Monday, April 4, 2016


JUMPING TRACKS by HTR Williams (H Press, 2015)

Reviewed by Leisa Pierson

Thomas is an amputee who’s recovering from several mental breakdowns. He’s trying to forge a new path in life, but his attractive girlfriend Aafke still seems too good to be true, despite the dark history she’s disclosed to him. Should he trust her assurances that her past is dead and buried, or his own sense that something’s wrong? Their unstable relationship is dealt a seismic smack when the bodies of two former sex-workers, related to Aafke’s past, are discovered. Aafke herself is now a target. 

Two central characters, Thomas and Aafke, go on a journey across the South Island of New Zealand. Thanks to Aafke’s dodgy past, the journey that Aafke begrudgingly embarks on becomes a hunt, with them both being the ones being chased down. Thomas is a naïve artist with a history of poor choices who has ended up with the wrong girl, Aafke. Selfish, bratty and unkind, Aafke is a character you instantly think you know and dislike. However both characters stories are gently revealed throughout the journey. Deepening as the story unwinds, with you getting to gradually glimpse more and more of their motivations and the weaknesses and strengths that make them human and fallible.

With the first couple of chapters being slower than an average crime novel, due to the level of detail and background description, you would be forgiven for wondering whether it was a crime novel. That said, there was enough mystery and unanswered questions at the outset to keep me turning the pages. Once the story got going, I really couldn’t put it down.

I found the novel seriously addictive towards the end as the short chapters finished at cliff-hanger moments and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. Reading some other short stories written by HTR Williams I can see that the intricate level of detail around the characters is a specific style in his writing.

The settings in this novel are vividly described. You find yourself immersed in the book and in the world of the story, imagining everything from smells and textures to actual events. This was something I especially loved about this novel. I live in Dunedin hailing from Christchurch originally, so I knew a lot of the places mentioned. The writing of the aftermath of the quakes fits the story in a symbolic way but this isn’t exploited or used distastefully. There were many descriptions of Christchurch that were included, allowing clear images and recall.

In the beginning the characters were emotionally flawed, somewhat stereotypical, generating little sympathy for their predicament, by the end I was a little invested in the characters. The addition of quirkiness into a number of the characters peppered throughout the story added extra flavour to this read, without overdoing it or taking up too much time. The writer’s occasional use of humour, found me laughing out loud.

On reflection after finishing the novel I realised that there was a subtle use of symbolism that had been worked into the story’s objects and settings, such as the tin men. It wasn’t always immediately obvious, but when the penny dropped it actually added a whole other dimension. This maybe isn’t what people typically look for in a crime thriller and could be considered pretentious, but personally I appreciated it and also it made me feel more assured that the author was leading me in a well thought out direction.

I have read a lot of crime thrillers where it is all about plot and you never get to know the characters this well, they write preparing you for the next sequel, slowly drawing out the lead characters past. I appreciated how the story itself was able to bring me to have a change of heart, with the original negative becoming more of a plus. I’m glad I stuck with the story as it ending up being a colourful, somewhat intense well-paced thriller with a great plot and memorable characters.

Leisa Pierson is an Account Manager with 2Degrees in Dunedin, who after a long day of talking, loves to disappear into the worlds of crime and thriller novels as her daily release. She is always looking to find new crime authors from both New Zealand and overseas. 

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