Tuesday, June 27, 2017


THE AGENCY by Ian Austin (2016)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Dan Calder is an ex Brit and ex policeman looking for a fresh start in a new country but still carrying the baggage of failed relationships and a depressed, repressed past. He chose New Zealand because it was as far as he could get from his old life but did not take into account the universal six degrees of separation is no more than two or three in the land of the long white cloud. 

The Agency provides a service like no other and New Zealand is the ideal location to find a new client. When Calder first encounters it by sheer chance, his life instantly changes and before long others are depending on him too. Engaged in a deadly game with an unknown foe; this was not the new life Dan Calder planned for himself but now at stake is the ultimate reward; his own salvation.

The opening salvo in what's to be an ongoing series, THE AGENCY introduces the character of Dan Calder. Calder has joined the police force in the UK - following in his father's footsteps. His father had a successful public life and career, although the truth of their home life was very different. Ultimately, Calder finds himself on a collision course with authority, leaving the force and his home country behind, hoping to put his past behind him once and for all.

After setting himself up in his new home in New Zealand, he finds himself living next door to a very welcoming couple in Paul and Shelley who become his closest friends, determined to set him up with a life partner. When they introduce Calder to Tara, it feels like this is a relationship that could work. He also discovers she has a brother Neil who suffers from depression, and from there his cop instincts are tweaked by something going on with Neil.

This leads to the discovery of the shadowy and decidedly suspect "Agency" - formed by a woman with a variety of identities - preying on vulnerable people. Needless to say this sets Calder off on a quest to discover who the mysterious Stenning woman is, and what exactly The Agency has been up to, eventually linking them to an unsolved case in the UK.

Austin's background as a UK and NZ police officer is very obvious in this work. Perhaps a little too obvious at points as a solid plot is sometimes hampered by a tendency to provide a lot of background police procedural information. The same with plot advancement which can be lost in favour of personal sidelines and interests which go on for way too long. Interaction between the characters is mostly pretty good, although can sometimes lack normal conversational flow, and there is a tendency to reiterate plot points from multiple character viewpoints, bogging the reader down in "Groundhog Day" for no good reason.

The plot itself is a particularly interesting idea, and the way that the investigation is undertaken by Calder convincing. The minor flaws that are there are easily resolved, which does mean that overall THE AGENCY is another novel from New Zealand that's telegraphing serious potential for an ongoing character based series.

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 and republishes her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

No comments:

Post a Comment