Saturday, December 7, 2019


A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE by Nalini Singh (Hachette, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

On the rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town where people live. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates.

That is until one fateful summer—and several vanished bodies—shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever.

Eight years later, a beautiful young woman disappears without a trace, and the residents of Golden Cove wonder if their home shelters something far more dangerous than an unforgiving landscape. It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.

Nalini Singh brings an unusual pedigree to her debut crime novel A Madness of Sunshine. While she may be a fresh name to many crime readers, the Fijian-born Aucklander has already racked up around thirty New York Times bestsellers, shelves full of awards, and legions of ardent fans.

Open the pages of her prior books and you'll find passionate tales, often involving vampires, shapeshifters, archangels, and psychics. Singh is a global high priestess of paranormal romance, so the announcement that she was penning a rural crime tale caused a bit of a stir in the books world.

Romance and crime are the two biggest oceans in the world of fiction, but can Singh nimbly leap from one to the other? How will her longtime fans react to a story sans supernatural, and can the bestselling author draw crime fans in with her mystery plotlines and realistic characterisation?

A Madness of Sunshine shows that Singh's storytelling talents translates across genre. This atmospheric tale begins with concert pianist Anahera returning with some reluctance to her tiny hometown on the rugged West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island, after many years of living an urban life in London. She’d never intended to live in Golden Cove again; it’s a place full of painful memories as well as old friends. Recuperating from the loss of her husband, and the betrayal revealed at his funeral, Anahera finds herself living in her mother’s old cabin near the sea.

Meanwhile Will is a new cop in town, exiled to the backblocks after a case went wrong in the city.

The disappearance of a vibrant young woman about to leave Golden Cove for her own adventures rocks the small community, who come together for the extensive search even as fears and suspicion grow. Is a killer lurking among them, or has danger arrived from the outside? Could the disappearance be linked in any way to missing hikers from when Anahera was younger?

Singh adroitly shifts gears from paranormal romance to crime, crafting an immersive and near-claustrophobic sense of place as well as some fascinating characters that power an intriguing and twisting mystery. The primal nature of the West Coast environment, where human life is hemmed in by wilderness, is well portrayed, as are the personal demons Anahera and others are battling.

There are some interesting characters, as you'd expect in a small town mystery, and Singh does a good job portraying the interlocking relationships and the ways in which the past is never far away when you regularly see people who've known you since childhood. There's some romance for those who've followed Singh from her past territories, and while long-time fans may miss the greater lashings of steamy sex or the paranormal characters of her prior novels, mystery readers are likely to be reasonably well satisfied, and keen to see Singh return to the crime scene again in future.

An engaging tale that flows well and is a good read overall.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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