Book Review: The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie, by David Hastings

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_many_deaths_of_mary_dobieOne sunny afternoon in November 1880, on the road near Ōpunake in Taranaki, visiting Englishwoman, Mary Dobie, is brutally murdered, with her throat cut so deeply that she was all but decapitated. It was a horrific crime by both contemporary and modern standards. Wellington’s Evening Post called it a “shocking outrage”. Speculation was rife – about the nature of the crime, the behaviour of the victim, and the motive of the an in-depth account of this fascinatingly awful story.

The backdrop to this sad story is the rumbling unease as tensions escalate at Parihaka. The ploughmen have been increasingly active and the pākehā settlers are calling upon the government to take action. Many at the time suspected that there were political motives for Mary’s murder, as she was the sister-in-law of a captain stationed at Taranaki with the Armed Constabulary. A confession is quickly elicited from a young Māori horse wrangler, Tuhi, and he is committed for trial.

Hastings is a journalist by background and has employed all of the talents in his arsenal to comprehensively research the events in the book, drawing upon many first-hand accounts in newspapers, court records and diaries. Sources are meticulously documented in the Notes and Bibliography, leaving no doubt that this tale is well-researched. The inclusion of photographs and drawings, some by Mary herself, bring the story to life and serve as a sobering reminder that these were real living people, and not merely fictional characters in a sordid whodunit.

This is a fascinating tale of a gruesome killing, made all the more interesting by the surrounding political climate of the time. I confess I had not before heard of the poor ill-fated Mary Dobie, but I will no longer be able to drive around the Taranaki coast without thinking of her. This is a story that stays with you for some time.

Reviewed by Tiffany Matsis

The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie: Murder, Politics and Revenge in Nineteenth Century New Zealand 
by David Hastings
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN  9781869408374

Book review: Close to the Bone by Stuart MacBride

cv_close_to_the_doneThis book is in bookshops now

The lovely DCI Steel is at it again – overloading McRae and the station’s crew with cases as fast as they arise: missing tramps, a missing teenage couple, a film crew obsessed with their production in the “magic witch” genre, drug bosses and drug gang wars, victims rolling out of the dark – left, right and centre, macabre ritualistic mayhem… The series’ favourite characters – McRae’s co-workers – are as always backing up his investigations with their expertise or plain old foot work, and we enjoy their company, if not their antics.

The opening chapter grabbed me from the start – but fooled me. You’ll see what I mean when you grab your own copy and start reading. That image is revisited in a crime, and again during investigations which lead to discoveries about other crimes, which lead to … a whole interwoven mesh of murder, misunderstandings and mayhem. Lovely. Riveting. “Put your light out – I’m trying to sleep,” stuff.

Having begun the series (Cold Granite, Dying Light and Flesh House, and yes I missed number three) I know MacBride has maintained the standard of the series so can assure readers there’ll be no disappointment here. Apart from the obvious attraction of McRae’s crime scenes and investigations, I found myself looking forward to the dialogue between colleagues – whether aloud or internal, with or without the lovely Steel. Just a quick sampler – relax, not a spoiler:

“The yellow-grey bones were laid out … like some sort of art installation: a toothless skull resting above crossed femurs, the bottom jaw on the other side, then the pelvis and sternum, all held within a rough circle made up of ribs and vertebrae. Little piles of soil dotted the roof around it.

Logan pointed. ‘Can’t have been there for long. There’s no moss or anything growing on them.’

‘Ah.’ Burt Reynolds from the council nodded. ‘Maybe it’s Keith Richards?’ “

Great imagery and descriptive writing bring each scene to light; characters are realised with flair and foibles alike, plot intricacies are so almost impossible for a reader to untangle that one HAS to keep reading. And I will enjoy reading the rest of the series.

Book 8 in the Logan McRae crime series

Reviewed by Lynne Street

Close to the Bone
by Stuart MacBride
Publishered by HarperCollins, 2013
ISBN: 9780007344277