Reviewed by Rod McLary
Jack Heath’s first crime novel for adults and the first of three featuring Timothy Blake – Hangman – was published in 2018. Timothy was engaged as a consultant for the FBI in Texas. He has acute skills for ‘reading’ a crime scene and observing what other investigators had missed or overlooked. His ‘reward’ for so doing is better left to the new reader to discover – although readers of any or all of those novels would already know of Timothy’s predilection and the nature of his reward.
Hangman was followed by Hunter and then Hideout. As well as sharing the protagonist, each of the novels share a well-crafted plot with sufficient twists and turns to ensure that the reader stays on the edge of his/her seat until the end. Although there were some aspects of Timothy about which even the most ardent readers of the crime genre may find difficult to accept, the author was able to create an engaging and largely sympathetic protagonist.
This latest novel does not feature Timothy and is set in Australia rather than Texas USA. If the reader is initially disappointed that s/he will not be reacquainted with Timothy, the disappointment will be short lived. Kill Your Brother is a tense and compelling story with a damaged young woman at the heart of it. Elise Glyk is a disgraced elite athlete – the backstory to the cause of her disgrace is gradually revealed through the novel – who is searching for her older brother Callum who seemingly has disappeared. While the police believe that Callum was escaping a disgruntled drug dealer or client, Elise believes differently and is determined to find him.
As suggested by the book’s title and words across the top of the book’s cover [‘How far would you go to save your own life’], the premise of the novel and the source of its not inconsiderable tension is the either/or fallacy. That is, two choices are offered in a given situation as though there are no others and one must be chosen. Demonstrating considerable strength and resource, Elise soon realises that there are more choices available to her than the two with which she has been presented. And thus, as in all good psychological thrillers, the story unfolds with sufficient twists and turns to ensure the reader is kept enthralled to the last page.
Readers of the crime genre do not always look for depth in character development – their requirements are more for a fast-paced plot-driven story with twists and turns and perhaps some clarity at its conclusion as to who did what to whom. There are of course some crime writers whose characters are fully-fledged and who inhabit their stories with depth and breadth of personality. This novel though is essentially plot-driven. Its characters are drawn only to the extent that serves the plot. Elise’s parents – for example – are lightly sketched out and neither is especially sympathetic particularly in their inadequate responses to the issues confronting Elise and Callum as children and teenagers.
On the other hand, Callum’s personality features strongly through the novel even when he is not physically present. It is his whereabouts and the reasons behind his disappearance which drive the narrative arc. The third protagonist Stephanie, however, is the one who is the puppet master and she is the more fully-drawn. Through the exposition of the story, the reader slowly learns what led to her actions even if there may be some difficulty in accepting them.
Telling the backstories of Elise, Callum and Stephanie while at the same time ensuring that the momentum of the present time narrative is maintained is no mean feat. But it is one which the author manages extremely well. The momentum and tension actually increase as the novel moves closer to its dénouement.
Kill Your Brother is a well-crafted psychological thriller which will more than satisfy the readers of the Timothy Blake series. Well recommended.
Jack Heath is an award-winning author of more than thirty thrillers for children and adults. He lives on Ngunnawal land in Canberra with his wife and children.
Kill Your Brother
by Jack Heath
Allen and Unwin
ISBN 978 176106 539 2