Hunting Shadows
Date Published12 August 2013
Price£ 8.99

Hunting Shadows

by Sheila Bugler

DI Ellen Kelly returns to work after compassionate leave and finds herself confronted by a case involving the abduction of a little girl. Realising that she is in a race against time, she throws herself into the investigation and pursues it single-mindedly.


Hunting Shadows begins with a psychological report on DI Ellen Kelly as she is on the point of returning to work after a long absence. It indicates that, whilst she is capable of taking up her duties again, it is essential that her counseling should continue. The writer of the report expresses puzzlement over Kelly’s reaction to the counseling sessions and draws particular attention to the fact that she appears to show no remorse for the death of the man she killed. No further information is given about this incident in the report and it is only as the story unfolds that we realise the way in which it has affected and continues to affect DI Kelly.

A young man called Brian quickly enters the story. He’s is in the process of abducting Marion, who is on her way to school. She is accompanied by her father, who leaves her just before she gets to school. Brian seizes his opportunity, grabs her, pushes her into his van and drives off. DI Ellen Kelly is put in charge of the team set up to investigate the case.

The circumstances remind her of the abduction and murder three years before of another young girl, a case that remains unsolved. When she mentions this to her immediate boss, DCI Baxter, she finds that he does not share her suspicions. His view, which he expresses very forcibly, is that someone close to the girl is more likely to be responsible and he orders her to confine her investigation to the girl’s father. Ellen feels this is prejudging the outcome and secretly decides to conduct the investigation her way.

This is very much a police procedural novel, even though Ellen’s procedures may be a little unorthodox. There are no blinding flashes of genius, no sudden revelations leading to instant solution of the case. It is a question of fairly routine police work, one clue leading to other possible clues, and all of it very convincingly written.  Never for a moment is it dull as Ellen moves from the streets of South London to the coastal areas of Kent. This interest is partly maintained by having the story told from three different viewpoints. 

As the case progresses, there are apparently puzzling incidental. What, precisely, is wrong with Ed Baxter and why does he feel he has to make Ellen’s life such a misery? What is the mystery – if there is one – behind FLO Abby Roberts’s behaviour? Is it connected with the disreputable incident that is well known in the station? Sheila Bugler uses apparently trivial incidents like these to give a life to the characters – a life that is sometimes lacking in procedural novels of this kind. During the last third of the book, however, no devices are necessary as the action takes off, the perpetrator is identified and there is a thrilling climax set in the Kent countryside.

This book, however, is much more than a cleverly constructed and exciting thriller. The central theme of the abduction of a child causes Bugler to comment frequently on the importance of a settled family life for a child and the way in which its absence can so adversely effect the child’s future development. Brian, for example, had suffered abuse at the hands of his father, Abby had lost both parents as well as the brother who had been her carer, and Ellen herself had been adopted and can scarcely bring herself to think about her birth mother.

These frequent references reinforce the theme of child abduction and bring an understanding of and sympathy with the feelings of parents who have suffered such a nightmare experience. Ellen’s concern throughout is not merely to solve the case for her own personal and professional satisfaction, but also to bring hope to the parents of the little girl and eventually to return her to the family who love her so dearly.

This is without doubt an excellent debut novel and there are indications that it is the first in a series concerned with DI Kelly. Assuming that this is the case, the next book should be widely anticipated.

Reviewed 28 December 2013 by Arnold Taylor