Semi-international, huh? Well, the book is set, for the most part, in New Zealand, which, no, is not a part of Australia. But this is the first crime fiction release by local publisher Echo Publishing, so I can’t help but want to drag the review back to our shores. It’s what Australians do.
I was pumped to receive Echo’s book and my expectations were met and exceeded: this is great. It’s complex, intriguing, and political, but not in the way that makes people like me develop a vacant, confused and slightly embarrassed stare whenever international politics comes up excessively in books. I was even pleased by the cover, which, while hewing close to traditional crime covers, has a dramatic thrusting spire in it which completely distracts you from the fact that there’s a shadowy figure which, instead of being poorly photoshopped into an alleyway/forest as per every other damn book out there, is actually mostly hidden within the book’s shadows. This says to me, who is apparently over-analysing things tonight: we are publishing crime, and you better be paying attention.
Sam Hallberg is a mechanic with a juicy dramatic past; he lives alone, plagued by memories of the family he lost. His wife was murdered, possibly because of Sam’s anti-terrorism career, and now his son lives with his in-laws, out of danger, safe, but distant. Sam’s a habitual helper, and when Jade Amaro comes to visit with a request to look into the death of her friend Brent, Sam agrees, because he’s that kind of guy, and he needs the distraction. Along with figuring out if Brent’s death was a suicide or something more sinister (it’s the latter), Sam lends a hand to his journalist pal Lynette, who is researching one of New Zealand’s most prominent businessmen, someone with power and capital and apparently no personal history to speak of. Is he just publicity shy, or is he hiding something? (It’s the latter. Hooray!)
There is a climactic moment I would have liked more of, and the ending is very neatly tied up with a bit too much prettiness in the bow, but this was a powerfully solid read with more than enough of the requisite excitement and intrigue. The characters were vastly appealing, flawed but endearing: Sam brave, focussed, loyal, and scarred; Lynette fun, relatable, relentless but bitterly realistic in her pursuit of truth. I appreciated how the author (authors, if you look them up) discussed Jade’s job with no value judgements or patronising pity, even though it’s not where she wants to be.
I’m looking forward to seeing more books in the Matakana series on the shelves to see where everyone is heading. Though of course, when you’re invested in characters, you kind of feel bad for hoping it’s back into danger, because even though it’s very nice, no one wants to read about a mechanic who spends his days happily at work and his evenings kicking back with Netflix and pizza.