By James Patterson and Candice Fox
What it is: A murder mystery/thriller collaboration between American powerhouse James Patterson and Australian writer Candice Fox. Sort of a sequel to Patterson and Fox’s “Bookshot” Black & Blue, which I believe introduced the character of Detective Harriet Blue. In Never Never, Blue investigates a series of killings committed by a military-obsessed psycho around a uranium mine located in Australia’s Outback (the “never never” of the title).
In Never Never, protagonist Harriet Blue’s brother turns out to have been a brutal rapist and serial killer. That’s not a spoiler, it’s something we find out at the very beginning of the book. It isn’t even really that important, either! Blue frets over it throughout the story, but as a plot point it mainly functions as a reason for her sergeant to get her away from the media for a while by transferring her to the Outback for the unrelated case that becomes the main focus of the story. I found it funny that Patterson and Fox are so accustomed to the person-you-least-expect-turns-out-to-be-the-villain trope that they used it as the inciting incident rather than just the final twist.
Anyway, Blue herself bears a striking similarity to Eve Dallas, the detective protagonist of J.D. Robb’s “Death” series. (I’ve reviewed last year’s Apprentice in Death, which isn’t even the most recent installment thanks to February’s Echoes in Death, which I’m actually in the middle of now.) Blue and Dallas are both hard-edged cops who spent a traumatic childhood in foster care and have nothing but contempt for inconveniences like “human rights;” Blue barely asks a random miner three questions before deciding he’s not being sufficiently forthcoming and trying to lift him up by his hair, and her violent hatred of journalists is referenced several times. I don’t know if Patterson and Fox are copying Robb or if this sort of character is just a common archetype in current crime fiction. Either way, Never Never is about as mediocre as Apprentice in Death was, although its lack of sci-fi futurism and gratuitous sex unfortunately makes it less goofy.
One virtue of crime fiction is that it has a tendency to explore the working-class and hardscrabble parts of society, and Never Never‘s uranium mine setting would seem to be an example of that. But some of the Amazon reviews seem to insist that the book’s portrayal of such a mine is totally unrealistic, which is a shame since it seemed like an interesting milieu.
Spoiler alert: I hate to give away the ending of a mystery like this, but I think I’d be remiss not to mention that the killer’s motivation ends up being his desire to emulate a Call of Duty-ish video game called Duty and Honor. Seems kind of quaint that some people still think games are warping everyone’s minds, and I suppose there’s something interesting about a killer driven by the obsessive militarism that fuels both violent pop culture and U.S. foreign policy. But I’d guess that most of the anti-gaming resentment this sort of thing taps into has less to do with video games helping to turn people into serial murderers and more to do with gamers taking too long to put the damn controller down and come to the table when dinner’s ready.