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In the bone-dry Nevada Desert, a high-stakes game is afoot: a bus-load of prison staff families ready for a benign and camaraderie-building game of baseball. A sniper. A malevolent phone call demanding the re-lease of all the prisoners. And for at least one, a final shot at justice. Strap in for 400 pages of dark and darkly funny crime writing that is the trademark of bestselling Australian author Candice Fox.

The Chase is an ambitious work told primarily through the two protagonists, Celine and John, but including vignettes of other escapees and glimpses of flashbacks that track Celine and John’s collision course to death row inmate and guard. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would be scrambled, but Fox is a cool hand; deft at keeping tension simmering through her subplots. John is awaiting execution for the murder of his wife, son and sister-in-law and must race against the clock and a nationwide televised manhunt to find the evidence that could prove his innocence. And with a string of terrorists and violent offenders on the loose, Celine is fixed on snaring John.

Fox has the pedigree to tackle a story set around a prison: the daughter of a parole officer, she toured Lidcombe jail as part of her novel research and spent time living in the US, corresponding with and eventually visiting a serial killer on death row.

It is a tired trope to suggest crime fiction sacrifices characterisation for the sake of breathless plot development. Such critics would do well to spend an afternoon immersed in a Fox novel, where seconds after a stomach-clenching scene a reader will snort in laughter at quirky yet wholly realistic dialogue exchanges. The reflections inside jail capture the tedium and boredom of a hopeless fate, while the twists in the story are suspense aplenty, yet also thoroughly earned. Fox’s best novel yet.