This month I devoured the thriller Never Never by James Patterson and Candice Fox.
James Patterson is a prolific, best-selling novelist who recently topped Forbes’s list of highest-paid authors for the third year in a row. Candice Fox has twice won a Ned Kelly Award, first for her debut novel Hades and another for its follow up, Eden, which took out best crime novel in 2015.
This dynamic duo is well equipped to write an edge-of-your-seat thriller and Never Never doesn’t disappoint.
A MERCILESS KILLER
‘Should this man die?’ – The Soldier
Who is The Soldier? That’s the mystery at the core of Never Never. We meet The Soldier on the first page, as he hunts a young man in the desert, pursuing him with his Barrett M82.
Obsessed with war, The Soldier plays deadly games with his prey – playing recordings of the screams of past victims while hunting new ones and blowing off body parts with expert precision.
He sees himself as a judge, with the power to decide who should live or die. For the most part, his verdict is that they should die, so he’s bumping off the poor unsuspecting employees of Bandya Mine, smack bang in the middle of the desert.
The desert is the perfect hunting ground. There’s nowhere to run in the never never. Especially not when your leg has been blown off.
The Soldier is a formidable foe.
Then he meets Detective Harriet (Harry) Blue.
A KICK ASS PROTAGONIST
‘Shock is unique to each individual. Some people go into hiccups. Some people’s teeth start to chatter. Some people collapse, go catatonic. The body can’t handle the total terror overload. The adrenaline dumped into the veins.’ – Detective Harriet Blue
A sex crimes detective based in Sydney, Harry’s chief (affectionately known as ‘Pops’) sends her to Western Australia in the wake of the announcement that her brother, Sam, is the Georges River Killer. Pops wants Harry clear of the media frenzy surrounding the case so he sends her to the uranium mine to investigate an “Unexplained Death”.
What Pops doesn’t tell Harry is that she’ll be partnered by Edward Whittacker (who Harry nicknames ‘Whitt’, much to his chagrin), a detective with swish suits and a penchant for pre-prepared meals. Harry is immediately suspicious that Whitt has been employed to spy on her in case she makes contact with her brother – a suspicion that only deepens when it appears he’s been fibbing about his past.
When Harry and Whitt arrive at the mine, they discover two more mine workers are missing. No one seems too worried – people leave the mine all the time without saying where they’re going. They usually turn up again. Just not dead.
There is a lot to like about Harry. She’s got a sharp tongue (i.e. calls someone a ‘dick hole’), has a mean right hook and has perfected the art of acting first and thinking later. But despite the tough exterior, there’s a soft side to Harry. She daydreams about her ‘fantasy parents’ (she and her brother were in and out of foster care as children), develops a fondness for a giant huntsman residing in the ‘donga’ (transportable building using as accommodation) she shares with Whitt and is patiently waiting for the right moment to cry.
By the end of the story, Harry is bruised and bloody, both physically and emotionally, but she will never (never) be broken.
A CHILLING CONCLUSION
‘There were scientific aspects to war, he thought. Strategic calculations. Risk versus reward. Probability, expectation, information management. You could measure war in its millions of variables, pitting optimal environment against available technology. Levels of training and quality of leadership. But it was the moral variations within war that interested The Soldier. How the battlefields could develop or destroy loyalty. It created heroes. It created traitors. The world needed war.’
There are more victims in Never Never than there are viable suspects, but there’s an eclectic bunch of characters to keep the reader guessing.
There’s a menacing drug dealer who trades a few punches with Harry; a militant security guard with a collection of disturbing magazines; a potential love interest for Harry who might want something more than just to star-gaze with her; and a mine supervisor who accuses her of concocting a story after she is viciously attacked by The Soldier.
There’s also intrigue surrounding another type of ‘soldier’ – a group of environmental activists, known as the Earth Soldiers. They’re camped out in the desert and have been causing trouble for the mine by staging demonstrations and chaining equipment together.
Although I guessed the perpetrator early on, there is a suspenseful scene towards the end that takes place high on a scaffold where a violent and unexpected act made me wonder what had just happened.
A whizz-bang novel, Never Never will hook you from the moment The Soldier’s first bullet whooshes past in the dark until the emotional cliffhanger ending. Thankfully, Candice Fox has promised there will be more Harry books.
“We’re greenlit, soldier. Move out!”
Never Never by James Patterson and Candice Fox is published by Penguin Books.