Sunday, August 7, 2022


BOY FALLEN by Chris Gill (PRNTD Publishing, 2022)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

When the body of wealthy teen and aspiring photographer Evan Wiley is found faceup at the base of Taonga Falls, one thing is immediately clear: he didn’t jump.

Detective Brooke Palmer races down to the struggling New Zealand town she once called home to comfort her oldest friend – Evan’s mother.

But when Brooke learns Evan had been hanging out with a boy who used to bully him, she quickly gets drawn into the case. She fears this dangerous new friendship may have cost Evan his life – or at the very least, his heart.

And as Brooke confronts her own past, she is reminded that in Taonga, even those who have it all can hit rock bottom.

Brooke Palmer flies down from Auckland to visit her West Coast hometown, Taonga. Far from the ‘treasure’ suggested by the name, Taonga holds bitter memories for Brooke – it is where her 15-year-old brother, Jack, was murdered 19 years before. Brooke and her family are still traumatised by their loss, and Brooke still hates the man serving out his sentence for her brother’s murder. She has returned because Evan, the son of her best friend, has been found dead – it appears he is another young man murdered in Taonga.

Brooke is now a detective in Auckland, and although she is back for her friend Lana, she agrees to help Christchurch Detective Tane Collins find out what happened to Evan, and why. Boy Fallen is a police procedural, but from the point of view of an incredibly invested cop who finds it hard to put aside her personal feelings when investigating. Interspersed are episodes from Evan’s point of view – the first an intrusion in the text, but then a tense addition to the narrative, mirroring what the police are discovering about Evan’s life, and the incidents leading to his death.

To Brooke’s surprise there is no shortage of suspects for Evan’s murder; Evan had been surrounded by a variety of people who had reasons to want him gone. She knows Taonga is not immune to the divide between rich and poor evident elsewhere in Aotearoa; her brother had suffered the jealousy and resentment from the less well-off in town. And like Jack, Evan had been bullied at school. He had been planning on getting away, but when things looked like he might find happiness in Taonga, other forms of prejudice descended, even from those who should have been supporting him.

BOY FALLEN is an incredibly atmospheric read. The cold and rain of the West Coast shroud the tragic community, the frequent drives to Christchurch lead to disturbing prison visits and unsatisfactory interviews, and then back to the grief and hostility of Taonga. Collins is dealing with his own family problems, and neither he nor Brooke have time out from the relentless drive to find Evan’s killer. Brooke promises Lana they’ll solve the case before Brooke goes back to Auckland, a promise that weighs heavily on her mind.

The characters are in turns awful, misunderstood, flawed, sympathetic, and puzzling. And many go terribly astray. The reader witnesses Evan’s world spinning out of control, to a place where he can’t see a way out – until it’s too late. The homing in on various subjects, coupled with seeing Evan’s experience with them, leads to a nerve-wracking read. And when the culprit is finally revealed it throws a whole different perspective on the narrative. Brooke and the reader revisit everything they have known about the causes of the violent goings-on in Taonga. 

BOY FALLEN is a sad read, it is about how difficult teenage years can be, both for youth and their caregivers. It is about how the human desire to fit in can ironically lead to greater isolation. And how prejudice can go both ways. A great and moving piece of #YeahNoir

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving former librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

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