Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A capital crime novel: my review of Donna Malane's SURRENDER

As I noted previously, the Weekend Herald (New Zealand's biggest newspaper) have now kindly allowed me to republish any articles I have or will write for them, online. So today I am publishing online my review of SURRENDER by Donna Malane, the NZSA Pindar Publishing Prize-winning novel that was officially launched in Wellington and Auckland last week, that appeared in last weekend's Weekend Herald (see pic, right).

You can read a nice feature story on Malane and her win in the inaugural NZSA Pindar Publishing Prize, written by New Zealand Herald Books Editor and award judge Linda Herrick here. I understand that Malane will also soon be appearing on Radio New Zealand to talk about the book, so I will publish a link to that broadcast here on Crime Watch in due course.

But for now, onto my Weekend Herald review of SURRENDER.

A capital crime novel

WHEN A policeman arrives at missing persons expert Diane Rowe’s house and informs her that a body found in Cuba Street that morning was someone she knew and was interested in, personally rather than professionally, she is stunned – like anyone would be. But this death notification is a little different; the cop delivering it is her ex-husband, and the news doesn’t make her particularly sad. For the body belongs to ‘Snow’, a recidivist low-life Diane suspects brutally murdered her troubled younger sister Niki a year before.

So begins SURRENDER, the debut crime thriller from Wellington-based screenwriter and television producer Donna Malane (The Insider’s Guide to Happiness, Until Proven Innocent, the David Dougherty story). In June, the manuscript for SURRENDER was chosen from more than 500 entries to become the winner of the inaugural NZSA-Pindar Publishing Prize, and now with the release of the novel this month New Zealanders have the chance to discover for themselves what the judges found so compelling.

After finding out that Snow was stabbed in the back with a boning knife, a murder eerily similar to her sister’s, Diane begins to question whether someone else may have been behind Niki’s death. Despite the fact her freelance investigations into her sister’s murder have already claimed as collateral damage her marriage and her role assisting the police, Diane sets out to uncover the truth, delving into the seedy underbelly of our capital city; a drug-fuelled world of strip clubs, sex workers, and plenty of hidden dangers. At the same time (and perhaps in an effort to keep her away from their own investigations), the police contract Diane to put a name to a decapitated body found in Rimutaka State Forest. So she’s left with plenty of truths to find, officially and unofficially, but as she stubbornly stays the course Diane discovers there may have been more to her little sister than meets the eye, and that lifting the lid on her sibling’s life has put her in grave danger.

Told in first-person through Diane’s eyes, SURRENDER is an impressive debut powered by a vivid and captivating ‘narrative voice’. While you’d perhaps expect great action, setting and description from someone used to the ‘sight and sound’ world of television, Malane also does a terrific job in terms of what separates a novel from a screenplay; the internal world inside her main character’s head. Diane is an intriguing heroine: at times frustrating; at times engaging; at times humorous; always compelling. Readers get a very real sense of how she sees the world, and it’s impossible not to ‘feel’ for her as she gets herself into all sorts of strife trying to do the right thing, if in an unconventional way.

While SURRENDER would be worth reading as a character study of Diane alone, Malane also weaves in an absorbing mystery storyline, some well-evoked Wellington settings, and a great cast of well-drawn supporting characters. Even quite minor characters feel authentic, and the main cast all have some nice layers and depth – like the narrative itself they provide a few surprises and revelations, and keep the reader guessing until the end.

SURRENDER is the first adult novel from Malane, but I hope there will be many more to come. And if this is the standard of storytelling uncovered by the NZSA-Pindar Publishing Prize, then the same sentiments apply there too.

Craig Sisterson is an Auckland reviewer and one of the judges for the upcoming Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

This review was first published in the Canvas magazine of the Weekend Herald on Saturday 25 September 2010, and is reprinted here with permission.


So what do you think of my review? Of the Weekend Herald allowing me to share my past and future features and reviews for them, with you all here on Crime Watch? Do you like the sound of SURRENDER? Thoughts and comments welcome

No comments:

Post a Comment