Sunday, November 19, 2017


IN DARK PLACES by Michael Bennett (Paul Little Books, 2016)

Reviewed by Victoria Goldman

Teina Pora, a 17-year-old car thief, was wrongly convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Susan Burdett, who had been beaten to death with the softball bat she kept next to her bed for her own protection. Tim McKinnel, en ex-cop turned private investigator, discovered the long forgotten case 18 years later, saw an injustice had been done and set out to win Teina’s freedom. 

Reaching from the mean streets of South Auckland to the highest court in the Commonwealth, this is the story not just of Tim’s quest, but also of how an innocent man who was left rotting in a prison cell for two decades found the inner strength to rise above the dark places to which he had been condemned.

In Dark Places is one of the best books I've read all year. The story is not only fascinating but also heart-breaking - of a man sentenced to life in prison for murder, a crime he didn't commit. And of the 18 years he spent there (more than half his life) before he was finally freed.

I was glued to the story of New Zealander Teina Pora and private investigator Tim McKinnel's quest to determine the truth about Susan Burdett's death. The book is compelling and fast-paced from the outset and reads like fiction.

There are cliffhangers, twists and turns, tensions and drama - everything you'd expect to find in a crime novel. Except this isn't fiction -  these are real life events and real people involved. I had to keep reminding myself of that. With his brilliant writing, Michael Bennett makes the people, places and events leap out of the pages.

The police procedure, legal framework and forensics are described in detail, yet very easy to understand. During his research, Tim McKinnel explored the science of false confessions and racism in the New Zealand justice system. This devastating miscarriage of justice left me with one word:


In Dark Places is perfect for true crime fans and those who followed Making a Murderer. But I also urge people who don't usually read true crime to pick up this book. I hadn't read any true crime for years, but now, thanks In Dark Places, I'll be reading lots more.

Victoria Goldman is a health journalist and editor who also reviews crime novels and talks about books and writing at Off-the-Shelf BooksThis review was originally published on her website as part of the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards blog tour, celebrating this year's finalists across three categories, and is reprinted here with her kind permission.  You can follow VIctoria on Twitter: @victoriagoldma2

No comments:

Post a Comment