It’s always nice to find a new author to admire, and overall I was quite impressed with Secret Shadows. One of the most refreshing parts of this novel was the research by the author; Ms. Aitken knows her subject and it shows. The details of contemporary Native American life on a reservation are vivid and heartbreaking. Although I had a few minor issues with the plot, on the whole, this was an enjoyable and compelling read.
Dane White Eagle leads a double life. Employed as a special agent for the FBI, he acts as a drug dealer to infiltrate a dangerous drug ring on Cold Creek reservation, his home. His mother believes he has squandered his expensive education to work as a security guard; however, to his younger and ailing sister Kylee, he is wonderful. When she is murdered on an Christmas outing with him, he is devastated and lets the FBI talk him into a dangerous scheme. Since he took Kylee into the ER himself while covered in blood, they suggest he take the fall for her murder. While in prison, he can ingratiate himself with Bobby Big Elk, a known Ecstasty drug dealer and manufacturer on Cold Creek. Dane already has a connection to Bobby; he acted as one of his “dealers” to try and ferret out the location of the drug lab, which did not work as well as the FBI wanted. The FBI hopes that with Bobby in prison, his brother Leland will start to panic and make a fatal error, giving them a break in the case. The X produced by the Big Elks has a lethal ingredient and has killed kids on the reservation. Not thinking rationally, Dane agrees to the scheme with the assurance he will be released within a few months to concentrate on finding Kylee’s real murderer. In the meantime, the FBI will investigate from their end while Dane is in prison.
Initially on the peripheral edge of this story is Dr. Claire Colby, the ER doctor who tried to save Kylee. She finds herself drawn to Dane, even when testifying at his trial. She believes him innocent at the outset, but as the trial progresses she is horrified to think he might have killed his sister. She is not happy with the big city ER mindset of “treat ‘em and street ‘em” type of medicine and is searching for something more fulfilling. As fate would have it, Cold Creek reservation needs a new doctor and Claire decides it would be a beneficial move for her sanity.
Fate also sems to be intent on uniting Claire and Dane. They keep turning up in each other’s lives, and each has strange dreams of the other. Claire acts like a flaming idiot when she meets Dane on Cold Creek and realizes he is out of prison, and a reservation cop no less, but manages to pull herself together. Dane asks for her help in helping kids who have been overdosing on the lethal X, and the two develop a shaky rapport.
The plot has many twists and turns, but at the heart of this book are the relationships. The tentative relationship between Dane and Claire is central, but Dane has family relationships he must repair, while continuing to lead his double life. Something nasty is definitely afoot on the reservation, and both Dane and Claire are in danger of losing their lives while trying to find proof to put the drug dealers in prison.
Dane and Claire are authentic and believable characters. They both have faults and are unsure about becoming involved with each other. Dane obviously has more to hide, but Claire has self-esteem issues. To her credit, however, after her initial hysterical reaction to Dane, she pulls her courage out and faces her fears. She won major points in my book for that.
My quibbles center around Dane’s prison time and the drug use on the reservation. While I realize undercover drug agents lead secret lives, it seemed a bit excessive to me to actually send Dane to prison. Secondly, it’s apparent to me that the author did her research concerning the drug Ecstasy, but from my own experience living in a rural state, methamphetamine is a much more common drug of choice, including on the reservations around here. However, these were both very minor issues which did not detract from the readability of this book.
For those that have been afraid to try a book with a Native American theme, I encourage you to grab this one, quick. This author knows her stuff and has given the reader a rich and evocative romance involving modern reservation life, something I’ve not seen done well in a very long time, if ever. If you want to try something different, this is worth it. Trust me.