APRIL THRILLER READING: NEW BOOKS BY CANDICE FOX, JOEL DICKER AND C. L. TAYLOR
A very mixed bag of thrillers to start April 2021 with!
First up is The Chase by Australian author Candice Fox.
Candice Fox established her reputation as an author of dark, high quality, quirky Australian crime fiction with her first few novels, including the award winning Hades and Eden, before joining forces with James Patterson to write a popular series about New South Wales police detective Harriet Blue and other novels.
The Chase is a new, stand-alone, high concept, thriller set in America and is a wild ride of a read.
The bold plot sees the release of 600 of America’s most violent prisoners from the Pronghorn Centre Correctional Facility in the Nevada Desert following a violent threat to a bus carrying the children and spouses of the prison guards. The authorities quickly set in place a massive manhunt to catch all of the escapees, but are initially overwhelmed by the size of the task. While most of the prisoners are merely intent on causing mayhem and seeking freedom, death row prisoner John Kradle is desperately using the opportunity to prove that he is innocent of the murder of his wife and son. On his trail is death row supervisor Celine Osbourne who has an emotional investment in bringing Kradle back to face execution.
The Chase starts with a bang, and Candice keeps the plot moving along at a good pace as the body count rises and the story races to its bloody climax. She deftly alternates the telling between a variety of viewpoints and there are several interesting sub-plots to keep the reader occupied, although some trimming of these would have tightened the novel. The main focus is on the tough and capable John Kradle as he tries to track down the real murderer of his family, but there is also a good supporting cast, including a trio of strong, flawed female characters who play important roles in the book’s momentum.
Candice has learnt well from James Patterson about pacing, and she makes good use of short sharp chapters and simple descriptions to keep the story moving along. There are some flashbacks, but these are well handled, and
flesh-out the various storylines and characters.
On the negative side, some reduction of the various storylines would have resulted in a sharper and shorter book and the central plot about John Kradle is probably resolved a bit too simply. Nevertheless, Candice does deliver a neat character twist towards the end, which surprised me.
As long as you are willing to suspend some disbelief, The Chase is a fun, entertaining read that screams out to be filmed.
The Chase was released in Australia on 30 March and is available in the United States on Kindle.
Offering a very different thriller experience, is C. L. Taylor’s latest suspense novel, Her Last Holiday.
Taylor proved to be very adept with the old plot device of isolating a bunch of strangers in a remote location with secrets and murder in her break-out novel Sleep, and she has now applied those skills to two drama drenched wellness retreats.
Over two years ago, Fran’s sister Jenna disappeared whilst on a wellness retreat at the Malta resort of Gozo that went terribly wrong. Tom Wade, the infamous figure behind Soul Shrink Retreats, was held responsible for the disaster that happened and was sentenced to jail. Wade has now just been released from prison after serving his sentence for the deaths of two people, but he has never let on what happened to the third victim: Jenna. Determined to find out the truth, Fran books herself onto his upcoming retreat in a remote part of Wales – the first since his release – and finds herself face to face with the man who might hold the key to her sister’s disappearance. Will she find out the truth or face the same fate as her sister.
Her Last Holiday is a bit of a slow burn thriller. Alternating the viewpoint between the socially clumsy and outspoken Fran and Tom Wade’s manipulative wife, Kate, Taylor gradually sets the scene for the retreat in Wales and introduces the reader to the various participants. The story also regularly flashes back to the original retreat in Gozo two years before, and we learn through Jenna’s eyes what really happened then. Gradually the two plotlines come together in a surprising and tense climax.
Taylor is very good at creating credible, flawed characters who extrude doubt and uncertainty, but are able to rise above their fears when they need to. Her portrayal of the drab, but determined, Fran is very convincing and the minor characters are also well crafted. It takes a little while to come to terms with the shifting timelines and the large cast of characters from the two retreats, but Taylor steadily guides the reader through it and towards the end creates a nice sense of foreboding. Family relationships, especially between sisters and between mothers and daughters, play an important part in the novel and there is a lot of relationship angst and reflection for those who enjoy that sort of thing.
Some parts of the book do not ring true, but overall it is an enjoyable mix of mystery and domestic suspense. There are also some very good twists and I really liked the book’s final scene.
Her Last Holiday is due out on 5 May 2021 in Australia and 29 April in the United Kingdom.
Although I never read the novel, I really enjoyed the television series based on Joel Dicker’s last book, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair.
The Disappearance Of Stephanie Mailer has a similar structure to The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, with a dual storyline set several years apart and lots of twists and turns. In 1994 two young police officers solve the mystery of the brutal murder of four people in the small American seaside town of Orphea. Twenty years later one of the officers, Jesse Rosenberg, is on the verge of taking early retirement when he is approached by a journalist, Stephanie Mailer, who tells him that he made a terrible mistake back in 1994. Rosenberg is initially dismissive, but when he decides to look into the journalist’s claims he finds that she has disappeared in sinister circumstances.
The book alternates between Rosenberg’s search for Stephanie Mailer in 2014 and the original investigation back in 1994. Not surprisingly, the two storylines interweave together as Rosenberg and his partner are forced to re-investigate the original quadruple murder. The pacing is never brisk, but Dicker maintains a good level of interest with regular twists and turns and several unexpected developments. He is very good at catching the reader off-guard and after 500 odd pages the book moves to a surprising and well constructed conclusion.
Dicker is a Swiss author, but his depiction of small town America rings true, at least to an outsider like me. The plotting is meticulous, but the translation from the French seems flat and the story never really emotionally engages the reader. It is interesting to follow where the story goes, but the writing style makes it hard to care for the characters.
An engaging read that will appeal to those who enjoy large complex thrillers with plenty of surprises. A really good book for a long weekend.
OVERALL VIEW: the three books are very different, but each requires a decent suspension of disbelief. Of the three, I preferred The Chase, although Her Last Holiday was not far behind it and would probably be the choice of those who enjoy novels of domestic suspense.