I received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
“Life is short. Love is vast. Live like there’s no tomorrow.”
Audie Palmer is a fugitive. Having escaped from a Texas prison the day before he was due to be released following a ten-year stint for his part in an armored truck robbery, he’s wanted by an array of people. There’s the sheriff who caught and shot Audie at the crime scene years before. There’s special agent Desiree Furness of the FBI; a plucky, intelligent agent who has worked against prejudices to raise up the ranks. Then there’s Moss, Audie’s best friend in prison who is broken out himself a few days later, and told he must find Audie Palmer or die. Plus an array of side characters, some with wholesome motives and others not so much, all tangled up in a case “riddled with discordant notes like a child plinking the keys of a piano, making noise instead of music.”
This book was amazing. I went into it expecting an easy-reading page turner, and it is that but it’s also so much more. The moment Audie breaks loose from prison a high-speed race across outback Texas breaks out – the characters are out to to find Audie, while the reader just wants to know the truth. Why did he break out a day before he was due to be released? Does he know where the missing $7 million from the robbery is? What’s his plan now? It’s a fast-paced, tense and emotional journey to find out.
The characters throughout the novel are brilliant. I couldn’t help but root for Audie and Moss, despite the fact that they’ve both supposedly committed terrible crimes. Audie is so unique; “the joker in the pack”. He handles prison attacks which would break most men with ease, focusing solely on his own motivations and letting everything else go over his head. Some believe he’s damaged from the gunshot to his head years before, but there’s more to him than that and, as the story progresses, the driving force behind his actions is gradually revealed in a series of flashbacks. There’s a depth of emotion here which you don’t find in many books of this genre, and it made me fall in love with the characters and the book. It definitely had me welling up on more than one occasion.
The setting is also superb – the world of Texas feels immersive and realistic, especially considering the writer is from Australia. Robotham picked a clever setting for a gritty crime novel, and he executed it well. Whilst I’ve never visited Texas myself, it feels like he’s done his research. But this isn’t really surprising – the writing throughout is intelligent and vivid. It’s a beautiful novel to read; despite the dark subject matter there are profound quotes scattered throughout the pages.
“We learn things and realise we can never know more than we don’t know. We catch love like a cold and cling to it like wreckage in a storm.”
I haven’t read any books by this author before, but I’m definitely not going to make this my last. It felt to me like a bit of a mix of Dennis Lehane, Stephen King and maybe Lee Child. But this author definitely has a talent all of his own. He himself says on this book:
“I needed to practise. I needed to learn. I needed to get better. That’s why I’m so excited about Life or Death. It’s a love story and a prison story and a heart-stopping account of one man’s refusal to surrender. More importantly, it’s the book that I was meant to write.”
And I’m so glad he did write this, because it’s fantastic. The tragic love story and gritty noir thriller are perfectly combined against the backdrop of Texas. It’s got to be one of my favourite novels I’ve read this year, and I’d recommend it to anyone – whether you like thrillers or not.