Jaye Ford is in the running to win this year's award for best cold open for a thriller. Miranda ‘Jax’ Jack is waiting at a traffic light, minding her own business when a man jumps into the passenger seat of her car, pokes a gun into her ribs and tells her to drive. The next 100 or so pages is a seesawing account of the hijack at high speed on the highway between Sydney and Newcastle and its aftermath. While the action slows down after that, Ford follows up with an effective and engaging thriller.
Ford is no stranger to putting women in high pressure situations, this is her fourth thriller in that mould. In each case, a woman potentially in danger, draws on their inner strength and self-belief to navigate a violent world. Ford often uses the action to explore wider issues. In Already Dead she considers the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) both in soldiers, as a result of being in combat, but also in survivors of violent crime.
Jax, a former journalist, is still haunted by the mysterious death of her investigative journalist husband a year before. The hijacking leaves her with a new bunch of unanswered questions and the feeling that she is somehow involved. As she starts to investigate what led a man to force her to drive to Newcastle at gunpoint, she learns he was an Afghanistan vet and wonders if it was PTSD that drove him.
Once the initial action sequence is behind her, Ford slowly ratchets up the tension. Mysterious break-ins, possible stalkers. All this in the context of Jax moving in with her elderly aunt and caring for her six-year-old girl. If this wasn’t a thriller of a particular sort even the reader might suspect, as her friends and family do, that Jax is being uber-sensitive and paranoid. But knowing that a confrontation of some sort is inevitable does not take away from the tension that keeps the pages turning.
Jax is suspicious of everyone and keeps inserting herself into the police investigation, much to the chagrin of the investigating officers. She has form, having carried out her own shadow-investigation into her husband’s death when the police shut her out. But she has also caught the eye of one of the detectives, Aiden Hawke, and a nascent romance develops, impacted by her paranoia and suspicion.
Jax’s suspicions keep her from working out what the switched on reader probably figured out about 50 pages before. And while the final 100 pages or so are straight out of the thriller play-book, they work as an effective bookend to the adrenalin-filled opening sequence.
Overall, Already Dead is an absolute page turner that generates real tension. It is an accomplished thriller from an Australian author who is getting better with every book.