I devoured this fast paced novel set on the streets of Auckland and focused on a young street girl called Billy and a hardened homeless veteran called Max. Ever since Billy stumbled into the same doorway one cold night, she and Max have had a connection. He showed her how to use cardboard boxes to keep warm and where to find the best thrown out food. They have a pact to take care of each other and wherever they go in the day, they always make their way back to the same adjoining doorways at night. So, when Billy doesn’t appear one night, Max knows something is wrong. He needs to find her, but where to start in a city of this size and will anyone take him seriously?
Meanwhile, Billy has stumbled into the path of someone having a very bad day. Bradley is exhausted. Over-mortgaged, overworked and under appreciated, he is reaching the end of his tether. Having neglected his family all weekend to work, Bradley has been in the doghouse with his wife Angie. Yet it’s not enough for his boss who doesn’t seem to appreciate that five people used to do the same job Bradley is now doing alone. Bradley sees the prostitutes on their usual patch as he drives home, wondering idly what sort of man actually has the nerve to drive up and do it, to actually pay a woman to do what he wants. He wouldn’t have the nerve. Then he sees a young, tomboyish girl standing a little way from the others. She’s not a regular and he is less intimidated by her. So he picks her up and she directs him to an industrial area where no one will disturb them. He doesn’t know what impulse drives him to hit her, possibly the amusement in her eyes when he isn’t ready for her, but the feeling it gives him is better than anything he’s felt in a long time. There’s a rush of power and it’s intoxicating. So he takes her to an empty industrial unit he owns and using cable ties he makes sure she doesn’t escape. He might come back tomorrow.
Told from both Max, Billy and Bradley’s points of view in short chapters that prove rather addictive, the story unfolds of how both these people ended up on the streets and how an ordinary family man becomes a monster. I was constantly thinking ‘just one more chapter’ until I was half way through the story in my first sitting. I finished the book the next morning. The story is gritty. It doesn’t pull its punches when it comes to describing life living on the streets, or the realities of being kidnapped and left with nothing for your comfort. I could actually feel the cold, smell the mustiness of not showering for several weeks, and understand the shame of being left with no toilet facilities. It is vivid and because it’s a first person experience it’s very confronting in parts. I was so caught up in Max’s search for his friend, linked somehow to an old trauma and another young girl, and how desperate he becomes to have someone listen to him. So desperate that he has to overcome embarrassment and maybe even face whatever terrible experience has kept him running all this time. Billy is running too, but being alone and captive gives her ample time to explore what’s happened to her. Although it will take the police investigation to find out the full truth of Billy’s need to run. Through these two people we see just a couple of the reasons that people end up on the streets, but no matter why it’s a tough life that no one would choose unless they were desperate.
As for Bradley, he raises a lot of questions about the making of violent offenders, particularly those who commit crimes against women. Would anyone in Bradley’s position make the same choices he does? Or was there something latent in him, triggered by stress and what he saw as a girl from the streets looking down on him? He doesn’t fully understand the changes himself, all he knows is that the more he takes out his stresses and strains on Billy, the better he feels. He also seems to have regained his libido too, as he and Angie cavort like teenagers. He has just the right sort of happily married suburban man vibe to get away with what he’s done. I found myself rooting for Billy and whatever strength she could summon to survive just long enough for Max to find her. The visions of her grandmother are touching, providing context for Billy and an insight into her culture. Auckland is a strong presence in the novel too, from the rough, deserted areas where Billy creates her spray paint portraits of mythical women to the over-mortgaged suburbs where Bradley is lucky enough to live. We see the multi-cultural mix of kids hanging out in the park and the life of a suburban wife with their book club, exercise class lifestyle. It’s very clear that for most people in this life how you look and what you have defines you. Thankfully thats not the case for everyone and I loved Meredith, a snappy and intelligent detective who would rather wear heels than the regulation shoes. She looks beyond the surface and her investigative skills are the best, but she doesn’t have much to go on. Through her we get Max’s back story and her respect and trust in him doesn’t depend on his status – although she does insist on a shower. This book will keep you up at night to find out what happens to these characters. There isn’t a word wasted here and the pace is perfect. If you like your crime gritty, with great characterisation and empathy then this is for you. I loved it.
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, which includes Overkill, The Ringmaster, Containment and Bound, hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and has also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award. Overkill was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.
Twitter @vandasymon, Instagram @vanda-symon, Facebook, @vandasymonauthor, http://www.vandasymon.com.