Australian thriller writer Lorraine Peck follows up her Ned Kelly Award winning debut The Second Son with a direct sequel – The Double Bind. The Second Son was set in and around Sydney and focussed on the Croatian crime family called the Novaks. In the middle of the action was Amy, the wife of the eponymous second son Johnny, fighting to have a vaguely normal life while her husband is embroiled in a gang war. That book ended on something of a relief and a kind of cliffhanger. A relief because Amy and Johnny had agreed to get out of the business and move up the coast. A cliffhanger because those readers paying attention to the dynamics would know that it would never be far enough. And the repercussions of the events in The Second Son definitely linger.
The Double Bind opens not long into Johnny and Amy’s new life in the small coastal town of Hallows Head, south of Byron Bay. Amy is working the a local café and Johnny has a first client for his new security business and their eleven-year-old son Sasha, still traumatised by the events of The Second Son, is attending the local school. But Johnny’s first client engaged him for a reason. Carl is an American importer of kit homes, only his own family connection with the Sinaloa drug cartel has him looking for local dealers and he finds it through the Novak family. Soon Johnny’s father and cousins are in town and he is back in the business, despite himself. But things are worse for Johnny as the police are also onto the deal and blackmail him to help them bust the new supply chain, only is he does that Amy and Sasha are likely to be killed.
While that set up seems exhausting enough there are a number of other threads weaved into the narrative to keep the tension up on both Johnny and Amy. Amy becomes involved in a colleague who is being physically abused by her husband and the military brother of Ink Slater, the man who kidnapped her and Sasha, is in town looking for answers about his brother’s death. And yet Peck has complete control over all of these aspects of the plot and how they weave together.
Once again, the narrative shifts between Amy and Johnny, sometimes giving two versions of the same scene. While they have different strengths, the two are a unit, relying on each other to help navigate the very narrow path they have to freedom. Because despite the adrenalin rush and the money, both are determined to leave the life of crime behind. The fun here is watching them try to do it while keeping the family, the cartel killers and the police onside. This aspect allows Peck to let set up some really clever and tense heist-like scenes in which Johnny, and to some extent Amy, manipulate those who are trying to control them, always having to deal with unexpected changes to the plan.
In The Double Bind, Peck once again delivers a high tension, twisty thriller anchored by two engaging leads. She builds on the solid foundation of the first book while upping the stakes for Amy and Johnny and their family. They are definitely criminals, Amy even more so this time round, but they are criminals readers can cheer for. And while they say that they are seeking the straight and narrow, it would not be a surprise if we see Johnny and Amy in action again.