A fraud investigator strives to protect his family after he is blackmailed and drawn into a criminal underworld.
This debut novel introduces the character of Tom Stiles, a fraud investigator with a seemingly happy home life in Australia, including a longtime girlfriend named Victoria and two children. Yet, he seeks adrenaline and adventure by volunteering as a firefighter during the summer—and by indulging in clandestine affairs, still trying to erase the memory of Helen, his dead wife and the mother of his children (“He had been searching for something, anything, to assuage the loneliness he felt. He did not feel practiced in love the way Vic was, there was always some cold hard place in him, bullet shaped he imagined, that resisted obligation”). Unfortunately, when one of his lovers is killed in a car crash while they’re together, it turns out that her father, Vladimir Mikula, is a member of the Chechen mob. Vlad blackmails Tom about the affair and attempts to force the investigator to steal a valuable package for him. In the midst of all this, the prime minister names Tom as the chairman of an international task force on fraud, which, though he accepts, he finds suspicious; why did the leader insist on him? Who is Vlad really working for? And how much does Victoria know about Tom’s affairs? Soon, Tom must try to keep his family safe as he is drawn in over his head. Bozikas has concocted a compelling story idea; the concept of a hero trying to resist his base side as he fights the bad guys is entertaining. Unfortunately, all of the characters seem too thinly drawn for readers to feel invested. The writing relies too often on “telling” rather than “showing”; there are too many lines like “He had lost his parents when he was a child and that pain defined him” that state outright story elements that could unfold more naturally. The plot tries to juggle too many suspenseful elements for its own good, and the twists near the end seem tacked on rather than organic to the tale. The novel is left open-ended to continue Tom’s adventures as a series—focusing more on character development rather than plot twists would serve the author well in future installments.
An overly complicated thriller about a flawed hero dealng with a mysterious mobster.