Written by Michael Robotham — Avid readers will relate to what I’m about to say: Sometimes, life just gets in the way. I mean, why waste time working, eating or sleeping when you’re in the thrall of a gripping book like Life or Death? Because believe me, this book snags you from the first page and doesn’t let up until you hit that final full stop.
I’ve been a fan of Aussie-born Robotham since I was asked to review Say You’re Sorry in 2012. It ended up among my top five books of that year and the follow-up, Watching You, came very close to making the 2013 cut too. Both of those novels were set in the UK and featured clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and ex-police detective Vincent Ruiz; in complete contrast, Life or Death is a stand alone novel set in the USA… Texas to be precise.
Audie Palmer has been in prison for a decade for his part in an armed robbery in which four people were killed and $7 million went missing. During his 10 years inside, Audie has endured beatings and attempts on his life from both warders and inmates, but instead of buckling under the pressure he has kept his nose clean and his mouth shut. But now he’s done his time and his release date is tomorrow. So why on earth would the guy break out today?
It is a question that taxes the prison authorities, police and FBI – and the author skilfully keeps us readers out of the loop for ages, too. Is Audie on the run in order to recover the cash, or is something more complex going on? Be prepared for the long haul before the mists of reading confusion begin to clear and the who, why and wherefores start to slot into place.
The first signs that all is not straightforward come when Moss, a lifer who was Audie’s only real friend inside, is suddenly released in a most unusual fashion. To keep his freedom, Moss must find Audie and hand him over. He is not alone in a bit of clandestine Audie hunting – the county sheriff who was at the scene of Audie’s crime is also obsessed with finding the fugitive. And he is not afraid to go outside of the law he’s meant to uphold to achieve that aim.
So who can be trusted? Well, I’d stake my claim on the diminutive FBI Special Agent Desiree Furness. What she lacks in stature, Desiree more than makes up for in determination, so when she is sidelined in the investigation she just carries on alone. Desiree’s instincts tell her that something is off about the 10-year-old crime, but can she get to the bottom of what really happened that day?
Audie, Moss and Desiree are three brilliantly imagined, living and breathing characters, each with their quirks and foibles but all spot-on in terms of realism. The action fair flies along and is almost cinematic in its lavish description and hold-your-breath drama. Its relentless action and twisty-turny plot makes it near-impossible to put down. Life or Death has already been described as ‘The Shawshank Redemption meets No Country for Old Men’, and I’d have to agree with that label – because this is a book that just begs to be made into a movie.
Michael Robotham began his career as a journalist before turning his skills to ghostwriting, penning many best-selling autobiographies for the likes of Geri Halliwell, Lulu and Ricky Tomlinson. Now he is a crime novelist par excellence, with a number of awards to his name. On this showing, he is destined to collect many more. I suggest you lock out the world, stockpile supplies near your reading chair and settle down for an absolute treat, because this thriller is a winner.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars