Tuesday, January 9, 2018


DEEP BLUE TROUBLE by Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Single-mother Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson’s got an ocean of trouble on her hands. Her daughter Dakota is safe, but her cancer is threatening a comeback, and Lori needs JT—Dakota’s daddy and the man who taught Lori everything—alive and kicking. Problem is, he’s behind bars, and heading for death row. Desperate to save him, Lori does a deal, taking on off-the-books job from shady FBI agent Alex Monroe. Bring back on-the-run felon, Gibson "The Fish" Fletcher, and JT walks free. 

Following Fletcher from Florida to California, Lori teams up with local bounty hunter Dez McGregor and his team. But Dez works very differently to Lori, and the tension between them threatens to put the whole job in danger. With Monroe pressuring Lori for results, the clock ticking on JT’s life, and nothing about the Fletcher case adding up, Lori’s hitting walls at every turn. But this is one job she’s got to get right, or she’ll lose everything.

I've quickly become a fan of Steph Broadribb's Lori Anderson series, for a number of reasons. It can seem at times like the mystery genre is lately drowning in a tsunami of middle-class heroines getting themselves into all sorts of domestic noir scrapes (thanks Gone Girl) - some great tales but plenty of mediocre ones too - but here's a female-centric series that provides something quite different.

Lori is hard-working, blue-collar single Mom kicking ass in an action-packed series set in the sultry American south. Holding her own against the mean and maniacal, the brutal and the bigoted, ala Jack Reacher, Charlie Fox, or Camaro Espinoza, without having any of their military backgrounds.

There's a real energy to Broadribb's storytelling, a strong narrative voice that draws you in to Lori's world, and the challenges she faces. From the early chapters of Deep Down Dead, her debut appearance, I was fully alongside her, enjoying the ride as the helter-skelter story unfolded. I also enjoyed the short story, The Last Resort, that was released between novels - even if only a short tale it had that same vivid storytelling and gave us a little more insight into Lori's bounty hunter journey.

Deep Blue Trouble deals with the aftermath of Deep Down Dead, where Lori had reconnected with her old bounty hunting mentor JT, who was wanted for various crimes, and the pair had got into all sorts of trouble while uncovering some nasty crimes and trying to bring very bad guys to justice.

JT has taken the fall for some of what went on in the previous novel, a decision that could lead to the death chamber and a lethal injection. For lots of reasons, Lori is not willing to let JT languish in jail, and sets out to earn his freedom via a deal with a shady federal agent. As you can imagine, things do not go to plan, and Lori's efforts open a Pandora's Box of trouble for a lot of people, herself included.

This is another really solid action-thriller from Broadribb, which cements the Lori Anderson series as much more than just a great first tale. Lori is not an infallible superhero character - she makes mistakes, bad choices, and gets herself and others hurt with occasionally head-scratching decisions. But you always feel like her heart is in the right place, and even her bad choices come from an organic, authentic place and fit her character (rather than being 'author hand' to create drama).

I tore through this book in a couple of sittings. Broadribb has a great authorial voice and is an incredibly assured writer for one who is just starting out in what (I hope) could be a long crime writing career. There are occasional moments where it didn't seem quite as tight as the debut (being super-picky), and I think readers may get more out of this book if they've read Deep Down Dead and got a sense of Lori already (so this deepens their understanding), rather than starting with this one. But overall Deep Blue Trouble is a very good read that shows Broadribb is a new star here to stay.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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