Friday, March 19, 2021

Review: BOUND

BOUND by Vanda Symon (Orenda Books, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad's terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation.

And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it's up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

This week BOUND, the fourth Sam Shephard novel, has been published in the UK - which means that Vanda Symon's terrific series starring one of the most headstrong and engaging main characters I've read in crime fiction is now up to date over here. It's been great to see Symon, whose books I've enjoyed for over a decade, connecting with new audiences around the world. It's a superb series.

Several years ago when I first read the New Zealand versions of the first four Sam Shephard books, I enjoyed them all a lot, but BOUND was my favourite. So it was a little disappointing, as a keen crime reader, when Symon stepped away from crime writing to pursue a PhD for a few years, putting Dunedin detective Sam Shephard into hiatus. The great news is Symon is now working on a fifth Sam tale. 

As I mentioned in my recent column for Murder is Everywhere, it was Symon's second Sam Shephard tale, THE RINGMASTER - along with Paul Cleave's CEMETERY LAKE that really opened up my eyes to the world-class quality of some of our modern New Zealand crime writers, and kickstarted my own journey as a reviewer then panel chair, awards judge, festival founder, and author myself.

In BOUND, Detective Shephard continues to get herself in the muck. It's a thrilling tale kick-started by a brutal home invasion of the type that horrifies an entire nation as its splashed across newspaper front pages and the nightly news. A businessman meets the bad end of a shotgun and his wife is left hospitalised after being tied to a chair, gagged, and left to watch her husband's blood pool on the floor. 

The businessman may have been shady, but it's still an appalling event. 

When evidence starts pointing to a couple of high-profile lowlifes who happen to be the prime suspects in an unsolved cop killing, many of Detective Sam Shephard's Dunedin CID colleagues are stoked. Finally they'll get those bastards, even if it's not for the crime they want to put them away for. But something doesn't sit right with our sassy and independently minded heroine. Sam decides to investigate further, a precarious call given the general feeling among her colleagues. At the same time she's juggling lots of professional and personal issues: a dying father, family troubles, and the stresses of a workplace relationship. Can Sam crack the case before everything else breaks? 

Or has the stress that's infecting her life meant she's the one who's mistaken? 

With BOUND, Symon takes an already terrific crime series to another level, bringing everything together superbly with real verve and personality. Shephard has long been a favourite protagonist of mine - there's just something so engaging and authentic about her. She has a big heart and wants to do good things, as a detective and a person, but often gets herself into all sorts of tangles and trouble. 

BOUND delivers an intriguing plot with plenty of surprises, snappy repartee, nice touches of humour, vivid visuals and vibe of its Otago setting, and a real sense of energy throughout. It ticks lots of boxes for mystery lovers, while being so much more too. Excellent storytelling. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed Kiwi lawyer who now lives in London and writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. Craig's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, McIlvanney Prize, is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in late 2020.

Full disclosure: After being a fan of Vanda's Sam Shephard series as a reviewer, event chair and awards judge in New Zealand several years ago, Craig introduced Vanda to her British publisher then later helped finalise contracts etc. The review parts of this post are primarily taken directly or expanded from magazine reviews of BOUND Craig wrote years prior to helping facilitate UK publication. 

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