First published 2000 by Little Brown & Co
I am a big fan of Paul Adam. He is (a bit like Robert Harris) an author of infinite variety. As I also aim to tread new ground with every book I write, I respect this and enjoy the frisson of wondering where we’re off to now, with each of his fresh writing endeavours. He has written thrillers set around antique violins, the Dalai Lama, WWII in Italy, and the Vatican to give just a few examples. Presumably his mind says ‘what if?’, there is research, a plot develops and the outcome is a book in which the pages simply turn themselves.
I see Adam is now with Endeavour Publishing. This may, indeed, be his own imprint. He is ridiculously under-regarded and absurdly hard to find on Amazon (harder, even, than I am myself). His online information is skimpy. A man, then, who we can judge only on his output. There are 13 books now (plus three in the Max Cassidy series for younger readers). Not one dud among ‘em (Robert Harris cannot claim that).
But to current cases: Shadow Chasers feels very up to date, considering it is 22 years old. It concerns smuggling in the EU. The complexities of this reminded me strongly of our current concerns with what customs duties may or may not be payable on goods going in and out of Northern Ireland in various directions, now that the UK is no longer in the EU. I feel I have a significantly better grip on that issue having read this book. It is by far the most interesting explication of it that I have come across, and I thank Adam for that, along with the other pleasures of the novel.
Adam’s thesis is that criminals will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying duty on cigarettes, or to make extra virgin olive oil go further by adulterating it with cheaper hazelnut oil. The great behemoth that is the EU knows smuggling is rife – a multi-million Euro industry – and has a tiny team of investigators poring over ships’ logs and cargo manifests trying to follow the smugglers’ tracks so as to predict where they may catch them red-handed. Oooh, you may say, this all sounds a bit sedentary, a bit forensic accounting-y. But I found the paper chase thrilling. After the paper chase come the actual chases, with guns and speeding cars and everything. But that isn’t the USP of Shadow Chasers: an insider’s look at how the EU polices its ginormous smuggling problem is.
The stakes are high, so organised crime is heavily involved: some real mafia families, mainly out of Naples and Russia, are name-checked, some fictional ones are created; some British wheelers and dealers are at the heart of the matter; and I will tell you now the Ukrainians do not come out of this well (perhaps that is where the book has aged a bit). Many of those who should be helping detect and stop the smuggling are complicit. And the criminals are constantly looking to trap the honest but unwary operative. People are afraid to speak out. People die. But the investigators are clever.
They need to be, because there is real danger in the work they do. If they get too close to success they could end up at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay.
I found this to be a gripping thriller with an unusual McGuffin.