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The Second Son

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Member Reviews

For those who think gangs and organised crime are not part of the Australian context, this book paints our society in a new light.  It’s brutal, graphic and even funny at times.  The author writes well and I loved the setting.
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The Second Son is Loraine Peck’s impressive, thrilling crime fiction debut. 

‘One. No friends. Two. No feelings. Three. No conscience. Only family. Everyone else is enemy.’

When Ivan Novak is shot dead in his driveway, his father, Milan is certain the leader of a rival Serbian gang is responsible and insists his younger son, Johnny exacts retribution. Johnny isn’t a killer and, not convinced the Serbs are responsible, is reluctant to perpetuate the war that began in Croatia on the streets of Sydney. Looking to deescalate the situation, Johnny develops a brilliant plan that he hopes will satisfy his father’s lust for revenge, and allow he, his wife, Amy, and son, Sasha, to finally escape his family’s stranglehold and start a new, legitimate life. But if the plan fails, Johnny risks losing everything.

Unfolding from the alternating perspectives of Johnny and Amy, The Second Son is an action-packed, (mostly) fast paced crime thriller that explores the themes of family, heritage, loyalty, revenge, and trauma. 

Set in the western suburbs of Sydney, where the criminal underworld, often divided by ethnicity, competes for territory and illegal trade, Peck focuses on the animosity between the Serbs and Croats, their conflict imported from the Balkans civil war in the 1990’s. Milan Novak heads a gang of around 25, mostly family members, whose business involves drug trafficking, protection rackets, grand theft, armed robbery and money laundering, their territory abutting the Serbs, Italian, Asian and Bikie syndicates. 

With his brother dead, Johnny is expected to step up and take his place as the second-in-command. Peck has given us a complex character, while his devotion to his wife and son are admirable, he is not exactly a good guy. He may not have a taste for killing, but he is not adverse to intimidation, or administering a beating, and his income is largely derived from illegal means. His relationship with his brutal father is complicated, and defying his orders seems impossible unless he can find an alternative. Peck cleverly plots a solution for Johnny, which I won’t share because it would spoil the surprise, but there is still great risk involved, especially in regards to keeping his marriage.

Johnny’s wife, Amy, has always turned a blind eye to the unsavoury elements of the family business, but when her safety and that of their son are threatened, she gives Johnny an ultimatum, demanding they move up north, far from the influence of her in-laws. Amy’s behaviour shows some naivety with regards to understanding the Novak family dynamic (though just enough nous to keep a dark secret), and she underestimates the danger her husband’s rivals presents. I liked her much more in the second half of the story, than the first.

In fact Amy was the cause of my only real issue with the novel as I found her perspective to be repetitive during the first half, which was a detriment to the pacing for me. The sag around the middle was soon forgotten though as Peck ups the stakes for both of her main protagonists, and the suspense drew me eagerly towards the conclusion.

There is quite a lot of violence in The Second Son but there are also flashes of humour. Peck’s writing is confident and engaging and I thought she showed a good understanding of both people, creating interesting, well-rounded characters, and setting, capturing a different aspect of Australian urban life.

The Second Son is an entertaining, tense and gritty crime novel, and I’m looking forward to the next instalment.
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Turf wars across the streets of Sydney! When Ivan Novak was gunned down in his driveway, his father Milan declared war on the Serbians. The Croations and the Serbians had long been sworn enemies and with two others killed in the days prior to Ivan, Milan knew it was the Serbs to blame. He demanded his second son, Johnny be the one to take their revenge. Johnny’s wife Amy and ten-year-old son Sasha were his life – Amy’s ultimatum to put his wife and son first before his father and the gang should have made for an easy decision. But it didn’t.

Johnny decided he’d go with Amy after one last job. He had a big one lined up and although he organized protection for his wife and son, he had no idea what was about to happen. As threats and retribution occurred daily, Johnny and the gang came up with a plan. But was it foolproof? There was much to lose and no guarantee of safety with what was around the corner…

The Second Son is the debut novel by Aussie author Loraine Peck and it’s hard to realise it’s her debut. Full on action, with plenty of gun fights, revenge attacks, gangs and innocent bystanders fill this 464 page thriller which I have no hesitation in recommending.

With thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for my digital ARC to read in exchange for an honest review.
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The price of loyalty.

Ivan Novak was putting out his garbage bins one evening in Sydney’s west, when he was shot dead.  His father, Milan, leader of a criminal gang, wants revenge.  Milan is sure that Ivan was murdered by a rival gang, and revenge is a job for Ivan’s younger brother, Johnny. 

There is plenty of tension between the various ethnic gangs in western Sydney.  Old fears and suspicions, together with the trauma of war, have accompanied those who have fled in their former homelands. 

While Johnny is part of the gang his father leads, he is torn between his loyalty to his Croatian heritage and his love for his wife Amy and their son Sasha.  Amy wants the three of them to break free from this wave of violence, of attack and retribution.  She moves temporarily with Sasha to the home of her parents.  The 
violence escalates and others become involved.  

Johnny wants to be with Amy and Sasha, but he also wants to prove himself to his father.  Johnny has a plan which just may enable him to meet the expectations of both.  In the meantime, can he keep his family safe?
In this fast-paced debut novel, Ms Peck explores the causes and consequences of ethnic gang violence as well as conflicting loyalties.  There are a couple of twists which help sustain the suspense.  And the outcome?  
Well, we can hope for a violence-free future …

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.  

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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A debut by Sydney novelist Loraine Peck, “The Second Son” is a thriller set in a gangster world, in this case the turf of a Croat gang in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool. Headed by brutal Ivan Novak, the gang is rocked by the gunning down of number one son, Ivan. The Second Son is the fraught story of Johnny, Ivan's younger brother, always in the shadow of Ivan, and Johnny's wife Amy, desperate to get the two of them and their child away from the violence. When Johnny is tasked with extracting revenge, a twisty, violent gang narrative unfolds. The author controls the pacing of the plot well, although the 400-plus pages, breathlessly told through present tense dialogue and inner thoughts, dissipate any strong sense of noir dread. Written in a straightforward storytelling mode, with little room for flourishes, I found myself absorbed and entertained without being riveted or, strangely enough, shocked by the capricious violence.
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