Title: The Second Son
Author: Loraine Peck
Publisher: Text Publishing
Published: February 2021
Loraine Peck’s debut novel The Second Son was inspired by the author’s passion for crime fiction and brings to life an imagination procured by the author’s many global adventures, from dealing blackjack on the Gold Coast to working in the film industry. The bookfollows Johnny and his family after the murder of his brother Ivan, in Sydney’s western suburbs, which sets Johnny on a course of guilt and revenge. Born into a Croatian crime family, Johnny must maintain the trajectory of the family ‘business’, ensuring money continues to line their pockets and their enemies remain at bay.
The dual perspective narrative of the book offers insight into Johnny’s mental state, as well as that of his wife Amy. We see her struggle to cope with the life she married into and stress over the safety of their son, Sasha. Both points of view give the reader an idea of the Novak family dynamic, particularly how patriarch Milan determines the ways in which the two main characters are treated by others—Amy is an outsider, Johnny is simply there to follow orders. Peck has expertly crafted themes of culture, family and crime in a way that lends itself to excellent character development.
Whilst the crux of the story is based around crime and gang relations, generational father-son relationships are also addressed in detail; Johnny has a fractured relationship with his father and his ‘job’ is causing emotional turmoil for Sasha. I also think the addition of Amy’s maternal perspective worked in the story’s favour, as the reader witnesses how deeply entrenched she is within this crime family and the consequences of that.
The book comes in at around 400 pages, which is lengthy for a crime/thriller in my experience. The pacing for the most part was well-executed; however, I felt as though it lagged slightly through the middle. If it had been cut down by around 50 or so pages, I think readers would be less likely to be bogged down in slower parts of the plot. That being said, the slower parts work well in providing a deeper insight into the family and their motivations.
Peck has created a unique crime story that is compelling, gritty and realistic. The crime elements feel high stakes and adding the familial relationships amidst the drama ups the ante. If you’re a fan of The Godfather, and enjoy crime stories with an Australian twist, I would highly recommend this book. It has also been announced that a sequel is in the works, so look out for that!