Monday, April 18, 2011


For my second go around at the Crime Fiction Alphabet (read my 2010 posts here), I've set myself the challenging task of focusing not only just on New Zealand-themed posts, but just on Kiwi crime fiction books (ie I won't do any author profiles etc this time around) - although sometimes it may be the author's name that is relevant to the letter of the week.

Lately I’ve been highlighting a few out-of-print and hard to find titles from Kiwi crime fiction history, but this week I’ve decided to focus on something a little more recent, and still available new in bookstores; modern day Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon’s raw but excellent debut OVERKILL, a novel that introduced a feisty and fantastic new heroine, policewoman Sam Shephard, to the crime fiction world.

You can read more about Symon in my recent feature interview for the Weekend Herald here, in her Crime Watch 9mm interview from 2010 here, and at her own website here. Her fourth and latest Sam Shephard tale, BOUND, hit #1 on the New Zealand Adult Fiction bestseller list back in early February, and has remained in the top 10 (often the top 5) pretty much every week since. It's great to see Kiwi readers giving some of our local, high quality, crime fiction a go. Long may it continue (and grow even further).

Turning now to OVERKILL, Symon's debut. Here’s the back cover blurb:

“When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks for the Mataura River a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what is seems.

Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide, and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover.

When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duties she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands to find the murderer and clear her name.”

Sounds pretty intriguing and exciting, eh? And trust me, it is. OVERKILL is a very enjoyable read, one of the better crime fiction series debuts I’ve read in the past several years. In a review for WildTomato magazine back in early 2009, I said:

“Fans of high quality international crime fiction won’t be disappointed by this local fare. Symon wastes no time, immediately stunning readers with an opening-pages haymaker, as during the prologue an intruder forces a stay-at-home mother to submit to her own death, in order to save her baby daughter. Who knew the farming town of Mataura could harbour such evil?

... Overkill is an excellent first novel from a talented storyteller. Symon nicely balances action, character and story in a well-drawn rural setting, and realistically speckles the book with light-hearted moments and humour throughout. Symon drops Sam right in it and the reader can’t help but be taken along for the ride, willingly and wonderfully.

Symon builds the book to a satisfying conclusion, weaving throughout real issues relevant to agricultural communities, along with the loves, hates, hopes, and fears universal to people anywhere. Good crime novels set in an authentic rural setting are rare, as is quality Kiwi crime fiction (at least until recently). Overkill ticks both boxes. Highly recommended.”

I still stand by what I said there, and continue to recommend OVERKILL, and Symon’s writing in general, to crime fiction fans here and overseas looking for something interesting and new of good quality. I haven’t had any complaints yet.

You can read some other reviews of OVERKILL at:

But don't just listen to me and other reviewers - find out for yourself. You can read the prologue to OVERKILL at Symon's website here (scroll down a little).

Have you read OVERKILL? Any other books in the Sam Shephard series? If so, what do you think? Do you like murder mysteries set in rural settings? New Zealand crime fiction in general? Comments welcome.


  1. Craig - A truly excellent choice for "O!" Thanks for this :-) :-). Vanda is so talented, and I'm glad you're "tooting her horn."

  2. Overkill is a fine choice for O - I am looking forward to read more of Vanda´s books.

  3. Yes I have read Overkill and The Ringmaster, both I enjoyed. At the moment I am reading Containment. She's a great writer and keeps me gripped from the first page.
    Pauline Hayes

  4. An excellent choice Craig. Thanks for your support of the CFA