Review: Shadows of the Dead (Spencer Kope)

Magnus “Steps” Craig and his partner Jimmy are part of the FBI’s Special tracking Unit, called upon to assist in tracking everything from bank robbers to, in this case, the driver of a crashed car who had a woman in the trunk. The opening is a tense standoff between the driver the FBI and local authorities have pursued, and that drive, holed up in a cabin deep in the forest.


Unfortunately, that promise is blunted by tedious, unnecessary tangents, and a special ability that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Steps, pronounced dead at the age of eight of hypothermia, but brought back to life, returns from that experience with the ability to see people as colors and textures – this, to me, would be a form of synesthesia, based on grapheme-color synesthesia, but in this book, Steps is told by his father that he has the shine. To me, someone described as having the shine is someone who can see events past and future, and/or talk to other people just using their mind. Neither of those are present in this book, which is the third in a series, although I suppose typing shine is easier than typing synesthesia over and over. This condition is for some reason kept a secret from everyone except Jimmy and their mutual boss, including his own mother, who is never told. In the world of this book, it makes Steps the best tracker in the country. I have some questions about this, which I’ll get into.

Back to the beginning. The authorities have the fleeing driver surrounded in the cabin. Right before someone’s going to launch a tear gas canister into the cabin, we get….a flashback. We get the tale of how Steps died and came back with synesthesia, how he and his father kept it a secret from his mother, how lead crystal glasses help him keep the blinding neon glow of humanity from burning out his eyeballs and giving him migraines. We then get back to the action at the cabin. This was a very weird editorial choice, and it immediately rips the reader out of the action.

They capture the driver, who rattles on about the woman being number Eight, how he was going to “fix” her, and we discover there’s someone out there actually taking the women and holding them before turning them over to the crazy guy so he can experiment on them.

Things shift into trying to find the Onion King, as he’s called. Why is he called that? Is this really number eight? If so, who are the first seven? And where are they – or more accurately, whree are their bodies?

Throughout this, we get a lot of metaphysical discussions – good versus evil, the story of the two wolves – and a lot of references to books Steps has read, movies he and Jimmy watch, and I have to say that all of that really reduces the energy of the investigation, not to mention yanking the reader right out of the story. Nothing seems urgent here, despite the fact they’re hunting for a serial killer, until the last 10% of the book.

Another irritant was that everyone in the book – except, again, the IT person in charge of the systems someone breached – had some kind of witty banter moment, or more than one moment, and some of it wasn’t funny. That sort of thing is supposed to be used sparingly, and it really did seem as if some scenes were there merely to pad the book. Ditto for the main character’s constant meandering off into the weeds about everything from Archimedes to Zeno.

All of the IT people are genius hackers, trawling the dark web as easily as looking up something in a database – except the IT crew that manages the courthouse servers, where crazy man’s bail was reduced from $10MM to $2K, and apparently no one notices this.

A note here about the “shine”: if Steps can see people through their color, and he has never met the missing women, I kept wondering just how he knew each woman’s color. He couldn’t get this from the women themselves, and as they make their way to the homes of each woman, he immediately says “She was here, this is X” based on…just seeing a track of color where the woman has walked. How would he know? What if they had a roommate? Lived with family? A bunch of ifs ran through my mind during some of these scenes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t love it, either. Thirty minutes after finishing, I couldn’t remember the title of the book, and errantly searched for “Death in the Shadows”, which is not the name, of course. There are two books previous to this, and based on the epilogue, a fourth is upcoming. I’m afraid I’m not invested enough in Steps and Jimmy to read what came before or what comes after.

Three point five stars, rounded down to three because of the issue noted. Sorry folks, this just wasn’t for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Mintaur for the advance copy.

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