Written by Sheila Bugler — Brian Fletcher has had a lousy life. After his mother died, he and his sister Marion were looked after by their father. Well, looked after is stretching it a bit, because Brian’s father abused him, and eventually abandoned the son he called useless, leaving the tumbledown shack they called home, never to return. And he took Marion with him.
Brian is now in his 20s, and he is still hunting for the sister he adored. But he is a simple soul who received little, if any, education, and in his mind she is still the little girl he lost all those years ago. Which is why, as Hunting Shadows opens, Brian is hiding in bushes, waiting for 10-year-old Jodie Hudson to pass by on her way to school. She is Marion, and he is going to take her and keep her safe.
It is a few hours before the young schoolgirl is missed and DI Ellen Kelly is called to the scene, but other than Jodie’s abandoned schoolbag there is little in the way of clues for her and her team to chase up. No-one saw anything, there are no leads, and the officers feel almost as if they are hunting shadows.
There are also deep shadows in Ellen’s past. She is freshly back to work following an investigation into a fatal killing the previous year. It was Ellen who pulled the trigger, and she has never had any remorse over killing the man – a fact which troubles the counsellor she is still seeing regularly. Some feel she has gone back to work too early, but Ellen immerses herself in the search for Jodie and soon sees similarities between her disappearance and the unsolved abduction and murder of little Molly York three years previously. The trouble is, her boss doesn’t agree and is adamant that Jodie’s case will be solved much closer to home. As the clock ticks and the investigation stalls, it is touch and go as to whether they will find Jodie alive.
The story is told from the viewpoints of Brian, Jodie and Ellen, and the addition of a timeline throughout the chapters serves to underline the sense of time slipping away as the police investigation stutters along to its dramatic conclusion.
If the name Sheila Bugler is new to you, then don’t be surprised, because Hunting Shadows is her debut novel. It is a most assured debut too, set in South East London and the bleak North Kent coast, with a cracking, serpentine plot and a strong central character in Ellen Kelly. Ellen is a widow, and the mother to two young children, who are cared for by her adoptive parents when Ellen is at work. Both Ellen and her brother were adopted after a family tragedy took away their mother and baby sister and this is yet another facet of Ellen’s complex character which makes her so fascinating.
The adoption storyline is skimmed over in this book, but there is plenty of scope for it to reappear and find resolution in later novels for, mark my words, we will be hearing from Ellen Kelly again.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars