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: Never Never by James Patterson & Candice Fox

Never NeverCandice Fox is one of Australia’s best and most innovative crime writers, so when her collaboration with multi-million copy bestseller James Patterson was announced, I was wary, simply because I couldn’t imagine their distinct styles coalescing. Patterson and his co-authors write fairly conventional thrillers, stripped to the bare essentials to ensure Patterson’s trademark rocket-fast pace. They’re fine-tuned, well-oiled machines, and provide plenty of readers precisely what they want. What has appealed to me about Fox’s work, however, is the complexity of her heroes and villains; her ability to find equilibrium between plot and characterization; and her willingness to explore dark societal underbellies, and portray violence realistically, without ever relying on sheer gratuity for shock value. My concern with Never Never was that the Patterson trappings – which I respect, and do not disparage – would dilute the traits I most admire her work for.

Never Never begins shortly after the events of the ‘Bookshot’ Black and Blue – though readers who’ve not read that novella needn’t worry, as that was quite evidently an interlude, with little resonance on this full-length story. Harriet Blue – a detective working sex crimes – has just learned her brother her brother has been arrested for a series of brutal murders around Sydney. Her superiors want her out of the city immediately to avoid the inevitable media attention, so Harry is dispatched to Western Australia, to work a missing persons case deep in the outback. Three people have vanished from the Bandya Mine, and it’s her job to track them down and bring in the perpetrator.

Harriet Blue has the makings of a great lead for a long-running series. She’s tough-as-nails, a capable brawler, and has that never-say-die attitude integral to a resonant protagonist. Presumably she’s an intelligent woman, too – though you wouldn’t know it based on her choices here, or the bumbling nature in which she runs her investigation. Harriet is purely reactionary, and continuously falls into perilous scenarios, never once being granted the opportunity to showcase her street smarts. This means there are plenty of rousing set pieces that’ll get readers’ hearts pounding, but not once does it feel like she’s cognizant of her situation. It’s impossible to delve into specifics without giving away spoilers, but Never Never is essentially Harriet stumbling headfirst into trouble before the ultimate villain reveals himself. If I’m ever attacked by a group of thugs, I’d want Harriet Blue in my corner. If confronting a cryptic crossword, I’m not so sure.

Events in Never Never are contrived. There’s very little organic about its development. It all feels very rote. Readers looking for a purely orthodox thriller will be sated, but those who’ve lapped up Candice Fox’s previous books, or indeed 2016’s landmark Australian crime novel by Jane Harper, The Dry, mightn’t feel the same. Sure, there’re some thrills, and some kick-arse moments for Harriet; but where’s the spark?

My thanks to Random House Australia for providing a review copy.

ISBN: 9781925324938
Format: Paperback
Pages: 368
Imprint: Century Australia
Publisher: Random House Australia
Publish Date: 15-Aug-2016
Country of Publication: Australia

Review: James Patterson Bookshots – Black & Blue by Candice Fox

Black and BlueIn high school I devoured James Patterson’s Alex Cross books, but a long time has passed since those days, and his style – short, choppy chapters with an extreme focus on plot rather than character – no longer resonates with me. It’s like he’s got the framework of a brilliant novel, but rather than fill it, he leaves his novel emancipated, stripped down, raw. It’s not for me – but obviously fits the bill for millions of other readers, so hey, I guess this is a case of accepting I’m the outlier. I grabbed a copy of Black & Blue purely for the Candice Fox factor. On the one hand, I want to support the work of a local author whom I greatly admire; on the other, I will admit, I just wanted to see how Patterson’s influence would impact her storytelling.

Black & Blue is one of the first entries in Patterson’s Bookshots series, dubbed as “the ultimate form of storytelling, and introduces Sydney detective Harriet Blue, who will star as the lead in a full-length novel this August, Never Never. The plot is simple – a young woman has washed up on a river bank, and Blue believes she’s another victim of Sydney’s worst serial killers in decades – the Georges River Killer. She investigates the murder alongside Tate Barnes, a despised, nomadic detective, whose methods are questionable, and whose past is black as pitch. Not that Blue is completely on the side of the angels, as demonstrated by her brutal takedown of an accused assailant under the cover of darkness early on in the novel.

There’s no question Black & Blue provides an hour of fast-paced entertainment – but there’s nothing here that’ll live long in readers’ memories. The plot is fairly rote, amped up by Patterson’s short chapters and constant perspective-shifts, from Blue, to the killer, to her superior officer. Speaking of, Harriett Blue and her supporting cast have potential, but it’s not properly explored here: it all feels very much like a tease, which I suppose is all I suppose it was meant to be. Still, as the ultimate form of storytelling, I was left feeling a tad indifferent. Black & Blue is a solid little thrill-ride, but if I had a say in the matter, I’d have voted for a solo Candice Fox novella instead. She is an author who has demonstrated a willingness to bend the tropes of the genre. Here she is playing very much by the rules, and the book lacks her trademark flair. That said, hopefully readers who enjoy Black & Blue will sample Hades, Eden and Fall.  It’ll blow their minds.

ISBN: 9781786530165
Format: Paperback (188mm x 129mm x mm)
Pages: 176
Imprint: BookShots
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 2-Jun-2016
Country of Publication: United Kingdom