James Patterson best known to adults as the author of the Alex Cross series and to young adults as the author of the Maximum Ride series. But much like Tom Clancy, Patterson has become more than just an author, he is an industry. The back of Never Never lists over eighty novels for which he is co-author. Candice Fox, on the other hand, has written three crime novels in the Archer and Bennett series. But they are three of the best Australian crime novels of recent years, the first two of which took out Ned Kelly Awards for best first novel (Hades – reviewed here) and best novel (Eden – reviewed here) back to back. So what happens when the two get together to write a crime thriller? Well, the answer is the Australian-set Never Never.
Never Never opens with a point-of-view character known as the Soldier, killing someone out in the desert at night as part of some sort of sadistic military-style game. Switch to Sydney and Detective Harriet “Harry” Blue is being shunted off to Western Australia to avoid the fallout of her brother being picked up as a suspected serial killer. The next minute Harry is working for the Western Australian police, has a local partner and finds herself investigating the possible death of a young miner at a remote mine full of fly-in-fly-out miners, a local drug lord, environmental activists and a group of Bilbies (local prostitutes). It is not long before she catches the attention of the Soldier, who gets more creepy POV chapters, and the mind games begin.
Suspects come and go and Patterson and Fox ratchet up the tension but the build-up is fairly contrived and the final twist is obvious. The setting is interesting – an isolated place where no one is truly permanent, people can disappear without a trace and the overriding driver is profit over safety or wellbeing. And Harriet’s kick-arse, slightly out of control character is well handled. Although she and many of the other characters are pale imitations of the much richer characters who inhabit Fox’s stand-alone novels.
Never Never is a paint-by-numbers thriller, one that clearly comes from the type of book factory that can turn out a number of “co-authored” novels per year. But it is enjoyable for what it is and thriller fans will be kept happy as the pages turn. And, hopefully, teaming up with a juggernaut like Patterson will give Fox some additional international profile that might encourage readers to pick up her far superior Archer and Bennett books.