Never Never (Detective Harriet Blue #1), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Eight stars

After their successful work together in a BookShot, Patterson and Fox combine their talents to expand on that short story, penning a great full-length novel. Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue is stunned when she learns that her brother has been arrested as the prime suspect in the Georges River Killer case, which has attracted much attention in the Sydney area. Acting quickly and knowing her predisposition to argue with her fists before her mouth, Blue’s superior, Chief Morris, pulls some strings and has her sent to the Australian Outback to participate in an investigation of three missing miners. Bitter and argumentative, Blue reluctantly departs Sydney and heads into the great desert lands of her own country, unsure how she could use her sex crimes knowledge on such a case. Paired with Edward ‘Whitt’ Whittacker , a man with secrets of his own, Blue remains highly suspicious of him and refuses to play nice. Arriving at the temporary site, Blue and Whitt learn that three mine employees have disappeared over the past while, though the speculation is that they tired of the isolation and chose to return to civilisation. After the boot of one minor turns up, foot still lodged inside, forensic testing proves that he was dead before the foot left the body. With the staff refusing to help, feeling that there is nothing wrong, Blue and Whitt must conduct a hostile investigation, tapping into all parts of the mine, from its Head of Security, mining staff, through to the protesters seeking to close down the mine and the local prostitutes. Lurking in the shadows, the killer, using the moniker The Soldier, stalks their prey and waits for the dead of night. Blue and Whitt have a few chance encounters, though narrowly escape, with significant scars to prove it. When the bodies of the missing are found down a makeshift shaft, Blue and Whitt realise they have a killer within the mining compound, or at least someone close by, though the barren nature of the area, dubbed Never Never, makes it hard to fathom it is not someone with whom they cross paths daily. As more employees go missing, hunted down like animals, a request for a local forensic team and some police comes through loud and clear. As they continue to be stalked, Blue and Whitt try to whittle down their suspect list to something manageable, but time is running out. All the while, Blue is trying to keep her identity a secret as the Australian media outlets are splashing news of her brother across every medium possible. Will Blue be able to focus on this sadistic killer long enough to catch them, or will her personal troubles make her a choice victim? Patterson and Fox create a powerful page turner in this novel, sure to keep the reader up well into the night.

Aware of Fox’s own writing, I knew that I was in for a treat. Her work here with Patterson did not let me down, as her unique style permeated throughout the narrative and the story clipped along in a way that only Fox can deliver. Harry Blue is a wonderful character, though torn with her own secrets and inner angst. She does not want to open up to anyone, save her own Chief Morris, who has a mentor-mentee relationship with his star detective. That isolated nature works well in this story as Blue is foisted into a situation well outside her comfort zone, in the Outback, and partnered with a man she does not know or trust. Fox and Patterson build on this strain while delivering a wonderfully rich crime thriller, with a killer hiding in plain sight. Even as things seem to be clearly pointing to one person, twists occur and the reader is forced to rethink their previous ideas. I can see a lot of Eden Archer in the Harry Blue character, as well as some of Patterson’s strong writing through short chapter cliffhanging moments. The reader will likely devour this wonderful book in short order. And, if there is a significant jonesing for something along these lines thereafter, Fox’s own series awaits the reader for even more enjoyment.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox for this great novel. While the BookShot pulled me in and kept me wondering where Blue would go in her character, I can say that I really enjoyed this and would welcome more collaborative work down the road.