I started reading Life or Death by Australian author Michael Robothamon on the train to work, and on arriving at Flinders Street Station seriously considered calling in sick to ride the trains all day while I finished the story. Because I am a responsible member of society I went to work, but read at lunchtime, again on the train home, and then sat up in bed half the night until I finished.
Life or Death won the 2015 Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award, and I liked this story even better than The Wreckage, which I read last year.
The big mystery of Life or Death is why Audie Palmer, who has been in jail in Texas for over ten years for armed robbery, would escape from prison the day before he was due to be released. The story starts with a flashback to Audie’s childhood, when Audie was fishing and learning life lessons from his father. As a result, the reader is on Audie’s side of the story from the beginning, even though we soon learn that as well as him being a criminal on the run, four innocent people died during the armed robbery.
Audie is helped by some kind-hearted people who probably would have reported him for the reward had they realised who he was, as he makes his way to Houston with a posse of police, FBI agents and gangsters on his tail.
The combination of wondering where the missing seven million dollars from the armed robbery got to, and why Audie, who seems to have selfless and kind nature but was involved in a crime which killed four people was driving me crazy with curiosity, and the more I read, the more questions I had.
Audie is the biggest underdog I’ve ever come across in a story, but time and time again he scraped out of dire situations.
He was regularly beaten in prison by people who wanted to get their hands on the money, he had a no-hoper brother who led him into disaster and tarnished his reputation and he fell in love with a gangster’s moll and she with him. Not to mention that he was shot in the head during the armed robbery. Things didn’t improve much for Audie after he escaped from prison, but as the plot unravels, all of my questions were answered, although right up until the very last few pages, I could not see how this story would work out.
Each of the characters in this book become real to me in just a few sentences. Besides Audie, there is another prisoner called Moss, whose name would have been Moses except that his mother didn’t know how to spell his name, Special Agent Desiree Furness, who is fantastic at her job but patronised by the whole world because she is female and five foot nothing, a politician who is doing his best to avoid former associates, a police officer and his family and a single mother who is living in her car with her daughter.
Believable characters, exciting plot and good writing have made me a big fan of this author’s works. While I’m hanging out for the next Michael Robotham book, in the meantime, I can always go back to some of his earlier works which feature the same characters as The Wreckage, although it might be best if I save them to read on the weekends.