It would be impossible for any Australian reader not to think of the backpacker murders when embarking on A TIME TO RUN. But if, like me, you think you are ‘over’ serial killer plots I would urge you to reconsider. It is a seriously good read.
The only thing I didn’t much like about my copy was the blurb but, as is my habit these days, I didn’t read that until I’d finished the book so my reading experience wasn’t spoiled as yours might be if you read it first. The only thing I think you need to know about the story itself is that it involves a young woman, Sammi, who is kidnapped at the end of a night out. We then follow what happens to Sammi in tandem with the unfolding police investigation into her disappearance.
A TIME TO RUN is the most perfectly paced novel I have read in a very long time. Seriously, it’s perfect. There’s not a wasted word, it never drags, action unfolds quickly enough to keep the reader from wanting to put the book down at any point (I gobbled it up in a single sitting) but not so fast that you feel like the author is trying to distract you from some failing of the book. I think I had forgotten the delight of reading a truly well-paced story because it’s a pretty rare thing in these days of endless exposition and unnecessary filler content. The book has half the pages of many modern thrillers but packs twice the dramatic punch.
For those still wary of reading another book about a serial killer perhaps I can put your mind at rest by telling you that this is not one of those books that borders on celebrating the psychopath or turning him into a star. There are, thankfully, no italicised passages of his inner thoughts. Nor is he a genius of such superior intelligence to the plodding coppers that there is doubt he can ever be captured. He is just a man. A rotten-to-the-core man. We see enough of him and his actions to understand this but the book doesn’t wallow in his degrading behaviour and violence. He is not the centre of attention. The real stars of this book are the victim and the policewoman who becomes determined to find her. I particularly liked the fact that Sammi is depicted as being a random victim through no fault of her own – there is no victim blaming here. She’s also pretty darned feisty. Despite her circumstances she finds some inner strength (and a little help from another realm) with which to attempt to outwit her captor but all her actions – her successes, her mistakes and the times when she is sure she will die – are within the bounds of credibility. Janine Postlewaite is the Detective who is alerted early to Sammi’s possible disappearance. She takes speedy action to treat the case seriously – based in part on a previous experience where a delay in starting the process led to a bad outcome for another missing person – and she is persistent and thorough and smart and dedicated. If anyone you loved went missing Janine is the kind of cop you’d pray was assigned to the case.
J.M. Peace has been a police officer in Queensland for 15 years and is still serving. This experience shows, but lightly. By that I mean she hasn’t drowned the story with fascinating but ultimately pointless insider knowledge of ‘the business’ but she has given the story an underlying authenticity. The way that evidence is identified, linkages between disparate pieces of information are made, cooperation between different branches of the police service happens all pass the truthiness test and help the reader become gripped by Sammi’s plight.
So even if the phrase Wolf Creek-style killer turns you off (as it did me when I spied it on the publicity material) I’d recommend setting aside your prejudices and give this book a go. It’s got a great Australian feel to it (so many of the so-called Australian thrillers that pass my eyes make it seem like we are the fifty-somethingth state of America), rips along at just the right pace and if it doesn’t have you sitting on the edge of your seat then there’s something wrong with you, not the book. I notice that in her acknowledgements J.M. Peace thanks her editor and I’ll second that thought. While it’s clear that Peace herself is very talented (this is a debut novel!) it’s also evident that the final product has been carefully crafted from its manuscript stage and when that process is done well it can never be the work of one person. My congratulations and gratitude to everyone involved.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan 
Length: 229 pages
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