When the official investigation into the murder of a respectable local businessman fails to add up, and personal problems start to play havoc with her state of mind, New Zealand’s favourite young detective Sam Shephard turns vigilante..
The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.
The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation.
And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.
I really enjoyed this crime novel with an interesting lead character, a case with so many twists and turns, and an array of background issues to get my teeth into. Our detective Sam Shephard is a strong woman, adept at her job and extremely dedicated too. She lives with a friend, but is in a relationship with Paul, another detective in the squad. When they get the job investigating the murder of reputable local businessman John Henderson, they soon find a link to a previous case. Two well-known criminals are implicated in the brutal shooting, both of them suspected in the murder of their fellow officer Reihana, and attempted murder of Smithy, who is still struggling physically despite being back at work. They need to find the link between regular business and the less ethically sound dealings that has brought the business into the criminal underworld. However, they also need to make sure that all of their dealings with the case, including forensics and other evidence collecting, are squeaky clean. Smithy, and to some extent Sam, will have to be seen to take a back seat on this one. Besides, once the link is found, between the gangsters and Henderson, it should be cut and dried, but is it? Why did they leave his wife Jill bound to a chair, alive? It is possible that someone else in Henderson’s life have reason to kill him?
Sam finds herself impressed by their teenage son, who has had the presence of mind to film the crime scene on his phone before freeing his mother. She creates a good rapport with him and manages to get important evidence about their potential suspects and their business dealings with his father. Sam works with a lot of integrity and will not accept the easy answer, until she’s uncovered everything. She would love to find their suspects guilty, but has her own idea about the motive for this crime that goes against what they know so far. This puts her in contention with the DI and he is not happy, they’ve been butting heads a lot and he’s not going to back her theory. Sam may have to go it alone here and do enough to prove her theory, without him.
I really enjoyed Symon’s mix of the professional and personal in Sam’s life, it felt like a good balance between the two. Sam is trying to keep her relationship with Paul on the down low, but circumstances may be taking that decision out of her control. There was also an interesting family dynamic, as Sam’s father is brought to the hospital and will be discharged to a hospice. These are possibly the final weeks of his life, but it’s clear that her unpleasant boss DI Johns will be less than sympathetic. Even sending her out of state on an errand. Her Mum seems less than impressed with her dedication to her job. There’s clearly history between Sam and her Mum, who accuses her of not being there for her Dad. Sam protests that she will, but her Mum rejects her promise. Sam manages not to snap back knowing that her Mum is angry and scared about her husband and the future, it how long will she able to stay silent. The moment when she sits quietly with her father and whispers to him the one secret she hasn’t told anyone, was so moving.
The pace of the novel is great – one of those where the short chapters create that ‘I can fit in one more chapter before bed’ feeling. Developments come at us thick and fast, both in the case and in her personal life. What I loved is Sam’s absolute dedication to her job, and determination to uphold New Zealand’s laws. Often when female characters have struggles in their personal life, things start to fall apart at work. Not so for Sam, she is good at separating her work life from home life, despite her mother’s digs about her loyalties. I felt I was getting a fully rounded character, not the usual stereotype about strong, working, women who have a messy love life, divorces, a drinking habit. Although we get personal with her, I came out of the novel admiring a good detective, with a full professional and personal life. The fact that this stood out to me is worrying and says a lot about how professional women are still portrayed in fiction. The story kept my attention because it was full of small surprises, such as Henderson’s assistant Astrid, whose previous CV was unexpected. This led me to expect bigger twists and I kept on reading. The author left us a few loose ends too, and I’m a sucker for the unresolved bits. Plus now I’m already hooked into the next book!
Meet The Author
Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons. –This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.