Review published on July 18, 2018.
Retribution is an entertaining read with a couple of original twists. There’s a lot of interesting new crime fiction coming from Australia at the moment. There are a couple of clunky lines at the start of the novel but nothing to worry about as Retribution turns out to be enjoyable and well written. The story is intriguing rather than gripping, an interesting take on the idea of stealing a thoroughbred (there’s a lot more going on). There are a couple of powerful scenes in the opening chapter. One of cattle rustling that reinforces the expectations of the rural setting (vast and lonely, yet parochial). The other comes straight out of the noir handbook of set ups – an overturned car, an unexploded bomb and a mysterious girl, Anna. Its an intriguing start but I was a bit disappointed that the mystery of the bomb was partially explained in the next chapter rather than dangling this mischievous strand of the story over the novel. However, Anderson starts a number of hares running as each aspect of the story unfolds and the bomb comes back into play.
Retribution opens at midnight on Christmas Eve, anyone out and about now is bound to be up to no good. Sweetapple and his dog are rustling cattle. Only the lorry won’t start when it’s been loaded and there are car headlights approaching. If it’s the cops Sweetapple will be caught red-handed. Eventually he gets the engine to turn over and manages to hide the lorry from the main road. The car vanishes, so when it’s all quiet he heads for home again. Up ahead he sees rear lights, The music is still blaring from an overturned car and there are two people inside. Freeing the girl, Anna, is easy, but the boy is injured. As Sweetapple is tending to him, Anna shuffles a suitcase out of sight. They call an ambulance, it will take half an hour to arrive, after fifteen minutes Sweetapple tells Anna he is leaving. She realises he’s been rustling and strangely she trusts him; she gives him the suitcase to dispose of – only don’t burn it, it’s full of explosives. For some reason, Sweetapple isn’t sure why, he accepts the case and buries it on his land. The protest at the mine has ended for Christmas and Luke is leaving, he’s had his fill, he’s been lying to people, spying on them, but he’s come to realise that they are harmless. Nothing to report (except the missing explosives). Carson is fed up with small town life but she has a get rich quick plan, a scam that should get revenge on some of the old perverts and womanisers in the district. Carson’s only real friend is Sweetapple, she knows he’s a crook but he’s also a good guy. His neighbour Bob Statham is a businessman, married to a fading politician, he wants Sweetapple to do a job for him. Steal a thoroughbred horse, its not well guarded and there is $50,000 in it. When he steals Retribution, the story doesn’t even make the paper – everyone should known something is very wrong.
Retribution is set in a backwater, desolate and cut off, but it’s place where everyone has a scheme or an angle to play. The characters are well drawn and their machinations every bit as complicated as the more usual crowd you might find in a city setting. There’s a nice contrast between the scheming and the rural lifestyle. As the novel progresses some of the backstories are filled in and they go a long way to explaining motivations; it’s a strong point for the novel. Anderson has a neat take on the noir trick of events tumbling into each other, of the walls people build collapsing around them and the inevitable spiralling out of control that leads to some pretty disastrous consequences.
A well-paced crime thriller, Retribution is Anderson’s second novel.
Paul Burke 3/3
Retribution by Richard Anderson
Scribe UK 9781911617709 pbk Aug 2018
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