Luke Preston’s first Tom Bishop book, Dark City Blue, was excellent. Out of Exile is (in my view) better, much better. Dark City Blue was like reading the Quick Start Guide to a killing machine. Lots of bullet point passages. Often literally. The bullets, that is. Out Of Exile is more like the Tom Bishop Owners Manual. Dark City Blue was full-out, full-on, no stopping for passengers, no prisoners taken-style novel writing. Make no mistake, this is still a book that shoots first and says ‘oh, shit!’ later, but it’s more. More nuanced, more developed, more subtle (!) and more exciting and satisfying for it.
We know now that we’re in Australia. I could figure that in DCB, but here it’s named. Melbourne, Australia and we’re in the company of the Victoria Police Department. Or some of it anyway. When the book starts, Tom Bishop is in prison. He has been for a while. Not surprising – from the authorities’ point of view, that is – after the trail of death and chaos he left behind at the end of ‘Dark City Blue.’ However, even at this early stage, warning lights should go off for the reader who has read Dark City Blue. We were with Bishop on his ‘rampage,’ remember? From our point of view, what he was doing, wasn’t a ‘killing spree’ for the sake of going on a ‘killing spree’. It was Bishop trying to protect his family and himself and sorting out some people before they sorted him out. Getting his revenge in first. So, that he is in prison for it, still in prison for what happened, should tell you a little of what and who he is obviously up against here.
Then, in the dead – again quite literally – of night, someone, somewhere, wants him out of jail and back on the right side of THEIR law. Except, the right side of the law isn’t easy to tell from the wrong side. In Out of Exile, the lines are, as ever, more than a little ‘blurred’ – especially when Tom Bishop is around. Someone wants Bishop back on the street, right or wrong side of the law, but would rather not have too many other people know about it. Rogue Cops want ‘justice’, want to be left in peace to continue their corrupt ways and not have to be bothered by trifling matters like Internal Affairs investigations. So it all goes just that little bit wrong and both the ramifications and body counts, mount up. To the top. Of the Police force. But the Police’s top brass are, unfortunately for Bishop, more concerned with their image than his justice. Too bad. But then, Bishop isn’t the only one making the wrong assumptions here. He, like us, thought ‘Justice’ the criminal mastermind, who was actually a Police mastermind from Dark City Blue was no more. Mainly because Bishop had killed him. Boy, was he wrong. ‘Justice’ seems to be sill at large. ‘Large’ being an appropriate description for the amount of money that is being skimmed off the top (bottom and sides) of the Victoria Police budget.
It is an ingenious plot, it must be said. Our Luke does like dumping his Tom Bishop character in the soft and smelly. From a great height and up to his ear-balls. Then saying “OK, get out of that!” I’m sure he sets up situations for, the long-suffering (and I do mean ’suffering’ and ‘long’), Tom Bishop, where he doesn’t know how he’s going to get Bishop off the hook. In fact, I’m surprised Bishop hasn’t turned round to Luke and said “Enough is ENOUGH!” and stuck one on him. Maybe he has. Maybe the rest of the book is Luke’s revenge. But it’s what makes Bishop such an interesting character. He is put upon, but he doesn’t ask for or want our sympathy. He wants to get on with his life. He wouldn’t bother anyone, if they didn’t bother him. I’d have to hold back from calling Bishop a ‘hero’, or even an ‘anti-hero’, he’d probably beat me to a pulp – if I was lucky. Bishop is actually a pragmatic realist. He sees things how they are, says what needs to be said then does – what he can – that needs to be done. Often, it’s the right thing, but occasionally…
So, that’s clear, then: Bishop is dead, but he isn’t. Justice was dead, but isn’t. The Police are on our side, but maybe they aren’t. And then…just when you know where the plot is – it disappears. With a turn you probably won’t see coming, but one that fits and works and elevates the book further above its predecessor and the majority of others in its class.
All in all, fantastically addictive. I read it so quickly, I was more or less held spellbound. I forgot to take notes and had to read it again, just to make sure. I’ve not done that before.