Tuesday 19 September 2017

Books: Fast-paced thriller takes no prisoners

Freedom's Child, Jax Miller, Harper Collins, €18.40

Compulsive read: Jax Miller's (Aine O'Domhnaill) debut novel is fast, furious with a relentless force of pace of plot
Compulsive read: Jax Miller's (Aine O'Domhnaill) debut novel is fast, furious with a relentless force of pace of plot

Claire Coughlan

Jax Miller was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association 'Debut Dagger' competition in 2013 for unpublished writers under her real name, Aine O'Domhnaill. HarperFiction pre-empted a six figure, two-book deal for the debut author (who grew up in New York but now lives in Co Meath) in March 2014, only days after the manuscript of Freedom's Child had been sent on submission. Of such stuff, dreams are made. The book comes adorned with advance praise from stars in the crime writing firmament such as Lee Child and Karin Slaughter, so expectations are very high indeed.

The opening line is certainly intriguing and arresting: "My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter." This sets the tone for the rest of the book, it's compulsively readable, if not always enjoyable.

Freedom, our heroine, lives in a small Oregon town where she works as a bartender. She has secrets, lots of secrets, buzzing around her head, which she tries to blot out by hitting the bottle on a regular basis. We quickly learn why - 20 years earlier she went to prison for the murder of her husband, an NYPD blue cop. Eighteen years ago, she was released from prison and her ne'er do well brother-in-law was convicted in her place. Ever since, she's been in a Witness Protection Program, trapped inside her new identity, unable to move on from the past.

She keeps tabs on the son and daughter she had to give up for adoption when very young - she gave birth to her daughter while in prison - but has watched both children grow up with their adoptive family from afar via social media.

As the novel opens, her violent brother-in-law is released from prison on parole and her daughter goes missing. So Freedom takes the law into her own hands and breaks free of her US Marshal handlers to go and find her daughter before it's too late. This sets out the quest that Freedom must go on and the pace never lets up for the whole book. The points of views shift between those of Freedom and the various other characters, which can feel a little disjointed at times, but Miller pulls it off because of the sheer relentless force of the pace and plot. It's fast, it's furious, and it takes no prisoners.

Freedom is an interesting character - she's clearly tortured by her past and the fact that she had to give up her children, a nightmare from which she feels she can never wake up. I felt that sometimes her inner monologue was a bit one dimensional, although overall I did feel that she was plausible as a character.

However, plausibility can slip at times and descriptive narrative can feel a little forced - in one passage the day is said to be "as gray as the cigarette smoke from a whore in Times Square on a frigid January morning." This is either absolute genius or completely and utterly over the top, depending on your point of view - whether you're from the pared back or full voltage school of description.

There's a lot of soul evident here though and it'll be interesting to see what comes next for Jax Miller.

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