Source: Review copy
Publication: 5th January 2020 (e-book) 5th March 2020 (paperback) from Orenda Books
Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.
Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead. What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea … a diver who didn’t die of drowning…
As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims…
I adore the Sam Shephard series and in Containment, the third book in this excellent series, I really felt that I was getting to know this brilliant, sassy protagonist, properly.
Sam is a brilliant character. She’s come from a small town, rural environment, promoted to Detective Constable in a fast track promotion she doesn’t really understand how she got. She’s enjoying being in Dunedin, even though her boss, the rather unpleasant D.I. Johns makes it clear that he doesn’t have much time for her.
She gets on well with the team though and with her police partner, Smithy and she’s really enjoying living with her best friend, Maggie. Theirs is such a well-drawn relationship, it is a joy to read. Sam and Maggie have such a bond that there is no bullshit in their interaction. Maggie tells it to Sam as she sees it and Sam values her perspective, even when it’s uncomfortable to hear what Maggie has to say.
And Maggie has quite a lot to say about Sam’s relationship with her current boyfriend, Paul. He’s everything you could want in a partner; good-looking, loving, loyal and he clearly adores Sam. And that’s the problem. Because somewhere down in the bottom of her mind, Sam’s not sure what she wants, and is never quite able to give up enough of herself to be truly open. She’s been hurt once and that has made her a wee bit insecure about her own mind when it comes to relationships.
Easily read as a stand-alone novel, Containment opens with a container accident in the beach village of Aramoana where a shipping accident sees containers washed up on the beach. Sam’s been on a weekend break, dog sitting at a friend’s holiday crib, when she sees the devastation that is the container debris strewn all over the beach, with a whole host of locals gaily beach combing and helping themselves to the spoils of salvage, with no regard for the legality of what they are doing.
As Sam pitches in to help the local police who are working hard to cordon off the salvage, she gets herself in between a couple of guys arguing over a discarded box and whilst attempting to point out that looting is illegal, ends up on the wrong end of a fierce punch and has to be taken to hospital.
When it transpires that the body of a diver has been washed up in the harbour, and that the death has not been from natural causes, Sam realises that she is the first officer on the scene and as such, she reckons she has first dibs on the case.
If only D.I. Johns didn’t have other ideas. He tells her that as she has been at the centre of a fight, she needs to recuse herself as her rescuer has been charged with serious bodily harm to the guy who was attempting to steal the box and who hit her.
Sam is assigned to what she sees as more mundane duties in tracking down the salvaged items. But it’s not long before she discovers that the rather gruesome decaying diver’s body has connections to the container accident and the missing items she is charged with recovering.
Vanda Symon sets a brilliant scene with strong characters and I felt that I was getting to know Dunedin through the book, with its substantial student population and the great descriptions of the town and its landmarks. It made me want to visit Dunedin and I’ve enjoyed looking up images of the town and matching them to the places Sam visits.
As Sam investigates she is drawn into the world of a group of students who have got themselves deep into a mess that has them scared and in hiding and soon there’s more violence and this story takes a darker turn. Symon has a great way of creating characters that are believable and then marrying them with a menace that sometimes belies their initial introduction. This misdirection is done so well and with such skill that it comes as a surprise that the plot develops in a way that leads to more violence and more tragic death.
Verdict: Containment is a belter of a book. An excellent fast-paced police procedural with a fantastic protagonist in Sam Shephard. Nicely layered with a well-structured plot, it is leavened with excellent banter. Symon’s good humoured and sometimes intemperate protagonist has a habit of saying just what she thinks which often leads to trouble with her superiors. Coupled with Sam’s turbulent personal life, this gives us a beautifully rounded crime novel that is a delightful, twisty read and that leaves you wanting more from the pen of a terrifically entertaining and enjoyable writer.
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 climbed to 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.