Life or Death by Michael Robotham

Life or Death by Michael Robotham is a standalone thriller about an honorable criminal, shrouded in mystery, that escapes from prison a day before his release. It is nominated for the Edgar Award for “Best Novel.”

In Life or Death, Michael Robotham’s new standalone thriller, Audie Palmer—a man thought to have been involved in an armored truck heist gone wrong (and in which four people were killed and 7 million dollars went missing)—has escaped from jail, a day before he was going to be released after 10 years. The reasons aren’t immediately clear, but Audie is definitely on a mission.

Now, he’s on the run, his face is all over the news, and he frequently must rely on the help of strangers—including a young mother and her little girl. Meanwhile, FBI agent Desiree Furness, who had been given the cold case file on the missing money, is asked to help find Palmer. Also, Audie’s cellmate, Moss, has been sprung from jail and threatened with death if he doesn’t find Palmer, but if he does, his sentence will be commuted. The chase is on, and it’s a cat-and-mouse game between Audie, Furness, Moss, and a dirty cop that did a very, very bad thing when he caught up with those heist suspects 10 years ago.

Audie was destined for a full life. He had a college scholarship, and was well on his way, when his brother Carl asked for his help after committing a crime, which eventually led to working for mobster Urban Covic as a driver. When he meets Belita, Urban’s mistress (and servant), it’s love at first sight, and he starts plotting to run away with her. While this book works well on multiple levels, it’s Audie’s love for Belita, and her reticence to let herself fall in love (because she thinks she’s undeserving), that’s especially poignant. When he first sees her, he’s instantly entranced:

Belita had been carrying a jug of water from the kitchen along a baking cement path to fill a water trough in a birdcage that held two African gray parrots. The jug was heavy, and water slushed from side to side, spilling down the front of her thin cotton dress. She looked barely out of her teens, with long hair so dark it had a purple tint like satin under a black light; and it was braided like a horse’s tail, reaching down to the small of her back, where her dress was tied with a bow.

Later, after a poker game in which one of Urban’s cohorts “wins” a night with Belita, he makes a decision that will change the entire course of his life:

“I need a minute with Belita,” he said.

“What for?” asked the mobster.

“So I can arrange to pick her up.”

“Make him a drink. Put these in it,” he whispered, pressing four sleeping pills into her hand and closing her fingers. “Pretend you slept with him. Leave him a note. Tell him he was good. I’ll be waiting.”

An hour later Belita emerged from the hotel, ignoring the entreaties of cab drivers. Audie opened the back door for her but she chose to sit with him in the front. They drove into the mountains and she didn’t speak for ten miles, cradling herself in her folded arms.

Robotham keeps readers guessing and unfolds revelations in layers, while moving the narrative that alternates between past and present at a breakneck pace—and Audie is very, very easy to root for. When the truth about Audi’s past and what he sacrificed comes to life, it’s heartbreaking.

We’re also given a great female character in the form of the diminutive Desiree Furness, who must constantly ignore colleagues’ jabs at her height (and her gender), and also must work twice as hard the men, just to get a small bit of respect. As she begins her investigation, she’s convinced Audi needs to be captured, but the truth is much more complicated, and by the explosive conclusion, no one is the same.

This is a crackling thriller, but Audie’s heart-wrenching romance with Belita adds another layer of poignancy to an already very human story. Each character is imbued with complex motives, and a few scenes are actually jaw dropping. While this is a wholly successful thriller, the heart of this book lies with its wonderful characters. Robotham is one of the best in the thriller business, and this is suspense at its finest.

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Kristin Centorcelli reviews books at, loves a good mystery, and is a huge fan of boxed wine. You can also follow her at @mybookishways.

Read all posts by Kristin Centorcelli for Criminal Element.


  1. Jeffrey

    I really like this book. I took some quotes from this book when I wrote my essay on depression and its impact on life in general. I don’t quite like this subject, but I often had to write about it. I took a lot of information from this website, as there is a large collection of examples on this topic. You can find anything connected with a medical issue here.

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