Mulholland Books, 432 pages, $26 (release date - 3/10/2015)
“Life or Death” automatically had a big plus going for it before I even turned the first page; it was written by Michael Robotham, an Australian author who writes the superior Ruiz/O’Loughlin series, set in England. “Life and Death” is not part of the series, but is a standalone thriller set in Texas.
This is why Robotham is one of my favorite authors: He can write the all-get-out of a character. Vincent Ruiz and Joe O’Loughlin are two very different characters, each of whom receives that most difficult of authorly treatments: different voices. (I can’t begin to tell you how many books I’ve read in which all the characters sound alike.)
For the most part Audie Palmer, the main character, is blank and humorless. (Insert sad face icon here. Where are Ruiz and O’Loughlin when you need them?) Of course you don’t really learn who he is until the very end. FBI Special Agent Desiree Furness has the best scripting by far, and she is known mostly for being short. Moss Webster, Audie’s best friend (sort of), has the next best showing.
The basic story: Audie Palmer is scheduled to be released from prison after serving ten years for a bank robbery and murder. (I know, I know. You find out why the sentence is so short much later in the book.) The day before his scheduled release, he breaks out of prison. (What!?) We slowly learn Audie’s backstory in installments throughout the book, including why he broke out early.
Everyone is after him, including the FBI, the local police, and the police from Dreyfus County, the jurisdiction in which he was arrested ten years earlier. Audie is on a mission to return to Dreyfus.
There are close calls, shootouts, innocent bystanders being victimized. It’s cinematic and follows a standard thriller format.