The Shadow Broker by Trace Conger is a good read. What it did, in addition to providing the satisfaction of reading an interesting and innovative crime tale, is re-ignite in my mind two on-going debates in the publishing world.
The first is independent publishing, the new and kinder word for self-publishing, which replaced the even worse sounding “vanity press.” The Shadow Broker is proof that it is possible for a well-written book to make it to market and have an impact without the backing of a major publisher. Might the book have been even better had it gone though the traditional publishing process? Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s solid as is. Well-written and edited, with a great cover.
Might it sell more if it were traditionally published? I don’ know, but I’m guessing, “yes.” Though I know from experience that an independently published book can sell better than one published by one of the big five that didn't provide adequate marketing support. In this case, the book is doing well on Amazon, both in reviews and sales. Out of 45 reviews, more than two-thirds give the book five stars. It is also attracting Shamus Award attention, tough enough for any new writer.
As I said, Conger’s first novel brings other questions to the surface: one is: Can we justify rooting for a seriously and I mean seriously flawed human being? Mr. Finn, the main character, is likable only in as much as everyone else is less so. As we often do in the political arena, we go for the lesser or least evil. We can’t help but root for Mr. Finn and his irascible father. Everyone else is worse.
Final question: Is there such a thing as the pornography of violence? When does excessive, graphic blood and guts become merely obscene? This is a violent book. The thing is: it is no more violent than most of the books and films we buy into every day. Personally, I would not, could not make a steady diet of reading at this level of violence. But just as sex-related obscenity is in the eye of the beholder, so too are graphic portrayals of violence. And, it is fiction. Depiction of violence in contemporary crime fiction often seems to be obligatory. There is no shortage here either. However, the strength of the story and the heightened level of suspense pulled me through my prudish, anti-gore preferences. The violence is organic, essential to the plot and to the development of character. In short, Conger has a winner.
In fact, I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the first of many adventures of the easily compromised Mr. Finn. I would also be surprised if his series isn’t picked up by one of the big five publishers should Conger want to go in that direction.