Imagine if you woke up one morning and the face in the mirror did not belong to you. How would you react to that? For Lizette Henry, the thought that all is not as it should be triggers violent headaches and bouts of vomiting. When she makes the obligatory call to tell her boss she’s ill, she gets another surprise. Her boss mentions that Lizette hasn’t been sick for the whole three years she has worked for her. Lizette thought she had worked there for five years. Slowly, she realizes that she is missing two years of memories.
Even as Lizzie becomes aware of her missing memories, she realizes she has instincts she has no business having. For example, she has the certain knowledge that her cell phone is being used to spy on her. Slowly she becomes aware of a whole host of things that seem out of place: her unnaturally quiet life style, the neighbor who pays too much attention to her, her growing sense that she is being watched wherever she goes. Small changes in her routine seem to be a trigger to have people start following her. Is she slowly going crazy? Or are people really out to get her?
For Xavier, it has been three long years of waiting to see if Lizzie ever woke up. Now she is doing so and some small part of him hopes the wake up will be complete, that she will remember him. And yet he realizes that her returning memory could actually cause a much darker outcome. For the return of her memory will mean the activation of their enemies. And that could mean the end of them both. Sound intriguing? Then follow Leigh and Maggie into Pandora’s Box to see what they thought of Shadow Woman, Linda Howard’s latest release.
Maggie: I’ll be honest here and say I am a huge Linda Howard fan. I was eagerly awaiting this novel all year. I’ll add that I have remained firm in my fandom through recent years when others have seemed less than thrilled with her work. That said, while I liked this novel okay, I certainly didn’t love it. My overall impression was that it strained my suspension of disbelief and it lacked romance.
Leigh: Count me as one who has been less than thrilled with her work. Over the last five years or so, Linda Howard’s books for me have been hit or miss. Either my tastes have changed or her books have. The only reason I kept reading this book was because of my commitment to read it for Pandora’s Box.
Maggie: I don’t think it is just you. A lot of people have noticed a change in her recent work. Speaking of which, one thing I’ve noticed is that Howard has gone from simple, believable crimes such as in Open Season and Kill and Tell to ridiculously complex and convoluted ones such as in this novel. What did you think of the basic premise overall?
Leigh: I had a difficult time from the very beginning with the whole concept and for the first 60 pages, I kept thinking it was ludicrous. Lizzie wakes up to a strange face and while Ms. Howard writes that she is freaked out, there is no sense of doom or horror. She easily becomes so matter-of-fact about the whole scenario. I mean, come on and think about it – just the psychological terror should have been overwhelming. Instead she is checking behind her ears for scars. And the plot of her being brutalized by crushing headaches as she tries to remember seems right out of some 1970’s movie. Then the explanation for her transformation and memory loss is very weak, especially since she had other options. Since you are a big fan of Howard’s, how did you think it compared to her other books?
Maggie: I would compare it to Up Close and Dangerous my least favorite Howard. It had that same attention to survival details that just aren’t that interesting. I’d add that I’ve always felt one of Howard’s greatest strengths was her ability to write the relationship building between her characters. Karen and Marc, Jack and Daisy, Jaclyn and Eric, Sam and Jaine – I could keep going since I’ve absolutely adored so many of her couples. However, Xavier and Lizzy weren’t a couple to me. We saw none of the relationship building. I missed the witty repartee that Howard does so brilliantly. These two had conversations that just felt lame.
Leigh: I am very much a relationship junkie as far as books are concerned. I can read slow paced books as long as there is interaction between the characters. But there is almost no contact or even dialog between Xavier and Lizzy. They are actually separated for almost 2/3 of the book. Plus, and this is really sad – I suspect if you pulled their dialogue out and printed it you wouldn’t even have many pages. In addition, there is no big connection between any of the characters. No compelling friendships, or strong familiar ties – nothing. This book has an immense emotional void. I don’t remember Linda Howard’s writing style being predominately telling but over the last couple of years it has changed to that. And with this book you have almost 300 pages of telling.
Maggie: I totally agree. This book is predominantly telling rather than showing the story. What made it especially hard at the beginning was what she was telling – we get details of Lizzie’s shopping trips to places like the grocery store and sporting goods stores. It was mind-numbing.
What did you think of the characters as individuals?
Leigh: You took the words right out of mouth – It was mind-numbing. I kept thinking this is almost like reading a text book. I just finished Running Wild by Linda Howard and Linda Jones, and the heroine in this book is almost a carbon copy of that heroine. That didn’t bother me so much at first because Linda Howard’s heroines are always very competent, but after a while I just felt like Lizzy was plain daft. She is worried about a tracking device on her car, but she spends time disguising it with mud and a hula dancing figurine on the dashboard and other such nonsense. If you are smart enough to know about tracking devices, then you should suspect them everywhere. Later she buys a knife- of course she doesn’t remember her history-but you would think the thought of hurting someone would trigger some type of revulsion. Much later in the book, I just rolled my eyes at her mode of transportation. Xavier is a typical Linda Howard hero. He didn’t excite me but I didn’t dislike him either. How did you feel about the characters?
Maggie: After what Xavier and Lizzy had put me through, I almost sympathized with the antagonist! All kidding aside, because the plot was so farfetched I had trouble taking anyone seriously. The end result was that I didn’t even really examine the villain as a character. Compared with the whole plot, those actions make as much sense as anyone else’s. Nor did I accept the hero and heroine as complete characters or as a couple. As we’ve both said, they barely interacted. In summary, I would say that an unbelievable plot, slow pacing which left me thinking about those plot holes, an emphasis on some mind numbing details, almost no contact between hero and heroine, and slightly wooden characters made for a novel that I would grade at C. That feels almost generous but the fact is that I was curious to read the big reveal. Sadly, when it came, it was ridiculous but my interest was captured enough that I could keep turning the pages. That mild curiosity earned it a C.
Leigh: You are more generous than I am. Although I did go back and read the whole book, boredom won over curiosity and I skipped to the end, looking for a glimmer of hope that the book would improve. With no genuine relationships my grade is a C-. And I know that some people just have to read any new Linda Howard book but I definitely recommend getting it from the library.
– Maggie Boyd and Leigh Davis