Mulholland Books, March 2015
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.
Life or Death is a high concept book: Audie Palmer escapes from prison the night before he is scheduled to be released after serving a ten-year term for participating in an armored car heist where several people died. The seven million dollar haul has not been found in the over ten years since the robbery. The book takes place in two timelines: first there is Audie in the present day being chased by various people who believe he has the money, among other reasons. Second there is Audie’s past, including his relationship with his criminal older brother Carl and his first love, a woman who works for his crime lord boss.
It took me a while to warm up to this book because the plot felt a little too familiar to me: it’s pretty reminiscent of Jo Nesbø’s The Son and one of the past seasons of Justified. Audie is a noble character with a very tragic story: he was in a coma for months recovering from a gunshot wound to the head after the robbery. Robotham also has the habit of of laying on the meaningful passages a bit thick in the Audie storyline in the past. Those sections just felt a little clunky to me, and I found myself reading quickly to get back to the current chase section.
Robotham’s approach to characters, because there is quite a large number of them, is to focus on a few key characteristics plus a few key events that have made them who they are. FBI special agent Desiree Furness, for example, is constantly described as tiny, and she is obsessed with her stature. That may be realistic, but it felt a little repetitive to me. Anyway, despite yelling “Oh, please,” to myself a few times as I was reading, the story was very compelling for me. Robotham is very good at ratcheting up the tension, and eventually I became very emotionally invested in Audie’s plight.
I’m a picky reader when it comes to thrillers– almost as picky as I am about books told in first-person. Because thrillers have so much action, I usually find the characters get short shrift, but in this case, I was ambivalent about the book because Audie’s story seemed pretty familiar in the beginning. He definitely grew on me, and the book ended very strongly.