Source: Review copy
Publication: 6th September 2018 in paperback. Available now in e-book
When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems.
Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands.
To find the murderer … and clear her name.
Well, take my possum heart and cook it over a barbie if this isn’t one of the best female protagonists ever to come out of New Zealand. Sam Shephard (Shep) is a delight. 5 foot nothing, she is a policewoman in the small rural town of Matuara, largely home to a great many sheep and cattle, and a lot of macho men who may stop at calling her ‘little lady’, but only just and not because they are sensitive to her feelings.
Sam is delightful; headstrong, stubborn, a little bit driven by her heart, she is also a damned good investigator, even although murders aren’t an everyday occurrence in Matuara.
In the opening sequence to OverKill, we are treated to one of the most devastating murder sequences I have read, as a killer murders a young mother and stages it to look like a suicide. But who would want to murder Gaby Knowles and why?
With a strong sense of place and community and a terrifically atmospheric setting in the vastness of a bit of rural NZ where Sam is the sole police presence, it does not take her long to determine that something isn’t right and that the crime scene needs to be treated as a suspicious death.
For Sam, this isn’t just a complex and brutal murder, it’s also the murder of a woman her long term ex-boyfriend Lockie proposed to just months after she and Lockie split up. This not only causes a welter of emotions in Sam, it also means that she has a closer interest in solving this case than in most others she has investigated.
The motive is unclear, until, after bringing in reinforcements from Dunedin, she realises that her superiors are looking at her as a suspect, not least because she has failed to declare a pretty enormous conflict of interest.
Suspended from her job and feeling bitter about the suggestion that she could have been involved, she sets about clearing her name by tracking down the killer. What could possibly go wrong?
Written in the first person, what really shines through in Symon’s writing is the characterisation. Sam is bull-headed and hot tempered; she knows she is setting herself up for conflict with her superiors and she doesn’t stop to care.
Fortunately she has an excellent foil in her flatmate, Maggie, who is an oasis of calm in the maelstrom that is Sam’s personal and professional life. It is in Sam’s warm and witty friendship with Maggie that we see her vulnerability and Maggie’s ability to make her laugh shows a side of her that makes the reader warm to a really caring and passionate woman who knows her own flaws only too well.
As Sam treads her own investigative path, she ends up literally and metaphorically knee deep in shit as the tension rises and we fear for her safety as she makes one questionable decision after another.
OverKill is written with pace and verve; it really flows well and is both engrossing and highly enjoyable. The characters stand out and I identified with Sam to the point that I was literally shouting at her to watch out as the final scenes played out.
Verdict: a great start to a series I want to read more of and a ballsy protagonist I already love to bits.
About Vanda Symon
Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.
Interested in reading more? Follow the blog tour here: