David Chacko (Black Chamber, White Gamma) returns to the suspense scene with this intriguing supernatural thriller. A smart, casually knowledgeable novel, The Shadow Master follows a Czech intelligence officer as he tries to unravel the shroud of mystery surrounding his brother's untimely death. Chacko's masterful portrayal of Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union is reason enough to pick up this book. But, as they say in TV infomercials, wait -- there's more! A gripping story full of sex, drugs and greed among Communist loyalists, acquisitive industrialists and a chillingly beautiful German rare manuscript dealer takes the reader on a dizzying ride across the continent.
Jaded Czechoslovakian spy Klement Zeman has just experienced a disturbing mystical vision while on the job in Africa when he receives the news that his brother is dead. An archaeologist who had been excavating a ruined castle in Slovokia, Karel Zeman was found in a surprisingly expensive hotel room in Budapest. Klement flies back immediately to identify and claim his brother's body, in truth secretly relieved to be leaving the unsettling African episode behind him.
The Soviet Union may have collapsed, but it has left behind a firmly entrenched bureaucracy. Klement soon recalls how to navigate the mazes of red tape and how to handle underpaid mid-level civil servants. That is how he comes to understand the truly puzzling nature of his brother's death. Alcohol, drugs and sex were involved, not to mention far more money than Klement believes his brother could ever have had. After meeting the girlfriend Karel left behind, Klement becomes obsessed with finding out why his brother changed and how he came to die so young. His quest quickly draws him into a web of lust for money and power woven between a vicious Party loyalist stranded by the receding Communist wave, a greedy German industrialist and a chillingly beautiful but conniving rare-manuscript dealer. At the center of it all is The Vigesimal Hours, a manuscript illuminated by an anonymous sixteenth-century artist known as The Shadow Master. The Hours is said to be full of prophecies and revelations regarding the onset of the Second Millennium. This priceless treasure is the source of phenomena so bizarre as to make Klement's African experience look positively prosaic.
Equal parts mystery, spy-thriller and supernatural suspense, The Shadow Master is easily the best book of its kind so far this year. Its exotic setting, charismatic characters and alluring subject coalesce into a wham-bang book under the author's sure hand. David Chacko is a jewel in an often predictable genre. Bravo!