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  • Jo McCready

Books from my neck of the woods

I recently read a couple of books that I would like to share with you, that are set in the city I live - Auckland. Both are police procedurals, both very different from each other and, both excellent reads. They are ‘Caught Between’ by Jeannie McLean and ‘The Sound of her Voice’ by Nathan Blackwell.

I’ll start with ‘Caught Between’ which begins with the discovery of the body of a teenage girl by two young boys. The story is told from multiple points of view, mainly those of Tova Tan and Constable Finn McIntosh. Tova is a student who lives downstairs from the dead girl and who has a contentious relationship with the police due to circumstances surrounding the investigation into the death of her mother (a famous actress) a year prior. Finn, was involved in that case as he is now. Unlike his colleagues, Finn believes Tova was treated unfairly and as the investigation goes on he becomes more convinced she is not involved. We also see the world through the eyes of the young KK, one of the boys who discovers the body at the beginning of the book.

Before I go any further, I must mention the cover of the book. The juxtaposition of the image of the Auckland Sky Tower, which always makes me feel at home, and the dead body on the beach is both jarring and confronting. It says far more to me than any form of description that the blurb is able to provide, it’s so good it’s even won an award.

Although there is violence in the book, it’s never gratuitous. Jeannie McLean’s words are polished, the story well researched and the characters and names represent the multi-cultural Auckland that I know and love.

There’s a pleasing, to me anyway, symmetry in the book. I can’t say too much more without giving anything away. There’s also a hopefulness, a sense of the world and the people in it being inherently good. It seems a strange thing to say about a crime book but it works and is a refreshingly welcome read.

On to ‘The Sound of her Voice’. In this book Detective Matt Buchanan investigates the links between a number of unsolved murder cases of young girls, that come across his desk over the years. One in particular stays with him and he tortures himself with the desire to solve the case of 14 yr old Samantha Coates and give her family the answers they long for.

I completely understand why this book got picked up by Orenda in the UK. Nathan Blackwell perfectly captures the jaded, burnt out and disillusioned Detective Matt Buchanan. So well so, that I found myself rather disturbed by it, especially as the book was written with so many features and places in my local area mentioned. And, more so because Nathan Blackwell was a police detective himself.

The crimes committed in the book are horrific, the story had me hooked, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves the genre. I took far more away from it than just the surface story, however. I’m not sure if it’s because the book was set in an area familiar to me, perhaps that’s part of it. I’m used to reading books about places I know, but this is the first truly gritty one I’ve read about the safe haven I now call home. It’s more than that though. It’s bleak. Not necessarily the story itself, but the lead character’s description of crime and lack of justice attained for even the most serious of crimes. I found it disheartening as it feels like the author is talking from his own experience of the matter. The language, the sentiment, expressed is wonderfully real, which makes it equally disconcerting and entertaining. It is an amazingly easy to access story, but horribly brilliant at the same time. The subtitle ‘One Cop’s Descent into Darkness’ is beautifully accurate.

I’m struggling to recall if I’ve read any crime written by actual police officers before. I’m sure I must have, but If I have, none have struck me as unsettling as this. I’d be interested to hear what other readers have to say on it.

Both books have their place, and both will stay with me for very different reasons. The desolate tone of ‘The Sound of Her Voice’ is quite frankly, frightening. There is a side of life that I’d rather just hide away from underneath my duvet and live in blissful ignorance. What makes it so disturbing is also what makes it such a great read. Would I feel differently about it, if it was set in a different locale? I don’t know. You tell me once you’ve read it. ‘Caught between’, on the other hand, is a thoroughly satisfying and entertaining read with an underlying current of human decency that I didn’t know I needed until I read it. I’m looking forward to reading more from each of these writers. Two very different books set in the same city, both fantastic, both recommended but for very different reasons.

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