Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Life Or Death - Book review

Life of Death UK cover

It is rare to write a book review for a book that has already been published in both hardback and paperback, yet for this reader and writer it is pleasing to write a heartfelt passionate review of a pleasing read without the necessity of having to beef up words for a pre release review.

The book I am reviewing is entitled Life or Death and is written by Australian author Michael Robotham and won the 2015 CWA Golden Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year.

Michael Robotham: "I truly believe that <i>Life or Death</i> is the best one I've written."
Michael Robotham - 2015 CWA Golden Dagger Winner
I was given the book as a gift by my girlfriend and it took me a while to get round to it due to other reading commitments. However, once I started reading the novel I must have read the entire 500+ pages in less than two weeks.

The reason for this gulping down of the book is a testament to the quality of Robotham's write which is brisk, gripping and page turning much like his contemporary Lee Child.

The comparison between Robotham and Child is interesting in that there works are predominantly based in America yet neither man lives in America. Child lives in the UK and Robotham resides in Melbourne, Australia; yet both use their vast wealth of research to base their stories in the heartland of America, with great detail paid to the interstates the characters drive upon, the dingy motels they sleep in and the way people live in these small towns.

Life of Death cover US
Life of Death - US cover

Robotham uses two locations - California and Texas - in this story across two different chronological times, a challenge for any writer to maintain the intrigue and suspense wanted for this story. In this story we meet Audie Palmer, a man who has been imprisoned for armed robbery for the last 10 years, who chooses to escape from prison on the day before his release.

We follow Audie as a fugitive trying to maintain his anonymity whilst trying to clear his name through the back woods and high rise of Texas, the chances Audie takes in the face of his pursuers is not so much death wish but come and get me mentality.  This narrative is coupled with the storyline as to Audie's background 11 years previously and how he came to be imprisoned.

As Audie takes chances so does Robotham withholding certain information here and there using Special Agent Desiree Furness as his investigating conduit, when she discovers something so do we. This is further enhanced by the character Moss Webster, Audie's closest friend in jail who is picked by the conspiring group to find Audie before the cops; Moss also acts as gumshoe in finding little tidbits here and there like Furness.

The moment when the reveal came to this reader produced genuine goosebumps on my arms as the realisation of Audie's involvement in the armed robbery became clear and how the life and love he made in California is something he would never return to.

All in all the book is written at a whipcrack pace, forcing you to keep reading to find out not only what happens next but how Audie got into this mess.  We have had a trend of page turning frenzy in the last 15 years led by Lee Child and Dan Brown, but while Brown was devoid of intelligent writing in spite of conveying a smarter than the reader subject matter, treating the reader as stupid whereas Robotham treats his readership with affectional respect.

Lee Child's books use Jack Reacher as the smartest guy in the room, always one step ahead of the rest. In this novel, we have a character Palmer who might not be able to clear his name due to the powers conspiring against him in a quest for justice.

A thriller in the same vein as The Fugitive and the wrong man thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, this book could easily translate to the big screen if done correctly and does justice to the characters.

Life or Death was a joy to read from beginning to end and this reader will seek out the other novels of Robotham, because if this first encounter is anything to go by he will not fail to disappoint.

Life or Death is published by Sphere in the UK
Follow Michael Robotham on Twitter @michaelrobotham

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