Written by Steph Broadribb — The action thriller never seems to go out of fashion, and fans of writers like Lee Child and David Baldacci seem to welcome each new release with relish. From John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps through Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male and on to Child’s Reacher series, books in the sub-genre tend to be written by men with male protagonists. They’re usually fighting a conspiracy of some kind, and doing so against the odds. And they’ll be resourceful enough, and violent enough, to survive.
Deep Down Dead’s author was inspired by the likes of Lee Child, but she has created Lori Anderson, a female bounty hunter based in Florida. The story is told from Lori’s perspective. Things have been tough for Lori. The most pressing problem is that her nine-year-old daughter, Dakota, has been fighting cancer and medical bills are stacking up. Rather than ruminate about Obamacare, Lori drops by the bail bond agent she works for and is offered a five-figure sum to bring in a violent fugitive who caused a ruckus at a theme park.
It looks like it’ll be an easy assignment, but for two key factors. Firstly, she has nobody to look after Dakota while she heads out of state to pick him up. Secondly, the man she’s after is JT, her former mentor and lover. But she needs the money and decides Dakota can come along for the ride. They even pack some ice-cream in the cooler. What could go wrong?
Deep Down Dead is Steph Broadribb’s debut and she’s done plenty to give her character and the scenario authenticity. You’ll learn all about the bail bond business and how the money breaks down when someone skips bail and is picked up for a bounty. There’s also all the vital preparation that goes into finding and apprehending the absconder. Lori explains everything about her kit and her truck with its cab section for holding a fugitive.
The back story comes in a fairly obvious big dollop early on in the book as Lori retells her first meeting with JT. Strong, silent, hunky and a bit rough – JT lives by his own strict set of rules and was a bounty hunter himself. She’s from a tough background, married young and was in an abusive relationship. Oh, and she was a stripper too, before JT taught her how to become a bounty hunter.
The ride Deep Down Dead delivers is fast-paced, zipping around the South Eastern US with chases, fights, ambushes and desperate escapes. When Lori manages to track JT down he’s being held by three nasty rednecks rather than Merv, the fellow who’s meant to hand JT over to her. Merv has disappeared, but Lori uses her fighting skills to extract JT from the lodge he’s held in. But it just leads them into one big mess and, yes, Dakota is kidnapped in the process. JT explains that the kidnapper is the man he was after – a wealthy paedophile with a network of thugs working for him – and Lori is terrified. Even though the police, FBI, Miami mob and the paedophile’s gang are after them, she and JT go on a mission to find Dakota.
Lori’s voice – in colloquial diction – is largely convincing, though maybe a little over the top. The author slips a couple of times towards the end with mentions of a car’s bonnet here and there. Americans say ‘hood’. It’s more difficult keeping engaged with the changing settings than it is with the characters as the plot moves from state to state. There are some excellent sequences when Lori and JT need to find some evidence in a bizarre theme park based on Frozen. Ice palaces in 90-degree heat give us a pastiche of Orlando’s exaggerated cheesiness. The place becomes like the seventh circle of hell, particularly with guards chasing them through the staff tunnels underneath the park.
All the action is well described, with the right amount of bone crunching, gunfire and gore. It feels realistic and not over the top. The tension lags in places. Obviously there is the threat to Dakota’s life as her abductors try to manipulate Lori and JT, but for long periods you don’t hear much about the little girl’s plight. However, there’s a sensitivity in the telling of Lori’s struggle to save her daughter that gives Deep Down Dead a bit more depth than other action thrillers.
The ending, when the child returns to the story, and the main characters finally track down their foes, holds together much better. And yes, Florida fans, there are gators! This is the first in a series from a very promising new, British author and there’s a hint at the end of what Lori Anderson’s next case might be.
If you like the sound of it, you could also try David Baldacci’s The Guilty, also set in the South and with some similar themes.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars