Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Review: THE GARBAGE DUMP MURDERS
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
A New Zealand-based thriller starring tough and unconventional Detective Inspector Amanda Valentine. A monster dubbed the "Garbage Dump Killer" is on the loose leaving dead bodies in Wellington, and a beautiful TV reporter has designs on Amanda's living body as well.
Published in the United States under the title INTRODUCING AMANDA VALENTINE, Rose Beecham's first crime novel does just that, giving readers a first look at an intriguing and multi-layered police detective of that name. It's an engaging start to a series that still reads well, two decades on from publication.
Like Beecham, a New Zealander living in the United States, Amanda Valentine has ties to both countries (NZ father and US mother), and in this series-starter is working as a homicide detective in Wellington, New Zealand's capital, after leaving her job with the NYPD following the tragic death of her partner.
Beecham was one of a cadre of talented crime writers, including Val McDermid and Stella Duffy, who launched crime series in the late 1980s-early 1990s featuring lesbian protagonists. Valentine's sexuality is a strong and well-developed thread, adding extra hurdles for her in a career in such a male-dominated subculture as a police force. Already something of a celebrity due to her past on-the-job successes and her exotic pedigree, Valentine has to negotiate an interesting array of personalities both on and off the job, knowing that being fully herself often isn't an option. She has to shutter part of her life away, while doing her best to catch killers and keep her fellow citizens safe.
When body parts begin surfacing in Wellington's garbage dumps, Valentine and her colleagues come under increased pressure as the media, politicians, and the public all demand fast results. The spectre of 'The Garbage Dump Killer' grows, in a nation that's never had a serial killer, and Valentine finds herself in danger at work and home. Meanwhile a beautiful television reporter is showing strong interest - but what does she really want? Is she setting Valentine up for a 'gotcha' story, or could the talented but troubled detective finally be swimming in the warm waters of new love?
Beecham delivers an enjoyable mystery tale that despite being more than twenty years old, doesn't feel too dated. Of course technologies have changed (computers weren't as ubiquitous back then, and cellphones were rare and never 'smart'), but the interaction between a diverse cast of characters - the tension and drama of human relationships and criminal investigation, is timeless.
Overall, THE GARBAGE DUMP MURDERS is a more-than-solid start to the Amanda Valentine series that not only introduces a fascinating heroine but offers readers an exciting and engaging story that will have you wanting to read the subsequent books. I immediately did.
Craig Sisterson is a New Zealander who writes for publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 150 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson