Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong. The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past.
Last May when I was at Crimefest in Bristol, I picked up a few 'samplers' - little booklets that contained the first chapter or two of some upcoming crime novels. All of the samplers were pretty intriguing, but one stood out to me: DEEP DOWN DEAD by Steph Broadribb. There was a freshness to the writing, something just a little different in the narrative voice, that pulled me in. So months later when I finally got my hands on the full book, I was full of anticipation. Would this debut crime novel meet the pretty high standards it had set for itself when I read the opening chapter?
In short, it did.
I thoroughly enjoyed DEEP DOWN DEAD, a helter-skelter tale into the gritty and grimy backwoods and byways of the American South. There are so many good and great aspects to this novel, from its kickass main character, to the evocation of a setting I knew pretty well, to that fresh narrative voice.
Domestic noir is all the rage right now, but Broadribb - a young British debutant - offers something deliciously different for thriller fans. Her heroine is a young mother who finds herself knee-deep in a perilous situation, oppressed by sinister and powerful forces, but Lori Anderson is far from a passive, middle class, suburban housewife or working mother. Instead, she's a bounty hunter.
The rough and rugged world of fugitive recovery is how Florida-based solo mum Lori provides for her cancer-stricken daughter. When Lori is backed into a corner financially due to medical bills, she takes a high-paying job traversing the southern states, with her daughter in tow, to collect her former mentor JT. The man who trained her, who helped her leave her former life of degradation behind, leaping into a new way of making a living. Now a captured fugitive, the bounty rather than the hunter, JT is a man who knows the darkest secrets from Lori’s own past.
But is JT a formerly good man, now corrupted, or is something else going on?
Broadribb’s writing is fresh and vivid, crackling with life. There’s a really strong narrative voice, and the first-time author adroitly draws us into Lori’s world as she takes readers on an action-packed road trip through the gritty and grimy parts of the Deep South. Across the board, DEEP DOWN DEAD is an impressive thriller, the kind of book that comfortably sits alongside seasoned pros at the top of their game. Sultry and suspenseful, it marks a welcome first bow for an exceptional new voice.
Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 170 crime writers, discussed crime writing at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia and on national radio, and is a judge of the McIlvanney Prize and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson