James Patterson has been working with a number of crime writers recently, producing these co-authored books, so it's hard not to read each one playing a sort of "who wrote what" game in your head. Candice Fox, as Australian's all know, is the author of a brilliant series of crime fiction books of which the first (Hades) won the best first novel, and the second Eden, the best novel in the Ned Kelly Awards. The third novel Fall was shortlisted in the Neds as well. So the other thing that was always in this reader's mind - other than the who / what bit, is how this melding would pan out. Fox is a particular favourite of this reader for her darker characters and clever, intricate plots.
NEVER NEVER starts out in the expected dark manner with a character known only as "the Soldier" killing somebody in the desert, at night, in some sort of sadistic military-style game. Switch from there to Sydney and you're introduced to Detective Harriet "Harry" Blue who is trying to process the information that her brother is the only suspect in a series of brutal killings. Up until that point the characterisations were absolutely going to form, with darkness and complexity rife. Where the wheels seemed to initially fall off is in the idea that a NSW detective was suddenly up and sent to WA as part of an investigation into the death of a young FIFO miner in Western Australia. Even allowing for the slight "what the" about the cross-border / cross-force transfer for the rest of the book I couldn't for the life of me work out what a sexual crimes expert from inner-city NSW was doing bashing around the desert in WA in search of a serial killer at a remote mine site.
If you're happy to park the doubt about that, once the action moves to the mine it's an interesting sort of a case with a series of suspicious disappearances, which, and here things started to get a bit ropey plot wise again, is basically pretty lawless. There are resident drug dealers, violence, threats, odd behaviour and some almost devil may care attitudes that didn't quite jell for this reader. Again with some great characters dropped into the mix, but with some very thin plot elements and some very odd goings on from one end of the site to another. To say nothing of the creepy chapters in which the "the Soldier" gets to reveal all.
There's a reasonably populated list of suspects that are ticked off, although so much about the build up is pretty predictable, as is the final twist which was very unfortunate as Harriet's really a great character with just enough attitude to be believable. Having said that Harriet is no Eden so don't expect the dark and light, and the complications of Fox's series characters.
Perhaps this is one that's more out of the box for Patterson fans, although it's got enough thriller aspects that will work for reader's who aren't as bothered by a dose of plot wobbles.
For the record the game ended with the conclusion that the characters and sense of place had a hefty touch of Fox about them.