Friday, September 23, 2011

From Sam to standalone: a sneak peak at Vanda Symon's upcoming thriller

When I interviewed contemporary Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon earlier this year for a feature article in the Weekend Herald (read that article here), we talked not only about her latest novel, the excellent BOUND (Penguin, 2011), and the evolution of her fantastic heroine Sam Shephard, but also about what she was working on next. As it turned out Symon was/is taking a break from Sam, and trying something new: a darker, standalone novel told from multiple viewpoints that would be released in early 2012.

After four fascinating crime novels starring the irrepressible Sam, I can understand Symon wanting to stretch her writing wings and try something a little different - and as has been shown by other authors like Michael Connelly (THE POET, after several Harry Bosch novels), Mark Billingham (IN THE DARK, after several DI Tom Thorne novels) and Harlan Coben (TELL NO ONE, after several Myron Bolitar novels),  it can be a good thing for a crime writer to release a darker standalone thriller that might attract broader audience attention, and bring more readers into the fold for the main ongoing series as well. As I think Symon is a very good writer, I certainly hope that ends up being the case for her, as well.

Now, a'blurb' for FACELESS, Symon's upcoming standalone thriller, is available (thanks to Symon's UK-based agents, Gregory & Company):

Darren Fordyce is a man trapped in middle-class New Zealand. He is in his late thirties, married with two young children, a successful businessman and wondering what the hell happened to his life? How had it become so mundane? Life is a cycle of getting up, going to work, coming home, dealing with the family and going to bed, day in day out, week in week out, with no sight of change or opportunity on the horizon.

One day, when it all gets too much, in a rash and uncharacteristic moment he picks up a prostitute, but when overcome with guilt and shame, instead of walking away, he panics and kidnaps her. In this novel we see his first fearful interactions with the young woman he has taken, then we see his slow descent into masochism, when he discovers the inner pleasure he gets from finally being in control of something, controlling her, torturing her from his first tentative slaps, to his escalation into sadistic harm.

Vilimena Navai, known as Billy, is one of the faceless, an eighteen year old, Fijian illegal immigrant drifter and sometime graffiti artist. She has on occasion turned tricks to for cash, but only when in dire need of money. When again the need arises, she accepts a ride from a businessman.

Max Grimes is also a faceless. He was once a police detective and a high flyer with properties and investments, but the pressure of work, a series of financial catastrophes and then the brutal murder of his beloved 14 year-old daughter tipped him over the limits of his endurance. He now lives on the streets. The one bright light in his miserable world is Billy whose kind heartedness has kept him alive. When Billy suddenly disappears Max knows something bad has happened to her. When he reports her missing the Police aren’t interested. Max has to pull himself out of his mire and use all of his smarts to find her, and the clock is ticking.

It certainly sounds interesting to me, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Symon weaves the characters' stories together into a (hopefully) compelling thriller. When I interviewed Symon at the beginning of the year, she had just started FACELESS, and seemed to be pleased with how it was going. "It's early days, but it's good. It's fun to be writing from different persepectives," she said. "I love writing about Sam, but it's nice to have a wee break."

Symon has also thrown another change-up into the mix; the book isn't set in the southern part of New Zealand. "I've set it in Auckland," she told me. "It's crime fiction, but not a detective story in the police procedural sense. It's a bit darker. This is a book that I've been mulling over for a few years. It's been brewing in the background for quite some time. Something different to keep me fresh."

I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what Symon has to offer with her new book, although, like I imagine many who have read her earlier works, I certainly hope we haven't seen the last of Sam Shephard.

Have you read any of Vanda Symon's crime novels? What do you think of Sam Shephard as a main character? Do you like to read standalone thrillers as well as (or instead of/more than) ongoing series? Comments welcome.


  1. Craig - Thanks for the update on Vanda's new book. I think it can really be interesting when an author does standalones as well as series, and in fact, lots of readers prefer them. I wish you the best with this, Vanda!

  2. This sounds interesting. Best of luck to Vanda, and we hope we will get more of her in Europe soon!

  3. For my shame, I have not heard of this author, but seems very interesting! I will look for her books!

  4. A standalone offers an author a chance to be bold and take risks; to veer off the beaten track. So, yes, I'm all for Vanda Symon's new effort. The narrative sounds really sharp and compelling, and I look forward to digging into it.