Wednesday, June 15, 2016


THE LEGEND OF WINSTONE BLACKHAT by Tanya Moir (Vintage, 2015)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

In Winstone’s imagination, the Kid and his partner ride through the Wild West on the trail of their quarry. 

In Winstone’s actual life, he’s had to abandon his ‘partner’ and is hiding out in the tough landscape of Central Otago. What has this boy run from, and how will the resilient and engaging twelve-year-old survive?

The Crime Fiction genre is a broad church. Delivery styles, subject matter and purpose can vary wildly from the light-hearted to the darkest noir, from purposely vicious and cruel to accidental and panicked. There's even shades in terms of how or why.

Investigation and resolution with all loose threads neatly bundled through to something that concentrates more intensely on the why. Why did the victim(s) die, why did the killer take the action they did, even to a certain level why do the investigators do what they do?

When that shift to the why became particularly marked, it created waves. Particularly as Scandinavian writing came to the forefront where the why is often much more important than the how or the who. For some readers the search for retribution or finalisation became considerably less important than a sense of knowing that why. Of exploring the reasons that people do things, of looking at people's reactions to what they have done.

Along the way the effect of that on investigators has always been considered - the lone wolf, bitter, damaged by the experiences he has had / the killers he has tracked has always been. Lately both male and female investigators deal with the consequences of the job on every day life - families, friends and their relationships with colleagues.

Which brings us to THE LEGEND OF WINSTONE BLACKHAT, an unusual crime novel, but one, that this reader would argue is still a crime novel. Author Tanya Moir has written a novel of angst and breathtaking beauty. There is mystery built into young Winstone's back story in how he came to be hiding out. There is also mystery and concern about his future. How he will cope, where he will go, what does a twelve-year-old boy do to change the extreme circumstances that he finds himself in?

For this reader, what makes this such an unusual crime novel is that it's exploring the outcomes of crime, and the effect on a victim. As the story unfolds the reader is provided with searing and discomforting opportunities to form theories on the why and how of Winstone's circumstances. Along the way Moir carefully and gently includes the 'what' clues. The crimes are exactly what you'd expect when the central character is a young boy, and more. There's so much that is revealed, dropped into the consciousness of the reader, stacked up against stark environmental beauty, unflinching but so desperately sad and confronting. But always it's the result that is forefront in mind. It's the outcome of whatever crimes they were and whoever perpetrated what, that is always in the reader's consideration.

So THE LEGEND OF WINSTONE BLACKHAT is not a "traditional" crime novel in the same way that many early psychological thrillers were not regarded as traditional crime novels, perhaps reflecting the way that we have seen many shifts and twists in the genre. Whilst readers may find that they don't agree with this summation at all, the one thing that you can absolutely guarantee is that this book won't leave you. You'll be thinking, remembering, and as has been the case with my fellow reviewer Deb Wood and I, talking about it for a long time to come.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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