In ten years, Candice Fox has cemented her reputation as one of Australia’s finest and most thrilling crime writers. Her most recent novel Fire With Fire (Penguin Random House 2023) not only lives up to that reputation but exceeds it, a story with immediacy, nail-biting action, dramatic suspense, an extraordinarily complex plot, more twists and turns than a maze, and a cast of deeply considered and complex characters that – whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – will catch at your heartstrings and tug tightly until the end, the tension escalating until the final pages.
Fire With Fire begins with so many different opening scenes that you think surely some must be false starts or unrelated, but Fox teases the reader with widely varied scenarios, every one of which immediately hooks your attention, and then in masterful strokes, she gradually connects each separate scene into the cleverly woven tapestry of this novel. Nothing is unplanned or wasted. Every scene is exactly where it needs to be. Every small detail becomes important further on in the story. The inside of Fox’s head must be like a storyboard on speed. Her ability to create such intricate narratives and connect them seamlessly is jaw-droppingly amazing. She has so many balls in the air that it’s difficult to know where to start.
There’s rookie cop Lynette Lamb, who is fired after one day on the job. There’s Charlie Hoskins, a cop who is not a cop who will always be a cop. There’s Mina, who rescues someone, and Tilly who’s been missing for two years, and Tilly’s parents who take matters into their own hands. There’s Bendigo, who works at the Forensic Science Centre, and Chief of Police Saskia Ferboden, and the brutal and menacing Death Machines gang. And every one of these characters have other characters tethered to them – sisters, boyfriends, colleagues – who each become just as important to the story in their own ways.
Fire With Fire is a story about justice and revenge, about a grieving family determined to resort to vigilantism if it prods the police into action. It’s about balance – which is the greater crime? Is the saving of one life worth the taking of another? It’s about hostages and criminal gangs and undercover cops and SWAT teams and victims and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The main protagonists Lamb and Hoskins are well-rounded characters – damaged, likeable, dislikeable, feisty, courageous, reckless, bound to authority and yet ready to discard it to get what they want. In short, they are human, with a healthy mixture of every human trait of fallibility, ambition and good-heartedness, a short fuse and a long memory.
While this is a standalone novel, there are at least half a dozen characters that I’d love to see appear in a future book, characters so fleshed-out and complex that as a reader you cannot help but want to know more about their lives outside of this particular story.
Fire With Fire ticks all the boxes in terms of thrilling and page-turning suspenseful crime fiction, but is elevated with moral ambiguity, ethical choices and ‘what if it was me?’ scenarios that lift it to a thoughtful and thought-provoking level. Fox writes with candour, humour, wit and an authentic and entertaining control of dialogue that leaves the reader feeling they know each character intimately.
Candice Fox writes like no other, tying up every loose end in an unlikely yet somehow entirely believable resolution that will leave you satisfied but at the same time wanting more. I could not put this book down.