Audiobook Review: Or Else by Joe Hart
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (April 1, 2022)
Length: 7 hrs and 22 mins
Having enjoyed Joe Hart’s books in the past (Obscura and The Last Girl), I had some high expectations for Or Else, his new twisty thriller. But unlike his sci-fi or dystopian work I’ve read before, this one’s pure psychological mystery and suspense.
We begin with an introduction to protagonist Andy Drake, a novelist returning to his hometown to care for his father, who is suffering from dementia. There, Andy reconnects with his childhood friend Rachel, who is now living a picture-perfect life as a married mother of two. However, that happiness is only a façade. In truth, Rachel suffers quietly every day from an abusive husband, and Andy, having recently lost his mother and is now dealing with the stress of caring for his father, is also in a vulnerable position emotionally. Eventually, their rekindled friendship crosses the line to become a full-blown affair as both Andy and Rachel use each other as a form of escape.
Then one day, Andy receives an anonymous message warning him to end things with Rachel, or else. Unnerved by the idea that someone knows about the affair, Andy realizes he might not have been as careful as he thought. And then a few weeks later, Rachel’s husband is murdered. His wife and their two kids go missing, vanished without a trace. All of a sudden, things have gone from bad to worse for Andy, who now looks suspicious as hell.
To be completely honest, I’ve read better thrillers, though that is not to say I didn’t enjoy Or Else. Hart’s matter-of-fact style simply seems more suited for science fiction rather than drama and emotion, making Andy and Rachel’s relationship come across as somewhat stilted and unnatural. There was a lack of illicitness and danger, and considering the affair was at the center of the conflict, I felt this put the start of book on a weaker footing.
Fortunately, the author’s strength is his mystery and suspense writing, which is the element which most certainly came through, especially once the plot hits its stride. Obviously, I won’t be giving away any major details, but I will say the family dynamics between Andy, his father, and his siblings were handled very well. There were tensions building on multiple fronts, including Andy’s situation at home as well as the mess involving Rachel. And when things moved, they definitely moved fast. I think savvy mystery/thriller reads who are familiar with the genre will know to expect some of the reveals, but there were still twists and turns aplenty (and even a deception or two) to keep you guessing.
If you are looking to dip your toes into the genre, or if you’ve enjoyed the author’s work in the past and want to read more, Or Else would be a great book to try. Even seasoned fans of mysteries and thrillers would probably appreciate this one for its quick pacing and ability to keep you hooked.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the audiobook, which was the format I reviewed. Graham Halstead is a new-to-me narrator, but he left an excellent first impression. I thought his voice was a good match for Andy Drake, who I pictured as an “everyman” type of character despite his successful career as a novelist. Like all of us, he’s only human and sometimes makes mistakes and horrible decisions without thinking them through. Halstead’s voice has a down-to-earth quality to it that really brought out Andy’s vulnerabilities, which made this one quite a convincing and immersive listen. So, if you’re an audiophile who has Or Else on your radar, the audiobook is definitely worth checking out.