Tuesday, January 19, 2021


GATHERING DARK by Candice Fox (Bantam, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Blair Harbour, once a wealthy, respected surgeon in Los Angeles, is now an ex-con down on her luck. She’s determined to keep her nose clean to win back custody of her son.

But when her former cellmate, Sneak Lawlor, begs for help to find her missing daughter, Blair is compelled to put her new-found freedom on the line. Joined by LA’s most feared underworld figure, Ada Maverick, the crew of criminals bring outlaw tactics to the search for Dayly.

Detective Jessica Sanchez has always had a difficult relationship with the LAPD. And her inheritance of a $7 million mansion as a reward for catching a killer has just made her police enemy number one. It’s been ten years since Jessica arrested Blair for the cold-blooded murder of her neighbour. So when Jessica opens the door to the disgraced doctor and her friends she expects abuse, maybe even violence.

Sydney author Candice Fox certainly hit the ground running after first getting published back in 2014: her gripping debut HADES won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction, and then later its sequel EDEN went on to win the Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction. An historic accolade for back-to-back books. Quite the introduction to the Australian crime writing world for a fresh voice that had no problem playing in the darker waters of the genre and putting rather unlikable 'heroes' to the fore

Fox is a prolific storyteller with a great touch for offbeat, memorable crime fiction characters. 

In a few short years her resume already includes her original Sydney-set ‘Archer and Bennett’ trilogy that began with HADES, the superb ‘Crimson Lake’ trilogy set among the crocodile-infested landscapes of north Queensland - which again showed her knack for very troubled protagonists and unusual investigative partnerships - and several collaborations with mega-selling thriller writer James Patterson that have earned Fox #1 New York Times bestseller status.

(Note: like Patterson's collaboration with already-established Swedish star Liza Marklund, those latter books blunt some of the greater character depth, nuance, and strong settings Candice Fox has in her solo writings; instead focusing more purely on simpler rip-snorting, twisty plot-based thrill rides.)

Fox's latest novel, GATHERING DARK (released in Australia and New Zealand in 2020, out in hardcover in the United States from Forge Books in March), sees Fox bring her knack for clever, dark crime tales swirling around unusual team-ups across the Pacific to the City of Angels. 

Ex-surgeon Blair Harbour is now an ex-con working night shifts at a dodgy gas station as she tries to stay on the straight and narrow and cling to a sliver of hope she can regain some of what she lost. Her son, in particular. But when the daughter of her former cellmate ‘Sneak’ Lawlor disappears, Blair finds herself risking everything to try to help. 

Together the pair turn to two other unlikely allies: powerful crime boss Ava Maverick and LAPD Detective Jessica Sanchez - the cop who put Blair in prison years before. Sanchez has her own problems, being ostracised and worse by her colleagues after she’s gifted a house in a will.

Four women, all facing challenges, questions, and dangers in their lives. 

Fox delivers a storyline that lures the reader in early, and excites throughout with some helter-skelter action and great set-pieces at times (it would make for a terrific film, I think), but my lasting impression of GATHERING DARK was the strong sense of humanity that bubbled throughout. An alluring read, with the interplay between a convicted killer and a cop adding extra layers to a fascinating read. 

Whether this remains a standalone or becomes the start of a series with a character or two returning, this is a very good read from a talented storyteller that is well worth seeking out. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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