Any lover of John McClane or Jack Reacher is likely to get a crush on Lori Anderson for she is as tough as it gets, super-human tough, a little bit unrealistically tough. She survives 334 pages of pretty mean action, from her home town through to California, via a petrol station ambush in West Virginia, a couple of shoot-outs and a long and perilous chase in the underground tunnels of an amusement park.
The book opens with our protagonist, battered and dehydrated, about to tell her story, before flashing back to three pretty intense days. Steph Broadribb doesn’t skimp on the action in her debut novel. Her protagonist Lori Anderson is a bounty hunter who needs money fast in order to pay for her sick child’s medical bills. In exchange for a large sum, she is offered to go after JT (James Tate), her old mentor and love interest, now escaping the law after getting involved in some pretty shady stuff.
Ignoring the resurgence of old feelings and the memories of the troubling events that happened last time she and JT worked together, she decides to go after him. As she doesn’t have a babysitter, she brings her nine-year-old child with her on the perilous mission. Unfortunately for her and her “baby girl” Dakota, it all starts going to hell very quickly as it transpires that JT is not only wanted by the police, he also has the mafia and the leader of a paedophile ring on his back. Lori and JT pair up to both escape and catch the bad guys as well as to save Dakota, who has been taken hostage.
Although the book’s premise is initially a little weak – why would you go bounty hunting if you are crippled with guilt from previous such escapades? Why would you take a nine-year-old child with leukemia on such a perilous mission? – the action is gripping and the plot eventually thickens as we follow Lori and JT’s perilous race across the country and against time.
Steph Broadribb’s style – quick sentences and snappy dialogs – matches the story’s pace. However, there is a certain affectation to it. Her American style doesn’t sound very authentic and she adopts some language tics that eventually become grating. The overuse of the word “real” as an adverb is the kind of thing that, once you’ve noticed it, you can’t un-notice. I contemplated drinking a shot every time the word popped up, but I figured I would get drunk, real drunk.
“JT said nothing. Knew what I was thinking. Watched me real close as I waited for the answer service to pick up. I listened. I’d gotten three new messages since I’d last checked. The first was from Quinn, left earlier that afternoon, asking where I was and telling me to call him back. The second was him too, an hour later, and asking where I’d gotten to and saying to call him real urgent.”
Her dialogues are good, action movie-like, and she easily manages to give a voice to all the secondary characters, making them realistic. It seem it is only the main character who suffers from a lack of credit from the language. However, as the book goes on, her style and language shift towards something more natural, more personal, more interesting.
The same happens for her protagonist; as the quest for her daughter intensifies and time runs short, the real Lori Anderson is revealed, she is less unrealistically tough, less affected and reckless and as the book progresses, she gains a certain satisfying depth.
Halfway through the book, the quest for Dakota takes us to an amusement park sitting atop a maze of underground tunnels in which the paedophile ring operates. This is when the book becomes interesting. High-speed chases, petrol station shoot-outs, hostages, those age-old, overused action scenarios are replaced with something darker, deeper, which gives the book that extra dimension it was initially missing.
If the gripping, fast-paced action in the book is the main contributor to the page-turning factor, the romance on the other hand isn’t Broadribb’s strong suit as her renditions of her relationship with JT are bordering on the corny.
“I didn’t want him to stop. Ever. How had I kidded myself to believe I didn’t miss this? Miss him. The way he felt, the way he made me feel. I moved with him, quickening the pace. He bucked harder beneath me. I cam eight him, his name on my lips.”
You can spot the new writer in Broadribb’s book. At the start, she goes in and out of her style – much like Keanu Reeves’s English accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – until she eventually steadies herself. She occasionally repeats herself, and several times throughout the book Lori mentions that people die because of her, that it’s all her fault. It is difficult to understand or sympathise with her, however, since we’re unsure of what happened 10 years before and she never gets around to revealing it. On the other hand her “big reveal” is so largely signposted throughout the whole book that it is hardly a surprise.
It’s obvious that Lori Anderson is a Die Hard fan. I know that most action-packed thrillers might sometime seem a little similar. I am not talking about that. I am talking about the scene where she’s barefoot. And the scene when she finds a dead guy in an Santa outfit. All too similar, and not very subtle. It seem Broadribb uses all of those, the Americanisms, resemblances, and the cryptic – and not so cryptic – clues as crutches she couldn’t get started without, as ways to propel herself into the writing of an action book. But then she does steady herself halfway through and drops her crutches to hit a much more personal stride, a deeper tone, a darker story. And this is when we start looking out for the sequel.
Steph Broadribb was born in Birmingham and grew up in Buckinghamshire. Most of her working life has been spent between the UK and USA. As her alter ego – Crime Thriller Girl – she indulges her love of all things crime fiction by blogging at www.crimethrillergirl.com, where she interviews authors and reviews the latest releases.
Steph is an alumni of the MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University London, and she trained as a bounty hunter in California. She lives in Buckinghamshire surrounded by horses, cows and chickens. Deep, Down, Dead is her debut novel.
Deep Down Dead was published by Orenda Books on 5th January 2017.
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Review by B F Jones
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