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Book Review: ‘The Shadow Man’ by Helen Fields

Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all well. Today I’m posting my publication day review of Helen Field’s brand new standalone thriller, ‘The Shadow Man’. I absolutely love the DI Callanach series by Helen Fields so jumped at the chance to read this – I was definitely NOT disappointed! In fact, I prefer this book to the DI Callanach series and ended up awarding it 5 stars. I was sent an ARC by Avon – thanks so much for the opportunity! So, keep reading to discover my thoughts…

He collects his victims. But he doesn’t keep them safe.

Elspeth, Meggy and Xavier are locked in a flat. They don’t know where they are, and they don’t know why they’re there. They only know that the shadow man has taken them, and he won’t let them go.

Desperate to escape, the three of them must find a way out of their living hell, even if it means uncovering a very dark truth.

Because the shadow man isn’t a nightmare. He’s all too real.

And he’s watching.

‘The Shadow Man’ (4th February 2021) is Helen Fields’ first standalone thriller. She has also written the DI Callanach series, consisting of ‘Perfect Remains’ (January 2017), ‘Perfect Prey’ (July 2017), ‘Perfect Death’ (January 2018), ‘Perfect Silence’ (August 2018), ‘Perfect Crime’ (April 2019) and ‘Perfect Kill’ (February 2020). Fields studied Law and then practised criminal and family law for thirteen years. She then went on to run a film production company called Wailing Banshee Ltd. with her husband, before pursuing writing.

The novel has received rave reviews, from the likes of fellow authors such as Debbie Howells: “With a dark, compelling plot and brilliantly drawn characters, you will be hooked from the first page…”, Roz Watkins: “A gripping thriller with one of the creepiest and most fascinating villains I’ve ever read!”, Louise Mullins: “A pulse-pounding, fascinating psychological procedural”, Suzy K Quinn: “Atmospheric writing, breath-taking pace and fascinating characters” and Vicki Bradley: “It was hard to put this book down until the very end”.

‘The Shadow Man’ follows the lives of Elspeth, Meggy and Xavier, who have been kidnapped and abused by the allusive shadow man. These three strangers must work together to escape from their attacker, before he strikes again…

The narrative is told in the third-person throughout, with each chapter focusing on different characters. The reader is able to gain a deep insight to the characters’ thoughts, feeling and emotions, as well as a distanced account of the events as they unfold. The narrative is told from the present tense throughout, with some allusions to the past. Overall, the narrative is really easy to follow, yet still very effective.

Fergus, AKA the shadow man, is definitely my favourite character in the novel. Don’t get me wrong – he is truly evil and commits brutal and barbaric acts of violence. However, he is such a fascinating and well-written character. Fergus suffers from a rare mental illness called Cotard’s syndrome, also known as “walking corpse” syndrome: the belief that you are dead, dying or do not actually exist. I had never heard of this syndrome before reading, but Fields’ exploration of this illness is fantastic – the reader is fully immersed in Fergus’ head, as he constantly battles with his own mind. Although he has committed some awful crimes, I actually felt sympathy towards Fergus at certain points of the novel; I tried to put myself in his shoes and think about what it must be like to suffer from such a horrible illness. He is an exceptionally well-written character – I’d go as far to say that he is one of my favourite ever villains.

Innocent victims Elspeth, Meggy and Xavier are all captured by the shadow man and held against their will in awful conditions. Elspeth is his first victim; a lovingly wife and mother, who fulfils the role of Fergus’ pseudo-wife. Meggy is his second victim; a lonely 12-year old girl, who fulfils the role of Fergus’ pseudo-daughter. Xavier is his third victim; a disabled wheelchair basketball player, who fulfils the role of Fergus’ pseudo-brother. These three strangers are thrown together in the most dangerous of situations, and must put their differences aside and work hard to overthrow their attacker.

** TRIGGER WARNING ** (I apologise for any spoilers here.) This novel explores the theme of mental illness in great detail, specifically the complex condition of Cotard’s syndrome. The reader is given a deep insight into life with Cotard’s syndrome, and how this condition severely affects the character’s thoughts and behaviour. Another major theme in the novel is kidnapping and imprisonment, as three characters are abducted and kept captive in horrible living conditions. Finally, the theme of violence and abuse is also depicted throughout the novel, with some very gruesome descriptions of attacks and murder. All of these issues are explored with appropriate sensitivity – but if you feel that they may trigger a negative response, I suggest you skip this book.

As the narrative motors onwards, Fergus’ list of victims continues to grow, and they find themselves in an extremely dangerous situation. The characters’ must work together and come up with a plan to escape from their captor – risking their lives in the process. Will they manage to escape before it’s too late?

So, let’s talk about the ending. There’s a final dramatic end scene in which the characters’ find themselves in a life or death situation. Fergus and his victims come head-to-head in a violent battle, which will change all of their lives forever. The end scene is jam-packed full of action and suspense – I simply couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages! I was really satisfied with the ending and felt that it tied everything together brilliantly. A fantastic ending to a fantastic novel!

Overall, I highly recommend this novel to those of you who enjoy crime fiction, particularly novels about dark and disturbing serial killers. For me, this book stands out due to Fergus’ unique character trait of Cotard’s syndrome, which is brilliantly executed by Fields. With exceptionally well-written characters, plenty of mystery and suspense throughout, and a fantastic ending – what more could you want?! I couldn’t fault this book if I tried, and as a result it is going straight on my “favourites” bookshelf. I urge you all to go out and buy this book – I can guarantee you won’t regret it!

Happy reading 🙂

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