Crime Scene: CANDICE FOX The Frank Bennett and Eden Archer series. Reviewed by Karen Chisholm
In 2014, Candice Fox’s Hades blasted onto the Australian crime-fiction scene and won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Crime Novel. As the judging panel from the Neds put it:
Like a junkyard sculpture, Hades combines a number of current genre tropes into something new and exciting. A little bit Dexter, a little bit procedural, overall a great first novel built on a not-yet hackneyed premise that will have readers looking forward to the sequel.
Part of the strength of Hades is the unusual setup. A well-known underworld figure of dubious character takes on the responsibility of bringing up a young brother and sister ‘delivered’ to him in the worst possible circumstances. He raises those two kids with diligence, according to his own slightly warped sense of right and wrong. They grow up to become cops and the outcome is … unusual, to say the least. The real strength, however, is in those characters – Hades the father figure, Eden his daughter and Eric her brother are strong from the first second they appear on the page, as well as ambiguous and very difficult to get a handle on. Frank Bennett, the cop Eden ultimately ends up working with, is in his own way conflicted and flawed. The interactions between these characters are both compelling and off-putting, and Fox is not afraid to make them experience happiness, loss, fear and a hefty doses of physical and emotional pain. (See a full review of Hades here.)
In Eden, Candice Fox meets the challenge of the difficult second novel. She returns to the characters she created in Hades and manages, successfully, to give them deeper, fuller lives. The story again follows the lives of Detective Frank Bennett and his partner Eden Archer, two damaged cops, both socially remote; both emotionally wrought. The narrative combines and balances a cold case and a current investigation as the two police officers push and sometimes exceed the law in order to achieve justice. Eden considerably broadens the scope of the first novel and leaves an intriguing, dangling plot thread to be picked up in the next instalment.
Fox continues to delve into the confused and dangerous dark side in Eden. This novel really stamps the series as something different in the world of Australian crime fiction. Part noir, part police procedural, there are elements of thriller and psychological drama in the mix as well. This is a world in which trust is an impossible goal and justice a fluid concept. Once again the characterisations are strong, and the plot absolutely intriguing and beautifully constructed. There’s real threat here – not the fem-jep daftness of people who should know better tripping lightly into silly situations – but a warped, almost stubbornly suicidal cop who steps into the dark willingly, looking for the fight that will come because she wants it. Fox’s ability as a writer means that she seems to effortlessly work everybody into the narrative, without it feeling like turn and turn about. While Eden is the darker and the more complex of the two, Bennett is also troubled and troubling for the reader, making it more than a one-woman story with a supporting cast. This ensemble makes for one of the more complicated, tricky and unpredictable groups of central characters around, all with similarities – they can all slip unseen, quietly, ominously into situations. They are the crooks’ best and worst friends, avengers and perpetrators , each in his or her own way.
Most police duos run on trust, loyalty, and the desire to see killers in court. But Detective Frank Bennett’s partner, the enigmatic Eden Archer, has nothing to offer him but darkness and danger. She doesn’t mind catching killers – but it’s not the courthouse where her justice is served.
Fox introduces a new character in Fall, a young girl whose parents have died in the most horrible manner, a difficult girl who Bennett understands and can get close to. ‘Hooky’, as she’s known, is in a shady sort of position with the cops: she helps them trap online predators, but she’s not a service member; she’s a teenager, and she’s very damaged in her own right, although not so damaged that she doesn’t have some qualms about punching a young girl in the nose and returning an old woman’s stolen umbrella:
She didn’t know if what she’d done had been justified, had been ‘right’. She didn’t know if justice was a real thing, anyway. All she knew was that the burning in her chest was eased.
As before, nobody is a perfect human being in this novel, least of all Bennett, although most of his problems seem to be in the relationship department. Here his ability to drag the wool over his own eyes is breathtaking, although his current love, psychologist Imogen Stone, has some professional skills to draw on when it comes to keeping him in the dark. He has no idea that her psychology degree came as a result of multiple unsuccessful attempts to join the police force:
Imogen Stone liked money, and she liked murder, and there was nothing wrong with that. If she’d been able to pass the intake for the police academy, she’d happily have been a homicide detective, like her boyfriend, the murder-police poster boy Detective Frank Bennett … She’d outperformed on the aptitude tests, but this couldn’t shadow what the psychological report called her ‘grandiose sense of self’.
Fall even includes, as you’d expect from somebody as gifted at characterisation as Fox, a killer with a complex and disturbing history, and enough of a plausible reason to make the killings particularly sobering. A classic case of the past informing somebody’s future, and the inherent danger in dysfunctional families:
She always felt better when night was falling. The darkness folded over her like a blanket, protective. Light had never been a friend to Tara. It seemed to fall on all of her at once, seemed to wriggle into her creases and folds and dance around her curves, to expose her every surface. Tara always had plenty of surface.
The use of the mixed viewpoints and shifts between first and third-person narrative are considerably more seamless in Fall than the earlier books, with the only minor problem being repetition of Bennett’s fear/concern/fascination about Eden’s dangerous and dark side. Maybe because the depths of that are yet to be plumbed.
Candice Fox Hades Bantam Australia 2014 PB 352pp $9.99; Eden Bantam Australia 2015 PB 432pp $19.99; Fall Bantam Australia 2015 PB 352pp $32.99
Karen Chisholm blogs from http://www.austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews well as author biographies.
To see if the books are available from Newtown Library, click here.