Written by JR Carroll — Tim Fontaine is an ex-cop, turned criminal lawyer. Over the course of his two careers he’s made more enemies than he can count, but that’s not what he’s running from as he heads out to the back of nowhere for a weekend away. He’s running from a marriage that’s grown stale and a job that leaves him no time for his personal life, and he’s trying to fix things with a wife who’s growing increasingly distant. The fact that his holiday house – a converted farmhouse in the middle of the New South Wales wilderness, backing onto a state forest – is entirely off the grid is its most attractive feature to Tim. He wants some time away from the lawyers, criminals and cops of Canberra.
But it’s not long before things start going wrong. Tim and his wife Amy narrowly avoid a crash with a huge truck, and soon discover they’ve carried their marital differences with them. Then, they find that they’re not alone. Shortly after the first bottle of red wine is drained there’s a knock on the door. Outside are three men Tim’s never met before who say they have a package for him. Somebody from Tim’s past wants him gone enough to send three men out to the middle of nowhere to do the job, and they won’t leave until it’s done.
What follows is eight hours and 300 pages of heavily-armed siege. Chapters set in the bush home alternate with chapters about the three bikers hired to make the kill. The backstory goes through troubled childhoods, drug deals, mix-ups with the Hells Angels, arson and prison. The story grows with them, as details of their history falls into place. It’s not until the very end that it becomes clear how a boy from Quebec, the no-good son of a no-good German immigrant living in Sydney, and the young son of a Greek immigrant family turn into the three heavily armed bikers outside Tim’s holiday home, but throughout the novel, from when these characters are first introduced until the final page, there is a sense of inevitability about where they will go.
It’s this momentum that is the novel’s main strong point – the forward movement that its publisher, Momentum Books, states is the company’s defining feature. While the writing’s not flawless (there are more than occasional lapses into cliché, both in wording and in plotting) it is certainly relentless. Taking hints from the title, and from JR Carroll’s earlier novels, the ending seems at times inevitable, but there is enough tension, and enough twists, to counter this.
One main criticism is the lack of time spent on Tim and his wife’s past. These matters are mentioned in passing, but the bulk of the backstory belongs to the criminals. While their past gives an insight into their actions, and gives them a sense of understanding, if not sympathy, I would like to known more about Tim’s past. The reader is given only the sense that he is better than the corruption and criminality that surrounds him, and as a result the two characters of Tim and Amy are not as well-realised as those of the criminals.
8 Hours to Die by JR Carroll is an enjoyable, yet at times shocking read. It’s dark and gritty, has great pace about it and has believable characters.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars