Saturday, March 27, 2021


NANCY BUSINESS by RWR McDonald (Allen & Unwin 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It's been four months since Tippy, Uncle Pike and Devon were together for Christmas. Now back for the first anniversary of Tippy's father's death, the Nancys are reformed when Riverstone is rocked by an early morning explosion that kills three people and destroys the town hall.

A new case is born. Is the accused bomber really guilty? Is there a second bomber? And if so, does that mean a threat to destroy Riverstone Bridge is real? And is asparagus a colour? Once again, it is up to the Nancys to go against the flow and ignore police orders to get to the truth.

It's great to be back in Nancy business again, but this time it's all different. Uncle Pike and Devon can't agree on anything and Tippy is learning hard truths about the world and the people she loves the most. Can the Nancys stay together to do their best work and save the town? Or will the killer strike again? When everyone is right, does that make you wrong? And can Tippy ever trust anyone again?

A couple of years ago, Melbourne-based Kiwi author RWR McDonald prompted me to use the word "exuberant" in a review of a crime or thriller novel for the very first time. While there are plenty of common descriptors for high quality crime writing, eg 'gripping, page-turning, chilling', that have become reviewer clich├ęs (even if in many cases they're absolutely on point), reviewing THE NANCYS required something new. A word I hadn't used in more than a decade of reviewing. 

As I said back then, "I don't know if I've grinned as much reading a crime novel for quite a long time". 

So it was with plenty of delight and anticipation that I recently cracked open NANCY BUSINESS, the upcoming sequel to McDonald's award-winning debut. The second go-round for the unlikely investigative trio of adolescent Tippy Chan, her 'tattooed Santa Claus' of an uncle Pike, and Pike's flamboyant fashion designer boyfriend Devon - 'the Nancys' - opens in somewhat sombre fashion. 

Four months after the events of the first novel, it's exactly a year after the car crash that killed Tippy's father. Pike and Devon have returned to tiny Riverstone from Sydney, to be with Tippy and her mother at this tough time, as well as overseeing the renovations of the house in town they've bought as a holiday home. Though not all's well with Devon, who's lost weight and doesn't seem his usual self. 

The grief everyone is already dealing with gets compounded when a huge explosion in downtown Riverstone destroys the Town Hall, splits their iconic tree, and kills three locals. Could the local florist, Mr Tulips - one of the dead - really have been responsible for the death and destruction? The police and others think so, but it doesn't really make sense. And if someone else is involved, maybe the town is still in danger? Tippy, now 12, Pike and Devon kick their mystery-solving club 'The Nancys' back into action to uncover the truth behind the tragedy - and to help Tippy with everything she's dealing with. 

But sometimes, digging for the truth means you uncover things you'd rather not find.

Despite the sombre beginning and ongoing themes of dealing with grief and loss, McDonald once again strikes a great balance of light and dark. He adeptly mixes humour, charm, and serious issues. NANCY BUSINESS is at times hilarious, at times heartfelt as McDonald conducts a highwire act in terms of nailing a marvellous tone. There's grin-inducing moments and meditations on grief, classic mystery elements and coming-of-age too. It's a delightful, charming concoction that tickles the brain and heart.

McDonald has said in the past that he envisaged the Nancys series as a trilogy. We can only hope that like with Adrian McKinty's Sean Duffy trilogy - which now numbers six books, with more to come in future years - the adventures will keep on coming. A wonderful read. 

Well worth a pre-order for those in Australia and New Zealand. 

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 2020.

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