Book Review: Death Actually – Death, Love and In Between, by Rosy Fenwicke

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_death_actually.jpgSet in Queenstown, New Zealand, Death Actually tells the story of Maggie, woman who has had to be both a mother and father to her two children, Kate and Nick, when her husband abandoned them.

The sudden death of both her parents leads to her returning home to New Zealand from Australia with her young children, to take over the family business of funeral direction when her brother took off overseas following his parents’ accident. With the support of her best friend Elka and her mentor Betty, Maggie has had to accept her role and has since become very much part of the Queenstown community.

The reader is taken into the lives of the people who are important to Maggie with the author’s clever characterisation of Lizzie, Elka and Betty making the writing realistic, and I really felt part of the Queenstown lifestyle. Nick and Kate lend a hand and support their mother and her friends, but there are some secrets in the background, which add complications and the new doctor in town is at times an irritation to Maggie.

Set in winter when the ski season is at its height in Queenstown, there is death (actually) in the book and I found the role and tasks undertaken by the funeral director was extensive and at times challenging, but the author has written these with sensitivity and grace.

And of course, a modern day story set in the resort would not be complete without a jet boat accident, a movie on location nearby and the dramas which accompany these activities.

The author has gently moulded the strands of the story together with humour and it moves along at a brisk pace with some very satisfactory outcomes from the twists and turns she created among the characters.

Like any good book there is sorrow as well as celebration, but friendship and love is an important thread entwined throughout the pages and anyone who likes an inspiring family drama of modern living will find this a good read and like me, they will find the vivid descriptions around Queenstown to be captivating. The underlining theme highlights strength, reliance and hope while looking to the future, ‘Alexander Benjamin Potter was born normally, at nine twenty-one on a dark and stormy night in early spring, in the back of his grandmother’s hearse, in a paddock in central Otago. He weighed 7 lbs 13ozs, and was full of fight and noise, much to everyone’s relief and joy.’

Rosy Fenwick is a doctor, writer and mother of three adult children living in Martinborough. In 2017 she released her first novel, Hot Flush, which received excellent reviews, and which I would be keen to read to see if I enjoyed it as much as Death Actually.

Reviewed by Lesley McIntosh

Death Actually: Death, Love, and In-Between
by Rosy Fenwicke
Published by Wonderful World
ISBN 9780473430986

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Book Review: Wairaka Point – An African-New Zealand Journal, by Trevor Watkin

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_wairaka_pointThe first thing most people do when picking up a new book is to automatically go to the front flap of the dust cover to get an outline of the story, but in this case no information was on offer. The second thing I know I do, is to read the back flap of the dust cover to read the biography of the author, but again nothing was there, so I did what any good reader does – I just got on and read the book. And what a book!

The story starts in Pukerua Bay, in Wellington, New Zealand 1961 with Nick James going off with his gun (a present from his father on his fifteenth birthday) to shoot a few rabbits. It had been raining so the cliff face was muddy and loose. While walking along the coast, near Wairaka Point, he came across a massive slip which had pulled down boulders, soil, trees and sand. He decided to go around the debris and at that moment he saw a skeleton, with a military-type jacket made of leather now green with mould. He raced home to get his Father. His Father gets the local policeman involved who sends the body off to the mortuary for a post mortem. Nick learns that the coroner has determined that it was probably the remains of an old hunter from before the war who fell and cracked his head on a rock. Case closed, no more is thought of the incident.

In another part of the world, Stella Rees was home in Umtali, some hundred miles north of Melsetter where her grandparents Oom (Pieter) and Sissy Viljoen, tobacco and dairy farmers live. The Viljoens were descendants from one of the original Afrikaans families.

How Nick James and Stella Rees meet and their connection to each other evolves into one of the best stories I’ve read for a very long time. This is a story based around true events in world history – WWII, Afrikaans history all interwoven into a “can’t put it down book”. A love story, with adventure, criminal activity, and a mystery finally solved. Lots of footnotes with explanations of Kiwi slang, Māori words, Afrikaans and historical events make this a very enjoyable read.

Trevor Watkin was born in Cornwall, educated in Zimbabwe and graduated from Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, so a well- travelled man with an obvious interest in New Zealand and African history. He has worked in agriculture as a trader, company director and publisher, and lives in Melbourne.

A great read and I would certainly read anything else Trevor Watkin wrote.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Wairaka Point: An African-New Zealand Journal
by Trevor Watkin
Published by Product Research Pty Ltd
ISBN 9780648214212

Book Review: Tell Me a Lie, by C J Carter

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_me_a_lieThis has the lot…

Horses, a pony, a Labrador, a Jack Russell, a marmalade cat, a mother, baby, children, a teenager – and that’s only the first body count.

Snow, sleet, rain, and moments of sunshine.

Vodka, wine, coffee, tea; and chocolate brownies.

Psychotic hatred and determination, impatience, annoyance; romance and love.

Shotguns, rifles, Kalashnikovs, pistols, knives, torture, sedatives, morphine…

The story moves between England and Russia, but has tentacles in South Africa and Australia. Tangled threads wind through a mire of misleading events. Dan Forrester (ex-MI5, now with a private political analyst service) is called in by MI6 to handle the Russian crimes. PC Lucy Davies – on the cusp of joining CID – finds herself untangling the thread attached to multiple family murders in England, with or without the official okay. Somehow they realise their cases are linked. The story is as much Lucy’s as it is Dan’s – whose wife Jenny is the link between Russia and England.

Carver makes the story race on, so be well belted in, or you too will get stuck in the mire. This is my first reading of her work, but will not be the last, as I want more of Dan Forrester and hopefully of Lucy Davies, whose mind works in waves of colour as thoughts and memories come in and out of focus – a creative concept.

The pace is rapid, the story builds with suspicion and suspense, the resolution is satisfying.

Here’s an example:

Dan’s skin turned cold.

The old man had used the exact words Dan had spoken to Eketarina. Proving that he’d heard everything he and Eketarina had said. The old man knew Dan was a spy of some sort and was letting him know that he knew.

Eketarina: Edik Yesikov secretly sent two agents to your country last week.

Chills running yet? More chills and thrills within the full novel, I promise. Whether you’ve read C J Carter before or not, grab a copy at your local Booksellers NZ store.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Tell Me a Lie
by C J Carter
Published by Zaffre Publishing
ISBN 9781785762918

Book Review: Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_earthly_remainsDonna Leon shows mastery in sewing together this delightful crime thriller Earthly Remains which is set under the vivid heat of the Venetian sun. With an engaging and charming narrative, the 26th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery will add intrigue to a sun-soaked holiday or transport you away on a lazy rainy day.

Following a foolhardy reaction in the interrogation of a slippery suspect, Commissario Brunetti finds himself on a prescribed hiatus from duty. Questioning his judgment and contemplating a change in lifestyle, Brunetti gladly banishes himself to the empty house of a distant relative in the Venetian laguna for some time out. The house, on the island of Saint Erasmo, is tended for by gentle caretaker Davide Casati, who Brunetti quickly befriends. Forged over ten days beneath the stifling sun, the two men form an easy friendship based on a shared passion for rowing and an unspoken mutual respect for one another. Casati appears a man of grace and radiates a strong sense of morality, yet Brunetti soon notices hints of a markedly different man lingering in Casati’s past. When Casati suddenly goes missing, Brunetti is compelled to unravel the loops and ties sullying his new friend’s disappearance.

Leon weaves Brunetti through the laguna with a beautifully economical narrative that lets the reader feel the oppressive swelter of summertime Venice and taste the richness of the Italian alfresco table whilst nimbly unravelling the truth behind Casati’s disappearance. On the small islands where ‘there are no secrets’ Brunetti must now follow his hunches to uncover the mysterious past of a man he barely knew. But the truth is not quite ready to give itself up.

Serving as my introduction to Donna Leon’s mystery series, I sincerely hope Commissario Guido Brunetti discovered reinforcement for the job he so loved over the course of Earthly Remains: I will be keeping an eye out for more in the series in airport bookstores as the perfect accompaniment to a holiday.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

Earthly Remains
by Donna Leon
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9781785151378

Book Review: Hide and Seek, by M J Arlidge

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hide_and_seek.jpgArlidge’s style has me determined to get my hands on each novel in the D. I. Helen Grace series of crime stories. His characters – both the police team members, and each title’s new cast members – are well and truly alive on the page – real, and human with their foibles and fancies.

In Hide And Seek, our favourite police officer-no-more is in her worst possible place: the world behind the bars of Holloway. Both the guards and the inmates (some of whom are there because of Helen) have already adjudged her as a rotten copper – before her trial – and as just another crim.

When the inmate of the cell beside Helen’s is found dead in her bed, left by her killer in a bizarre and ghastly state, it is Helen who has to remind the inmates that none of them are safe. Helen is driven to watch both guards and inmates alike in her effort to identify the killer.

She faces suspicion and hostility from both sides. The second and third kill creates a frenzy among the inmates. An understandable error of thinking delays her eventual discovery of the murderer, which she learns the hard way. Seriously, the hard way.
The unwarranted (as in, not official) actions of loyal D. C. Charlie Brookes are what decides the sequel*.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Hide and Seek
by M J Arlidge
Published 2016, by Michael Joseph, for
Penguin/Random House
Hardbound:  9780718183837
Paperback:  9781405925624

The Series:
Eeny Meeny
Pop Goes the Weasel
The Doll’s House
Liar Liar
Little Boy Blue
Hide And Seek
* Follow My Leader, later in 2017

Book Review: The Chinese Proverb, by Tina Clough

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_chinese_proverb.jpg‘If you save somebody’s life, you are responsible for them forever’. This is the Chinese proverb at the centre of this gripping, very readable action thriller. Hunter Grant, retired army veteran at the age of 38, looking for the peaceful life after a bruising time in Afghanistan, finds himself back in a conflict zone, taking on the responsibility of saving, then looking after, the life of another.

A single man, he lives in Auckland, and also has a cabin deep in the bush north of the city. While staying at his place in the bush for a few days, he and his dog Scruff stumble upon a young woman, almost dead, exhausted, hypothermic, malnourished, terrified, and clearly abused. This is Dao, the one whose life Hunter saves, and whom he becomes totally responsible for.

The writer skilfully reveals the bare details of Dao’s story while Hunter does his best to give her immediate care, warmth and food. She has been held captive by a brutal man called Bram on a remote coastal farm – chained, beaten, abused, threatened, alone, in a constant struggle for survival – her mother having died. The real person in charge however, is a sinister and frightening character called the Boss, who turns up from time to time at the farm wearing a Darth Vader mask, thus unrecognisable, calling the shots.

Even though she has escaped, Dao is still in danger, Hunter in turn now also finding himself the target of the bad guys. The story takes place over 15 days, with Dao and Hunter trying to stay alive, while Hunter tries to find out Dao’s history, where she came from, her real name, and ultimately, uncovering exactly what has been going on at the farm. Everything around Dao is scary and unfamiliar, thanks to her having been hidden away for so many years. Even though the reader is familiar with city life, shopping malls, driving, eating out, for Dao this is all very unfamiliar. We see this through Dao’s eyes, giving a slightly sinister undertone to the urban/suburban scenes, threatening and a little unsettling, this view contributing perfectly to the evil brewing.

The main focus of the story is on the relationship between Hunter and Dao. It could easily become exploitative, with Hunter having the position of power, especially considering what Dao has come from, what is normal to her. But not once is there any hint of impropriety, taking advantage or exploitation. This Hunter is one heck of a guy, taking his position of guardianship very seriously, at all times aware of the peculiar and compromising position he is in. He has some great women in his life – his two sisters Willow and Plum, and his best friend Charlie, who was in Afghanistan with him. These three women help him in his care of Dao. As Dao’s confidence, trust and self-worth blossom, the nature of the relationship between Hunter and Dao changes, but it is never sleazy, uncomfortable or weird. Perhaps because the writing is by a woman?

I doubt if the plot would move so fast in a real-life situation – this is one very damaged young woman, still in considerable danger – but it is a great 15 day ride. Plenty of action, great characterisation and very believable characters. This is a thriller, a whodunnit, at times scary and violent, edge of the seat stuff but constantly tempered by the relationships between Hunter and Dao, Charlie and the two sisters. So much packed into 300 pages. It is a great story, which deserves to be widely read and publicised.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Chinese Proverb
by Tina Clough
Published by Lightpool Publishing
ISBN  9780473379261

Book Review: Cold Earth, by Ann Cleeves

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_cold_earthSeveral people had told me that I’d enjoy Ann Cleeves’ books and I wish now I’d sought her out earlier. Cold Earth is Cleeves’ thirtieth novel and the seventh in her Shetland series, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

Set in the Shetland Islands, the book begins with a landslide at a funeral. Local detective inspector Jimmy Perez is at the graveside of his old friend Magnus when the landslide hits, and he watches it sweep away part of an old croft further down the hill. Unsure if anyone had been renting the croft, Perez goes to check. He spots a flash of red amongst the debris and finds the body of an exotic woman in a flowing red evening dress – not your usual Shetland winter apparel.

When investigations reveal the landslide didn’t kill her, that she had been murdered, Perez becomes obsessed with uncovering who she is and who killed her. Due to the damage inflicted by the landslide, finding clues in the croft isn’t easy. Two photos and a letter addressed ‘Dear Alis’ are all he has to go on. He invites Willow Reeves, a senior detective from the mainland, to join him and his sidekick Sandy Wilson. When Reeves arrives, it soon becomes clear there is unfinished business between her and Perez, but neither will let it get in the way of the investigation.

There are many inhabitants with many secrets, meaning there are also many suspects. The team uncovers evidence the dead woman had links to a number of locals, but does this mean one of them killed her? We learn a bit about most of the characters and once the dead woman’s identity is revealed, it seems almost every one of them could have had a motive for wanting her dead.

Just when you think you think you’ve got it sussed, a snippet about another suspect casts doubt in your mind.

I found the book really readable, and once I started I found it hard to put down. Having said that, I did feel the conclusion was a little rushed and a little melodramatic. It hasn’t put me off wanting to read more of Ann Cleeves’ books though, even if just to find out what happens between Perez and Reeves!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Cold Earth
by Ann Cleeves
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781447278214