for five years: Sarah is not Zoe’s mother. Furthermore, Zoe has had a micro-chip implanted, which leads to questions Sarah can’t – and won’t – answer. Sarah can’t afford the truth to come out, so, with the help of her boss, Danisha, she disappears into the shadows, with the FBI and a dangerous cult hot on her trail.

Who are Zoe’s parents? Why is Sarah so intent on keeping Zoe hidden? And why does the truth of Zoe’s identity create such a stir? The FBI knows Zoe is Sarah’s niece, and the daughter of Beth Keller and Nolan Worthe, a former cult member who went missing at the same time as Zoe. Agent Harker has his own reasons for chasing Sarah and is hellbent on arresting her. Likewise, the cult is hellbent on getting Zoe back, whatever the cost. Knowing neither will give up, Sarah turns to Air Marshall Michael Lawless (cool name) for help – maybe he can help her vanish again. If she can keep Zoe off the grid, then maybe everything will work out …

The Shadow Tracer is a fast-paced read that I finished in two sittings (sleepless nights will do that to you). There’s plenty of action to keep things moving – including a scene in an aeroplane graveyard that reminded me of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (remember the propeller death scene?). Think plane-hopping, guns, cranes shearing planes in two and crazed cult members on a mission … is it credible? Some of it, no way (great movie material, though). Was it too incredible? No, I didn’t have to suspend disbelief any more than I was comfortable with. There are also plenty of memorable characters, good and bad, to love and hate – main character Sarah is tough like a mother lion, who is vulnerable enough to make her strongest allies, Mike, Danisha and Sister Teresa, want to protect her. I liked her character and, as a mother, it was easy to sympathise with her over-arching need to protect Zoe. The bad guys – notably Grissom, Reavy and Fell – were scary, fierce forces to be reckoned with, each one harbouring their own unsaid motivations for succeeding in their mission. It was hard to like Agent Harker – he was officious and his motivations were ambiguous at times; his ambiguity added another level of tension to the story, both between characters and plot-wise.

An intense read that’s crafted with tense twists and adrenaline-inducing action, The Shadow Tracer is one to look out for if thrillers are your thing. Highly recommended. Stephen King describes Gardiner as ‘the next suspense superstar’ and I am looking forward to what else she has in store.

Available from good bookstores and Penguin Books Australia. This copy was courtesy of Penguin Books.

Bookish treat: For a cracking read like this … I nibbled crackers with cheese, tomato and a dash of sea salt. Better than nibbling fingernails!