Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
When Detective Inspector Amanda Valentine is called to the murder scene of Sybil Knight, daughter of a former Ambassador to the United States, she already feels the case is a political hot potato. But when she arrives to find the body has been found trussed and battered in a private room of a lesbian sex club, she knows it will take every ounce of her skill and courage to track down the killer. Sure enough, the investigation is thwarted at every turn by a voracious media and a powerful family determined to cover up the facts. It soon becomes clear Sybil had many secrets, and just as many enemies.
After reading Beecham's engaging crime debut THE GARBAGE DUMP MURDERS last year, which had the eponymous title INTRODUCING AMANDA VALENTINE in the United States, I immediately hopped online and sourced copies of the second and third books in her Amanda Valentine series from the early-mid 1990s. Although the first book fell into the 'good not great', enjoyable rather than excellent category for me, I had been thoroughly engaged, was keen to see how Valentine's story developed, and wanted to grab some Kiwi crime history. For Beecham was one of a group of talented and groundbreaking writers, including Val McDermid and Stella Duffy, who were bringing lesbian protagonists into popular crime fiction ore than twenty year ago.
I found the second Amanda Valentine to be as engaging and readable as the first. I was quickly pulled into the story in SECOND GUESS, and enjoyed riding along with Detective Valentine as she carefully steps her way through a minefield of lurid media speculation and powerful interests to try and find a young woman's killer. Forced to keep her own sexuality private in the masculine world of policing, she has to delve into others' private lives - the very thing she tries to prevent the media doing to her - in order to solve the murder. This is one of several ways in which Beecham brings some depth to the intriguing character of Valentine, who is a talented and persistent investigator who is also filled with doubts, frustrations, and inner conflicts, despite her 'having it all together' outward appearance and hard-earned reputation.
SECOND GUESS also threads in some interesting issues surrounding privacy, sexuality, media coverage of sensational crimes (and what the media think is news or not), and how power is wielded in relation to various groups of people. But at its heart it's a good murder mystery, a plot-based tale that takes readers on an excursion through 1990s Wellington, a capital city that has something of a smaller town feel, rather than its sprawling metropolitan counterparts abroad. I found the pages turning quickly, and immediately went and got the third off the shelf when I got to the end.
The Amanda Valentine series is sadly now out of print, but you can find copies online and in secondhand bookstores. It's worth digging out. I'm glad I did.
Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson