Why we love it: She’s taken the Australian crime fiction world by storm in recent years and the latest, highly anticipated thriller from Candice Fox does not disappoint. With an intricately woven, thrilling but believable plot, combined with complex, likeable characters and a vividly drawn location at Australia’s top end, Crimson Lake will delight Fox fans and new readers.
Ted Conkaffey is an off-duty police officer in the wrong place and time when a thirteen-year-old girl disappears from a bus stop, is brutally raped and left for dead. It’s bad luck for Ted with numerous witnesses putting him near the scene, CCTV switched off in the wrong places, and unreliable testimony from the traumatised child. After time in prison and a harrowing trial there’s not enough evidence to convict him but that doesn’t mean he’s proved innocent – his life is ruined, his wife and friends have abandoned him, he can’t see his baby daughter and the press is hounding him. As far as anyone’s concerned he’s a dangerous paedophile and there are only two people who think otherwise – Ted and his lawyer Sean.
So we find Ted in hiding at Crimson Lake, a tropical suburb of Cairns – hot, humid, lush. He’s surrounded by the crocodiles that live on the edge of his home and by many others who’d like to get their teeth into him – a tenacious female journalist intent on a scoop, two dodgy policemen determined to catch him at something and the outraged vigilantes from town. His lawyer, worried about Ted, puts him in touch ex-con Amanda Pharrell, who was convicted as a teenager of murdering another student by stabbing her nine times in the back. Amanda did her time and now runs her own private investigator practice in Crimson Lake.
Understandably, Ted is reluctant, but life takes on new meaning once he’s on the case of missing celebrity writer Jake Scully whose pseudo-Christian, apocalyptic novels have spawned a whole class of conspiracy theory stalkers. Jake’s disappearance is creepy and mysterious – part of his body has been found in a croc’s stomach so they’re sure he’s dead but there’s no clue who or why. His alcoholic wife hires Ted and Amanda in attempt to confirm her husband’s death, if only for the insurance money. As well as this crime, Ted and Amanda each become obsessed with each other’s past, Ted wondering whether this quirky, cat-loving, girl could really have brutally murdered someone and why. Meanwhile, the Sydney press closes in on Ted. Once his identity becomes known in this small town he’ll be hounded out with nowhere to go or he’ll framed for another crime he didn’t commit.
In the wonderfully fast-paced Crimson Lake it could be said there are three fantastic stories for the price of one: we’re almost breathless with anticipation as we try to solve the Jake Scully case, but we’re also on tenterhooks to know what really happened in Ted and Amanda’s cases. The two PI’s are likeable yet flawed characters. Fox’s characterisation is detailed, and authentic, and the sense of place is fully realised, too – we can almost feel the hot and fetid air of the tropical rainforest of Australia’s top end and hear the crocodiles rumbling in the swamp lands. Lately Fox has received a lot of attention and we’re really glad to report – you CAN believe the hype surrounding this talented young Australian author.
Sydney born writer Candice Fox’s first novel, Hades, won the Ned Kelly Award for best debut and the sequel, Eden, won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel 2015. Her third novel Fall was widely acclaimed. Last year she collaborated with bestselling international writer James Patterson on Never, Never, a thriller set in the Australian outback.