New Zealand Listener
Humour and heart
Nancy Drew inspires a charming tale of amateur sleuthing in small-town Otago.
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.