Hu­mour and heart

Nancy Drew in­spires a charm­ing tale of ama­teur sleuthing in small-town Otago.

New Zealand Listener - - BOOKS & CULTURE - By CRAIG SISTERSON

De­light­ful and ex­u­ber­ant aren’t usu­ally the first words that come to mind when re­flect­ing on crime fic­tion, but Mel­bourne-based Kiwi RWR (Rob) McDon­ald’s de­but over­flows with charm.

At its heart, THE NANCYS (Allen & Unwin, $32.99) cen­tres on the mis­ad­ven­tures of an un­likely trio and the colour­ful South Otago towns­folk they meet. Tippy Chan is an 11-year-old River­stone lo­cal de­lighted by a visit from her Uncle Pike, a Syd­ney hair­dresser whose look fuses Santa Claus and Wal Footrot. Pike has re­turned to the town he fled years be­fore, fash­ion­ista boyfriend Devon in tow, to look af­ter her while her wid­owed mother goes on a cruise. Tippy loves her uncle’s old Nancy Drew books, and when her best friend falls off a bridge and then her teacher’s body is found, the trio see a chance to solve a mys­tery for real. It’s an adult tale with a pre-teen hero­ine, sea­soned with hu­mour and heart. McDon­ald de­liv­ers an enthrallin­g mys­tery via be­witch­ingly chaotic events and char­ac­ters who are a riot.

For those who pre­fer their mys­ter­ies bleaker, Ice­landic queen Yrsa Sig­urðardót­tir takes read­ers de­li­ciously into the dark­ness in THE AB­SO­LU­TION, trans­lated by Vic­to­ria Cribb (Hod­der &

Stoughton, $34.99). A seem­ingly pop­u­lar teenager is ab­ducted from the cinema where she works part-time, her trauma caught for all her Snapchat con­tacts to see as an in­creas­ingly dis­turb­ing se­ries of videos is broad­cast. De­tec­tive Hul­dar calls in child psy­chol­o­gist Freyja to help in­ter­view the vic­tim’s friends, and the pair soon dis­cover the teen might not have been as an­gelic as some claim. Then another teenager goes miss­ing, and more videos are sent. A body is found marked with the num­ber 2. How many vic­tims will there be? Hul­dar and Freyja are faced with a dan­ger­ous killer and com­plex case en­twined with the dis­turb­ing sides of so­cial me­dia. Sig­urðardót­tir ad­dresses con­fronting themes faced by teenagers and adults in a chill­ing tale with plenty of tan­gled char­ac­ter re­la­tion­ships and an ex­quis­ite slow-burn build that suits the win­try at­mos­phere.

Aber­do­nian au­thor Stu­art MacBride is famed for his mas­ter­ful mix of bru­tal­ity and ban­ter, but he also brings thought­ful­ness and a strong sense of char­ac­ter to his crime writ­ing. This is on show in his 12th Logan McRae tale, ALL THAT’S DEAD (HarperColl­ins, $35). A year af­ter be­ing stabbed, McRae is welcomed back to Pro­fes­sional Stan­dards with a case that could be a ca­reer killer. Ar­dent anti-in­de­pen­dence cam­paigner Pro­fes­sor Wil­son has van­ished, leav­ing only blood­stains on his kitchen ta­ble. With ru­mours cir­cling about DI King’s youth­ful ties to vi­o­lent na­tion­al­ist groups, a still-re­cov­er­ing McRae has to shadow the high-pro­file in­ves­ti­ga­tion while tip­toe­ing through po­lice in­fight­ing and wait­ing for the me­dia to toss grenades. This is an in­tense tale, ad­dress­ing how bit­ter pol­i­tics and zealotry can lead to vi­o­lence when be­liefs are glo­ri­fied beyond hu­man life. MacBride de­liv­ers plenty of hu­mour to leaven the dark deeds and weighty is­sues; McRae’s in­ter­ac­tions with col­leagues are a par­tic­u­lar highlight. An en­gross­ing read.

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