The Shadow Walker, Michael Walters, Berkley Prime Crime, $14.00.
One good reason to read this book: Ulan Baatar, Mongolia. At the moment, our hottest selling segment of books are those set in other countries—we have an entire fixture devoted to them, in fact. The Shadow Walker is the only one I know of that's set in Mongolia. On the back cover, the tag line is "Murder at the Edge of the World". I think one reason I enjoy reading books set in other countries is to take in the fact, in an emotional and concrete manner, that for people who live in Ulan Baatar, it's not the "edge" of the world. It's their center, and it adds to my enjoyment of any book set in a foreign country if the author can get the feel of the culture to come across on the page.
Walters gets it right, I think, and it's his descriptions of Mongolia and some of the characters who seem very Mongolian that give the book its interest. The plot, unfortunately is not as gripping as the setting—though it's a tried and true serial killer plot the author manages to make the several gruesome killings almost ho-hum. When I read a mystery, I want to feel that the killings depicted are horrifying; it invests me much more in the story if I have that emotional hook to start with. Very strong though is his central character, one Nergui, who has come back to run the investigation from high up in the Mongolian secret service. Added to the mix is a Detective from Britain, Drew McLeish, called in to lend expertise in terms of police experience and profiling of the victims, something the Mongolian police have little experience with.
Drew seems open to his experience in Mongolia—he only misses his family—and working alongside Nergui, who bears a striking resemblance to Hillerman's classic Joe Leaphorn, he learns a lot. The portions of the book that were the strongest were the parts where the detectives leave the city—they go out to the hillside where many natives still live in the traditional "gers" or tents; and out to a tourist camp in, of all places, the Gobi desert. The story also picks up resonance as the Detectives close in on their suspected killer, a killer who neatly ties together several of the story threads. I think I would be happy to read another book about Nergui and Ulan Baatar; Det. McLeish is more of a dime a dozen experience at this point, after reading about so many British detectives. If you're in the mood for a little armchair travel, give Shadow Walker a try.
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