Book Review

Image credit: Photo by Yoann Laheurte on Unsplash 

Containment, by Vanda Symon

It is a refreshing change to read a thriller set in Britain’s alter ego, New Zealand, and it would be nice to be able to visualise, as we in the northern hemisphere slide into the dark & cold days of winter, the lazy, hazy days of an antipodean summer, but unfortunately, this story is set in winter, but that is, realistically, only a very minor reservation. The author has only written two other books in this series featuring her female protagonist, Detective Constable Sam [Samantha] Shephard, but they have been nominated for awards, and Symon is also a radio host and a board member of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The stories are set in & around the southern city of Dunedin; described by no less a commentator as Ian Rankin as “[t]he Edinburgh of the south”, and he should know!

The NZ police rank system is slightly different, in that there are no detective sergeants: a DC, such as Shephard, starts as a Constable, then progresses to fully-fledged Detective, the next step on the promotion ladder being Detective Inspector, as in England. Not entirely unexpectedly, given that she is a woman in a profession where misogyny is still not eradicated, she has a bastard of a boss, so she is permanently looking over her shoulder, and being as careful as possible what she says in his possible earshot in the office. The story starts with a container ship running aground in the bay near her home, allowing some containers to wash up on the shore, and their contents to spill out, leading to an ugly outbreak of looting by the locals. Even though she is off-duty, Sam tries to prevent one young man making off with a large package, and is seriously assaulted for her trouble; luckily, another man comes to her assistance.

When she is back on duty—sooner than she wanted, but her boss insisted—she is tasked with following up on the grisly discovery of the body of a diver, who has been in the water for some days, so the body is in a very poor state. Before long, a connection is found between this death; soon established to be murder; and the looting of the container goods. Working with her colleague, they gradually discover the trail of events leading to the death of the submerged man, although much of the time, Sam has to avoid the DI knowing what she is doing, because he has very eccentric ideas about where her responsibilities lie. The murderer turns out to be uncomfortably close to home, but is eventually caught. This was an enjoyable story to read, and I would be happy to find another one by this author, because the writing style is conversational, without being too colloquial. The paperback I read was published in 2020 [2009, Penguin Books (NZ)] by Orienda Books, London, ISBN 978-1-9131-9319-5.

This will be the last ‘long form’ review I post for a while, so for the foreseeable future, forthcoming reviews will be ‘short form’: restricted to one paragraph, but posted in groups and with the ISBN link so that further details of the books can be searched for, if a purchase might be desired.

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