Firmly established as Australia’s premier crime writer, LIFE OR DEATH doesn’t just underline Michael Robotham’s status; it elevates him into an even greater stratosphere. With this latest novel, Robotham pits himself against a legion of literary superstars who made their names writing about Texas – McCarthy, Lee Burke, Meyer – and proves he deserves a place around their exclusive table.
Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died. The seven million dollars that was stolen was never recovered – and everybody, from the police to his fellow inmates, believes Audie knows the location of the money, and is biding his time until his release to retrieve it. Which makes his escape, just a day before his liberation, all the more bewildering; because now Audie’s a fugitive, hunted on both sides of the fence, by those looking to silence him, those looking for the money, and those simply determined to know the truth.
LIFE OR DEATH pays homage to the work that has come before it, but is never derivative; a difficult balance, deftly handled by Robotham. Rooted among the violence and chaos is a love story, which acts as the narrative’s core, ensuring our sympathies remain firmly with Audie, even early on in the novel when his motivations are intentionally clouded. The novel flits between various characters, and intercuts flashbacks to the years before the robbery, revealing the sequence of events that lead to Audie’s imprisonment. Boiled down, LIFE OR DEATH is an elongated chase, much like Richard Lang’s recently published ANEGL BABY, and while the structure is simple, it’s the character development that hoists the novel above thriller fodder. There are few characters as simultaneously lucky as they are unlucky; Audie Palmer is the perfect blend, and reading the consequences of his decisions play out, even when we don’t quite understand his reasons, is enthralling.
LIFE OR DEATH is the kind of novel you’ll want to power through in one sitting, but also take your time with, to bask in its elegance. Readers might’ve thought they’d seen Robotham operating at the top of his craft, but they’d be wrong: LIFE OR DEATH is his new benchmark.
Reviewed by Simon McDonald | firstname.lastname@example.org