Thursday, June 16, 2011

“The Valley Of Shadows” by Mark Terry

valley-shadows-175Smart, slick, fast and furious. Easily the best thriller of the year. What an accomplishment. Not only does the author seem prescient in the story’s premise in the wake of the raid to kill bin Laden but the book is a perfect balance of plot, pacing, structure and character development with a subject that is very much in the forefront of much of the worlds mind.

The Valley Of Shadows is the fourth book in the Derek Stillwater series by one of my favorite authors, Mark Terry. Though the others, The Devil's Pitchfork, The Serpent's Kiss, The Fallen have all been some of the best action packed thrillers you’d ever want to read, Mark has out done himself in Valley. Derek is a more human character than super hero, showing traits of say the great hardboiled detectives. A loner, a tough guy who is also fallible. Think James Bond meets Phillip Marlowe.

The Plot:

US Special Forces raid an Al-Qaeda group in Pakistan. During the raid they confiscate two laptops. These laptops have been booby-trapped with bombs that will blow up in the soldiers' faces when opened. When the bombs are diffused and the laptops checked out, it is found that there are plans to carry out terrorist attacks in five major U.S. cities (Washington, DC, New York City, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles). These attacks could involve dirty bombs, biological weapons and maybe even a suitcase nuclear attack on Election Day.

Derek is assigned to a Special Terrorism Activity Response Team (START) to find the weapons and the people who are bent on using them in Los Angeles, and stop the attack. His team has two days to accomplish this. As Derek and his team look for their targets things start to get interesting. There are multiple characters with different agendas, doing many things that provide dead ends and misdirection, and that’s just the good guys. The terrorists are just as bewildering and at time bewildered.  Derek begins to think that somebody is not showing all their cards.

The Pace: Relentless. Mark Terry, with a master story tellers hand, drops details by the dozen, personal and real, but never to the point of bogging the story down. Instead they flesh out the characters; both the good guys and the bad guys.The tiny details of custom and beliefs makes the bad guys human and adds so much to the story. And the traits and foibles and personal details revealed of the good guys makes them that much more real, and in some cases not so ‘good’ or likeable. You can tell Mark did his home work, this is no mindless race of good verses evil and the details don’t slow the pace in the least. Think of them as the paint job on a race car, they make it easier to identify with the players. If there is such a thing as “literary thrillers” well, this is it. If half the authors writing in the genre today had Terry’s ability of pace and plot; to add all the details of both the protagonist and the bad guy and all those characters in between, they’d be teaching the genre in Masters classes at universities.

Structure: Perfect. Mark’s research must have been exhaustive. His knowledge of everything from technology to strategy and tactics of that Shadow World of the American alphabet soup; CIA, NSA, ODNI, FBI down to the traditional dress of Muslims, the gray area of arms dealers, international banking, and even traffic at different times of day on L.A. city streets and freeways is amazing when you think about it. The story follows logically a race against time and tries to solve a mystery – why, where and who will be the target. It switches from following Derek, to following the antagonists just enough to almost make you empathize with the bad guys. Or at least understand their motives and actions and that even for the evil geniuses of the world nothing quite goes as planned.

Character Development: Mark makes these guys so real you’ll feel they are your neighbors. If your neighbors carried around MP-9’s and suit case nukes. ‘Nuff said.

This man is a master story teller, and a first rate craftsman at getting it down. I’m going to be talking about, and thinking about this book for a long time, so get used to it. Go buy it and I may leave you alone. Or talk your ear off as we discuss it, because it is that kind of book. You’ll want to go back and read the other Derek Stillwater novels but it’s not necessary. The Valley Of Shadows reads great as a stand alone.fallen-175  









Mark Terry is the author of the Derek Stillwater thrillers, THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT'S KISS, and THE FALLEN, as well as several standalone thrillers, including DIRTY DEEDS, CATFISH GURU, and DANCING IN THE DARK. Born in Flint, Michigan in 1964, he graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in microbiology and public health, which has informed his Derek Stillwater thrillers and other fiction. markAfter spending 18 years working in clinical genetics, he turned to writing full time. When not writing or reading, Mark Terry is a gym rat, lifting weights, biking, running, kayaking, studying Sanchin-Ryu karate, and playing the guitar. Otherwise he spends his time with his wife and two sons in Michigan. Mark also has a vey interesting blog where he discusses “This Writing Life” that is well worth following for writers of all ilk's.



The Dirty Lowdown


  1. Great review!! I am a new visitor and follower via Book Blogs...

  2. Thanks for following Doreen. The book is a marvelous thriller.

  3. Wow. You're right Robert, this is a perfect book for me. Your review is very well written and VERY in depth (you weren't kidding). Now, the $5.56 question: do I need to read this series in order or can I start with this one?

  4. Hey Jason, no the book reads very well as a stand alone. But of course, once you are hooked, you'll want to buy the others!

  5. Great review Robert - plus I liked that you subdivided into "plot, "structure", "character" etc. Very helpful, rather than the scatter-fire approach. Surprising how close to real life Mark has been with his premise. Does he also predict stock market activity?

  6. Hi Sean, As I was reading this I started noticing the detail and the way it fleshed out the character or a scene and it was great to get this in a thriller but I'd look and the book is only around 300 pages and I wondered if it would cut into the action but it didn't. I also started noticing that the details didn't slow the action, they were just smoothly a part of the action and this impressed me.Then I realized that it was the 'quality' of the detail, not the quantity. From there I started 'seeing' things in my head about the characters - how they sit behind the wheel of a car, or how they'd talk or hold a cup of coffee, and these weren't things that were writen. It was just that the characters had come alive that much. Well, I started deconstructing the story, literally, on paper and by the time I finished the book I couldn't find a weak spot! And that is rare. So, I wrote the review that way. I had read Mark's Derek Stillwater before and love the character, but he out did himself with this one. I'll have to ask about those stock tips....or numbers for Power Ball tonight.

  7. Hi, Rob!

    I'd like to thank you for complimenting my review of "Magister Ludi", as well as for following my blog. I'm now following you back!

    You know, to be honest, this is not the type of fiction I usually read, but you've certainly made this book so utterly compelling that I know I'll be adding it to my TBR pile! It sure sounds like a mind-blowing read! In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they turned it into a movie, what with all the pulicity regarding Bin Laden's long-awaited demise!

    Thanks for such a masterfully-written review! : )