Sheila Bugler’s debut novel Hunting Shadows introduces us to another complex and damaged Detective Inspector Ellen Kelly, patrolling the urban streets of London, in this case Lee in the southeast of the city.
First things first, here’s some blurb:
A young girl has disappeared. There are no witnesses, no leads, no clues. The police are tracking a shadow, and time is running out … DI Ellen Kelly is at the top of her game – at least she was, until she took the law into her own hands and confronted her husband’s killer. Now she’s back at work, leading the investigation into the missing child.
Her superiors are watching her; the distraught family is depending on her. Ellen has a lot to prove. And she knows it. A tense thriller that stalks the urban streets of southeast London and the bleak wilderness of the North Kent coast, Hunting Shadows introduces the forceful, compromised police detective, DI Ellen Kelly.
There’s some good meaty drama to be had from the disappearance of a child, as the repercussions of the little girl’s abduction on the way to school begin to crash around the people involved, and Bugler cranks up this dark scenario to create a suspenseful and, at times, affecting narrative. Secrets bubble to the surface, relationships are poisoned and suspicions become toxic, as the traumatised characters struggle to comprehend what has happened to little Jodie Hudson.
Actually, I really enjoyed the way Hunting Shadows used its multiple points-of-view, including the terrified kidnapped girl, her confused abductor and the revengeful father of a previously abducted girl. It gives Bugler’s debut book a terrific forward momentum.
The writing is delicate – Jodie’s disorientated passages are particularly good – and the author does well to express the bewildered emotions of Jodie’s parents and the grieving father of a previously murdered girl. And if I was at first surprised that the identity of Jodie’s abductor is revealed from the beginning, then Bugler leaves something in the tank for a satisfying final reveal.
As a character, Ellen Kelly is burdened with more tragic backstory than it’s perhaps reasonable to expect anyone to carry on her shoulders, but much of this past history – including a violent confrontation with her husband’s killer – is not addressed directly in this first book in the series.
Kelly is a likeable and interesting central figure, by no means a saint — a woman with a lot of stuff to process — and her own struggles to do the right thing reflect the wider themes of guilt and forgiveness that motor the narrative.
And if the police investigation in Hunting Shadows often seems a little bit cack-handed – it doesn’t strike me as good procedure to assign a part-timer to the hunt for a missing girl – then it’s no wonder. Bugler has a lot of fun nailing the rivalries and tensions among the investigative team.
Kelly’s dislike of Family Liason Officer Abby bloody Roberts – the feeling is mutual – and her struggles to get to the bottom of her superior’s off-handed behaviour is familiar to anyone who has ever had the misfortune to get bogged down in office politics.
Bugler’s book is a confident and well-plotted debut, and is available in paperback and on the kindle.