Shadow Woman by Linda Howard

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Shadow Woman by Linda Howard

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Category: Thrillers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Not feeling yourself today takes on a whole new meaning when you don't recognise the face in the mirror. It gets worse when any attempt to probe gaps in your memory brings on a debilitating migraine and nausea combination. This is the premise for a fast-paced thriller that sees boring-girl Lizette Henry chasing after a sense of self she'd been better off without. Good clean murderous fun.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 317 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Piatkus
ISBN: 9780749955847

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Prelude: the President of the United States and the First Lady are on what is not being called a campaign tour. It is. It is most definitely a re-election campaign; it's just not supposed to be. They retire to their suite for the night, and the protection detail of the Secret Service are looking forward to a shift change at the end of a long day.

Shots are heard from the room and the day just gets infinitely longer. One dead body, one apparently guilty party, and more shots yet to be fired.

Imagine waking up one morning, looking in the mirror and not recognising yourself. It's a normal morning, you get up at your normal time, go through your normal coffee and shower routine, getting ready to get into your normal clothes to go to your normal job and then… there's that face in the mirror. Not your face. You smile, she smiles. You turn, ditto. It's definitely you, definitely the physical being standing in front of an ordinary mirror, but it's not the you you remember.

What do you do next? What do you think?

Lizette Henry thinks maybe she's had a stroke and her brain isn't working. Maybe she'd been in an accident and had to have facial reconstruction – but she'd remember that wouldn't she? And if she didn't remember, someone would have told her?

She starts to think about what she does remember. Lots of stuff. She knows who she is, where she is, where she works… she knows who her friends are (even if there aren't really that many of them)… she can remember her childhood…

…but then she starts to remember things that don't seem to fit. What it feels like after a 30k run. What it was like to have a somewhat different face. A fear of 'them' finding out…

As these odd memories surface, she's suddenly taken with a violent headache and a vomiting fit.

Well, that's one explanation. She's ill. It's as simple as that: just a bug and some weird hallucinations.

Until her boss says she hasn't taken a sick day in three years. Three? Her recollection is five years at the firm. Just a slip of the tongue maybe… but as she begins to probe her memory it becomes increasingly evident that there is a two year gap. She remembers up until a point five years ago, and everything within the last three.

Two missing years. And a face that doesn't fit.

And serious physical disability whenever she probes that blind spot in her brain. Meanwhile, someone is watching Lizette Henry. Surveillance of the most sophisticate kind is keeping track of her. More than one someone as it turns out, and it's not clear why.

Sensibly taking time off work – well you can hardly go in and ask do I look the same as I did yesterday? – she slowly begins to probe her own past. Very quickly she realises she has to get away from where she is and follow the dim clues her brain starts to throw up.

Finding out who she is and what has happened is something that they can't allow to happen.

The result is a fast paced thriller based on a slightly twisted variation of the traditional quest.

It's no spoiler to state that we're well into 'spooks' territory here, albeit the Stateside variety, which gives you much more geography to play with and a wider variation on car/motorbike/foot chase sequences than are really plausible in the UK. Somehow, for this British reader anyway, it also makes the whole 'how do I vanish without a credit card or a driving licence?' conundrum more real (it'd be dead easy to do it in this country – most of our hotels will take a cash booking). Likewise, getting hold of the weaponry. It's just a tad trickier over here.

So, am I saying that this whole plot is utterly impossible? No. Just implausible in the extreme. But that doesn't really matter. Having been given the prologue, it doesn't take out a genius to work out the hidden back-story. Once you've done that, working out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys is pretty much automatic (with just one or two 'maybes' on the side-lines). The rest of it is, much like Bond movies, just about being along for the ride.

It's a fun ride. It's quirky. It's driven by a feisty female who's only just rediscovered how feisty she used to be – which is its own kind of delight – and obviously for a female-lead action thriller it has its fair share of blokes taking an unexpected hit. Most of whom, to do the author credit, take it in good humour. Those that don't actually end up dead, that is. It's fast. In places it's funny. It's going to engage the brain rather than the emotions as you try to tie up the loose ends ahead of the script.

In short: not great literature, but I really enjoyed it, and the film (there's bound to be one) just needs a decent cast and a director who gets the humour angle for it to be a hit. Read the book first though!

If you're interested in just how implausible the real secret service world is check out The Terminal Spy by Alan Cowell or if you'd rather keep it definitely fictional I'd recommend the spy-writing-master's return with A Delicate Truth by John le Carre

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