Life or Death

Michael Robotham

Life or Death
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Life or Death

Michael Robotham

Why would a man escape from prison the day before he’s due to be released? Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is.

For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he’s due to be released. Everybody wants to find Audie, but he’s not running. Instead he’s trying to save a life …and not just his own.


Some plots grab your attention as swiftly as a viper can attack your ankle: it’s unexpected, gets the blood going and you’ll be feeling the effects well after you’ve been bitten. Audie Spencer Palmer, serving a 10-year sentence for an armed car robbery turned bloodbath, has just escaped from jail, a feat in itself – especially when the route out would have been much less difficult just a day later, when he was due to be released. Instead, he is back to being a fugitive, unable to relish in the freedom he has spent so long waiting for, and on the hunt. Because despite his guilty plea, Audie Palmer did not commit the crime he served time for, and those who did still need him to shut the hell up.

Life or Death is like the best kind of noir movie: seedy bars, strip clubs, money exchanging slippery hands and people as quick-witted as they are criminal. There are enough characters to add colour but not so many as to blind you: Moss Webster, Audie’s closest friend in jail, who is serving a life sentence but is about to be cut a deal he can’t refuse; Special Agent Desiree Furness, who interviewed Audie in the past about the seven million dollars stolen but never retrieved – and so short that everyone treats her like a child, even when she’s one of the smartest people in the book and doesn’t have time for everyone cooing at her; and Sheriff Ryan Valdez, a police officer with a deep and personal interest in Palmer’s welfare, or lack thereof. Audie, ‘with his puppy-dog eyes and floppy fringe, as wholesome as a glass of milk’, gains the trust of those he encounters, but the book is also unfailingly brutal. Robotham’s American underbelly is a world in which women aren’t given much value beyond how they look, and the people who want to find Audie Palmer will shoot at anything to get their man. This is shank-sharp writing.

Fiona Hardy blogs about Crime Fiction at and puts together the Dead Write column for the Readings Monthly newsletter.

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