RogerBW's Blog

Absence of Light and Other Stories, Zoë Sharp 02 September 2021

2013 thriller, eleventh in the series about Charlie (Charlotte) Fox, former soldier and currently private bodyguard. Charlie's in Colombia, helping a disaster relief crew after an earthquake. Not really her thing? No, but her employer is also concerned about the rumours of large-scale thefts that seem to be following this team around the world, and the previous security guy has just mysteriously died…

The problem is of course that while these books always have some mystery component to them Charlie really isn't an investigator (nor would she claim to be). So she's limited in her toolkit to pushing and prodding the people she's trying to work with, with the aim of getting a reaction out of them. Which in turn means that the people she'll need as allies when she finds the actual criminal (if any) are regarding her as a Bad Thing… still, this is a recurring problem in these books so if you're still reading you should be used to it by now.

There's the usual Sharp flash-forward, this time with Charlie trapped in a collapse; as a result I thought this was going to have some underground horror-adventure in it in the manner of Bingham's The Dead House or Barr's Blind Descent, but instead that event happens right at the end, and after the first chapter's rightful place in the narrative we jump directly to the epilogue when it's all over. All right, I'm already not a great fan of the flash-forward to let the reader know that something exciting is going to happen later, particularly when it gives away plot details, but this one felt actively deceptive.

The other problem is that this is a very short book, less than 60K words, where the other novels have been 100-140. Structurally this feels much more like an overgrown novella than like a stand-alone story: there's no room for deviation from the core sequence of events, and only one real possibility for what's going on. Some side passages make Charlie's long-term domestic situation still more complicated, but clearly there's not going to be any resolution of that here. Without time for maundering and self-doubt this is a tighter story than the other novels have managed, but there isn't as much suspense as one might have been expected.

This originally came out as a full-price book Absence of Light, but there's a new edition, Absence of Light and Other Stories, which combines this with the very slight collection Fox Five (previously reviewed), and one new short story; that seems more like a fair word count for the price, and it's the edition I've linked to in the blog version of this review.

"Across the Broken Line", that new short, has two people getting divorced, each of whom thinks the other is trying to kill them. Well, there's an obvious answer to that, but it's a short story so it doesn't take too long for the good guys to catch on. For the gamers among us, there's also a good use of an automated warehouse as an environmental hazard in a gunfight. It's a solid piece, though alas told out of order to give an artificial heightening of tension which it really doesn't need, and highly enjoyable.

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Previous in series: Die Easy | Series: Charlie Fox | Next in series: Fox Hunter

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