A prisoner serving a ten-year stretch for a violent armed robbery decides to escape. Nothing earth shattering there, except he chooses to break out of prison just one day prior to his release. Why? That’s the intriguing premise of Michael Robotham’s fast-paced thriller Life and Death.
Robotham is an author I had not encountered before and I read this book with interest, always keen to discover a new thriller writer. He did not disappoint. This is a fast paced read, mostly told in third-person, present tense, which keeps the tension zinging along nicely. Past tense is fine of course, many authors choose to write in past tense, but you know then that the narrator must survive, at least up to the point where he can narrate the tale. While logically we know that the hero Audie Palmer is going to live at least until the end of the novel, this is a thriller after all with certain conventions to observe, the present tense gave an urgency, a sense of peril, that was hard to escape.
Many crime thrillers seem excessively violent these days, especially those of the ever-popular serial killer genre. While Life and Death certainly contains violence and doesn’t shy away from some description, on the whole it doesn’t fall for these easy tropes; and whilst it’s a heist novel of sorts I found it refreshingly original in places. The characterisation is good, albeit Audie seems a little too Zen at times, and the plotting was spot on.
If I have one criticism it’s that it was never really resolved to my satisfaction why he needed to escape at all. Without giving away spoilers, the main character feels he has to avoid being killed by the bad guys upon his release. But I found this lacked credibility. Surely they wouldn’t kill him as soon as he stepped out of the gates, prisons being surrounded by CCTV after all. Surely it would have been easier to try and lose them when they inevitably followed him upon his release? But this is a minor quibble with an otherwise faultless thriller and I easily found myself willing to suspend disbelief and go along for the ride.