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.