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LynneC’s review of Shadow Woman by Linda Howard
Romantic Suspense published by Ballantine Books 1 Jan 13

One morning Lizzie wakes up and doesn’t recognize the face staring back at her in the mirror.

What a fantastic way to start a story. While this isn’t vintage Linda Howard, it’s still Linda Howard and she kept me reading to the last page.

Lizzie soon realizes there’s a lot wrong. Her memories of two years of her life have disappeared from her mind, and there are some things about the last three years that make her uneasy. Trying to remember more makes her deathly ill, headache and nausea, and by accident she discovers that thinking about something else helps a little.

We know she has something to do with the violent death of a President four years before, because we, the readers, have the benefit of a prologue, but at the start of the story we don’t know much more. Lizzie doesn’t even know that.

We are also introduced to a man called Xavier, who wants to make sure she’s safe. Why and what he has to do with her is doubtful at first, although, since he doesn’t mean her any harm, we can probably guess.

After that, the book becomes a long chase, with a Lizzie half-aware of her strengths running from Xavier and the other people chasing her. The reader is let into who is chasing her, which takes something from the suspense, which becomes a matter of—will they catch up with her and kill her before Xavier gets to her?

I’d say this is a good read, but it isn’t a book I’ll be revisiting. There is no romance—Xavier is already committed to Lizzie and she to him, although she doesn’t remember that at first. There is no wooing, no romantic journey. Instead, we have a thriller. I’d still read the story for that, because it’s a good thriller.

Even if the initial premise, which isn’t difficult to work out, but is explained later, is so full of holes it doesn’t bear examination.  It is somewhat preposterous, actually, because, well, we all know how complex politics is at such a high level and the simplistic explanation doesn’t really cut it. There would be no reason for this to happen, and no way it would. Anyway, to discuss it further would be a spoiler, so I won’t, unless you want me to.

The best part of the story is the connection between Lizzie and Xavier, and the intensity of their relationship, together with the slow return of Lizzie’s memory. A pity, then, that part happens so late in the story. Lizzie does have wet dreams about Xavier before he appears in her life in person, and as far as she knows, he’s just a guy she met in a store once in a casual encounter. One wet dream, sure, and it’s handled skilfully enough that I didn’t let it bother me too much that she had repeated dreams. Part of her memory coming back. But wouldn’t she have gone in search of him?

The style is uneven. In parts, it’s pure Howard, with immediate images and breathless descriptions, but in other spots it turns into a slow description of unnecessary details that just made me impatient, along with some passages of passive narration. “Passive” in the classic sense, where things and people were done to rather than being active. The use of the verb “to be,” as in “was,” “had been” and so on are indicators of this, and while a reader might not look at them and think, “ah, passive,” those parts will come across as tedious and a bit draggy.

The book needs more detailed content editing. I have a feeling that Howard’s books may always have been like this, that she put in a lot of detail, because she writes very closely to the main characters. Deep third is when the reader knows only what the reader knows, and even the style is the way the character would have thought it. So a manly man wouldn’t think about “eau de nil,” he’d think “pale green,” that kind of thing. Howard excels at that, but to write like that, detail relevant to the character might be what’s needed to keep in character. She’d need excellent content editors to sort the details out and decide what’s needed for the story. A writer as intuitive as Howard might even need to rewrite the story so much that the shape is changed. But a good content editor, one who is in tune with the writer, knows what is needed and can work with the author rather than against her, trying to shape the book for the publishing house and its marketing department.

I’m only guessing, but I wonder if Howard is trying to discover the editor she needs?

LynneCs iconGrade: C+

Lizette Henry wakes up one morning and makes a terrifying discovery: She doesn’t recognize the face she sees in the mirror. She remembers what she looks like, but her reflection is someone else’s. To add to the shock, two years seem to have disappeared from her life. Someone has gone to great and inexplicable lengths to keep those missing years hidden forever. But the past always finds a way to return.

Strange memories soon begin to surface and, along with them, some unusual skills and talents that Lizette hasn’t a clue about acquiring. Sensing that she’s being monitored, Lizette suddenly knows how to search for bugs in her house and tracking devices in her car. What’s more, she can elude surveillance—like a trained agent.

Enter a mysterious and seductive stranger named Xavier, who claims he wants to help—but who triggers disturbing images of an unspeakable crime of which Lizette may or may not be the perpetrator. With memories returning, she suddenly becomes a target of anonymous assassins. On the run with nowhere to hide, Lizette has no choice but to rely on Xavier, a strong and magnetic man she doesn’t trust, with a powerful attraction she cannot resist. As murky waters become clear, Lizette confronts a conspiracy that is treacherous and far-reaching and a truth that, once revealed, may silence her and Xavier once and for all.

Read an excerpt.