SHADOW WATCHER by J.F. Phillips

SHADOW WATCHER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Mystery, murder and the muddled morality of the concept of law in California.

Phillips’ previous novel (Leashed, 2011) introduced Pat “Gypo” Nolan, a constantly surfing detective with the Marin County Sheriff’s Department. This installment continues the themes of the series, embracing the culture and geography of the San Francisco Bay Area while delving into its seedier elements and graphically describing the actions of “evil-doers.” The text opens from the viewpoint of Dougie, a wife-abusing drunk and drug addict who—before the conclusion of the prologue—will be shot to death after forcing himself on a woman. Nolan’s story promptly begins after this; we find him in bed with his beautiful, loving wife. The officer receives a call informing him of a found body—his dedication to the job, and his wife’s insistence, forces him out of his home and to the crime scene. The immediate details of Dougie’s death indicate only one obvious suspect to Nolan: Dougie’s wife. Nolan frets about this, given that the woman’s actions are seemingly justified. Her husband, a cocktail of alcohol and ketamine found coursing through his system, had long been beating her. However, when the bodies of several other abusive husbands are found, Nolan launches a hunt for the killer, or killers. He becomes the target of an unseen gunman, turning the story into a comfortably familiar page turner: The man on a quest for justice, watching as those around him are hurt while he himself is brought into the killer’s cross hairs. Phillips’ novel embraces the elements of the police procedural with gusto and maintains originality with its hard-boiled narrative elements. And this is a mystery that imparts a real sense of regionalism and location. The prose itself sometimes stumbles. The lack of realistic colloquial dialogue and the sometimes clunky narration, along with misplaced quotation marks and errant comma usage, beg for another draft. Mystery junkies will easily be able to overlook this, though, as this is an easily digestible entertainment which, while not particularly deep, provides fantastic escapism.

A fun, short novel, absent of pretension, which—while faulty—will satisfy anyone looking for a quick detective-fiction fix.

Page count: 390pp
Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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