RogerBW's Blog

Fox Five, Zoe Sharp 12 May 2015

2011 thriller: five short stories about Charlie (Charlotte) Fox, former soldier and current private bodyguard.

This is a very slight book, which gives the air of being intended primarily as promotional material. The stories are short (only the last breaks ten thousand words), all but the last have been previously published either in multi-author anthologies or as bonus material in the novels, and nearly a quarter of the book consists of filler about the author and the history of the character, and extracts from the novels – none of which will be new to the reader who's read the novels.

A Bridge Too Far, anthologised in Green for Danger: Crimes in the Country, is the only story here dealing with the "pre-America" Charlie Fox. It's quite raw, characters aren't as differentiated as they might be, and the predictable reverse is predictable, but Sharp's energy still comes through.

Postcards From Another Country was bonus back matter for the paperback edition of First Drop, and sets up some background to Fifth Victim, though that wasn't the intention. (If you've already read Fifth Victim it's rather de-fanged.) It's very minimal: an incident happens, it's done, and the story ends.

Served Cold, anthologised in A Hell of a Woman, moves away from Charlie's first-person view and puts us in the viewpoint, though not quite inside the head, of someone planning violent revenge. It's a good enough plan for good enough reasons, but Charlie is in its way.

Off Duty, intended as bonus back matter for Second Shot but used instead in Criminal Tendencies – Great Crime Stories From Great Crime Writers, is another very short piece, a coda of sorts to the events of that book: Charlie visits a spa in the Catskills to recuperate after major injury, and gets into minor trouble. As with the other stories here, the tension isn't about whether she will physically win any confrontations that happen: she will. It's about whether she will work out what's going on in time to stop other people from coming to a bad end.

Truth And Lies is the only story written specifically for this anthology, and it's rather more substantial than the others here. Charlie goes into a hellhole of civil war (carefully not located anywhere specific in the world) to pull out a reporter and cameraman. Things go bad, people get hurt and killed, and nobody ends up in a good place. This is solid stuff, with a fine sense of immediacy, and even the obligatory "surprising" sting in the tail doesn't fall flat.

At this length, there's no time for the long plodding episodes of self-doubt to which Charlie is unfortunately prone, but the first and the last stories are definitely the best here. This collection certainly isn't worth paying standard book prices for, but if you're interested in the series and wondering what it's all about, it's a decent introduction to the character and her world.

Followed by Die Easy.

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