The past casts a shadow which is never gone, even as a high speed train slips through the night towards Belgium, aboard it the disgraced former Belgian Special Forces Group operative Noah Verbeke, now an alt-right white supremacist terrorist being taken home for trial following his capture in Eastern Europe.
Nobody is supposed to know the arrangements, just as nobody is supposed to know that molecular biologist Susan Lam, a researcher working in Singapore on behalf of the Rubicon Group who is developing what may potentially be a cure for cancer once led a different life in North Korea, one even her husband does not know about, under the name of Ji-Yoo Park.
Verbeke a leader of terrorist group Leeuwenbrul, the Lion’s Roar, his bloody rescue and the kidnapping of Doctor Lam and her family on the other side of the globe may seem unconnected, but both are part of a larger plan which will cast a longer shadow across the world, the pieces of which only Rubicon have the knowledge to put together in time to prevent that shadow from spilling out uncontrollably.
Enter Marc Dane, ex-MI6 field officer now private security specialist engaged by Rubicon’s Special Conditions Division in his fourth adventure courtesy of writer James Swallow following Nomad, Exile and Ghost, the titular Shadow being the threat of the release in a populated area of the Marburg virus variant called geulimja, infectious, fast-acting and incurable.
A high-end technothriller jumping from Europe to Singapore to the wilderness of Iceland and back again, Swallow shapes the drama and the action well, explaining how each item in Dane’s arsenal of gadgets works to achieve its end, never asking the reader to simply buy in without justification, writing with authenticity on tactics, protocols, weaponry, hardware and software.
Following tenuous leads against an ever-ticking clock with little backup or resource other than what he is carrying, what Dane does have by his side is his associate Lucy Keyes, ex-Delta Force and every bit as capable as he, and also the only person Doctor Lam is likely to trust – if they can find her in time.
The banter between Dane and Keyes reminding of Avon and Dayna in Blake’s 7, theirs is a cameraderie built under the shared experience of their previous assignments, every bullet, blade and unexploded bomb, but while Swallow refers to the earlier novels there is no requirement to have read them prior to Shadow, nor does the frantic pace encourage deliberation even as they pass far beyond their remit and jurisdiction.
“What we do is justified not by law but by ethics,” the head of Rubicon has told them, and they cannot hold back with a violent, volatile crusader like with Verbeke already several steps ahead of them because he will never blink, yet with Swallow clearly already planning the next novel in the sequence even the echo of the Lion’s Roar and the puzzle of Rubicon may be swept aside as mere pawns in a greater game.