Monday, June 1, 2020


CAUGHT BETWEEN by Jeannie McLean (2020)

Reviewed by Shauna Bickley

The body of sixteen-year-old Jasmine Dunn is washed up on a Te Atatu beach. The next day, her mother's body is found near Bethels. Tova Tan lives downstairs from the Dunns and was seen arguing with Jasmine. Known to the police, Tova becomes their main suspect. When Tova's half-brother is also implicated, her loyalty to him drags her deep into his seedy lifestyle. The police suspect Tova knows more than she's telling although an unlikely ally appears in Constable Finn McIntosh who is less inclined than his colleagues to jump to conclusions. Searching her parents' past for a truth that could save her family, Tova finds herself caught in a dangerous and illicit world where she will have to fight for her very survival.

Tova Tan is caught between her Māori heritage and her father’s Chinese culture. She is caught between her longing to fit in and her need to prove that her mother didn’t commit suicide as the police believe. She is caught between wanting to help her half-brother and her dislike of his seedy lifestyle, drug-taking, and dangerous associates. All these strands weave together and tighten around Tova when she becomes the prime suspect in a double murder.

Caught Between by Auckland author Jeannie McLean opens with the discovery of a teenage girl’s body on a rocky foreshore. Another body is discovered the following day on a deserted beach. When the bodies are identified as Juliette and Jasmin Dunn, Tova’s landlady and her teenage daughter, Tova soon becomes the focus of police attention, forcing her to do some investigating of her own.

Tova’s reticence during police questioning, and her initial reluctance to get involved in her landlady’s disappearance and murder becomes more understandable as we learn of her involvement with the police over her mother’s death, and especially as her father urges her not to communicate with them without his lawyer’s presence.

Part of the police case hinges on the fact her car was seen in the area where Jasmine’s body was found. However, Tova has never driven the car, given to her by her wealthy, estranged father, but she knows Richard, her half-brother, often borrows it without their father’s knowledge.

Determined to discover if Richard is involved Tova visits his apartment, but she is attacked on arrival. Although hurt, she escapes relatively unscathed when one of the attackers pulls the other off her and she discovers from their conversation they have been ordered not to hurt her. Once the attackers leave she finds Richard in a far worse state. After his injuries are treated at the A&E department, Tova decides he should stay with his parents, but as they arrive at their father’s large house there is an explosion in the garage.

The police find a burned body at the scene and once again Tova is involved in a murder.

Up to this point McLean’s novel follows the route of an excellent whodunit, giving us bodies, clues, red herrings, family estrangements and quarrels, but when Tova later goes to retrieve her friend’s car from her father’s house, the plot shifts and swiftly moves to become a pacy thriller. Tova is kidnapped and that scary scenario rapidly turns into a siege when the police follow and stake-out the suburban house where Tova and another family are held hostage.

Caught Between shows us the seedy world of hired heavies and drugs mixed with poor suburbs and people trying to live as best they can. This contrasts the more opulent world of exclusive neighbourhoods and gated mansions, and where the two sometimes collide in business deals and corruption.

Tova’s previous experience of a police investigation into her mother’s death has taught her to be wary of opening up and showing emotion, but during the murder investigation she begins to hope that Constable Finn McIntosh might believe her even though everyone else appears to accept that she is mixed up in the murders.

Caught Between is a police-procedural set in and around Auckland, with a mix of action-packed scenes, and, as in all great murder mysteries, a good twist at the end. McLean also adds the lightest touch of a possible romance between Tova and Finn, deepening the theme of Tova being ‘caught between’.

CAUGHT BETWEEN is available in paperback and ebook

Shauna Bickley is an author based in the Waikato, New Zealand. She writes across several genres and her latest crime novel, THE WORST LIE, is entered in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards. For more information on Shauna and her crime writing, visit her website

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