A vengeance styled thriller, set in Asia, PAYBACK tackles sex-trafficking and child abuse head on. Opening with the recounting of a young village girl being trucked off to the south of the country, along with many others, to be forced into a child sex ring. The resourcefulness this young girl and the small boy she has befriended show in escaping their intended fate goes on to be reflected in adult life, with the two of them staying in touch, close friends to this day.
The blurb includes the line: "What binds these women together is a shocking trade - the third-largest criminal activity in the world - but one we'd rather ignore." That really should stop anybody dead in their tracks. If the sex-trafficking is that big, and child sex trafficking is included in that figure then what on earth is wrong with us as a species?
Whilst there is much that is shocking in PAYBACK, there is also much that is hopeful - built in main around the central character - a strong, sympathetic and complex female protagonist who is not adverse to a bit of action hero fighting into the bargain. The only slight downside to her is a bit of heavy lifting to create vulnerability in the character which isn't always convincing and didn't feel necessary. On the upside however, the subject matter is handled sensitively, there's layers to the revenge aspects of the story, and the US setting rings true.
Overall PAYBACK is a good action thriller that's well worth reading. If I'm reading Palmer's website correctly it's the first he's written, given his other novels appear to be in the fiction / science fiction / young adult category.