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The Shadow Tracer Hardcover – June 27, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As a skip tracer, single mother Sarah Keller tracks down slippery criminals who have gone on the lam. But Keller becomes a target of pursuit herself when, in a heart-stopping moment, she saves her dying sister Beth’s baby girl, Zoe, from a doomed fate: life with her father, Nolan, who murdered Beth. In the months following the dramatic rescue, Sarah settles into a relatively tranquil life in Oklahoma City, minding her own business and doing her job. But when Zoe lands in the hospital after a bus accident, medical tests call into question Sarah’s rights as mother to the child. Soon she finds herself on the run from Nolan and his crazy family. Though she knows just about every trick for evading capture, Sarah only manages to stay one step and breath ahead of her enemies. Help comes in unlikely forms (a nun in New Mexico, for one), but Sarah lives in perpetual fear of being caught—or worse. Edgar Award winner Gardiner (Ransom River, 2012) steadily ratchets up the suspense in this taut stand-alone tale. --Allison Block



“The novels that can be set into the ‘fantastic’ category may be slim, but this standalone mystery by Meg Gardiner certainly found a place in that elite group.” —Suspense Magazine

“Edgar Award–winner Gardiner steadily ratchets up the suspense in this taut stand-alone tale.” —Booklist

 “Gardiner will keep you up half the night with nonstop action and nary a pause for breath.” - Kirkus (starred review)

“A standalone from the Edgar Award winner that should not be missed.” - Library Journal

“Edgar-winner [Meg] Gardiner’s second standalone boasts another of the strong female characters she’s known for and enough pulse-pounding action to satisfy the most avid thriller fan.”- Publishers Weekly

“The story hits the ground at 60 mph and keeps revving from there...the characters [are] equally vivid whether they're bad or good or somewhere in between. Combined with the blistering pace, The Shadow Tracer is a thriller that fans should not skip.” - Shelf Awareness (starred review)

Lori Roy, Edgar Award winning author of Until She Comes Home, Interviews Meg Gardiner

Lori: THE SHADOW TRACER, your most recent novel, highlights a subject that is suddenly front and center in our headlines—personal privacy. The topic is certainly resonating with readers as the novel has already been placed on many Summer Reading Lists and has accumulated numerous positive reviews for its non-stop suspense and countless twists and turns. Did you intentionally choose to explore the subject of personal privacy in THE SHADOW TRACER because of its growing presence in our national debate or has it been a long-standing interest?

Meg: Last year I read about the vast facility the NSA is building in Utah to store and analyze data. The place will need 65 megawatts just to run—its electricity costs alone will be $40 million per year. Reading that, I wondered: in today's hyper-connected world, how do you keep yourself from becoming a fly under glass? Surprise, surprise. Now everybody’s wondering. Technology has made it vastly easier to track us than ever before—to know where we are, who we’re with, and how we're spending our money. And face it: we like the goodies technology makes possible. Moreover, we often revel in obliterating our own privacy. (Celebrity Rehab, anyone? Selfies?) And the government has legitimate interests in security and law enforcement. But you know what? A stubborn part of me wants the ability to say: none of your damn business. So I thought: What if you needed, absolutely, to run and hide? Could you do it? What if you needed to run… with a little kid? What if the people chasing you had money, resources, and were obsessed with capturing you? What if you were being chased not just by criminals, but the FBI? From there, the story of Sarah Keller going on the run to protect her daughter Zoe came to life.

THE SHADOW TRACER introduces us to Sarah Keller—a single mother who tracks people for a living. When the hunter becomes the hunted and Sarah must go on the run to protect her daughter, she uses her tracking skills to avoid capture and vanishes into the vast landscape of New Mexico and Texas. As you developed your plot lines, how did this vast setting assist you as a writer and how did it challenge you?

The southwest is a challenging landscape that I have great affection for. I was born in Oklahoma, where Sarah's flight begins. I have family in Texas. (Heck, I’m in Texas right now.) Growing up, I traveled every summer to Roswell. My grandparents lived there. I loved New Mexico—White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns and the Bottomless Lakes and the town of Lincoln, birthplace of Billy the Kid. It was austere and rugged and exciting. The southwest reminds us that in the USA, it’s still possible to find ourselves isolated in a desolate setting with scant means of escape. Put a character in that setting, and it challenges the writer to come up with creative solutions. (Or to kill people off.) In the book, the southwest becomes a crucible: hostile territory Sarah must cross to survive. She's one woman, scrambling for safety with only her wits, her skip tracing skills, and her meager savings to rely on. She's up against the FBI and a criminal clan that wants to bring Zoe into their fold. In writing the novel I tried to bring my childhood memories to life, and then to add hit men, U.S. Marshals, and car chases.

There is a terrifically suspenseful scene in THE SHADOW TRACER that takes place in an airplane graveyard. It's a wonderfully unique setting that you bring to life with precise detail. I have to wonder...where did you get the idea for this setting and have you ever visited such a place?

For years I drove past the airplane graveyard in Mojave, California, on my way to visit family in China Lake. The place was fascinating and forlorn: all those jets that had soared and circled the world, left grounded and rusting in the desert sunshine—sitting there waiting to be cannibalized by wrecking machinery. I did some research. Once you’ve watched video of a two-ton guillotine slicing up a B-52 bomber, you can't not put such a place in a thriller.

In the acknowledgments for THE SHADOW TRACER, you mention a couple of books you used while researching the novel. Did you do any other types of research in order to develop such a detailed understanding of the various methods to trace a person or for a person to “drop out" of society?

The books were valuable resources, written by former skip tracers. I got a taste of just how hard it is to vanish when I ordered them online. Instantly a dialogue box popped up: “Share that you bought How to Disappear with all your social networks?” Dropping out takes smarts and discipline. I researched news stories about people who had tried to disappear but failed—particularly people who faked their own deaths. (Hint: if you pretend to drown while kayaking, afterwards don’t let your realtor snap your photo and put it on their website. No matter how satisfied you are with the Panamanian hideout you bought.) For the scene in the novel where Sarah Keller serves a subpoena, I drew on the experiences of my brother. He owns an attorney support service like the one Sarah works for. It’s amazing to hear his tales of tracking down sneaks and fraudsters, and to realize how gutsy he has to be to confront them. My baby brother! Of course, it helps that he's now 6'3".

Your first five books were part of the Evan Delaney series. The next four novels introduced us to Jo Beckett. And most recently, you've written two stand-alone novels—RANSOM RIVER and THE SHADOW TRACER. Why did you choose to make the shift after nine series books?

I love writing about Evan and Jo. But I have stories to tell that don’t belong to them. Sarah Keller had to be at the center of The Shadow Tracer. The book is about her world and her life. If the story wasn't hers, it would have lacked heart and guts. I want readers riding along with her as she makes her desperate run and tries to spirit Zoe to safety.

I'm often asked if my second book was easier to write than my first. People are generally surprised when I tell them it was much harder to write book #2. I'll ask you this same question. Was book #11 easier to write than book #1? Were some things easier, some harder?

Well, I wrote three or four book number ones before I got China Lake published. They were harder, because I had no idea what I was doing. They were awful. Thank goodness they never saw the light of day. Book #11 was both easier and harder. I know now that I can write a novel, and how to brainstorm and outline and draft and revise and do friendly battle with my editor so that I can finish it in a year. But creating a new world from scratch, building a heroine and her antagonists from the ground up, takes effort. Luckily, it’s intense but it’s insanely fun.

I often wonder if authors with many successful books to their credit ever go back and read their early works. Now that I have such a writer before me, I'll ask...Have you ever gone back and re-read the Edgar award-winning CHINA LAKE? If so, what thoughts did you have as you read it? If not, is there any particular reason you have not?

I reread China Lake to proofread the typeset pages before its U.S. publication. Every few pages I’d think: Huh. I wrote this? It’s not so bad. But generally I don’t reread my novels. I get the heebie-jeebies and want to start editing them again.

I once heard you refer to yourself as an "escaped lawyer." Would you care to elaborate on your shift from attorney to best-selling, award-winning novelist?

I practiced law with a firm in Los Angeles, doing commercial litigation. The work was challenging in the best way. Going to court was a thrill. But once I started my family, I didn’t want to argue for a living. I switched to teaching legal writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. That was a kick. I would hold mock trials in class. In one case, a student was charged with murdering her boyfriend during a paintball game gone horribly awry. In another, a construction worker booted an enemy off the roof of a building onto a jutting shank of exposed rebar. God, that was horrible of me. You can see that by that point, I was already primed to write suspense novels. But I didn’t get the chance until my husband took a job in the UK, and we moved to London. That was the year all my kids were finally in school. I thought: time to put up or shut up. So I sat down and started writing. And after several years and all those awful book number ones, I wrote China Lake.

While sitting poolside at a writers' conference a few weeks before my first novel came out, I sat at a round-table discussion and listened to you speak about your writing process. You talked about spending several weeks searching for one good idea before you put pen to paper. How do know when you've touched on the idea that will translate into a successful novel?

The idea needs to be exciting, and unsettling, and scary enough that when you talk about it, people think, God, don’t let that happen to me. Once you can describe it in one breath, and have your listener inhale sharply, you’re on the right track.

At last year's Edgar awards, we shared a champagne toast with several other folks from Penguin and Dutton. We sipped pink champagne that night. I have to ask...do you prefer pink champagne or the more traditional white?

As long as we’re toasting one of your novels, it’s all good.

Praise for Ransom River:

“A chilly tale for a hot day at the beach.”—USA Today

Ransom River is everything you want in a blockbuster thriller: multiple plot twists, thoroughly creepy psychotic villains, danger at every turn. Gardiner has an enviable talent for pushing characters and plot elements to the point of straining credibility, but she never breaks the limits of plausibility.”
—Associated Press

“‘Thrill ride’ is just too tame a description for Ransom River...The characters are emotionally complex, both the good and the bad. Gardiner has also created two of the creepiest siblings to be found outside of a Stephen King novel.”
Florida Times-Union

“Crisp writing and a breathless plot make [Ransom River] a must-read for both newcomers and fans of the author’s Jo Beckett and Evan Delaney series.”

“This is a tale that truly delves into the world of ‘small town living,’ and the wishes and dreams of most young people to get away from these surroundings as soon as possible. A great thriller that begins with the word ‘go,’ readers will be enthralled until the very last surprise is sprung. A definite keeper!”
Suspense Magazine

“Gardiner continues to move from strength to strength; with a tightly crafted story and charismatic (albeit admirably flawed) new characters, Ransom River displays the talents of a top tier mystery writer at the top of her game.”


Praise for Meg Gardiner:

“Meg Gardiner is as good as Michael Connelly and far better than Janet Evonovich…The next suspense superstar.” 
—Stephen King

"Stephen King is absolutely right.  Meg Gardiner is an astonishing writer…I couldn't turn the pages fast enough."
—Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author

"Meg Gardiner makes every one of her characters leap alive off the page”
–Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author

“It cannot be overstated how talented Gardiner is. The action and thrills and twists never let up.”
Florida Times-Union


“Edgar-winner Gardiner’s second stand-alone (after Ransom River) boasts another of the strong female characters she’s known for and enough pulse-pounding action to satisfy the most avid thriller fan.” - Publishers Weekly

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton (June 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525953221
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525953227
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,284,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Meg Gardiner is the author of twelve thrillers, including Phantom Instinct, the Evan Delaney series, and the Jo Beckett novels. She was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. A graduate of Stanford Law School, she practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. She's also a three time Jeopardy! champion. She lives in Austin, Texas.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original.

The Dirty Secrets Club won the Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of 2008.

The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. The Shadow Tracer was named one of Kirkus Reviews' Best Books of 2013.

Her latest novel, Phantom Instinct, was one of O, the Oprah magazine's "Best Books of Summer."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you want realistic and believable fiction, this is not for you. If you want realistic and believable characters, this book is not for you. If you like nonstop high-action cat and mouse stories, yes, you'd probably like this book. It's the sort of story where bullets ricochet off rivets in someone's jeans. I had high hopes for the book at the beginning, but they faded as the story progressed. Lone brave and skillful woman against several types of cops and bad guy cult members who have resources beyond that of NSA. There were also plot points that made the whole story seem stupid. A woman has planned for years to run and hide and disappear if necessary. She has multiple prepaid cards and phones and fake ids etc. And what's she do? She gets cash out of an ATM using her own bank card. That's how the bad guys find her. And a bank officer readily gives information to the bad guy about this woman. It's readable enough but annoying too.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The Shadow Tracer is a rare stand alone thriller from author Meg Gardiner who is best known for her popular series, one which features Jo Beckett, a forensic psychologist, and the other, Evan Delany a journalist with a law degree.

The protagonist in The Shadow Trace is skip tracer, Sarah Keller. Since the night Sarah sister was murdered and she was forced to flee with her newborn niece, Sarah has been careful to remain off the grid. For five years she has been living under an alias, raising Zoe as her own, staying one step ahead of the violent, criminal cult that want to claim Zoe for the family when a minor accident, which leads to Zoe being hospitalised for treatment, uncovers a shocking secret and with their cover threatened, Sarah is forced to take Zoe and run.

The cult wants Zoe not only because she is family and therefore one of God's 'chosen people' but also because she is unknowingly a key to part of their criminal enterprises. Without the intervention of a rogue FBI agent with vengeance on his mind, Sarah and Zoe may have stood a chance of escaping the clan's assassins but Agent Harker's single minded agenda complicates everything.

Sarah is uniquely placed to avoid the attention of those who are pursuing her and Zoe having spent her years on the run working as a skip tracer. There is just enough character development to make sense of Sarah's motivations. I really liked the way in which she was portrayed as capable, resourceful and fiercely protective of Zoe. Yet despite the burner phones and untraceable pre-paid credit cards, with both the clan and the FBI hunting her, Sarah is forced to reach out to US Marshal Michael Lawless, despite being wary of him and his motives.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The Shadow Tracer starts as a very interesting don't want to stop turning the pages read. Basically Sarah Keller a process server serves the mistress of a doctor, who has been ducking a court order to be interviewed by a defence team. I didn't quite understand how just giving someone on the run a set of papers solved that matter, since surely they still wouldn't turn up but that's not important for the plot. The problem for Sarah is that while she's getting into a fight with the mistress, her five year old daughter was in a school bus crash and you guessed it, her doctor is the very guy who was angry with those events. He's going to make sure every little i is dotted and t is crossed when an x-ray shows a microchip inside her daughter, to make matters worse for Sarah, her daughter Zoe's blood type proves she is not the biological mother. Even though Sarah is pleading with him that by detaining her Zoe's life is in danger, the doctor of course wants his vengeance.

Shadow Tracer then becomes an on the run from the police as well as an evil cult adventure. It's good for a while but when Sarah and Zoe arrive in New Mexico (about half way through the book) the quality of the book drops off dramatically. Sure a fight scene with a doll is quite amusing from the public's reaction but the whole book seems to become very cartoon believability wise from then on. The villains (cult members) were very Saturday morning cartoon villain like (albeit a bit more violent). There are aspects like, why are there no staff around in places they should be, that Sarah and Zoe end up at? I just didn't find the book that enjoyable for the second half, it certainly wasn't believable at all, which was a shame because I really enjoyed the first half.
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Format: Hardcover
How did we end up here?

The publicist from Dutton sent me over some information and asked me if I wanted to read it. After looking at the blurb it sounded like something I would enjoy so I accepted. It's as simple as that.

Okay, book. You've got 50 pages. Go!

Within the first fifty pages Sarah's on the run with Zoe and the poop has properly embedded itself in the rotating device. The first handful of pages actually open with a glimpse into Sarah's job, which was interesting in and of itself: she's a skip tracer, basically hunting down people who are trying to evade court (but not a bail bondsman, that's a different game). She has to get a little sleazy in order to get her job done but she does it and that sleaze is a bit of a hook. In hindsight you don't really see enough of Sarah's job in order to relate it to her situation but it still acts as a good segue and her acting is indicative of what's she's been doing the last five years of her life.

What worked . . .

The action what non-stop and I really liked how as the plot unfolded the level of people with something invested in the outcome of this whole situation multiplied. At first you get this scope zooming in on just Sarah and Zoe but by the end of the book you might as well me looking through a bucket with the bottom missing. With the number of people convening on this thing it's a miracle it stayed quiet for as long as it did.

I also really liked the screwed up element of the Worthe clan. I don't know if this was part of a bigger story from a book past but it was the spine that kept the story together. I just wish there was more to it.
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