18 Seconds is the debut novel from author George D. Shuman, with all the strengths and weakness that you’d expect from a new author. Everything is believable right from the start. The main protagonist is beautiful, blind Sherry Moore. She has a special gift of seeing the last eighteen seconds of a person’s life. This does not come off as supernatural but more as a science not understood – or, more accurately, imperfectly explained. Shuman’s writing skills shine here as he makes it feel authentic and less fantastical. This gift is also the defining aspect of Sherry’s life; injured at a young age and orphaned, the world seemingly crumbles around her unfairly. This facet of her character makes it difficult for her to not help the grieving relatives who seek her skills in finding loved ones who are lost and possibly dead.
Then we get the know Earl Sykes, an evil serial killer whose character is written well and given good back-story as he gets released from prison, complete with scars and a cancerous growth behind his ear. The first few chapters seem to be less about story as they are character-building, and that is done well. But then the story itself starts to be crushed under the weight of its premise, and it is the middle and end of the book that suffer for it. The plot gets a little convoluted and confusing as Moore helps in a case in New Jersey. Just so happens that Sykes is there as well, in an effort to take care of old business -- mainly the murder of a woman (“Psycho Susan,” as she was known at the time) he knew thirty years ago. The deed is done, and this is where the paths of Lieutenant Kelly O'Shaughnessy, Sherry Moore and Sykes cross. Moore is helping O'Shaughnessy find the killer of young women when an old case and evidence crop up and that could connect the two. It is here that Moore’s affair with a married cop and O'Shaughnessy’s marital troubles make the plot confusing.
The story picks up again once Sykes sets his sights on getting both Moore and O’Shaughnessy out of the picture, delivering the showdown between the characters. The story could have been tightened up and fewer characters used in a first novel, but Shuman will grow over time. Though inevitable comparisons to Thomas Harris will be made because of the serial killer angle and the well-drawn nature of Sykes and Moore, the fact of the matter is he is not yet in the same league. 18 Seconds is very good but not great. It shouldn’t, however, be unfairly judged against Harris’s well-crafted gems but enjoyed on its own accord without. Overall, 18 Seconds is a solid police procedural and a good first novel. The audio production is good but Lindsay Crouse’s reading is a bit dull; her tone is more befitting the reading of a nonfiction work than bringing to life fictional characters.