That Sydney is a vastly multicultural city would come as no surprise to anyone who lives here. And with that multiculturalism comes some of the distrust and enmity imported from people’s countries of origin. One of those is ongoing tensions between local Serbian and Croatian communities. Loraine Peck’s debut crime novel The Second Son, uses a heightened version of this tension between organised crime gangs as its driver.
Johnny Novak is the second son of a Serbian crime gang ruled with his iron fist by his father Milan. When Johnny’s older brother is killed in a drive-by shooting, he is charged by his father with killing the head of the rival Croatian crime family as revenge. But something strange is going on. The son of the head of the Croation gang and a high ranking member of an Italian crime gang have also been killed. Johnny wants to avoid killing anyone and has to walk a fine line of finding out what is actually going on while placating his violent father. While doing so he stumbles across a drug importation scheme and also uses the gang to plan a daring heist. At the same time, Johnny’s wife Amy, sick of his involvement in the criminal life, takes their son Sasha and goes to stay with her parents, giving him an ultimatum around leaving the gang.
Peck tells the story from both Johnny and Amy’s alternating first person points of view. She keeps the moral and ethical tension on Johnny high as he tries to find solutions that gets the revenge that he wants, keeps him out of the hands of the police and avoids taking lives where he can. Meanwhile Amy struggles with her love for Johnny and her need to feel safe and to shelter her son from the type of life his father leads. All of this while both are under threat from rival gangs who have stopped playing by the unwritten rules which exclude wives and families from their violence.
The Second Son is a compulsive read pretty much from the first page. Peck uses the suburban Sydney setting well, manages to ratchet up the tension effectively and the action scenes are well handled. And while there is an air of wish fulfillment towards the end, she leaves the story wide open for what could be a very different kind of sequel.