The Second Son
Author: Loraine Peck
Publisher/Year: Text Publishing/2021
Duty always has a price.
When Ivan Novak is shot dead putting out his garbage bins in Sydney’s west, his family wants revenge, especially his father Milan, a notorious crime boss. It’s a job for the second son, Ivan’s younger brother Johnny.
But Johnny loves his wife Amy and their son Sasha. And she’s about to deliver her ultimatum: either the three of them escape this wave of killing or she’ll leave, taking Sasha.
Torn between loyalty to his family and love for his wife, Johnny plans the heist of a lifetime and takes a huge risk. Is he prepared to pay the price? And what choice will Amy make?
The Second Son is a brilliant action-packed crime debut that creates a world where honour is everything, violence is its own language, and love means breaking all the rules.
Reviewer: Robyn Walton
In The Second Son, her debut novel, Loraine Peck tells her readers about contemporary gang life from inside a single crime family, a Croatian Australian clan in western Sydney. Alternating the voices of two characters, Johnny Novak and his wife Amy, Peck gives a sense of how pressured it is to live in this microcosm of gangland and how hard it is to leave other than in a coffin.
It’s not a glamorous life. Johnny’s self-reflections are harsh: “I’m not an outlaw living bravely on the edges of society. … I use intimidation to bilk money out of hardworking men and women in my own community. My family sells drugs to dealers who sell to high-school kids …”
Milan Novak, patriarch and crime family boss, has ordered Johnny, his second son, to kill a member of the rival Serbian Australian crime family as revenge for the murder of his first son, Ivan. Johnny is reluctant, believing this cycle of turf war killings will never end “because the losses in Eastern Europe were huge on both sides. The hatred still simmers.” Neither does he want to be killed: “I don’t want to die in a driveway in Bankstown. I f***ing hate Bankstown. It’s full of Bulldogs supporters”.
Amy wants out for the sake of their young son. Johnny, while scheming to avoid murdering anyone, convinces himself he must lead one last heist before he escapes his clan’s hold on him. Proceedings are complicated by other crime groups, most notably a big crew of “meth-head bikies”, chasing gains.
Fans of crime family and mafia tv series and movies will recognise these and other plot components. The test of this novel, then, is not its degree of novelty but how capably Peck works with her material to give us an engaging read.
The novel is long: it drags in the middle when there are meetings, toing and froing, and tit-for-tat viciousness (yes, including a dog killing). And the detective heading the Organised Crime Task Force is incredibly lenient and willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to Johnny’s doings. Overall though I think Peck writes well on all narrative levels — the background, the action, and the personal relationships, which are tender and convincing. We can look forward to the sequel signalled by the ominous ending.
Edited version of review first published in The Weekend Australian. Reproduced with permission.