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Saturday, 3 September 2016

Book review - The Shadow Walker

This debut crime thriller The Shadow Walker by Michael Walters (2006) is intriguing because it’s set entirely in Mongolia, a country about which most of us in the West know little.

The capital Ulan Baatar has its fair share of crime, but not too many murders. And certainly no previous murdered corpses missing the head and hands. And alarmingly the bodies start to mount up…

It’s winter so citizens have to wrap up or they might freeze to death. These temperatures play havoc with identifying the time of death, too. Nergui was transferred from the police to the Ministry of the Justice, but these murders suggested he was needed back in the Serious Crimes team to help his relief Inspector Doripalam solve the case.

Alas, the clues are few. Until one corpse doesn’t resemble the others – it’s identifiable as an English geologist. Detective Inspector Drew McLeish is flown in from the Manchester force as he’s an experienced murder investigator. Politics seem of greater concern than the risk of more citizens dying a ghastly death. Alas, McLeish doesn’t seem to contribute much to the investigation, nor to the story, save that he becomes a reason for the ‘ticking bomb’ finale.

Nergui is an interesting character, and after initial resentment Doripalam works well with him. We also learn a bit about McLeish and see aspects of Mongolia through his fresh eyes. Point of view within a scene switches on occasion from Nergui to Doripalam.

Mongolia is a resource-rich country where various outside mining and business consortiums vie for access. Inevitably, there’s corruption and complicity.

I was expecting more description and feel for the Gobi, but the visit here was spare and even sparse. The descriptions of the city in the freeze put the reader there, but there was no feel that the culture was particularly alien. Sure, Nergui tells McLeish (and the reader) some Mongolian idiosyncrasies, but we are not shown much.  

There seems to be a cunning mastermind behind the murders, though I felt it was a bit contrived, and the final confrontation where it was all explained over several pages by the perpetrator was stretching credibility. The villain was a bit of a nonentity, even a shadow, though whether he was the shadow of the title is debatable.

I enjoyed the first half, mainly concerning Nergui, but then for me the story seemed to deteriorate. The resolution owed little to either McLeish or Nergui, in fact, and was therefore a disappointment. Readers want the main protagonist to resolve the case, not a minor character. I’m not sure why the book is called The Shadow Walker, which is an over-used title, also found in the fantasy genre.

A brave first police procedural novel that that I wanted to like, despite its shortcomings.

There are two more in this series:
#2 – The Adversary
#3 – The Outcast

The author also writes as Alex Walters.

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