Terrorism past and present come together in Shadow Soul, book number 3 in Dylan Jones’s crime series set in north Wales.
One plot strand focuses on the consequences of the war waged by UK and US military operations against Islamic State insurgents in Syria.
A second strand recalls Meibion Glyndŵr, a Welsh nationalist movement in the 1970s that was responsible for arson attacks on English-owned properties and the posting of letter bombs to English Members of Parliament.
These plot lines are connected by Flight Lieutenant Bobbie Matthews, a drone pilot at the RAF’s surveillance base in Lincolnshire. She’s the officer at the controls when a drone attack on a convoy of IS insurgents in Syria goes horribly wrong. Though the insurgents are wiped out, a second unplanned explosion kills six RAF officers.
The official report on Operation Vanguard attributes the airforce deaths to an unknown presence of other insurgents in the area. But Bobbie Matthews doesn’t buy the official line.
She has a personal reason for demanding to know the truth about the mission – her husband Danvir was one of the victims. But she’s stonewalled in all attempts to get senior commanders to come clean about the mission.
Within a year she’s been moved from the drone command centre, sent to Anglesey and demoted from combat status. Being ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment proves the last straw. She vows to get justice for her husband at all costs.
She hooks up with another resident of Anglesey who is similarly intent on revenge. Melvin Powell, a former boxer nicknamed “The Great Welsh Hope” is incensed that wealthy English people are buying up local properties to use as holiday homes. The trend is driving up property prices well beyond the means of locals.
The time is right, he decides, to revive the spirit of Meibion Glyndŵr. He’d been an active member decades earlier, personally responsible for arson attacks on eight homes. Now he felt “the old flames of patriotism stir once more.” With cancer raging through his body, he has nothing to live for except the sweet taste of revenge.
When this pair join forces they set in motion a series of events that push police resources almost to breaking point. The man in charge of the investigation, Detective Inspector Tudor Manx, faces a race against time to save a hostage but is continually blocked by military officials and the grey men of the secret service. It doesn’t help matters that Anglesey has two rather famous residents whose safety is paramount: the Duke of Cambridge (a helicopter pilot at the island’s RAF Valley base) and his new wife, the former Kate Middleton.
Shadow Soul is a fast-paced novel with all the twists and turns and dramatic moments you expect. It also has nice touches of humour via the banter between the officers in Manx’s team.. I like the way their characters are now being fleshed out from the earlier books, especially the contrast between the sharp-eyed young female constable Delyth Morris and the jaded, unpolitically correct Sergeant Malcolm Nader.
I was hoping that we’d get more deeply into Manx’s character in this novel.
It’s been a year since he returned to Anglesey having blotted his copy book with the Met but he hasn’t given up hopes that he will one day be able to return to the capital.
He’s still driving his (aged) Jensen and indulging in a glass of whisky or too at night. He gets a girlfriend and meets up with his sister. The pressures of the past continue to haunt him, especially the disappearance of his young sister Miriam on a day out at the seaside.
We do learn a little more about the day she went missing and why Max feels so guilty. But I still don’t feel I know him very well. Right now he feels like more the sum of parts rather than a fully-rounded character.
That didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book however. As with the previous titles in this novel, the setting is the star of the show for me. Shadow Soul take place in summer when the wide sandy beaches and seaside towns begin filling up with tourists (they don’t get much of a welcome in Malcolm’s pub). If they arrive expecting long sunny days, they could be disappointed because any one who has ever holidayed in Wales knows that the landscape is green for a reason:
It was late July, when blue skies and warm fronts were to be expected, but this, after all, was Anglesey where the weather thumbed its nose at such conventions – summers could be as balmy as the French Riviera or as rain-soaked as a Prague winter; sometimes both in the same day.
Shadow Soul by Dylan Jones: Endnotes
Shadow Soul was published by Bloodhound Books in August 2020. The previous books in the series are Anglesey Blue and Doll Face. Each can be read as a stand alone novel though it would be worth beginning with book one in order to fully appreciate the significance of Manx’s missing child.
Dylan H Jones is a native of Anglesey and returns often to the island to visit relatives who still live there. He worked in television and the creative industry, as a producer at the Welsh TV Channel, S4C before becoming creative director at Channel 4, London. In 1999, Dylan moved to California where he worked a copywriter in LA, writing movie trailers and TV ads.