Wednesday, June 7, 2017


MARLBOROUGH MAN by Alan Carter (Fremantle Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Nick Chester is working as a sergeant for the Havelock police in the Marlborough Sound, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. If the river isn’t flooded and the land hasn’t slipped, it’s paradise. Unless you are also hiding from a ruthless man with a grudge, in which case, remote beauty has its own kind of danger. In the last couple of weeks, two local boys have vanished. Their bodies are found, but the Pied Piper is still at large.

Alan Carter is the author of the Ned Kelly Award winning Cato Kwong series (PRIME CUT won the Best First Award in 2011), but MARLBOROUGH MAN features a new character - UK born, New Zealand based cop Nick Chester and his family.

Chester's had an "interesting" working life - starting out as an undercover cop in the UK, ending up a country cop in Havelock in rural New Zealand as part of a witness relocation scheme when his undercover work goes decidedly pear-shaped. Even with what would seem to be the impossible task of tracking him, his wife and their young son Paulie down, he's constantly on edge - anybody new could very well have been sent to exact revenge.

You'd also think that the move to rural New Zealand would mean that policing would be limited to the odd drunken skirmish, a lot of traffic tickets, and a bit of low level thieving (it does seem that the local villains are particularly obsessed with meat in various forms). Unfortunately there's been a spate of horrific child murders in these parts and the discovery of a young boy's body close by gives the neighbourhood an internal shaking echoing the constant threat of earthquakes.

There's quite a lot of set up in this novel, working the back-story of Nick's undercover exploits, and the resulting outcomes, into the current day activities. Nick's a great character, but all of the characters in this book are fabulous - especially his cop offsider Latifa Rapata; his two guardian pig-shooters Gary and Steve; Denzel the Maori kid not beyond redemption; Charlie the chicken and alpaca farmer and particularly his wife Vanessa. Each of these characters slots into the action perfectly, seamlessly contributing enough to both the good and bad of a complex story like this.

As the big wigs from the city come to take over the child murder investigation, there's less and less chance of Nick letting go, and as his old life starts to catch up with him, he determined to sort out everything and everybody in his neighbourhood. Including the local logging magnate with whom he openly shares a mutual vendetta. There's lots of strings to the bows in MARLBOROUGH MAN and just when you think they are all going to twang around Chester's neck, somehow he manages to find the right targets, granted at great risk to everything that he values most highly.

There's nary a hitch in MARLBOROUGH MAN. The characters work, the plot is cleverly executed and the sense of place is visceral. There's touches of humour and self-inflicted jeopardy which are perfectly justifiable. There's also personal loss, sadness and guilt. All in all it's so good this reviewer even managed to recover from the death of an alpaca and a pet pig which got a bit too close to home for comfort. Shows what a seriously good writer like Alan Carter can do in an absolute stand out book like MARLBOROUGH MAN.

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

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