Award winning Australian author Candice Fox finally moves off-shore with her latest book (and start of a new series?) Gathering Dark. Set in Los Angeles, the book follows a group of damaged, desperate women and revolves around a missing young woman and a lost fortune. Along the way, readers are treated to a number of Fox staples – alternating chapters in different voices from two complex and conflicted main characters, plenty of dark side-characters, a rattling plot with plenty of action and cliffhangers, precocious children and pets.
Blair Harbour, former paediatric surgeon, is finally out of jail after serving ten years for murdering her neighbour and is trying to stay on the straight and narrow. But that becomes difficult when her old cellmate “Sneak” Lawlor drops back into her life, seeking help to find her missing daughter. Along the way the two will join forces with another former inmate Ada Maverick, a violent leader in the criminal underworld. At the same time Detective Jessica Sanchez is on the outs with her police colleagues after being left a luxury house in the will of a grateful father after working hard to close a cold case involving the death of his daughter. Not only that, but once Blair Harbour comes back on her radar, Sanchez realises that perhaps there were problems with the original arrest and charge of murder (which Sanchez was involved in) and starts to re-investigate.
After the set-up this is classic Fox, complete with some elements from earlier books including the dual narration, one in first person and one in third, interspersed with short interludes. Much like Blair, her Crimson Lake series also features a wrongly accused protagonist, Ted Conkaffey whose crime has separated him from his child. That series also features an escalating battle between some bikers and the police which is reflected here, a little more humorously, in Sanchez’s war with her ex-partner Wallert who believes he is entitled to a cut of the inheritance and is intent on making her life miserable until she relents. While Ted Conkaffey had a gaggle of geese to look after, Blair adopts a pocket gopher which manages to steal pretty much every scene it pops up in and is the subject of one of the funniest scenes a book which while serious, is often leavened with breakout moments of pure character-driven comedy.
But these echoes of her own stylistic choices aside, this is a cracking tale peopled with original characters in a well realised Los Angeles. And like Lynda La Plante’s Widows or the DC comic The Kitchen, Fox delivers a crime novel that is driven by the relationships between a group of complex, believable women and along the way tackles issues of motherhood, domestic violence and revenge porn. And there is plenty of set-up at the end of this for a potential series.
Fox has already delivered two winning series set in Australia which are worth catching up with (the Archer and Bennett series and the Crimson Lake series), and some bestselling collaborations with James Patterson (the Harriet Blue series also set in Australia). And Gathering Dark, another propulsive, page-turning crime thriller with complex characters at its heart, is another example of why she is one of Australia’s best. So while by all rights Fox should already have been discovered by the global crime reading fraternity, setting in LA with a group of recognisable American characters will hopefully propel her further towards the recognition she absolutely deserves.