Friday, June 9, 2023

"Flows smoothly and easily": LIFE AND DEATH IN BIRKENHEAD review

LIFE AND DEATH IN BIRKENHEAD (Mary Egan Publishing, 2022)

Reviewed by TJ Ramsay

Within the small suburb of Birkenhead lurks a monster, one the local residents entrust with their recently departed loved ones. He has been inflicting his depraved atrocities unnoticed. But what happens when he turns his attentions to the living? 

Maisie Manson lives a typical kiwi life: she works hard at school, enjoys the outdoors, and finally takes off for her big OE. She is having the best time, until a tragic event back home shatters her world and sets off a chain reaction of decisions which lead her on a frightening collision course with the man responsible. 

Once the mortuary’s secrets are revealed, life and death in Birkenhead will never be the same. 

This is a debut novel by Tarrant about a New Zealand serial killer and it’s a good one. Her characters are strong, her plot line well defined. 

Detective Tipene Patrick deserves another case to solve. I found him sympathetic, intelligent and down-to-earth. Tarrant’s people live believable lives and have sincere back stories which nicely explain why people end up on dangerous paths. There is plenty of hopelessness and sadness yet, through it, her people are trying their best, coping how they may. For me, Jazz came across as the most layered character, good side/bad side in a constant moving flux which made him easily the most interesting character.

Tarrant is writing about work she knows and she is able to make the practical work of the back-stage of a funeral home interesting, actually without bogging the reader down in unnecessary details. Always nice to go, ‘I didn’t know that. Cool.’

The plot is linear. Nothing to discover. There are no surprises for the reader. The bad guy is named from the start and we are just following along his gruesome path until he gets his comeuppance. 

Gerald had no lights and shades. Being bad to the bone from the get-go leaves no room for slow revealing or shocks. I found Maisie’s life-path such a huge fore-shadowing and knew from that moment how things would pan out. If I would have preferred more challenge in the story and the read, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did and read it in one sitting. 

Tarrant has a nice, believable touch with dialogue and it all flowed smoothly and easily. Life and Death in Birkenhead is a debut novel Tarrant should be proud of. I hope to read more from her in the future.

This review was first published in FlaxFlower reviews, which focuses on in-depth reviews of New Zealand books of all kinds, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Flaxflower founder and editor Bronwyn Elsmore. 

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