Gone by Midnight (Crimson Lake #3), by Candice Fox

Eight stars

Candice Fox takes readers back to the Crimson Lake region of Australia for a new and exciting adventure. When Richie Farrow disappears from his hotel room, his mother is frantic and cannot handle the pressure and grief that are flooding over her. Reaching out to Ted Conkaffey, through the police, she seeks his assistance as a private investigator to help determine what’s happened. Ted, still leery of showing his face in general public, tries to set aside the false accusation of child abduction and molestation recently vacated against him and turns to helping find this eight year-old boy. With the help of his partner, unpredictable Amanda Pharrell, they start poking around the hotel and environs for clues. Once Ted learns a deep secret that Sara Farrow has kept from others—which also happens to shed light on why she chose him—he is able to take a new approach to the disappearance and seeks to have Amanda use her off-the-wall antics to look under every rock. However, Amanda has her own battles to fight with those in blue. Not only is she burdened with a murder in her past, but she was tangentially involved in a local cop’s death not too long before. Fighting to clear her name and move the case forward, Amanda soon discovers that she is in for the battle of her life. If things were not busy enough, Ted is finally being given some time with his daughter, Lillian, a ball of energy at three. As he balances being a father and investigator, Ted must locate Richie and determine what’s happened, with little evidence with which to work. Could there be an abductor lurking in the shadows or even in plain sight? Fox does a masterful job yet again to lure the reader into this story before loading them up with plot twists and character development. Recommended for series fans, as well as those who love a good Aussie crime thriller.

I have long admired the work that Candice Fox puts into her writing, as it is high-calibre story development worthy of a second look. This series is one that caught my eye as soon as it began, with two outcasts finding one another in rural Australia and trying to clear their names by helping with local situations. There is no shortage of backstory or development that Fox offers when it comes to her two protagonists, both of whom are admirable and angering in equal measure. Series fans will know that Ted Conkaffey was forced out of his job by a false accusation of child abduction, something that has lingered for years and kept him from being able to keep his foundation level. He fled the reporters and the glamour of the 24-hour news cycle to small-town Australia and still remains off the beaten path with his animals. Fox helps show his paternal side when Lillian comes to visit, though there is much juggling and trying to re-learn the art of being a father. With a sharp mind and acute sense of danger, Conkaffey seeks to focus much of his attention on the crime at hand, which leads to mixed results for him throughout this piece. Amanda Pharrell has no issue being herself, though she remains burdened with the yoke of her past, as well as a set of false accusations tied to a police officer’s death. She wants to succeed, but refuses to let anyone inside her bubble, including the adorable Lillian. Struggling and trying to fight for justice, Amanda will do all she can to help find Richie, but won’t stick her neck out too far for anyone else. Others who populate the pages of this story offer enriching angles to propel the narrative forward, while keeping the protagonists from getting too comfortable in their own skins. The story was well-developed and is able to keep the reader’s attention, something that Fox has never had an issue doing. She has developed an interesting trademark in this series, creating nameless and numberless chapters, forcing the reader to forge onwards without any strict guidelines as to how far they have traveled on the journey. It works well, as it fuels the ‘just a little more’ syndrome with readers who are enjoying what is before them, turning a quite coffee break into an afternoon of reading. Fox provides realistic settings and local dialogue to keep the reader enthralled as they feel a part of the Australian community, tagging along with the likes of Pharrell and Conkaffey. Definitely a series that readers curious about police procedurals should note, as Fox seems well-grounded in her writing and story development no matter what series she is writing.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another success. I am eager to see what is to come with this and other series in which you have a key role.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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Redemption Point (Crimson Lake #2), by Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox is back with another thrilling story from the Australian Outback, building on her highly successful novel, Crimson Lake. Ted Conkaffey is still trying dodge the public eye and live off the grid, professing his innocence to the crime that has chased him from Sydney. The abduction and rape of 13 year-old Claire Bingley is still causing a stir all over the country. When Conkaffey is attacked in his own home by Claire’s father, pain surrounding the event resurfaces for both parties. Having been compiling any and all leads he can, Conkaffey offers up a folder, but it is rebuffed. When Conkaffey is summoned to a crime scene by his partner, PI Amanda Pharrell, he is intrigued to see what she’s found for them. It would seem that they’ve stumbled upon a new case, the murder of two bartenders, slain in the hours after work. Unsure whether the police will be able to do their job, a distraught father turned to Pharrell and is demanding answers. Rookie Detective Pip Sweeney is working her first case, having rising through the ranks after a number of her colleagues were implicated in a major crime spree. Armed with only her academy training and trying to run the scene, Sweeney turns to Conkaffey and Pharrell more than she ought to at times. While Pharrell is happy to pull in leads and play mind games with Sweeney, Conkaffey is trying to piece together some shards of his past life: a marriage that has all but disintegrated, a daughter who is scared of him, and no means to clear his name. Returning to give an interview on the crime and accusations, Conkaffey is railroaded by a news presenter who seeks the headlines before checking her sources. Luckily, there is a growing number who are certain that Conkaffey had nothing to do with Claire Bingley’s rape. Interspersed throughout the novel are diary entries by Kevin, which show a man’s personal obsession with young girls, including admissions that may be the key to Conkaffey’s exoneration. With two bodies and a crime that seems to have no concrete suspects, Conkaffey and Pharrell must work quickly before the case goes cold. Fox has outdone herself again with this piece, which exemplifies why she is top of the genre and sure to be a force for years to come. Recommended to those who love her work (solo and collaborative), as well as readers who love crime thrillers.

I am always excited to delve into a Candice Fox novel, as they tend to wrap me up and not slow their pace until the final sentence. Fox has the ability to use her native Australia and dazzle the reader with both description of the setting, as well as provide strong characters that offer unique backstories. Those familiar with the first novel in the series will know much about Conkaffey and Pharrel, who are central, yet quite diverse characters. In this piece, Fox delves more into Conkaffey’s personal situation and struggles to survive, still seen as one of Australia’s more horrid paedophiles. These struggles envelop him and the reader can see the struggle to simply live, veiled in the knowledge that he cannot clear his name independently. Pharrell shows off more of her zany style here, exemplified in her ongoing flip-flop about opening up and playing games with those around her. Introducing Pip Sweeney proves to be an effective means of bridging the two protagonists, allowing Conkaffey to know that his partner is still focussed on the case at hand while he battles his own demons and fights to clear his name. The other characters within the story help to complement the larger narrative and provide the reader with some entertainment while forging onwards to discover who may be behind both the double murder and Bingley’s assault. The story picks up soon after Crimson Lake left off, keeping the pace and development that series fans have come to expect. With quick chapters that leave the reader pushing onward late into the evening, the story reads extremely quickly and leaves them wanting more. Fox has laid the groundwork for future novels, sure to explore more of rural Australia.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for another stellar piece of work. I cannot praise you enough for your style and delivery. I hope many others discover your writing in the months to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1), by Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox returns with this debut novel in her new series, sure to leave readers disturbed, yet wanting more. Ted Conkaffey has a decent life as a police officer ruined in eight short minutes. When witnesses place him in direct contact with young Claire Bingley around the time of her sexual assault, he is presumed guilty and tossed to the wolves. When, mid-trial, the charges are dropped, Ted is left with the pall of being labelled a paedophile and must pick up the pieces of his shattered life. Going into hiding, Ted is eventually approached by his solicitor to move to the northern part of Australia, where he might be able to help one Amanda Pharrell with her private investigations business. After relocating, Ted discovers that Amanda has a past of her own, having served ten years for killing a classmate. While Amanda does not hide from her crime, Ted remains incognito and seeks to hide from the prying eyes of those in Crimson Lake. Amanda explains that she has been hired by the wife of popular author, Jake Scully, to track him down. The story goes that he rose in the middle of the night and was never seen again. Forensics show that Scully may have ended up food for the local croc population, though it is unclear if this was a freak accident or something deliberate. As they dig deeper, Ted and Amanda must face the facts of their respective crimes and show drastically different ways of coping. When an investigative journalist from Sydney comes sniffing around, Ted’s cover is eventually blown and he faces new rounds of local blowback for his apparent crime. Professing his innocence, Ted continues to forge on with the case, which leads to the possibility that there may be a super-fan out there who is unhappy with the lack of attention Jake Scully has been offering. The small-town police force of Crimson Lake is less than happy to have their toes stepped on and with the news that a ‘kiddie-fiddler’ is in the jurisdiction, Ted and Amanda face a large uphill battle to crack the case wide open, while also learning more about one another. Fox does a masterful job in this novel and pulls the reader into the depths of her writing and the rural areas of Australia. Perfect for fans of Candice Fox and those who enjoy a slightly twisted crime thriller.

I discovered the wonders of Candice Fox when she first contributed to the popular BookShots short story series. From there, it was a rush to devour more of her dark work that sheds light on Australia and some of its more loathsome criminal element. Fox is able to touch on those taboo areas of crime without pushing the envelope too far, done primarily through strong characters and a descriptive setting. Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell play wonderfully polar opposites in this novel, allowing the reader to see two sides of the same coin. The development of these characters includes much backstory and synthesising of their personal struggles, giving the reader much to enjoy and wonder about as the story progresses. Supported by a number of others, the two protagonists propel the story along and keep these unnumbered chapters from blurring together. The primary case in the novel is not overshadowed by those from the protagonists’ past, though all three work well in some form to keep the narrative evolving. The reader is able to digest what is going on without becoming too lost in the minutiae of each subplot, though there is a keen question that permeates the story, leaving the reader to wonder what actually happened. Fox’s ability to juggle all this is masterful and should not be discounted as a key reason that she is top of her genre. Clean and crisp in its presentation, Fox lures readers in as a patient croc might do along the banks of Crimson Lake, striking at just the right moment and not letting go until all is said and done.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for keeping me curious as you prepare to release the second novel in the series. It has the makings for an equally powerful experience.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons