Review: Gone By Midnight by Candice Fox

9780143789154.jpgSince her debut, Hades, Candice Fox has consistently stretched and reshaped the Australian crime novel by creating in each of her books a deliciously chilling ambience and an aura of pervasive evil, alongside narratives that are so hard charging and irresistibly readable they demand to be read in a single sitting. Gone By Midnight is no different.

On the fifth floor of the White Caps Hotel, a young boy goes missing. Left alone with his three mates in the comfort of a lavish hotel room while his mother dines downstairs with her fellow parents, when Sara Farrow checks on the kids at midnight she discovers her child, Richie,  gone — without a trace, it seemed, as CCTV footage confirms he never left the building. With her wretched past, Sara knows the police will instinctively turn their gaze onto her, which will distract them from tracking down the true culprit. So she hires disgraced  cop Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell — the unlikeliest of dynamic duos, who’ve starred in Fox’s stellar Crimson Lake and Redemption Point — to shadow the police investigation, follow their own leads, and  locate her child.

But unrelated factors threaten to derail Ted and Amanda’s enquiries: a rogue Crimson Lake cop has set her sights on Amanda, and will stop at nothing to see her dead and buried, and not at all painlessly; and two years after false accusation robbed him of his previous life as a respected detective and family man,  Ted’s daughter is staying with him — just in time to be in the crosshairs of Richie’s abductor.

The Conkaffey / Pharrell series continues to split focus between exploring the procedural conventions of the whodunit genre and developing its heroes. Fox, who loves her characters colourful, makes readers love them too, and it doesn’t much matter whether they’re naughty or nice, or some shade between. Indeed, the true pleasure of Gone By Midnight isn’t the mystery at its core — which is suitably labyrinth and gripping — but witnessing its brilliantly quirky cast interact: Ted desperately hoping to rebuild his life, tantalised by the prospect of a new romance; Amanda struggling to overcome the demons of her past, and constant flirtations with the darker underbelly of her soul.

Gone By Midnight is Candice Fox at her riveting best. In this golden era of Australian crime fiction, Fox should be identified as the writer who redefined the genre in terms of its form, content and style.

ISBN: 9780143789154
Format: Paperback / softback (233mm x 153mm x 31mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 22-Jan-2019
Country of Publication: Australia

 

Review: Liar Liar by James Patterson & Candice Fox

9780143787471.jpgExhilaratingly professional work by both James Patterson and Candice Fox that breaks no new ground but will keep fans happy and add to their number.

Years back, in my review of Candice Fox’s debut Hades, I suggested readers should “expect to see Fox’s name on bestseller lists for a long time to come.” This, of course, was long before her partnership with the publishing phenomenon that is James Patterson.

I called its sequel, Eden, “a tier above  the books shelved beside Fox’s name.” And the final book in the Archer / Bennett trilogy, Fall; “Crime writing of the highest order.” So it’s no wonder then, following the publication of Crimson Lake, I insisted “Candice Fox has quickly established herself as one of our finest talents operating in the genre.” And with Redemption Point, I insisted “there is no author writing today more capable of producing such well-assembled time bombs that demand reading long past bedtime.”

So: fair to say I’m a big Candice Fox fan, then. Something about the ingredients of her work — a darkness, an edginess for sure; but also the idiosyncratic humour that punctuates the personalities of her characters… the Fox Factor just resonates with my particular sensibilities. In fact, let’s just say it now, get it out in the open: she is my favourite Australian crime writer, who produces brilliant-page-turner-after-brilliant page-turner year-after-year.

I’ve been less upbeat about the Harriet Blue series, co-written with megastar James Patterson. Never Never and Fifty Fifty have shown glimmers of the Fox Factor, but Patterson’s brand of storytelling — short chapters, a focus on propulsive narrative rather than character — have tended to whitewash the elements that make Fox’s books standouts. I enjoyed Never Never and Fifty Fifty without being blown away — and the same can be said of Liar Liar, which is furiously fast-paced and demands to be read in a single sitting, but lacks the resonance of Fox’s Archer / Bennett trilogy and the Conkaffey / Pharrell series.

Liar Liar concludes the storyline that ran through the preceding two books: Detective Harriet Blue’s hunt for her brother’s killer. Following events from the end of Fifty Fifty, Blue’s gone rogue, ditching her badge and her network of allies; a vengeful lone wolf with only one thing on her mind: revenge. Which puts her in the sights of an ambitious Deputy Commissioner, who is leading a task force to bring her down — with force, if necessary.  Little does Harriet know she is playing right into the hands of Regan Banks, the sadistic murderer responsible for brother’s death, who is determined to break Harriet, and awaken the killer inside her.

Events unravel fairly perfunctorily; unfortunately most of the book’s big reveals (save the final pages, which suggest a fourth book, and a cool change of the status quo) are telegraphed far in advance, particularly one character’s betrayal, which seemed obvious from her first appearance. There is an expediency to James Patterson’s stories — a rush to get to the blockbuster moments rather than focusing on the cartilage that connects them (which I think is Fox’s primary strength as a storyteller) — that makes his stories unfold fever dreams that ultimately fade from memory. Liar Liar will satisfy his legion of fans, and indeed obliterated the final hours of my day. But for me, it’s merely an hors d’oeuvre before Candice Fox’s next thriller. As is always the case nowadays when I put down a James Patterson thriller — having lapped up his Alex Cross series in my teens and early twenties — I was left wishing there was less bark and more bite.

ISBN: 9780143787471
Format: Paperback (232mm x 154mm x 29mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Century Australia
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 30-Jul-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: Redemption Point by Candice Fox

9780143781882.jpgCandice Fox, arguably Australia’s finest crime writer, has penned another taut and seductive thriller.  Redemption Point, the standalone sequel to 2017’s Crimson Lake, is meticulously plotted and magically propulsive, and shows precisely why Fox is the poster-woman of Australian crime fiction.

When former NSW Police Detective Ted Conkaffey was wrongly accused of abducting thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley, he disappeared to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake in Queensland, where he met the brilliant, but slightly deranged, Amanda Pharrell; an accused and convicted murderer operating as a private detective. Following the events of Crimson Lake, Conkaffey and Pharrell,  now investigative partners, are called to a roadside hovel called Barking Frog Inn, where the bodies of two young bartenders have been found, apparently victims of a robbery gone wrong. Hired by the father of one of the victims, Conkaffey and Pharrell ignore the warnings of the local cops and insert themselves into the investigation. But Ted’s attention is quickly diverted elsewhere when the father of Claire Bingley — the young girl he supposedly abducted — arrives in town seeking vengeance.

With precision and clarity, Fox unravels two disparate, but equally unsettling and compelling investigations. Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell are wonderfully epic heroes; tough, taciturn, yet vulnerable, and bolstered by a colourful supporting cast, whose aspirations and intentions are shrouded in mystery, purposefully enigmatic until Fox chooses to unveil their true natures. She merges a labyrinthine plot, deft characterisation and top-notch police procedure into a gut-wrenching, wickedly-addictive page-turner. There is no author writing today more capable of producing such well-assembled time bombs that demand reading long past bedtime. Seriously, those final hundred pages need to be swallowed in a single gulp.

ISBN: 9780143781882
Format: Paperback
Pages: 432
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 29-Jan-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

The Best Books of 2017

BEST BOOKS.png

We’ve reached that point of the year when the tower of 2018 proofs on my bedside table (and on my floor, behind the door, so visitors can’t see the madness) wobbles precariously with even the gentlest footfall. Which means it’s time to pull the plug on 2017 and start diving into next year’s titles. But before that, there’s the small matter of declaring The Best Books of 2017… otherwise known as my favourites. There are so many books I haven’t mentioned here that I adored, but what follows are the ones that my brain simply refused to forget.

Continue reading “The Best Books of 2017”

Review: Fifty Fifty by James Patterson and Candice Fox

9780143783107.jpgCrimson Lake — published earlier this year — remains one of the best crime novels of 2017. It boasted — (well, still does, even if you’re reading this in 2021, so why am I using past tense?) — Candice Fox’s signature style, edge and humour that made her one of my Must-Read Authors, surpassing the brilliant Bennett / Archer trilogy. And though I was disappointed with her inaugural collaboration with James Patterson in 2016’s Never Never — it read like a diluted pastiche — I remained hopeful its follow-up, Fifty Fifty would be less Patterson-like, and more Fox-y. And I’m delighted to report: it’s a huge step up. Nowhere near the genius of Crimson Lake, but a solid page-turner, with a climax that promises another sequel, with greater stakes.

Never in doubt was Harriet Blue’s potential as a great lead for a long-running series.  Tough-as-nails, a more than capable brawler, with a never-say-die attitude and a thirst for justice. Damaged, too, as the best protagonists are; emotionally warped from a youth spent drifting between various Child Services homes, sometimes with her brother, sometimes not; her mother a drunken, broken, ethereal presence. Trouble is, in both Never Never and Fifty Fifty, she’s never really given the chance to assure readers of her investigatory prowess. Both novels suffer from a nasty knack of shunting Blue into precarious situations, solving cases not through smarts, but because of happenstance; bumbling into danger, or becoming the target of the overarching villain. This builds suspense, sure; nerve-shredding moments when her life — or someone else’s — is on the line; but makes me question her actual, y’know, detective skills.

In Fifty Fifty, the detecting is left to Sydney Detectives Tox Barnes and Edwardnever-never.jpg Whittacker, who — following Harriet’s reassignment — are determined to uncover the true identity of the Georges River Killer. Harriet’s brother, Sam stands accused of the brutal murders of three young students, but she is adamant he’s not the killer, despite both siblings sharing a penchant for aggressive outbursts. Harriet would be there with them, on the frontlines, but one such act of aggression — punching Sam’s prosecutor in the face — has forced her out of the spotlight, to the outback town of Last Chance Valley, to investigate an unknown suspect’s plan to massacre the entire town, alongside Federal Agent Elliot Kash and local cop Victoria Snale.

These parallel investigations are suitably intriguing, Patterson and Fox handling dual cases with professional dexterity. The result isn’t exactly memorable, but with its short, sharp chapters and rapid-fire plotting, readers will race to the cliff-hanger conclusion. You’ll see hints of Fox’s trademark strengths, paled by the Patterson effect; characters who deserve fleshing out reduced to caricatures for the sake of expediency; my eyes nearly rolled out of their sockets when Kash and Harriet wrestle — actually wrestle! — for control of the investigation. But James Patterson’s fans are legion, and Fifty Fifty is certain to sate readers of a particular brand of storytelling.

ISBN: 9780143783107
Format: Paperback
Pages: 416
Imprint: Century Australia
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 31-Jul-2017
Country of Publication: Australia

 

The Best Books of 2017 – So Far!

Best Books of 2017 - so Far!

A graphic novel, a brilliant retelling of a Shakespeare play, a standout second novel from the 2015 Miles Franklin winner Sofie Laguna, a couple of mile-a-minute page-turners, and a brilliant debut literary crime novel from a fresh Australian voice; these, and more, are my picks for the books that have already made 2017 a stellar year for reading. And we’re only halfway through it!

Continue reading “The Best Books of 2017 – So Far!”

Review: Crimson Lake by Candice Fox

crimson-lakeAustralian crime fiction is experiencing something of a renaissance thanks to a handful of fresh female voices. Jane Harper’s The Dry was 2016’s darling and rightfully so — I called it “the year’s best achievement on the Australian crime writing scene” in my review, and named it my Book of the Year — and in 2015 I was absolutely blown away by Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay: “stripped-down and raw, and packs one helluva punch.” And then, of course, there’s Candice Fox, who has carved out a distinctive square on the map of contemporary crime writing with her Bennett / Archer trilogy (Hades, Eden and Fall), and  who ranks as one of my absolute favourite authors. Perhaps it’s too early to predict 2017’s Aussie crime fiction blockbuster, but one thing is for certain: Candice Fox’s Crimson Lake will feature in the conversation.

Crimson Lake introduces former Sydney-based police detective Ted Conkaffey, who was accused, but not convicted, of abducting a 13-year-old girl. But the accusation is enough. To his wife, his peers, and the general public, a lack of conviction isn’t proof of innocence, just evidence of a lack of proof. Ted is an outcast. The life he had is over, and so he flees Sydney to Cairns: specifically the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake. There he meets Amanda Pharrell — an accused and convicted murderer now operating as a private detective — and partners with her to investigate the disappearance of local author Jake Scully.

Veteran Fox readers will notice some thematic similarities between Crimson Lake and her Bennett / Archer trilogy. She is the absolute master of the enigmatic protagonist: characters with deep, dark secrets, who readers will follow and support, but with occasional hesitancy; because what if the worst is true? What if we’re  actually cheering on a killer in Amanda Pharrell? And Ted — our narrator — what if he’s hiding the truth from us? What if he is guilty of abducting the girl, and leading readers astray? We’re never quite certain — not totally — until the novel’s very end of how trustworthy and reliable Ted and Amanda are, which makes Crimson Lake incredibly compelling and propulsive.

Candice Fox’s prodigious ability to keep coming up with unforgettable characters elevates Crimson Lake beyond the standard police procedurals that proliferate the genre. Oh sure, Ted and Amanda’s investigation into Jake Scully’s disappearance is effectively handled — plenty of twists and red-herrings, and a heart-stopping climax to satisfy plot-focused readers — but it’s their uneasy comradeship, and their secrets which threaten to bubble to the surface, that make the novel a blast. It boasts Fox’s signature style, edge and humour to delight established fans, and will surely win new ones, too.

One of the best Australian crime writers just levelled up. If you haven’t jumped on the Candice Fox bandwagon, now’s the time. Crimson Lake will be one of 2017’s best crime novels, and Candice Fox has quickly established herself as one of our finest talents operating in the genre. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact. Read Crimson Lake — you’ll see.

ISBN: 9780143781905
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Bantam
Publisher: Transworld Publishers (Division of Random House Australia)
Publish Date: 30-Jan-2017
Country of Publication: Australia