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When composing a cracking work of fiction, killer opening lines are an essential ingredient. The sucker-punch first words of Gathering Dark – “I looked up into the eye of a gun. She’d been that quiet.” – provide a hint that readers are in for an electrifying ride at the hands of award-winning crime novelist Candice Fox.

Disgraced former paediatric surgeon Blair Harbour is trying to rebuild a peaceful life after a decade in prison for executing her neighbour and getting to know the son she gave birth to behind bars. But when that opening hold-up pulls her back into the circle of ex-cons, including her former cellmate “Sneak” Lawlor, it seems maybe the gritty street crime life is her true destiny after all.

Sneak’s daughter Dayly is missing so Blair begins gathering an unlikely circle of detectives, including the policewoman who arrested her for murder, to track the young woman down. The novel switches seamlessly between the perspectives of Blair and her arresting officer Jessica Sanchez, herself in the midst of professional trouble with her bosses at the LAPD after being gifted a $7 million mansion for catching the killer of a wealthy elderly man’s daughter.

Many crime writers sacrifice the fleshing out of their characters to solely build the bones of their plot. They can make your heart race, but it won’t ache. Not so with Fox, who adds quirk, sass, complexity and warmth to even the smallest roles in her stories; in this instance, a mischievous stray gopher named Hugh Jackman. She also balances stomach-turning depictions of violence with scenes of great heart and wit, a skill that should see her well entrenched in the league of great crime writers. After a storming 400 pages comes a finessed finish likely to make at least a few readers tear up.