Many Crime Watch readers will be familiar (or at least have heard or read about) Dunedin author Vanda Symon's impressive Sam Shephard series. Symon introduced her sassy heroine as a sole-charge rural cop in OVERKILL, before moving Sam to the big smoke of Dunedin, where Sam has found herself on the lower rungs of the detective ladder with the local CID, battling all sorts of criminals and personal issues over the course of three more very good books.
Symon was a finalist for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award last year, for her third Sam Shephard book, CONTAINMENT, which international judges said had "an attractive series heroine (feisty but vulnerable)" and started with a "superb" opening scene that by itself would make them "want to read more Vanda Symon". Earlier this year Symon's fourth Sam Shephard book, BOUND, debuted at #1 on the NZ Adult Fiction Bestseller charts, and got great reviews. For me, BOUND is Symon's best book yet, and one of my top books of the year, so far - and I'm sure it will be a strong contender for the 2012 Ngaio Marsh Award.
However, like many other crime top writers who pen terrific continuing characters, Symon has also been interested in writing a standalone story; something a little different, perhaps darker. So her next book will not star Sam Shephard. While this will no doubt be disappointing to many people who've come to see Shephard as one of the best new crime fiction protagonists around, it is also exciting to see what Symon will come up with in her new novel, completely unrestricted from continuing characters and familiar settings etc.
Symon has announced today announced on her personal blog that she has finished the manuscript for THE FACELESS, her first standalone thriller. It is likely to be released in early 2012. Earlier this year when I interviewed Symon for an article in the Weekend Herald (read here), we also discussed stepping away from Sam with a darker standalone thriller, which she was in the "early days" of working on at the time.
I can reveal that Symon told me that THE FACELESS is "set in Auckland... it's crime fiction, but not a detective story in the police procedural sense... it's a bit darker". The story revolves around a kidnapping, and is told from the perspectives of three people, the victim, the kidnapper, and a witness who ends up investigating what has happened. "It's fun to be writing from different perspectives," said Symon. "I love writing about Sam, but it's nice to have a wee break."
It will be interesting to see how readers and the media respond. Hopefully THE FACELESS might do for Symon what darker standalone thrillers have done for some other terrific authors who'd got good reviews, perhaps been shortlisted for or won awards, and were seen as top quality writers for their recurring character novels, but then saw their popularity and wide appeal really take a massive jump on the back of such a book (eg THE POET for Michael Connelly, NO TIME FOR GOODBYE for Linwood Barclay, TELL NO ONE for Harlan Coben). Particularly in the case of Connelly and Coben, readers have flocked to their earlier books (starring Harry Bosch and Myron Bolitar, respectively) and then the ongoing series, after first coming across the author due to their darker standalones. Hopefully something of the same may happen for Symon, who I believe is a world-class crime writer deserving to be read widely beyond New Zealand shores.
What do you think of Symon writing a darker standalone novel - that's not set in Dunedin? Have you read her Sam Shephard books? What do you think of Sam as a character? Comments welcome.