Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: BOUND by Vanda Symon

Review: BOUND by Vanda Symon (Penguin, 2011)

A leading light amongst the recent surge in quality Kiwi crime writing, Dunedin-based Vanda Symon was deservedly a finalist for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel in 2010, for her third Sam Shephard novel, CONTAINMENT. Over the course of the series Shephard has worked her way up from sole charge rural policewoman in a small farming community, to junior detective on the rise (well, maybe) in the 'big smoke' of Dunedin, an historic city in the south of New Zealand.

BOUND, the fourth in what has become an excellent series, sees Shephard return in a thrilling tale kick-started by a brutal home invasion. A shady businessman is shotgunned and his wife is left hospitalised after being tied to a chair, gagged, and left to watch his blood pool on the floor. When evidence starts pointing to a couple of high-profile lowlifes who are prime suspects in an earlier unsolved cop killing, many of Shephard’s Dunedin CID colleagues are ecstatic. But our sassy heroine is uneasy, and decides to investigate further - irritating and frustrating her colleagues - while at the same time juggling plenty of professional and personal conundrums; a dying father, ongoing family issues, and the stresses of a workplace relationship.

Symon also has a nice touch for the southern scenery of Dunedin and its surrounds, a real feel for the city and the people, personalities, and places there, from the youthful exuberance of the transient student population, to the historic buildings, to the natural environment, and much more.

With BOUND, Symon takes an already-great series to another level, bringing everything together superbly with real verve and personality. Shephard has become one of the better heroines in contemporary crime fiction, anywhere. A protagonist that is energetic and intriguing, with plenty of layers and personality. She's very much her own woman, and a real 'Kiwi lass' at that. Symon has a really good touch for the spiralling interpersonal relationships of her characters, the everyday, very human fears and foibles that all of us can face as we make our way through the world, regardless of whether we fight crime or not. As Shephard's home and professional life both change, she has to adjust, and Symon builds plenty of interest there, as well as in the very intriguing plot. Plenty of surprises, snappy repartee, touches of humour, vivid visuals and setting, and a real sense of energy. Excellent storytelling.

A condensed version of this review was published in the May 2011 print edition of WildTomato magazine. The review has been expanded for online publication on Crime Watch.
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