I’ve read most of Michael Robotham’s work – and reviewed several here on my blog. His latest – Life or Death – is a stand-alone novel so doesn’t feature any of his usual protagonists. And I have to say… that pleased me as I’m not a huge fan of Joe O’Loughlin or Vincent Ruiz. As I’ve said previously, I enjoy Robotham’s work… but it’s hard to feel as engaged as one should when they don’t care if the lead characters live or die.
However – Life or Death didn’t offer me any such dilemma and – as a result – it’s a 4/5 star novel for me.
Audie Palmer escapes from prison the day before he’s due to be released. (As an aside, the ‘why’ never really made sense to me, but I guess it says something about his character and motivation which is possibly sufficient!).
Ten years ago Audie was involved in a robbery which resulted in the loss of four lives (and almost his own). Prison life hasn’t been easy for Audie – $7m ‘disappeared’ during the robbery and it seems that many inmates and prison staff believe that threats and torture will induce Audie to share in his spoils. Fellow inmate Moss Webster has developed a healthy respect for Audie who he sees as almost implacable, describing him as “Yoda, Buddha and Gladiator all rolled into one.”
So when Moss (serving a life sentence) is ‘somehow’ released and ordered to find Audie – he feels torn. An offer of a commuted sentence is tempting, but he struggles to believe Audi is capable of everything he’s accused of – and it understandably cynical about the offer on the table.
On the outside Audi has a plan. We readers are just spectators but it’s hard not to become personally invested in his efforts. Indeed, I almost had to put the book aside at one point as I was overwhelmed with frustration – SURELY SO MANY BAD THINGS SHOULDN’T HAPPEN TO ONE PERSON!
While Audi’s on the run we learn a little of his history, of his older brother who the police and FBI suspect in leading young Audi astray; and of his life working as a driver to a mobster. Audi’s backstory is complex – in love with the mobster’s girlfriend and a man with a conscience – it’s easy to agree with Moss and believe that Audi’s innocent of all charges laid at his feet.
Although the FBI have jurisdiction for the prison escape, local law enforcement – involved in the original armed robbery arrest – are seemingly obsessed with finding Audi and it’s obvious that there’s more to the $7m robbery than anyone first thought.
Moss, Audi and pint-sized FBI agent Desiree Furness are likeable (and real) characters. As Robotham unpicks Audi’s past we get a very good sense of the man he is and it’s hard not to get emotionally invested in the book’s unfolding plot and Audi’s own fate.
Life or Death by Michael Robotham will be released by Hachette Australia on 12 August 2014.
I received an advance copy for review purposes.