Review

Shadow Men

by Jonathon King



Jonathon King is quickly establishing himself as a major figure in
the mystery genre. His Max Freeman series is quietly but steadily
showing signs of picking up where John D. McDonald's Travis McGee
stories left off, chronicling the social and economic mores of
south Florida. Freeman, however, is a more enigmatic figure than
McGee ever was. The titles of King's novels --- THE BLUE EDGE OF
MIDNIGHT, A VISIBLE DARKNESS and now SHADOW MEN --- herald this,
promising more darkness than light from the pages within. Freeman
becomes more interesting as more is learned about him and his
background with each successive novel. Yet each revelation gives
rise to more questions.

The second half of SHADOW MEN is better than the first, if only
because it seems to take King a bit long to set everything up for
what is to come. That isn't to say that the first 130 pages or so
of SHADOW MEN is not interesting. There's an 80-year-old mystery
here, involving a father and two sons who never made it home after
being hired as laborers on a project to build the first road
through the Florida Everglades in the 1920s. The reader learns
almost immediately what happened to them. The thrust of SHADOW MEN
answers the questions of whether --- and, if so, how --- their
ultimate fate will be discovered.

The catalyst for the investigation of the deaths is the retention
of Billy Maxwell, Freeman's friend and attorney extraordinaire, by
Mark Mayes, a college student seeking some closure concerning the
fate of the grandfather and uncles he never knew. The only clues
that Mayes has in his possession are some letters from his
grandfather that implicate Noren, the highway construction company,
and an enigmatic foreman named Jefferson.

Maxwell hires Freeman, now a newly minted private investigator, to
try to link the ancient evidentiary pieces together. The interplay
between Freeman and Maxwell is first rate as King plays off the
contrasts between Freeman, the semi-recluse, and Maxwell, the
successful attorney, quite nicely. The differences between the men,
who would seem to have nothing in common except each other, is
actually the glue that binds their friendship. They are both so
quirky in their quiet ways that it is doubtful they could get along
with anyone who shared their respective personality traits.

King uses the plot of SHADOW MEN as a vehicle for transporting his
readers through the swamps of south Florida, off of the beaten
track, frequented by the tour airboats and into a region that is
loathe, by its very nature, to give up its secrets. Freeman's
tenuous romantic relationship with Detective Sherry Richards of the
Broward County Sheriff's Office also provides an interesting
subplot. The two are so covered with rough edges that someone is
going to get cut eventually. The conclusion of SHADOW MEN is
inconclusive as to whether someone actually has been. The main
story, however, is a fine and subtle morality tale that
demonstrates how even casual acts of evil take root and salt the
gene pool for generations.

King has really begun to hit his stride here, particularly with his
descriptive passages of the dark flora and fauna that inhabit the
Everglades region. His prose is evocative of the best of James Lee
Burke's work, but without the political baggage that Burke
occasionally forces his readers to carry. King also thoughtfully
backtracks through the series for first-time readers while
continuing to flesh out Freeman's background as a Philadelphia
police officer. He has given Freeman plenty of room to grow here.
Given the quirky and engaging supporting characters who populate
the Freeman novels, and King's well-developed and ever-improving
writing, this series should continue to grow in popularity.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Shadow Men
by Jonathon King

  • Publication Date: April 5, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Onyx
  • ISBN-10: 0451411811
  • ISBN-13: 9780451411815