Today I share my thoughts on No Country For Girls, the brand new thriller from Emma Styles. My thanks to publisher Sphere for the advance copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
Charlie and Nao are strangers from different sides of the tracks. They should never have met, but one devastating incident binds them together forever.
A man is dead and now they are unwilling accomplices in his murder there’s only one thing to do: hit the road in the victim’s twin cab ute, with a bag of stolen gold stashed under the passenger seat.
Suddenly outlaws, Nao and Charlie must make their way across Australia’s remote outback using only their wits to survive. They’ll do whatever it takes to evade capture and escape with their lives . . .
Thelma & Louise for a new generation, No Country for Girls is a gritty, twisty road-trip thriller that follows two young women on the run across the harsh, unforgiving landscape of Australia.
I can honestly state that I don’t know what i was expecting when I started this book. It’s a book I was invited to review and the premise sounded interesting, something a little different to my usual go to police thrillers. Plus I’m always interested in reading new authors and what could be newer than a debut? So how was the book? Tense, packed with action and featuring two of the grittiest and most resilient, ethnically and culturally diverse young women you could help to meet. Fate draws them together, and an overwhelming threat means that, even if they wanted to, they just cannot say goodbye. Well … that and the small matter one one dead body and a bag full of gold …
This really was the most unexpected of books. I found that I grew to like the two protagonists almost immediately. They are most definitely chalk and cheese, two people whose worlds would not normally intersect, but when those worlds start to collapse about them the reverberations are felt not just by them but by those all around them. Charlie is the younger of the two but has a real spark within her. A fighting spirit that can only grow within someone who has constantly been faced with adversity. She is spiky, obstropolous, and angry, traits that will both help and hinder her on her journey. She is bright, but with an intelligence born of her environment rather than her education. Nao seems the softer of the two, forced into action for reasons we aren’t initially privy to, but there is a strength within her too that her personality and appearance don’t immediately make clear. They couldn’t be more different and yet they compliment each other and Emma Styles has done a great job of developing them and their friendship which feels both authentic and organic.
There is a feeling of threat and urgency from the very beginning, one which rarely lets up, propelling me onward, turning those pages as fast as my little fingers would allow me. Those opening pages are atmospheric, the threat implied rather than being anything you can put a face to. That doesn’t take long to change and just a few short, but intense scenes in, the stage is set for the road trip of all road trips, the two young women finding themselves pitted against a sinister opponent. Whilst most of the action focuses on the Charlie and Nao, on their efforts to get to safety, there is a secondary thread, one which serves to explain more of how the current situation came to pass. It is more overt in threat and intensity, some scenes pushing the tension so far that I found my pulse pounding, wondering just how dark things may get.
There is a fine balance between the action and the story which the author manages well. Although violent in parts, it is never excessive or unnecessarily explicit. The author has done a great job of illustrating the diversity of the landscape that Nao and Charlie have to face in order to reach safety, and of the scale of the journey they are about to make. The long roads, the heat and the sheer space that they have to traverse almost becomes and adversary in it’s own right, adding another unwelcome complication to an already challenging quest.
There were times when I did have to suspend disbelief a little, a largely because of the nature of the threat against Nao and Charlie. They were very much out of their depth, often aided by luck more than judgement in terms of coming out on top. So many close calls where the maturity of the two seemed almost too perfect, and yet there is always that question mark hanging over how far someone might go when faced with such an intense threat. Maybe luck alone was just enough to tip the scales in their favour, and maybe that is okay. I liked the story, enjoyed the pacing and the intensity of their adventure, and believed the corruption at the heart of the whole book and the essence of what people might be willing to do in order to take back what they felt was theirs.
Coincidences aside, the book packs a punch and is a very assured and enthralling debut. I’m definitely interested to see what the author has to offer us next as I think Emma Styles is one to watch for the future.
About the Author
Emma Styles writes contemporary Australian noir about young women taking on the patriarchy. She grew up on Whadjuk Noongar country in Perth, Western Australia and now lives in London where she was born. Emma loves a road trip and once sat out a cyclone on the north west coast of WA in a LandCruiser Troop Carrier. She is less afraid of great white sharks than she should be, and hopeless at surfing.
Emma has an MA in crime fiction from the University of East Anglia. No Country for Girls is her debut novel; it won the Little, Brown UEA Crime Fiction Award 2020.