Ethan Cross’s The Shepherd left me disturbed. I’m hoping to write this review and then put this novel far, far out of my mind. The novel is what it promises on the front cover. It is a face-paced thriller. It’s action-packed chapter after chapter. The main characters, Marcus Williams and Francis Ackerman Jr. don’t get much opportunity to process what is happening to them. There is a lot of reaction and adaptation. During all that action, there is actual character development. Both Marcus and Ackerman learn more about themselves and of what they are capable. The way this book was going, I didn’t think that was going to happen, but as I saw it happening, it kept me interested in reading. This would likely be a good read for a thriller fan.
My first problem was with the language. Every other sentence seemed to be some kind of metaphor, especially metaphors for good and evil. Couldn’t the author say something plainly? There were many times I wanted to yell, get to the point! The people in the story keep saying that Ackerman is evil, or this action is evil and that action is good. I felt as though Cross wrote in black and white. I didn’t see a lot of shades of grey. (Unless the Sheriff is a grey area.) This book could be 50-100 pages shorter if all the flashy, flowery words were taken out.
The other aspect of the book that bothered me was the excessive violence. The author kept taking us into people’s homes only to have them brutally (and I mean brutally) murdered. For two thirds of the book it seemed like it was murder after murder. It wasn’t until 80 pages in that I felt like the author was actually trying to connect with the reader. Even then, the violence didn’t stop. I understand the part of the story that requires us to follow the serial killer until he’s caught or there’s a confrontation, but why do we need to go into the home of all his victims and follow his thought processes. It was just too detailed for me. It’s not that I shy away from books with a lot of death. I read Stephen King (Under the Dome as an example) so I’ve been with an author who gives us a full back story on a character and then kills them off. There was just something about Cross’s writing out the vicious serial killer’s murders and going into such detail that repulsed me. I might have finished this book earlier if I didn’t have to put it down and take my mind off of the killing so often. I didn’t want to keep reading it if every other chapter, I have to read about Ackerman or another character killing someone. For me, it was too much twisted death for one book.
One final thing that bothered me about The Shepherd (so there are actually three things) was the cover. Do you see it? It’s terrible. I understand the fire imagery, but the “small town” photo in the background with the fire all around is just bad. I would never pick up a cover that looked like that; it’s very unappealing. Who thought this up? (If I had read this a few weeks ago, it would have made my Top Ten Book Covers I Wish I Could Redesign list.)
In the end, however, there were some great twists. I didn’t really see the end coming. I did regarding Ackerman, but not with the Sheriff. Cross definitely provided us with a few surprises, which is very important. The end definitely saved the book for me. Marcus’s reaction to the finale was great too, though some of it was predictable. Cross wrote a good book, not great, definitely bloody, but good. Not for the squeamish either. If you’re a fan of the genre, you might want to pick this up.
Thanks to Pump Up Your Book book tours for providing my copy.
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