I was a latecomer to the work of Australian author Candice Fox and she’d already won several Australian Crime Writers Association (Ned Kelly) awards when I came across her Eden Archer / Frank Bennett series in late 2014. (See my reviews of Hades, Eden and Fall.)
Since Fall’s release in late 2015, Fox has been collaborating with the prolific and high profile James Patterson, co-authoring a novel, Never Never (which has just topped the New York Times Best Seller’s list). The pair also published a novella and (are) currently finalising the second book in the Harriet Blue series.
Obviously not one to rest on her laurels, Fox’s latest solo effort, Crimson Lake, set in Queensland’s far north is also about to be released in the wild… and I think it’s her best work yet.
by Candice Fox
Published by Penguin Books Australia
on January 30th 2017
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
12.46: Thirteen-year-old Claire Bingley stands alone at a bus stop
12.47: Ted Conkaffey parks his car beside her
12.52: The girl is missing . . .
Six minutes – that’s all it took to ruin Detective Ted Conkaffey’s life. Accused but not convicted of Claire’s abduction, he escapes north, to the steamy, croc-infested wetlands of Crimson Lake.
Amanda Pharrell knows what it’s like to be public enemy number one. Maybe it’s her murderous past that makes her so good as a private investigator, tracking lost souls in the wilderness. Her latest target, missing author Jake Scully, has a life more shrouded in secrets than her own – so she enlists help from the one person in town more hated than she is: Ted.
But the residents of Crimson Lake are watching the pair’s every move. And for Ted, a man already at breaking point, this town is offering no place to hide . . .
Ted’s story unfolds pretty quickly and when we meet him he’s left his old life, with a cloud still hanging over his head. He’s pretty much hit rock bottom when his lawyer suggests he contact Amanda, a convicted murderer who’s served her time and is now working as a private investigator.
Given Amanda’s history she has no problems partnering up with a marked man, however the same can’t be said for the rest of the residents of Crimson Lake and Ted finds it increasingly hard to stay beneath the radar – particularly given the media’s ongoing interest in him.
One of the things I loved most about the Archer / Bennett series was the way in which Fox offered up challenging and (kinda) sociopathic characters who we couldn’t help but like. She excels again here… with complicated and rather flawed leads.
The case of the missing author gives Ted some direction and he finds himself working alongside the somewhat strange and very prickly Amanda, while trying to make sense of his new world:
Since my incarceration for a crime I didn’t commit I’d been trying to think more openly about right and wrong, innocence and guilt and things like abandonment…. p 157
Amanda, on the other hand, is blatantly ignominious when it comes to doggedly pursuing her own agenda:
Everything about her was like that: edging on excessive, so close to crazy that her crazy became sane, consistent enough to ignore. p 117
Of course Ted is also interested enough in his new boss / partner that he feels compelled to look into the crime that resulted in Amanda being jailed for 10 years. It’s not that he thinks she’s incapable of murder, but that things just don’t add up.
Fox grounds her characters in a strong plot and the pair face an increasingly hostile local police force and long-kept secrets as they attempt to investigate Scully’s disappearance.
And… in the background the ‘alleged’ past crimes of our two leads play out.
I’ve spent some time in Queensland’s far north and Fox does a great job of recreating the oppressive heat and humidity. I’m less familiar with the rainforest and crocodile infested lakes and creeks but the opening scenes give us everything with need to know about the setting AND Ted, as the latter ponders the evils lurking in the water just beyond his back verandah.
And I was hooked from the get-go.
Fox also captures the culture / essence of small communities and the frustratingly small-minded underbelly which still exists in regional Australia… certainly in my part of it – as evidenced by comments on social media and the like!
“Well, welcome to 1945, Mr Collins.” Sam waved an arm to show me the land beyond the doors. “Where fags and ethnics are the punching bag of choice for the violent drunk at the corner pub.” p 147
I had the chance to interview Fox for some other work I’m doing and discovered the author lived in Queensland for some time and visited the far north.
The acclaimed author most definitely uses her own knowledge and experience to deliver on other elements of the plot… particularly as they relate to our victim’s writing history, promotional commitments and the challenges wannabe writers face!
“Books are something else, I think,” Amanda said. “They’re like, your guts. You scoop out your own guts and you give them to someone on a plate and they turn their nose up. And then there you are. Hollow. Gutless. At least, that’s how I imagine it to be. I’ve never written anything.” p 249
And then there’s this… my favourite quote from the book which I couldn’t help but share as I was reading (p 248)
The book finishes with some unanswered questions and I was relieved… as surely that meant there’d be more Ted and Amanda. And now, having interviewed Fox, I know it’s most certainly the case and I cannot wait.
This book offers readers everything we’ve come to expect from Fox: complex characters, a multilayered plot and an incredible sense of dark foreboding about what awaits us.
Crimson Lake by Candice Fox will be published in Australia by Penguin Random House on 30 January 2017.
I received a copy of this book for review purposes.