It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Aussie writer Candice Fox. Her series (Eden Archer; Crimson Lake; and Harriet Blue) gave us some quirky, often-annoying, but endearing characters I’ll long remember. I enjoyed her 2022 release The Chase but struggled a bit as we were given a number of leads and I didn’t connect as much as usual and my attention (and affection) was diluted. I was pretty much alone in my thinking though as the book won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Fiction.
Fox’s latest, Fire With Fire, delivers on multiple fronts and she’s introduced some fabulous characters I very much hope to meet again. Fox is a great storyteller but I believe the magic in her work comes through the characters she creates and manages to humanise within such a short amount of time… building on that with each outing and offering them a story arc that doesn’t necessarily involve growth and evolution but rather everything from redemption to revenge.Fire with Fire
by Candice Fox
Published by Bantam Australia
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction
Ryan and Elsie Delaney don’t accept the official line that their young daughter drowned on Santa Monica beach. Her body has never been found and their pleas for a proper investigation are rejected.
So now the desperate pair are raining hellfire on the police.
Taking three hostages at the Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, they give law enforcement an ultimatum: if Tilly isn’t located in the next 24 hours, they will destroy evidence in several major cases.
Detective Charlie Hoskins only just survived five years embedded with the ruthless gang known as the Death Machines. All his work is in that lab. If the police won’t look for Tilly, he will. Even if that means accepting help from Lynette Lamb, the rookie officer sacked for blowing his cover – and having him thrown to the sharks.
Finding Tilly is now a matter of life and death – for the Delaneys, for their hostages, for Charlie and Lamb, and for the little girl who one day simply vanished . . .
Fox gives us a very intriguing premise here. The Delaneys want closure following the disappearance of their daughter and blame the police for being too quick to accept a drowning verdict. They’re blackmailing the LAPD into reopening her case while also seeking vengeance by destroying key pieces of evidence in other open cases. They’ve even managed to find those cases where the forensic samples are ‘one shots’ – meaning once lost there’s no back-up evidence. And of course if police give into their demands to preserve other cases and potentially save lives (future victims) they’re opening the door to copycats.
This opens with a swimmer saving a ravaged and drowning man who we quickly discover is an undercover cop (Charlie), who’s been beaten and left for dead. And still in the (almost) present we meet newly graduated police recruit – 21 year old Lynette Lamb who was inadvertently responsible for his cover being blown. Interestingly Lamb doesn’t feel guilty (initially) about her involvement, but is quick place blame elsewhere. As a result she approaches Charlie as he’s released from hospital hoping he’ll sympathise and get her reinstated. Spoiler alert… she is very wrong about his thoughts on the matter!
However, the pair are together as the events at the crime lab go down and Charlie – worried about some of the evidence he garnered while undercover – decides to act on the Delaneys’ request to revisit the disappearance of their daughter… something the police refuse to do given it’d set a precedent.
Charlie and Lamb’s investigation plays out in parallel to the unfolding drama in the crime lab which is told through the eyes of one of the lab’s directors who’s being held hostage and Charlie’s boss, Chief of Police Saskia Ferboden. Fox’s writing (as usual) is clever and sassy and both plots are tight with few distractions and Fox keeps the swift pace as Charlie and Lamb reinterview witnesses and uncover new clues. And then of course… in the background there’s Charlie’s former gang buddies wanting revenge once they discover he did’t die as planned.
Fox gives us a cynical and pragmatic but fair lead in Charlie. I loved the context we’re given via his family history and his sister in particular. We get some insight into why he turned to undercover work and the life he was willing to give up. As an aside I was interested in the level of detail Fox included here about undercover work and the ‘rules of engagement’ if you like.
And then there’s Lamb. She’s a loner and traverses a fine line between lacking confidence and believing she’s invincible. She’s belligerent and kinda unrestrained yet prone to tears, book-smart rather than street smart, but here her instincts kick in again and again when least expected.
As a duo they’re a bit like a father / daughter and play off each other very well.
I very much enjoyed this book. It’s quite long and did take me two sittings but I kept reading the second night long after I’d planned. This is certainly one of my favourite novels by Fox for some years and I very much hope we meet Charlie and Lamb and their support cast again.
Fire With Fire by Candice Fox will be published in Australia by Bantam (Penguin Random House) in early April 2023.
I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.