Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner

Today's review of Meg Gardiner's new book was written by Kim Hammond.

Shadow Tracer by Meg Gardiner opens with a short chapter -- only a two and a half pages, but in those few paragraphs the author’s words make you feel the cold in the snow, the evil in the forest and the mounting fear in Sarah, the book's protagonist. She’s running for her life and she may not make it. These pages just make you want to read more. 

Fast forward five years later. Sarah Keller is a single mom in Oklahoma raising five year old Zoe and supporting them by working for a skip tracing service. She’s good at her job and can find people who don’t want to be found. They’re hiding from the court, the police or child support obligations to their ex-spouse.

People on the run, people attempting to hide, stay out of the sunlight. Often they couldn’t be seen directly. But they left shadows. And that’s what Sarah traced.

Sarah is in Oklahoma City looking for Kayla Pryce, who was ducking a subpoena compelling her to testify. Her former boss at a children’s hospital charity in Houston was arrested for embezzlement. He was on trial in four days and it was believed that Kayla was actually the culprit who stole all the money and ran. She went into hiding and it was Sarah’s job to find her before an innocent man went to prison.

Sarah was no game player. She was a hunter, a manipulator, a professional liar. She was a skip tracer.
A skip tracer couldn’t show fear. As an old hand put it, skip tracing was a dark business. Every time you found someone, you made an enemy. You had to be confident, tenacious, and crafty.

Sarah ran a con on Pryce and her married boyfriend and this brought Pryce to Sarah. In a crowded diner Sarah was able to finally serve the subpoena.

Pryce grabbed it. As she tore it open, Sarah said, “You’re served.”

Pryce gaped at it. Then, as though it had turned into a silverfish, she threw it on the table and jumped back. Sarah turned for the door. Rule number one for service of process: Once you get what you’re after, don’t hang around. Get your ass gone.

That same day Sarah’s daughter is on a class field trip when her school bus gets into a car accident. Arriving at the hospital, Sarah is shown x-rays and the doctor asks why there’s an RFID microchip imbedded in Zoe. Sarah is shocked and then suddenly frightened. She wants to get Zoe out of the hospital in a hurry.  But before she can leave the doctor scans the microchip and it says that the child is Zoe Skye Worthe and her parents are Nolan Asa Worthe and Bethany Keller Worthe. So who is Sarah Keller and where are Zoe’s real parents?

Security, the police and social services are called. Sarah, with the help of  her boss, Danisha, gets Zoe out of the hospital. The police arrive and it is soon discovered that no one knows who Sarah really is and it is believed that she kidnapped Zoe and possibly killed Zoe’s real mother. It all happened five years ago in California in a house in the woods.

Just like that, Sarah and Zoe are on the run for their lives. The police are hunting them, FBI agent Curt HarkerarkerH has his own agenda and has no problem using Sarah and Zoe for bait. Zoe’s father’s family is a drug dealing cult and the Worthes are bent on getting their hands on Zoe. The family patriarch thinks God speaks to him and he has dispatched a trio of assassins to get Zoe by any means necessary. Grissom Briggs is a wanted murderer and his teenage accomplices, Fell and Reavy, are just as evil. Sarah can’t go to the police because she killed someone in those woods five years ago. They’re put her in jail and take Zoe away forever. Her only goal is to keep her safe, just like she promised while she watched Zoe’s mother die.

Desperate, Sarah calls a number. He promised the number would always be in service and that he would be on the other end. She last saw him five years ago as she ran blindly through the woods, cradling six week old Zoe to her chest. The house was a burning inferno behind her, consuming her sister’s body and all evidence of murder. He helped her get away that day, then U.S. Marshall Michael Lawless went back to his job.

The police and FBI finally catch up with her and Lawless in Roswell, NM and take them all to the local jail. Agent Harker plans on using them to draw out the Worthe clan’s assassins, who are wanted for the murder of a prosecutor and an FBI agent. Harker has made their apprehension his sole purpose in life and it has clouded his judgment. 

The assassins show up earlier than expected and proceed to burn the jail down, leaving bodies in their wake, including an FBI agent. Sarah and Zoe get out but have no where to run. 

Sarah heard the blare of a truck engine drawing near.
“Run, Zoe.” 
Her daughter said nothing. She had nothing left to say. But her feet moved, little steps racing at Sarah’s side. 
The truck slewed up next to her. She raised the pistol.
And heard a familiar voice. “Get in. Hurry.” 
At the open driver’s window, a man stared at her. “I mean it. Come on.” 
She didn’t move. 
He said, “You want to keep breathing? Get in. You gotta get out of here. There’s three of them here tonight. By morning, there’ll be more.” 
The building was a boil of orange flame. She tossed Zoe into the cargo bed and leaped in after her. The truck pulled out, racing west down the highway away from the station.

Sarah comes up with a plan to try and save them and also prevent them from having to run forever. But as we know, not all things go according to plan. The final showdown was action packed. 

Meg Gardiner has written a gripping novel that kept me turning the pages until all hours of the night. She originally hails from Santa, Barbara California but now lives in London. She has ten other books that include the Jo Beckett series and the Evan Delaney series.

Kim M. Hammond is an avid mystery reader and aspiring writer who hails from Cleveland, Ohio.