When Miranda Jack is car-jacked on a motorway in Sydney it's just one more thing to go wrong in a life littered with bad times. As the story progresses and you find out how many hurdles Jack has jumped in her life you'd be forgiven for wondering why she keeps getting up in the morning. When something in her background and training as a journalist makes her seek to empathise with her abductor, that idea of keep them talking and engaged and they may develop some connection with you, it means she finds out quite a bit about Brendan Walsh. Including that they have met before, but not who he is scared of, who he is running from. Scared enough to make him eventually run into the oncoming traffic.
The previous connection that Jack discovers with Walsh is what keeps Jack, and the police, wondering about the likelihood of random abduction. As Jack's own life comes under threat, any randomness seems even more unlikely. And always lurking in the background is the realisation that her husband's killer, or the reason he was run down, has never been discovered. In a masterful piece of red herring sprinkling, there's enough possibilities here to keep the reader guessing right to the end.
ALREADY DEAD hits breakneck pace right from the outset. Whilst it might seem that having the abduction, the mad chase up a freeway and ultimate rescue of Jack, while she's standing on the side of the road with Walsh's gun in her hand, a difficult start to maintain tension from, Ford is very clever in the way that she does this. Alternating between the domestic, the almost banal nature of moving house, unpacking and raising a child as a single mother, moments of tension and suspense are inserted. From sitting in a café with a child, and an ex-soldier switching rapidly from reticence and quiet, to a bored child chattering; from a mother whose biggest worry is the possibility of a full-blown tantrum to a man who goes from caring friend to threatening in a sentence. All delivered within the space of a few paragraphs. It's the same with the possible romantic interest - a walk to a car is a touching and kind gesture that quickly becomes hot and heavy, and then sinister. Again within a few paragraphs.
At the basis of the thrills and scares in ALREADY DEAD is the exploration of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Walsh is a soldier returned from Afghanistan as are many other characters in the story. Jack is obviously suffering her own version of PTSD after the sudden, unexplained death of her husband, and then the car-jacking ordeal. Using these characters to draw out a picture of both the effects of PTSD and misinterpretation of those symptoms gives ALREADY DEAD an added depth.
Overall, the plot is cleverly executed with information released to the reader carefully, making everybody seems questionable at some point. Even when the ultimate in annoyance appears and we have a central character heading off into a typical fem-jep type scenario, there's an affirming twist which restores Jack's credibility despite some ancillary longing to be rescued.
A really good psychological thriller, ALREADY DEAD is also fast paced, with a strong plot and engaging characters, although if you spend a lot of time in idling traffic you'll probably find yourself locking your doors after reading.