Saturday, February 14, 2015


THE CHILDREN'S POND by Tina Shaw (Pointer Press, 2014)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

An exciting addition to New Zealand's burgeoning crime genre, this is the first novel to be set in Turangi and features the beautiful Tongariro River. 

Hand pressed over her mouth. Covers stripped back. Punch to the kidneys. ‘Shut up. Don’t tell, or it’ll be bad for you. We can make things real bad, bitch.’ Lisa, staring down at her, eyes gleaming in the dim light. Another girl rummaging in her locker. Shit. The chocolate her mother had sent, had been hoarding it, eking it out, one piece at a time. Another punch, to her guts. Groaned beneath the clammy hand. Then they were gone. Released, Jess rolled onto her side, clutching her stomach. What really happened all those years ago at Aranui?

THE CHILDREN'S POND is a debut crime novel for NZ author Tina Shaw, a well-known writer in her native New Zealand, it's written with the authority of an experienced author. Especially as it puts a city girl, moved to the country to be closer to her son in jail; somebody with a dodgy dating history, but a strong work ethic; and debutante fly fisher into the central character in a surprisingly taut analysis / thriller. It's not often that somebody can combine fly fishing and a dark, interweaving of evil, and secrets and make a river a character into the bargain.

A novel based around sense of place and character, there's a lot of back story filled in for Jessica, her family (parents / foster children raised alongside her) and now her son. Most of this is dotted throughout the narrative so it will take a while for readers to get to know these people, and there's no doubt at all that there is something being held back. Less of an unreliable narrator however, this reads as Jess being somebody coming to terms with the past, present and future at the same time as the reader.

Based loosely around the structure of a crime novel (a young girl is found dead, then another death, both of which are suspicious), THE CHILDREN'S POND is more an exploration of consequences in many ways. Jess, her sister, son, parents and her lovers - past and present, all come together and push apart, exploring the way that the past leaves fingerprints all over everything. There is a thriller overtone - somehow for such a beautiful place, and a beautiful river, there's something sinister, something in the undercurrents of this society.

This is an absorbing read, and you will need to have your concentration glasses on to tackle THE CHILDREN'S POND. There are little hints, and clues dotted throughout the narrative that you need to keep up with, and whilst the pace could allow you to charge through, it's better if you slow, watch, and catch the clues cast about. The Tongariro River is a beautiful setting, but it's also a wonderful analogy. The undercurrents, the weaving through a place and people's lives, the ripples, the quick flash of tempting flies darting across the surface...

An unusual approach, and not just because of the fly fishing, THE CHILDREN'S POND wasn't at all what I'd expected. In a good way.


Karen Chisholm is one of the most respected crime fiction reviewers in Australia. An absolute stalwart of antipodean crime fiction, Karen created and has been running her Aust Crime Fiction website since 2006, highlighting a plethora of authors and titles from this part of the world, to the wider world online. It is a terrific resource - please check it out. 

Karen also reviews for other outlets, such as the Newtown Review of Books, and since 2014 has been a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel - the New Zealand crime writing award. Her reviews of New Zealand crime novels will now be shared here on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction


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