Gathering Dark

Author: Candice Fox
Publisher/Year: Bantam/2020

Review first published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 April 2020 and reprinted with permission.

Reviewer: Sue Turnbull

As a tough opener ‘‘I looked up into the eye of a gun’’ is hard to beat. But it gets better. The ‘‘I’’ is Blair, a former paediatrician who served time for shooting her neighbour. She had her reasons. Recently released and still on parole, Blair is now working the night shift in the cartel-owned gas station, the Pump’n’Jump. She wears a hat emblazoned with a big pink kangaroo, and on her chest a badge ‘‘that truthfully read ‘Blair’ but lied ‘I love to serve’.’’

The gun barrel down which Blair is staring is in the skinny grip of jittery girl with a nasty gash on her forehead. She wants cash and the keys to Blair’s car. Blair obliges on both counts, but replaces the money to protect the girl from the cartel. Blair is a good person.

Then there’s Jessica, a Latina detective who has just been left a $3-million house in a well-heeled neighbourhood by the father of a murdered young woman whom she helped. That’s the reason her two resentful sidekicks don’t come to help her on the night she encounters a drug-crazed monster who thinks he’s a vampire. He bites her, she shoots him. We’re on page 13.

Welcome to Gathering Dark, Candice Fox’s brilliant crime novel set in LA that will surely garner her a whole new set of readers: the ones who haven’t already encountered her via her earlier prize-winning crime novels set in Australia, or through her partnership with James Patterson. But Gathering Dark is in an altogether different league, one headed by the great Elmore Leonard. Here’s why.

For a start, the strong female characters are complicated, and thoroughly engaging.

Not just Blair and Jessica, but also Sneak who was Blair’s ‘‘prison life tour guide’’ on the inside. It’s Sneak’s daughter, Dayly, holding the gun and she’s gone missing. Sneak wants Blair to help find Dayly and together they enlist the formidable Ada, another former inmate of the Happy Valley establishment, who now runs The Viper Pit strip club.

While the plots – there’s a few – revolve around these three women, it’s the stylish dialogue, the black humour and the sheer humanity of it all that really evokes Elmore. While the bad guys may be bad they are not all bad, as the head of the cartel proves when he helps Blair out with her pet gopher, and some other stuff. And while good women may be good, they are not above a bit of rough sex or revenge, as Jessica proves when she decides to get even with the sidekicks who abandoned her.

Gathering Dark is expansive, generous and thoroughly engaging and will surely cement Fox’s reputation as one of Australia’s finest new gen crime writers. It’s that good.