Author: Steph Broadribb
Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication Date: 15th October 2016
Source: Review Copy
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.
Not only is JT fighting a child exploitation racket operating out of one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Winter Wonderland, a place where ‘bad things never happen’, but he’s also mixed up with the powerful Miami Mob. With two fearsome foes on their tails, just three days to get JT back to Florida, and her daughter to protect, Lori has her work cut out for her. When they’re ambushed at a gas station, the stakes go from high to stratospheric, and things become personal.
Earlier this year Orenda Books announced that they would be publishing Deep Down Dead, the debut novel of Steph Broadribb (a.k.a. one of my all-time favourite bloggers Crime Thriller Girl) and my Twitter timeline blew up. Everyone was talking about this book, and everyone wanted to read it. A torturous wait then ensued until the tireless and brilliant Karen Sullivan made my weekend by sending me an early copy to read with no deadline for a review (or a need for one at all). But, once I began reading Deep Down Dead I knew I was reading something special, a debut that, if there's any justice in the book world, will be huge and be the start of a long and book-filled career for Steph. Deep Down Dead might just be my favourite debut novel ever. When they start off this good, you know nothing but greatness is destined to follow. When I finished reading Deep Down Dead there was simply no question of me not reviewing it as loudly as possible. It has been a number of months since a book made my Hall of Fame and so hopefully that gives some indication of what a special book this is.
Lori Anderson. I really don't know where to start except to say that I loved her. She is a bounty hunter and mother to nine-year-old Dakota who has leukaemia. Desperate for cash to pay for her daughter's treatment she takes on an extremely risky case, and has no choice but to take Dakota along for the ride. The only problem (actually, the first of many problems) is that the person she is hunting is her former mentor JT, the man who taught her everything she knows, and the man who knows all her secrets. I went into this book knowing nothing other than what I've just relayed about the plot and I advise anybody planning on reading this book to do the same. More often than not I have to read the blurb to have some idea of what's to come, but I wanted to know as little about the plot as possible and that paid off as it resulted in an extremely tense and addictive read that contained a whole multitude of shocks and surprises (though one kind of major plot twist I did work out very early) and had I been hooked up to a heart rate monitor reading this book, the chart would have been all over the place. Believe me when I say that thrillers don't come much more thrilling than Deep Down Dead.
Deep Down Dead might be a fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled read but Steph Broadribb does not sacrifice character development to achieve that. Instead we are treated to three characters who will live on in my memory (not least because Steph finishes this debut novel leaving the reader absolutely desperate for more) as some of my favourites. At first I was thinking why oh why would you take a young child on such a dangerous case but then, because I was so invested in the story and these characters something happened and I actually shouted out loud 'No!'. Yes, really. I think that was the point I knew it was going to be a late night of reading. I began to get a real understanding of Lori's fears for her daughter's health and how her thinking, the logical part at least, was hugely affected by that. A mother desperate to save her child from something like this will do absolutely everything to achieve that and Lori might doubt herself throughout the story but it was clear to me just how much she loved Dakota and they both became real characters in my mind, characters who I truly believed in and I can't tell you how much I was hoping for the best whilst reading this book. I can't say too much about JT without stepping into spoiler territory but he was also a character I very much enjoyed reading about and his history with Lori is what really makes these characters feel so real. The scenes between them are so highly charged that at times I felt almost like an intruder, an intruder who refused to look away. I'm not too sure how I would describe Lori to somebody because she is a woman with many layers, but as a bounty hunter she is strong, fearless, ballsy and more than a match for any man. I can see someone calling her the female Jack Reacher, but I'll jump in and say she has more heart but, in terms of a thriller character, certain similarities can be drawn. I wouldn't want to mess with her, put it that way. I imagined her as some kind of cross between Doris Day's Calamity Jane (a modern version) mixed with the looks of Sookie Stackhouse. Quite the combination.
Just in case it isn't clear yet how much I loved this book I wanted to mention something else that really made me enjoy it even more and that's setting. For someone who has written hundreds of reviews (I don't really call them that, more just my thoughts about a book) I am often really bad at describing how something came across to me and what I'm trying to say is that this whole book had that 'American' feel that I have always loved when I watch American thriller movies or TV shows like Breaking Bad, even the dialogue between the characters had that feeling. I'm not sure Lori would appreciate her speech being called cute, but at times that's almost what it was like. It wouldn't be clear to a reader unaware of who the author was that she wasn't American herself and it's clearly research (I believe Steph knows her way around a taser) and knowledge that has allowed her to write a novel with this amount of authenticity when it comes to the setting. And mentioning film, Deep Down Dead is just crying out to be made into a film. Just look at that cover, it's movie poster ready and probably one of my favourite covers of the year. It's just fantastic, and so suited to the book. Carrying on with setting and some of the scenes in this book take place in a theme park and, despite the danger the characters were in at the time, it was such a fantastic setting for a book to take place and some of the scenes taking place here were my favourite of the whole book (and certainly the ones that had my heart racing the most). Steph's writing is incredibly immersive and creates some quite vivid imagery in the mind of the reader, it was very easy to picture these scenes in my mind and the action barely lets up the whole way through and it's a thoroughly exciting read but also with a lot of danger throughout for our main characters and it's never clear just where that danger is coming from, or whether our characters will be able to get away from it.
I was at the 95% mark on my Kindle and the action still showed no signs of slowing down, Deep Down Dead is all action from start to finish. Then, sadly, the story did end and I was left desperate for more. This is one of those books that I wish I had the confidence to do something like climb up on the roof of a Waterstones with a megaphone and scream at passers-by to buy it, but I don't think that'd achieve much other than to get me arrested. So, as a blogger all I can do is hope that people read my review (which is surely just going to be one of hundreds) and take away from it that this really is a very special and rare kind of debut, a thriller that won't be forgotten and with characters that won't be forgotten (and not just the good ones, the villains in this book are rotten to the core) and that my rambling about how much I loved it can make even just a few people take a chance on the book as I just know that anybody who does will love it as much as I did. Luckily for Steph Broadribb she already has a megaphone-wielding super-publicist behind her in Karen Sullivan and if one of the hardest-working and most passionate people in publishing can't make this book a roaring success, nobody can. I cannot recommend Deep Down Dead enough, it is easily one of the best books I have read this year and it's my favourite release from Orenda Books. I simply cannot wait for the sequel.