Friday, March 5, 2021


A COLD WIND DOWN THE GREY by Wendy Wilson (2019)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Greymouth, New Zealand, 1866: The Burgess gang is heading towards town, and a young surveyor from one of the country's leading families has vanished. Inspector James is preparing for trouble.

In the gold-mining town of Greymouth, where drunks fall asleep smoking and burn down their houses, the town is constantly inundated with floods, and fifty-seven hotels have sprung up in a year to accommodate the hordes of miners and gold thieves, Inspector William Henry James is tasked with keeping the town safe with a small force of troopers.

In 1888, forced into retirement by government cuts, James walks home beside the Whanganui River remembering his association with a series of murders by the notorious Burgess gang: back in 1866 he had forced the gang to leave Greymouth. The gang took a steamer up to Nelson and within days killed five men on the Maungatapu Track. Soon after, Inspector James discovered the body of a young surveyor, George Dobson, murdered by Burgess and his crew. The gang was gone, but one guilty man remained, and James was determined to bring him to trial. The events that transpired haunted him for the rest of his life.

A COLD WIND DOWN THE GREY is a novel based on a true crime story from the days of early white settlement in New Zealand. Greymouth is a gold-mining town, constantly inundated by flooding, and somewhat over-supplied by pubs - 57 in a year sprang into being, accommodating hordes of miners, alongside a hefty number of gold thieves and general drunks and craziness. In those days, Inspector William Henry James was tasked with maintaining law and order, in charge of a small force of troopers.

Flash forward to 1888, and James is in forced retirement due to government cost-cutting measures, and looking back at a series of murders committed by the notorious Burgess gang, including the murder of a young surveyor, George Dobson. That's the case that haunts James all those years later.

Wilson writes this story well, although the timeframe variances will need readers to pay close attention to the main threads to keep them distinct. They are, after all, not that far apart. The character's built here are well done, and the sense of place and timeframe felt very true to life and real.

Definitely one for fans of historical fiction, and definitely for anybody who is interested in the particular timeframe, and the effect that the gold rush had in places like New Zealand and Australia.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel. This review was first published on Karen's website; she kindly shares some of her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by Australians and New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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