In "Slipping Into Shadow", author Craig Thomas crafts a thriller with his usual style, linking it with a message-story aimed at both the military leaders of the Burmese junta and western politicians who conspire to appease it. The result is murky - fans of Thomas's other books will recognize the elements of his plots, especially the hallmark chase scenes. Unfortunately, this is also Thomas's angriest book, a denunciation of real politics working in hand with real evil - I can't remember any other Thomas novel that so plainly wore its heart on its sleeve. The result is sort of like a message-book grafted onto "Winter Hawk" or "Snow Falcon". In Fact, "Shadow" (after a decade, still Thomas's last book) reads like a mix of Thomas and John Grisham, with transparent villains stooping to anything to any low to accomplish their ends.
WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT:
"Shadow" starts us about a decade after the Burma Junta. Most politicians and businessmen favor normalizing trade with Burma (now Myanmar) even if that means overlooking the Junta's more pointed brutality, and especially if that means exercising different forms of brutality against their own politicians who oppose the Junta. Burma aside, Thomas starts "Shadow" pretty much where his latter books left off, with a coteries of his heroes confronting the evil David Winterbourne, head of a global corporate hydra that seems to have tentacles in all that is evil in the world - from laundering drug money to east-European Telecomms. David is currently incarcerated for crimes he committed in "A Different War" (featuring Mitchell Gant, hero of "Firefox"). Actually, David's convictions cover a laughably insubstantial fraction of his crimes, and his prison amounts to house arrest in some Tony manor while waiting to resume control of Winterbourne. His company remains as strong as ever, poised to conclude a deal with the Burmese Junta (with the blessings of red China) that will develop the Mekong River into a huge commercial complex, and turn Winterbourne itself into a vast washing machine for the profits of industrial heroin production.
Getting in the way of this endeavor is Patrick Hyde, former SAS hero, who has a growing personal gripe against Winterbourne owing to their murder of one of his Burmese assistants. Marian Pyott, beautiful and headstrong MP who wants to keep her colleagues from cooperating with the junta in Myanmar, also gets ensnared in the more violent aspects of the controversy when she receives something that could end foreign support for the Junta. Thomas throws in Marian's American lover (a politician, evil, morally weak and not Marian's intellectual superior; did I forget to say that he's American?), Hyde's chubby girlfriend (Ros, useless as ever; you'd think Thomas would have given her some spunk for her final bow), Ralph, David's self-hating brother, the Junta, Aung Su Kyii (sp?), and Chinese generals who explain how they run the show.
"Did you get that thing I sent you?"
"Shadow" revolves around "That Thing" - a typical Thomas plot device - which the hero must get to the other good guys. That Thing in "Firefox", was the MiG-31; proof of Soviet "Star Wars" weapons was That Thing in "Winter Hawk"; proof vindicating Kenneth Aubrey of charges of being a Soviet mole was That Thing in "The Bear's Tears" (aka Lion's Run). I'm not going to say what That Thing in "Shadow" is, though suffice it to say, that you sort of expect its imminent arrival, and it doesn't so much surprise you with its shock as annoy you with its lack of punctuality. Unlike other books however, That Thing in "Shadow" doesn't have the clear cut power of its predecessors in other books. You wonder just what good it would do in anybody's hands, and it's arguable that it should be considered pivotal at all that such that the bad guys raise hell with anybody who's seen it. Rather than a compelling plot element for the thriller or message aspect of "Shadow", Thomas relies on That Thing for the sole purpose of bringing his protagonists into Burma.
It isn't long before Thomas arrives at the centerpiece of his story: the extended chase sequence, in this case through the verdant (and well depicted) wilds of Burma. Thomas so successfully immerses you into his lush Burmese setting that you almost forget the thinness of the plot. Without direction or clear goal, "Shadow" staggers through the jungle until the author decides its time for each of the parallel plots to come to an end (fiery for one, explosive for the other) before a vague coda that makes you scratch your head and wonder what the characters accomplished.