Written by Neil White — From the Shadows opens with a nameless stalker watching a woman from inside her flat. He’s a professional, and knows how break in, stalk silently in the shadows and remain unseen. It’s 1am.
But things don’t go as we suspect they will. The stalker doesn’t murder or rape the woman. Instead the woman catches him and bashes him over the head with a lamp. This surprise sets in motion a series of events leading to a murder.
Fast forward one year to the present day and meet Dan Grant, a criminal defense lawyer with the biggest case of his career on his desk. Mary Kendricks, a 24-year-old teacher, has been murdered and Robert Carter is the accused.
From the Shadows is first in a new series from Neil White, the best selling author known primarily for his books featuring journalist Jack Garrett and Detective Sergeant Laura McGanity. We reviewed Cold Kill, the fifth book in that series back in 2011. He has also written three books about brothers Joe and Sam Parker, a detective and defense lawyer team and we reviewed Next to Die in 2013, and loved it. The author seems to enjoy the dual protagonist dynamic and From the Shadows is no exception.
After meeting Dan Grant on the morning of his big trial, we are introduced to Jayne Brett. She is waking up after a night of heavy drinking. Her clothes are in a pile next to the bed. Brett doesn’t know the man who is lying next to her with his belly spilling over on to the bed. She is trying to get the stranger out of her place, hiding in the bathroom hoping he will leave, when she gets a call from Grant. They have a long and complicated relationship, and she occasionally works for him as a private detective. Grant asks her to jump on the Carter case – he needs her help and she needs the money. And so another duo is formed.
What follows is a plot that churns along a good pace. It takes place in Highford, Dan Grant’s fictional home town. His ethos as it relates to the town is initially appealing. He works to do right by those living on the margins and altruism runs through his veins. But while this is a fine way to frame Grant, there is too much telling and not enough showing. We get that Grant’s heart is in criminal defense but as his merit is catalogued again and again it becomes forced. The insider knowledge of criminal defense that White brings to the book – it’s his day job – makes the book compelling, despite overly simplistic and heavy handed characterisation and writing.
The book moves through four narratives. One follows Brett as she gathers info for the case, one follows the creepy stalker who could be the killer, one focusses on Grant’s lead up to the trail, and finally there’s the trial in real time. White does a good job juggling these, and the book is well-paced. But the Jayne Brett chapters tend to veer into the land of implausibility. Characters offer up information to Jayne a bit too easily. The stalker chapters are written in vague language that is somewhat distracting but is also quite scary and chilling.
The most compelling and believable sections are those that deal with Grant and the trial. The book is primarily a courtroom drama, and these trial scenes are spot on, undoubtedly drawn from White’s own experience. Dan Grant is a great character, but the coupling with Jayne Brett doesn’t quite work. The mystery itself is easy to figure out, but even so the book reads well and is hard to put down. It will satisfy fans of Neil White, but might not delight those addicted to John Grisham or even Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars