Candice Fox’s Ned Kelly Award-winning novel HADES was a ruthless, addictive page-turner that established Eden Archer as one of crime fiction’s most fearsome anti-heroes. Do-gooder police detective by day, merciless predator by night, the ingeniousness of Eden is our – and indeed her own – inability to predict her next move. Events from her past, which will remain unspoiled here, have deadened her emotions; she’s callous, and incapable of comprehending the thought processes and feelings of those around her. Eden Archer is an alien, and as she commits brazen acts of violence, we’re both disgusted and sorrowful: she didn’t choose this life. The fickle hand of fate decided for her, and she is living with the consequences, while others are dying because of it.
Her partner, Detective Frank Bennett, is the only man who knows the truth about Eden’s past, about her brother Eric, and her father: the feared underworld figure known as Hades. Frank was in a bad state at the end of HADES, and as EDEN begins he’s struggling to cope with the loss, living on a diet of painkillers and alcohol; but Eden’s determined to get him back in the game following the disappearance of three girls. She’s going undercover at a remote farm, the last known location of the three missing persons, and Frank is tasked with being her minder. It’s a fascinating scenario for Eden: her repressed nature makes her an unlikely candidate for undercover work, which necessitates blending into an environment. Witnessing her navigate awkward conversations is pulsating, because there is simply no telling how she’ll respond.
In the meantime, Hades is being haunted by a figure from his past, and has pulled in Frank to discern who is drudging up memories from long ago. The novel weaves a convoluted path, these parallel stories playing out alongside flashbacks to Hades’ past. There’s almost too much going on; too many threads being unraveled at once, never tangling, but threatening to. And as each chapter switches focus to another thread, the narrative loses its thrust. Whereas HADES moved like a bullet train, EDEN has less of a singular focus.
No surprise, a novel of HADES’ class resulted in a sequel, but in doing so, by necessity, Fox has been forced to expose more of Eden’s mentality and back story; in doing so, the character has lost some of her appeal. She is becoming less of a mystery. Perhaps this was always the intended objective of the Bennett/Archer series: the gradual exposé of the enigmatic anti-hero. So long as we don’t have a Moonlighting situation – a romance between the two leads – I’m content with the series’ trajectory. EDEN is another cracking crime novel by a fine Australian talent. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of her first, but it’s still a tier above most of the books shelved beside Fox’s name.