The Shadow Broker: killing and strong coffee

ShadowBrokerMr Finn finds people, typically people who’d rather stay off the radar. He used to be a PI until he lost his licence by stepping over that line which divides ‘distinctly dubious’ from outright illegal. So now he seeks people for the bad guys. Risky, but it pays well. In fact, a decent payday keeps him on the hook when a job escalates beyond ‘finding’ and into ‘removing’. Soon he’s associating with psycho killers, makes enemies in the mob, finds the wrong kind of friends in the FBI… and he has his young daughter to look after and his aged dad to take care of.

The Shadow Broker tips a handsome hat in the direction of old-fashioned pulp fiction and it does so with considerable style. The writing is fluid and the plot pumps along. Mr Finn is never very far from a strong cup of coffee (and he has traditional opinions about men who drink almond-flavour soya-milk lattes). The detecting, planning and plotting parts of the story are utterly absorbing: author Trace Conger has created a credible modern world for Finn to operate in, and comes up with some nifty routines to get him out of the tight spots which occasionally see him strapped to a chair with a hood over his head while power tools are being plugged in…

Finn shares some characteristics with that infamous off-the-radar PI, Travis McGee. Heck, Finn even lives on a houseboat (although Cincinnati ain’t nowhere near as nice as Florida). But while Trav was an unreconstructed alpha male – always up for a new amorous encounter with this week’s bunk-buddy – Finn is a 21st century man, worrying about school fees, his father’s care home, and how his daughter is getting on with his ex-wife’s new fella. This emotional baggage makes Finn unavoidably vulnerable, although one possible handicap delightfully transpires to be an unexpected asset.

I probably could’ve lived without all the domestic schtick, but appreciate that this gives Finn an interesting quirk with one foot in the each camp – his family are firmly located in the civilian world while he increasingly walks on the wilder side. The bigger picture is also intriguing: this almost feels like a ‘secret origin’ story, tracing Finn’s fall from grace into an increasingly violent criminal underworld.

After a couple of nail-biting scenes where Finn only just escapes with his skin intact, the pages hurtled past. Conger builds and maintains a ratcheting sense of tension, so abandon all hope of ‘just reading one more chapter’ as the finale looms on the horizon and Finn must extract his ass from the snapping jaws of a half-dozen different alligators.

It’s all thoroughly entertaining, and the dénouement does not disappoint.

Easily good enough for me to bounce straight on to the second book in the Finn series, wondering where it goes from here…

8/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

The Shadow Broker is available as an ebook or paperback

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