What if you had to give up your entire life and disappear in order to keep your family safe? Meg Gardiner explores that nightmare scenario to chilling effect in her latest thriller, THE SHADOW TRACER.
The strength of the story is in its protagonist, Sarah Keller: a single mom living the quiet life in Oklahoma with her five-year-old daughter, Zoe. Sarah’s a skip tracer – She hunts down bail jumpers, debt dodgers and people evading arrest. But then a bus accident sends Zoe to the hospital and at the same time exposes a deadly secret that shatters Sarah’s peaceful life. Pursued by the FBI and a group of religious fanatics, Sarah’s only hope is to become like those she has been pursuing – she takes Zoe and disappears.
Sarah Keller is a fascinating character, both a hunter and a guardian. But as Gardiner explains, she didn’t plan her life that way.
“She wanted to explore the world, until a child unexpectedly came into her life,” Gardiner says. “Sarah rebuilt her life around protecting Zoe. She learned how to disappear. She became a skip tracer to learn every trick about staying off the grid – to catch people on the run, and to train herself for the day she might have to run herself.”
To create this woman who is half shepherd (watching over Zoe) and half wolf (running down rogues) required some serious research.
As Gardiner explained, “I read books by former skip tracers. I realized how hard it actually is to vanish when I ordered a book online, and Amazon immediately asked: ‘Share that you purchased HOW TO DISAPPEAR with all your social networks?’ Going dark in today’s hyper-connected world takes smarts, luck, and incredible discipline.”
Much of the fun of this book is watching Sarah use the techniques Gardiner learned to stay ahead of her pursuers. And to keep it interesting, the author has Sarah wanted by a pretty scary variety of organizations.
“The cops suspect Sarah of kidnapping and murder,” Gardiner says. “An FBI agent uses her as bait to capture three fugitives wanted for a courthouse bombing. And at bottom Sarah is fighting to keep Zoe from being grabbed by her father’s family. The Worthe clan deals in drugs and violent religion. They’ll do anything to get hold of Zoe. Sarah’s every brave and desperate move is designed to save Zoe from the clan.”
This very original novel is the eleventh in Gardiner’s diverse collection. One might wonder if the creative well might one day run dry, but Gardiner insists that for her coming up with ideas is easy. She says they permeate the air.
“Ideas are everywhere. The challenge for a novelist is to turn ideas into gripping stories featuring compelling characters. To keep each novel fresh, I have to think of everything I’ve written or read or seen on the screen, and flip it in a different direction, heading someplace I’ve never been. Though sometimes I add a monkey to the story. You can never go wrong with monkeys.”
This particular novel happens to be monkey free, but it does feature a charming five year old named Zoe. Children can be challenging for some authors to present realistically, but Gardiner has a secret weapon: three kids of her own. Living with them surely helped bring Zoe to life. In fact, both Sarah and Zoe are characters you’d want to have more than one visit with. And, while this book is presented as a stand-alone, Gardiner says they may be back. As she said earlier, there is no shortage of possible stories.
“Sarah will never lack for work – chasing lowlifes, and helping the innocent escape the lowlifes who are chasing them.”
For now, we’ll have to settle for the first of (hopefully) many Sarah Keller novels. If you want to see how a smart, tough young woman can elude federal forces and fanatics and come out on top, you need to check out THE SHADOW TRACER.
To learn more about Meg, please visit her website.