Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia (Trade Paperback – 4 April 2023)
Length: 480 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
One of Australia’s most exciting and compelling crime fiction authors, Candice Fox, returns with another intense and impressive novel, the powerful and memorable Fire With Fire.
Over the last several years, few Australian authors have dominated the crime fiction market as effectively as veteran author Candice Fox, who has produced some outstanding reads. Fox is a very interesting author who started off focusing on the Australian market with several books set out in the wilds of Australia, including her Archer and Bennet series and the Crimson Lake books, the latter of which was recently adapted into the Australian television show, Troppo. However, in more recent years, Fox has moved on to the larger international audience and has produced several great books set in America, as well as collaborating with legendary author James Patterson for their Detective Harriet Blue series. I personally know Fox more for her international work rather than her Australian fiction, as I have been lucky enough to receive copies of her last few books, including the gritty standalone read Gathering Dark, the elaborate prison break novel The Chase, and the fantastic and heartfelt 2 Sisters Detective Agency co-written with James Patterson. Each of these novels has been fun in their own way, and 2 Sisters Detective Agency ended up being one of my favourite Australian books of 2021. Due to excellent books like these, Fox is now a key addition to my yearly reading schedule, and I just had to grab a copy of her latest novel, Fire With Fire, especially as it had a pretty epic plot behind it.
What starts as a normal day at the understaffed Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Centre in Los Angeles swiftly turns deadly when two people take over the lab, holding three people hostage. However, this is no ordinary hostage situation, as the kidnappers are husband and wife Ryan and Elsie Delaney. Two years earlier, the Delaneys’ daughter Tilly went missing at the Santa Monica beach, which the police eventually ruled an accidental drowning. However, Tilly’s body was never found, key evidence was lost, and her parents never believed the official story and resented a lacklustre police investigation.
Now, desperate for answers, the Delaneys offer the LAPD an ultimatum: find Tilly dead or alive within 24 hours or they will destroy evidence in several major cases, all but destroying key investigations. Armed with uncanny knowledge of which evidence is the most vital to the LAPD and which samples are too valuable to lose, the Delaneys appear to hold all the cards against the police. However, the LAPD have no intention of validating the Delaneys’ actions by searching for Tilly.
However, one LAPD detective, Charlie Hoskins, has more motivation to save the evidence in the lab than the rest of the department. Hoskins has finished up a gruelling five-year undercover stint within the ruthless Death Machines biker gang, an experience he barely survived. All the evidence that he collected against the gang is now sitting in the lab, and if it goes up in flames, everything he tried to accomplish would be for nothing. With the rest of the police force angling for a more lethal solution to the Delaney problem, Hoskins decides to find Tilly himself.
Helped by recently fired rookie Lynette Lamb, the woman responsible for blowing his cover with the Death Machines, which saw him literally thrown to the sharks, Hoskins begins a new investigation into Tilly’s disappearance, hoping to find any evidence that can convince the Delaneys that their daughter really did drown. However, the more they dig, the more Hoskins and Lamb begin to realise that there is something far more sinister behind Tilly’s disappearance. With time running out before his evidence is destroyed, and with the Death Machines hunting him across LA, can Hoskins find out what happened to Tilly before it’s too late and a lethal gang of killers are set free?
This was another excellent novel from Fox that featured an outstanding and captivating story. Fox sets the entire narrative up perfectly, first introducing the main characters of Hoskins and Lamb by showing them on the very worst days of their life, as Hoskins is tortured out by the gang he infiltrated, while Lamb is fired on her first day as a rookie cop for being responsible for the leak. From there, the story focuses on the start of the lab siege as the Delaneys take over and send the police their demands. I really love this cool main scenario for the Fire With Fire as it is such a brilliant way to gain leverage over a police force. Fox uses this to great effect to engage the major storylines of the book. Firstly, there is an intriguing and intense siege storyline as police, led by LAPD Chief of Police Saskia Ferboden, attempt to resolve the situation without the destruction of evidence. Fox examines many different sides of this situation, from the desperation of the Delaneys, the fear of the hostages in the lab, the emotions of the Delaney’s remaining daughter outside, and the growing hostility of the cops as they watch their evidence get destroyed. This leads to a captivating series of events as Saskia and her FBI negotiator try to resolve the situation peacefully, only to hit setback after setback, as the Delaneys get violent, the hostages try to be heroic, and all her cops get mutinous at her decisions.
While the storyline around the siege is pretty intense and emotionally powerful, the real meat of the story focuses on Hoskins and Lamb as they attempt to find the Delaneys’ missing daughter, Tilly, before it is too late. This entire storyline falls together extremely well as the unlikely partnership of Hoskins and Lamb are forced to work together and soon form an entertaining team as they simultaneously investigate the disappearance while also dodging the vengeful gang gunning for Hoskins. The investigation angle takes them into some interesting directions, and I liked the compelling mystery that Fox wove together for this part of the book. The author loads in a ton of misleads, alternate suspects, and problematic witnesses, each of whom muddy the water and ensure that the ultimate solution to the case isn’t too clear until the end. The confrontation between Hoskins and his former gang also forms a great part of this story, especially as there are some excellent twists involved there, and the resulting carnage adds some major danger to the book. However, the best part of this storyline is the partnership between Hoskins and Lamb, which steals the show with its genuineness and fun moments.
Fox has a highly readable writing style that I felt lent itself to this story and helped to turn it into an enjoyable read. Pretty much everything about this book, including its flow, its pacing and the balance of story elements is set up really well, and I had a fun time getting through it. The fast-paced and sharp chapters really move the plot along quickly, and you find yourself reading page after page, trying to see what awesome or intense event will occur next. I liked how Fox split the story focus around Fire With Fire and the constant changes between the investigation for the missing girl and the deadly siege at the lab, really helps to amplify the intensity of the plot and keep the stakes very high. I was also very impressed by the excellent blend of mystery, intense drama, high-octane action, and powerful character development, that were the primary features of the plot. There is a barely a page where Fox isn’t portraying something pretty damn interesting or moving, and you are constantly intrigued with what is going to happen to the characters or the plot moving forward. This ended up being a pretty amazing read, and I had such a great time getting through it.
One of the major writing highlights of Fire With Fire has to be the complex and damaged characters who formed the basis for much of the story. There are some exceptional and well-written characters featured throughout this book, and Fox does a great job of showcasing their inner pain, motivations, and compelling personal pasts to the reader as the focus switches between them. Two of the most notable are the characters of Detective Charlie Hoskins and Lynette Lamb, who serve as the main figures of the investigate arm of the plot. Hoskins is a tough and independent figure who spent five years infiltrating a deadly criminal gang trying to find evidence to put them all away for murder, only to be discovered at the last minute and tortured. Barely recovered from his ordeal, Hoskins spends the book trying to protect his hard-won evidence by finding the missing girl. There is a lot of desperation behind Hoskins as he tries to make all the sacrifices and bad things he did over the last five years matter, and this leads to some great character moments throughout Fire With Fire. There is also a major trauma component behind Hoskins, as he tries to get over the dark things he experienced during his torture and escape, which leads to him making some reckless decisions.
Hoskins is well matched up with his young and somewhat naïve partner Lynette Lamb. Lamb is a rookie cop who was targeted without her knowledge and used to find information that exposed Hoskins to his gang. Fired on her first day on the job, Lamb manages to find Hoskins out of both guilt and determination, hoping that he can get her job back. Thrust together by circumstance, Lamb stubbornly partners up with Hoskins and works with him to find the missing girl. There are a lot of great elements to Lamb’s storyline, and out of all the characters in Fire With Fire, she has the most growth as she tries to prove she is tough and capable enough to be a police officer. The pairing of Hoskins and Lamb is an excellent highlight of the book and I loved how Hoskins reluctantly takes Lamb under his wing and tries to toughen her up., quickly realising there is far more to her than he initially though. The two make an outstanding team, and they both cover the other’s weakness extremely well.
Aside from Hoskins and Lamb, some of the other standout characters include Ryan and Elsie Delaney, who take over the forensic lab and hold the evidence and people there hostage. Fox does an outstanding job portraying the desperation behind these two characters as their obsession about finding their missing daughter, bought on by guilt and anger, drives them to extremes. These two are some of the most complex figures in the entire book, especially as their actions, while bad, are understandable. Other characters, such as Chief Ferboden and Hoskin’s entertaining friend Surge, help to round out the excellent cast of this book and I felt that these great figures really helped to turn Fire With Fire into a powerful and highly enjoyable read.
Overall, this was an amazing novel from Candice Fox, who once again shows why she is one of Australia’s premier crime fiction authors. Fire With Fire had an outstanding and clever narrative to it that really drew me in and kept me extremely engaged the entire way through. The excellent blend of intense narrative, amazing characters and a unique crime fiction scenario was highly effective, and I had a wonderful time reading this awesome book. Fire With Fire comes highly recommended, and you will get really drawn into this great standalone crime fiction novel.