Fall (Archer and Bennett #3),  by Candice Fox

Eight stars

Returning for a third instalment of the Archer-Bennett series, Fox takes readers down the more precarious of thriller rabbit holes while keeping things as sinister as her past two novels have exemplified. After almost losing her life to a serial killer and admitting her moonlighting as a killer herself, Eden Archer must rely heavily on her partner, Frank Bennett. Their latest case sees women targeted while out for a run, tranquillised and their faces pummelled. With little but CCTV footage that shows a shadowy figure, Archer and Bennett struggle to make any progress. Bennett’s girlfriend, police psychologist Dr. Imogen Stone, has a project of her own on which she is working; seeking to bring closure to long-ago cold child kidnapping cases in Australia. Using her numerous connections, Stone is able to focus her attention and acquire the large rewards, though she does so anonymously. Her most recent project is to nail down whatever happened to Morgan and Marcus Tanner. The deeper she digs, the more her inclination leans towards Eden Archer as an adult Morgan. Piecing together what Heinrich ‘Hades’ Archer might have had to do with the kidnapping and murder of the children’s parents proves to be Stone’s central focus, which puts Eden on the defensive when she learns of this through backchannels. This is one secret that cannot be revealed, no matter what. While working the ‘Sydney Park Strangler’ case–poorly named, but catchy for media sound bytes–Bennett encounters a victim with whom he worked in the past, young Amy ‘Hooky’ Hooku, a tech-savvy seventeen year old whose skills have her working off the books for the authorities. While Bennett liaises regularly with Hooky, this puts Imogen Stone in the awkward position of being jealous of a child. While the killer’s backstory is told throughout the novel, it is only when a strong-willed woman seeks to take the city back for those women who enjoy running in the city’s parks that it becomes the greatest cat-and-mouse game that Archer and Bennett have ever witnessed. Over seven thousand potential victims and one killer who has offered little to identify them. Will Stone uncover Eden’s true identity while the killer remains on the loose, thereby distracting the detective from her job to sweep the breadcrumbs under the table? And how can Archer handle her partner’s constant discussion of the moonlighting she has been doing, questioning every dead body that turns up in Sydney as perhaps being one of Eden’s kills? Poignant down to the final sentence, Fox pulls her readers into a vortex from which their is no exit, save a fall into the abyss of confusion.

Before I go any further, the title and progress of the narrative hint towards this being the final novel in a powerful trilogy, one that should not be read out of order if the reader enjoys a captivating story that develops over time. Fox has utilised all her skills and shows why she was awarded some key Australian literary honours for this series, as she places two detectives, polar-opposites to one another, together and has them fighting crime on the streets of Sydney. The choice of characters and the backstories they are given is all purposeful and plays into the larger narrative and the storylines as they fuel the series’ momentum. There is little to say other than that there is much to enjoy in the banter between characters, sarcastic and jilted as it can be. The narrative takes twists and turns, while revealing much from the outset. Fox seeks not to create a ‘whodunit’ but more a ‘how with they get to the answer’ situation, which places the reader in the driver seat from the get-go. The inner struggle each character possesses helps to construct a larger and more uncertain central foundation that propels the narrative into countless directions. One could also comment that the lack of formal chapters (though breaks in momentum create natural places for them) helps to show that the entire novel is a single fall, slow in the beginning, but quicker by the last third. Fox does not shy away from surprises, some of which will hit the reader from unexpected directions. This only goes to strengthen the argument that Candice Fox is rising from within the genre to make a sensational name for herself.

Kudos, Madam Fox for another powerful novel. While I know you are co-authoring with James Patterson, I hope your voice is not muted pairing yourself with a juggernaut. You are a force to be reckoned with in the thriller genre.