Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 30 November 2021)
Length: 339 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s most brilliant and potentially psychotic crime fiction authors, Jack Heath, returns with a powerful and captivating thriller, Kill Your Brother, which was one of the best pieces of Australian fiction I read all year.
Would you kill your brother to save your own life?
That is the question that Elise Glyk is forced to ask herself after being placed in an impossible situation. Elise, a disgraced athlete hated by the entire country, is a woman on a mission. Her brother, Callum, a popular local teacher, has been missing for a month, and the police have been unable and unwilling to find him. Determined to locate Callum, Elise’s investigation eventually leads her to a dilapidated local farm, where she is shocked to discover her brother being held prisoner in a modified septic tank. However, before she can rescue him, Elise is captured and thrown into the same hole as her brother.
Their captor is heartbroken former sheep farmer Stephanie Hartnell, who believes that Callum is responsible for her daughter’s death and has been attempting to force him to confess to his supposed crimes. However, Stephanie doesn’t have room for two prisoners, and while she doesn’t want to hurt the innocent Elise, she needs to make sure that she won’t immediately go to the police. To that end, she offers Elise a deal: kill your brother and you’re free to go.
Not even considering the deal, Elise attempts to find another way to gain their freedom. Trying to find a way to escape while also working to prove Callum’s innocence to Stephanie, Elise hopes that someone will eventually be able to find them before time runs out. However, the more Elise digs into her brother’s story, the more inconsistencies she discovers. What is her brother really hiding, and how will either sibling react when the truth comes out?
Kill Your Brother was an awesome and impressive novel that I powered through in a couple of days due to its incredible narrative and amazing twists. This was a great standalone book from Jack Heath, an author from my home city of Canberra, who has written some fantastic thrillers over the years. This includes his bestselling Timothy Blake series, the third book of which, Hideout, was one of my favourite pieces of Australian fiction in 2020. Kill Your Brother was originally released as an Audible original audiobook, with the paperback version I read subsequently rewritten and adapted into a novel format. I had an outstanding time reading this book, and it was an excellent and impressive Australian thriller.
This book has an incredible story that takes the reader on a powerful thrill ride that they cannot get off if they tried. Told using several character perspectives, Kill Your Brother quickly launches into the book’s deadly and compelling scenario, with Elise, a universally hated woman, attempting to find her brother. Her hunt, which has been going on for months, has been largely unsuccessful, and the evidence found at her brother house’s, combined with her own reputation, means that everyone in her life constantly brushes her off. However, Elise’s perseverance pays off when she finds Callum being held in a septic tank in Stephanie Hartnell’s backyard. Posing as a private investigator, Elise tries to reason with Stephanie while plotting an escape, but she is soon forced into the ultimate no-win situation when given the option to kill her brother. From there, the story devolves even further, with several escape attempts and mounting danger from their captor, and the two siblings turning against each other as their situation gets more desperate. As the story progresses, several viewpoints on the situation and the events leading up to it are presented. As the protagonist attempts to survive you get an interesting view of what Callum is accused of, and the eventual reveal of the full picture really influences the rest of the narrative. This all leads up to the gripping and deadly finale in which every secret comes out and no-one is left untouched by the revelations and accompanying violence.
I really cannot exaggerate how awesome this cool narrative is. Heath has gone out of his way to make Kill Your Brother’s story as clever and thrilling as possible, and I loved every single second that I spent reading it. This book is filled with some brilliant twists and reveals, and Heath does a wonderful job of setting each of them up and slowly revealing them as the book progresses. I honestly did not see half the twists coming and I loved how several small and seemingly inconsequential details eventually come back with amazing significance towards the end. Heath also perfectly utilises a series of flashbacks that examine Elise’s past, showing why she is so disliked, while also revealing several clues about her family and the circumstances that lead to her brother’s imprisonment. This was a really good standalone read, and potential readers are guaranteed a satisfying ending after getting stuck into the unique mystery and scenario. I deeply enjoyed how this novel flowed, and there were no obvious issues with this being an adaption of an audiobook novella. The impressive combination of character history, twisty writing and fast-paced storytelling ensured that I was deeply addicted within a few pages of starting.
One of the things that I must highlight is the fantastic central protagonist, Elise. Elise is a brilliantly complex and sympathetic figure due to her complicated and tragic past, which has led to her current ostracism from her community and the hatred of the entirety of Australia. I really enjoyed the impressive and complex backstory that surrounds this interesting and unique protagonist, especially as Heath did a great job of gradually introducing the full character history as the book progressed. The whole angle is perfectly portrayed, including her motivations and the distinctly unfortunate events surrounding her disgrace, as well as the predicted reaction of the ordinary Australian sports fans. This compelling and damaging backstory gives her quite an interesting insight and set of emotions regarding the events around her, as well as some intense determination to survive no matter the odds. This helps produce a really fascinating character driven narrative, and I deeply enjoyed seeing the captivating and emotionally rich development that surrounded this brilliant protagonist.
I also deeply appreciated the way that Heath captured the feel of small-town Australia in his writing. Most of the story is set in the fictional town of Warrigal, which draws a lot of inspiration from the small rural settlements throughout Australia, such as Braidwood, where Heath apparently wrote a good portion of this novel. I really think that Heath did an amazing job of portraying the attitudes and mindsets of people in these sorts of locations, and you get an impressive sense of the location. Watching the protagonist attempt to deal with the challenges of being the biggest pariah in her small town is pretty fascinating, and it was also compelling to see some of the limitations of a police investigation in this location, especially when it comes to locating a missing teacher. The impacts of growing up in such a location also become a major part of the protagonist’s backstory, especially as the pressures of succeeding and representing her family and town drive her to make some mistakes. I also must highlight the tiny pit that the protagonist and her brother find themselves held captive in. Heath ensures that the reader gets the full sense of claustrophobia and the feeling of being trapped as the book progresses, especially once the characters become weaker and start turning on each other. This intense and claustrophobic setting really helps to amp up the tension, and you will feel very uncomfortable during the scenes set down there. Finally, I had a lot of fun with the author’s occasional visits to Canberra throughout the book, mainly because it was interesting to see the author’s take on my home city. Overall, these settings are perfectly portrayed and the reader gets a real sense of them, especially the small-town lifestyles. These work in the narrative extremely well, and it was a lot of fun to see the various characters’ experiences and impressions of them.
Kill Your Brother was an exceptional read from Jack Heath, who is quickly becoming one of Australia’s most impressive thriller writers. This brilliant, dark and exceedingly clever thriller takes the reader on an incredible ride, and I loved seeing all the unique and captivating twists and turns that Heath came up with. Focused around an amazingly complex protagonist and making full use of the rural Australian landscape, Kill Your Brother’s story is just incredible, and I am still reeling about some of the twists it contains. This is a highly recommended read that gets a well-deserved five-star rating from me. I am extremely excited to see what Heath writes next.