The crime and thriller field is so crowded at the moment that any debut novel needs to provide something special to rise above all the other books clamouring for our attention.
On the evidence of The Shepherd, Ethan Cross has the smarts to do just that, and there is evidence that a rather unusual talent has suddenly appeared, fully formed. There is a nod to Thomas Harris - perhaps inevitable these days - with a highly intelligent but monstrous killer at the centre of the narrative who delights in playing lethal games. These are games of chance, and his subjects are ordinary people, innocent of any crime. Francis Ackerman stalks his victims before taking them prisoner. And as his unlucky prey discover, there are myriad ways to die -- all of which are being weighed and utilised by this terrifying figure.
Cross - who lives in Illinois - has already enjoyed phenomenal e-book success in the US, and there is evidence that he has studied several of his highly acclaimed peers in the crime/thriller field, including James Patterson (whose name is hopefully evoked by the publishers on the jacket here). But such comparisons -- while professionally useful -- are not helpful when describing Cross’s highly individual style, which is absolutely straightforward and unvarnished, dedicated, above all, to delivering a tenacious narrative grip. You may find when reading The Shepherd that however many chapters you may plan to read, you will be persuaded to read just one more. The 300 pages turn very swiftly indeed.