The Shadow Catchers
by Thomas Lakeman
Review by Ernest Lilley
St. Martin's Minotaur Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0312347995
Date: 05 September, 2006 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
In Thomas Lakeman's debut novel, FBI agent on suspension Mike Yeager is forced to rediscover an old truth. No matter where you go, there you are.
And Mike goes about as far as he can, walking out on the hearing that would have gotten him off the hook for some questionable tactics on a child abuse case, winding up "three hours out of Vegas and six miles from the middle of nowhere" eating cherry pie in a dead end cafe and selling his highly trained talent as a profiler for the questionable prospect of a night in a used up waitress' trailer. But when Dale, a hulking ex-marine with a plate in his head and not a lot else, drags his crippled "nephew" Robbie out of the diner and across the gravel lot to his pickup, Mike can't ignore the signs of imminent abuse that the locals have turned a blind eye to. So he winds up bruised, cuffed, and crowded into the back of Deputy Tippet's patrol car along with Dale for his trouble. It looks like his plans for taking some introspective photos of the brooding mountains overlooking the town are going to be put on hold by a sheriff he hasn't met yet, but who has plans of his own.
Dale had gone to the diner to get Robbie to tell him what had happened to his daughter Cassie, who had disappeared, despite the Deputy's assurances that he'd just gotten confused, again. Dale's afraid that the terrors the town has faced before might rise from the grave on this Halloween in the hills in the southwest. There's a mystery here in Dyer County, one which has been buried for a generation or more, and Mike might be the person to unearth the answers to questions no one wants to face. Solving other people's problems is always easier than facing your own, at least until they merge, like resolving double vision, into a single image.
Deputy Tippet impounds Mike's car, so he finds himself holed up at a motel that gives new meaning to "seedy". The middle of nowhere turns out to be only a phone call away from his life in the FBI, which he discovers when his former boss calls to tell him that the local law has been sniffing around his past, to watch his back, and to ask when he's going to stop running from himself and come back to the agency. And to her. But when Dale calls to plead with him to find his daughter, Mike never gets to decide whether he wants to be involved in the Gordian knot of pain and intrigue that hovers over the town…because someone hangs up the phone at Dale's end, and in the morning, Mike finds himself "looking good" for a murder, and facing a sheriff who wants his help.
Sheriff Rafe Archer has been the law in Dyer since he was young, and now he's anything but. The Colt "Buntline" special that he's worn on his hip his whole career, a gun that "will do terrible things to a man" is behind glass, and he knows he's running out of time with work left undone. Work Mike might be able to finish for him if he's properly motivated. Now, if the sheriff understands anything about people, he understands that their own devils will drive them on, and with a little help from a local psychologist and some calls to the Bureau, he knows pretty much all the devils Mike faces. The real question is how many of his own he'll have to expose before justice gets done.
The Shadow Catcher is a compelling onion of a book, and it takes a lot of peeling to get down to the core. Sheriff Archer is in a messy battle for reelection. Deputy Tippet is looking to inherit the Buntline, though Archer doesn't think he's the man for it, and there are other players trick-or-treating in the days after Halloween, too. An evangelical minister who's somehow tied in to a water rights deal, a string of missing kids that stretches back into the past, and a shadowy figure that forces old men to face the costs of bargains they struck when they were young.
In the midst of the search Mike has to deal with his feelings for his former FBI squad leader Peggy, who is sent to put a leash on him for the agency, as well as an attraction for a local teacher, Dorothy; "every boy's first crush" and a survivor of some horrors of her own. Like I said, book has a lot of layers to peel, and more than a few tears get shed in the process.
You should be warned that the action gets bloody before things are done. Not shoot-out at the OK Corral bloody, but dark cellars and damnation bloody. This is a story about redemption and justice, terrible prices paid, and debts repaid with compound interest. While these things can't be had at Wal-Mart, some prices have to be paid, no matter how high.
The author, Thomas Lakeman, has gone from successful west coast internet entrepreneur to university professor back in the South where he began, clearly has a handle on the meat of mystery: character, motivation, and setting. Mike Yeager comes a long way in his search for redemption, but as long as you're living the best you can hope for is a draw, and we'll have to see where his story goes from here. I'm torn between hoping Lakeman continues with the character and fearing that this promising new talent will get locked into one story and one voice, because his debut with The Shadow Catchers offers the hope that he may have what it takes to become more than the author of a good book, which this certainly is, but an author who will get better and better as his own story unfolds.