Wednesday, July 12, 2017


STRAIGHT AND LEVEL by Penelope Haines (2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

The sequel to Death on D'Urville sees Claire Hardcastle involved in another adventure. The night Claire meets newly arrived property developer Jim Mason is also the night she has a chance conversation with investigative journalist Andrew Camborne, who's been researching reports of crime and corruption on the Kapiti Coast. 

Later, Claire witnesses an altercation between the two, and the next morning, Andrew's body is found. Is it an accident, or homicide? When Claire and Jim's daughter are abducted, Claire is forced to fly her kidnappers to a remote hideout. Thrust into a world of eco-terrorism, drug-smuggling, and violence, the two women have to use all their initiative to survive.

Claire Hardcastle is a twenty-something pilot working for a small aviation  outfit on the Kapiti Coast.  Her new, still finding out about each other, partner is a cop – and currently off in the Solomon Islands on secondment – leaving their relationship at the Skype level. She loves flying and is studying for more qualifications, she is swearing off alcohol for a good cause, and enjoying the mix of work, friends and living alone with her cat, Nelson.

But not far into the novel Claire starts meeting a range of intriguing characters, getting odd flying assignments, and being in the vicinity where bodies are being found. Claire doesn’t end up unravelling the mystery so much as getting swept along into it – her piloting skills being of great interest to both the good guys and the bad guys.

She is a great character, a mix of pizazz and composure – and very human, she gets a rumbling tum at a very tense moment, and fleetingly thinks she didn’t really need to have changed the sheets during a torrid sex scene. It is great to have the males the ones who are agonising over relationships, and eliciting “Magnificence in a man can be so transitory” comments about their physiques.

The plot involves drugs, gangs, rich people, Maori sovereignty and a very whacky attempt at bio-terrorism, but somehow it all hangs together. And there are a few red herrings along the way.

The settings are great – the beautiful Kapiti Coast, the Marlborough Sounds and the misty Uruweras, are all described to great effect, often from the air. The technical information about flying is absorbing – on more than one occasion I thought of taking lessons!

This is the second Claire Hardcastle outing and a third is on the way. Well worth a read.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review will also appear on her blog, which you can check out here

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