Saturday, July 28, 2012

Shadow Men by Edward Kendrick

Title: Shadow Men
Author: Edward Kendrick
Cover Artist: Reece Dante
Publisher: Silver Publishing
Genre: action/adventure
Length: 49K

Two men, Rafe de Lorca and Steele Reid, are committed as deeply to their job as they are in their love for each other. Trained in espionage, they are killers by necessity and patriots by choice. Betrayed by the very people they work for and on the run, will they manage to survive, or will those who are after them prevail?

Espionage agent Anders must protect Grant Eastman and his son, Nicky, after Grant discovers information vital to national security. Teamed with a third man, they attempt to get the information into safe hands while trying to elude those who would kill them to retrieve it.


I’m coming at this book as a fan of both Jason Bourne and James Bond, and also as a John le Carre and Eric Ambler reader. I’m willing to be thrilled, can tolerate a high body count, and think sexytimes after the chase ends is perfect. I also like to know what’s at stake.

Rafe and Steele belong to some undefined but well-funded and well-staffed government espionage agency. They are deeply committed to each other and make a formidable team, being able to out-shoot, out-sneak, outwit, and out-maneuver 98% of their colleagues. A good thing, because once they locate the prized information, they have to elude everyone in their quest to bring this information to people who will act on the knowledge.

What’s important enough to make Rafe and Steele kill their former associates, who may or may not be untrustworthy or only believing information given to them by their superiors? Your guess is as good as mine—the blurb is almost as detailed as the book on that score. The fade to black issue is very visible here—they have the documentation but don’t share with the readers.

Little details that should bring the action to life get the same treatment, like this:
"Help me. Let me in before they find me."
"Who are you?" Steele called out.
"{name redacted}."
"Prove it."
The man spoke three words, paused, and then added a short phrase.
This disrupts the rhythm of the scenes and unfortunately feels sloppy, like the author didn’t spend the effort to invent something convincing.

Rafe and Steele are alive on the page though—they banter, kiss, bind wounds, and defend each other across countries and continents in their patriotic effort to stop whatever is going on. They are an established couple, and their devotion to each other and to their country is one of the book’s very brightest spots.

At about the halfway point, focus switches to Grant and Anders. Grant’s stumbled into this mess by trying to do the right thing, and the agency is still a house divided—Grant can only determine which side to trust by the direction of the shooting.

Anders is another good man—he’s as committed as Rafe and Steele to bringing the unnamed malfeasance to an end and while Grant is freaked out about participating in the operation, he’s also noticing Anders as a man. The tension between them is thick, whenever they have a lull in the action, but Grant’s been widowed once and isn’t in the market for sex as tension relief only. Their back-away-closer dance produced some tension on its own.

The story has a low heat rating for the sex, which is fine; a lot of on screen humping and moaning would sit uneasily in the middle of the mounting body count, and I’m assigning it a high rating for sexual tension, which is also fitting. The book should also have a very high tension rating over “What made this all worth it?” which is not so okay—it kept me from being invested in the good guys’ success for any other reason than because they’re the good guys. “Bad men are bad” seems to be the rest of the reasoning, and considering the substantial carnage, that’s not enough.

Trying to manage the conventions for both action/adventure and for romance in the same story produced a compromise that stepped all over one of the best action/adventure elements, and inadvertently smashed an extremely romantic element, IMHO, although I’m sure others might disagree with me on this. Even so, the author managed to balance everything except for the reader knowing why the victory was worth the cost. 3.5 marbles

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