Thursday, September 10, 2009

Review of OVERKILL by Vanda Symon

One of the magazines I write for is WildTomato, the magazine of Nelson and Marlborough. It's a fantastic, glossy lifestyle magazine full of interesting interviews, feature articles, and columns. I'm actually responsible for the sports/outdoors column, amongst other things (features, the odd travel article etc) - but I also write book reviews for them (including, as you can imagine given my proclivities, a high percentage of crime/thriller titles).

Although generally I won't reprint reviews I've written for other publications here on this blog (preferring to link where possible), as WildTomato doesn't yet have many of its archived book reviews available online, and I haven't reviewed Vanda Symon's debut OVERKILL for any other publication available online, I am including that review here for your information.

OVERKILL by Vanda Symon
(Penguin, 2007)
In February we reviewed THE RINGMASTER, the second Sam Shepherd book published by former pharmacist and Dunedin-based crime writer Vanda Symon. Sassy Sam had earlier taken her first bow in this novel, Symon’s raw but surprisingly textured debut.

Fans of high quality international crime fiction won’t be disappointed by this local fare. Symon wastes no time, immediately stunning readers with an opening-pages haymaker, as during the prologue an intruder forces a stay-at-home mother to submit to her own death, in order to save her baby daughter. Who knew the farming town of Mataura could harbour such evil?

Soon after, sole-charge rural cop Sam finds herself co-ordinating the search for the missing mother, her ex-lover’s wife. Once the body is found, she is left tidying up then investigating the looks-like-suicide drowning. The case is complicated by stroppy Sam’s frequent clashes with authority, her unclear relationship with her ex - the widower, and the public finger of blame beginning to creep her way.

Sam soon feels like a pariah, and finds herself right in the manure (literally in one case) amongst the salt-of-the-earth citizens of small-town Southland.

Overkill is an excellent first novel from a talented storyteller. Symon nicely balances action, character and story in a well-drawn rural setting, and realistically speckles the book with light-hearted moments and humour throughout. Symon drops Sam right in it and the reader can’t help but be taken along for the ride, willingly and wonderfully.

Symon builds the book to a satisfying conclusion, weaving throughout real issues relevant to agricultural communities, along with the loves, hates, hopes, and fears universal to people anywhere. Good crime novels set in an authentic rural setting are rare, as is quality Kiwi crime fiction (at least until recently). Overkill ticks both boxes. Highly recommended.

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