It happens to most of us, eventually. Sam Shephard has grown up. Bound sees our favourite Dunedin detective grapple with the passing of torches and the passing of time. What do we do to protect the next generation? What do we learn from those who came before us? And how do we make sure that we are true to our values, right now? These are the questions that prey on Sam’s mind – oh, and a rather gory and messy murder. So not for us, this time, the clambering in and out of cowpats, or raucous nights out with sidekick Maggie. Scenes of slapstick are replaced by scenes of tenderness, beautifully told.
I’ll be honest: I miss our old mate. Maybe she misses us too, given that she’s having to carry professional and personal stuff without much support other than from partner Paul – and she’s none too sure about her future with him either.
But it would be wrong to demand that Sam’s character remain frozen. The best series avoid milking a formula. Indeed, the best series grow with their writers and Symon gives us enough respect to change the tone even as the novel unfolds and let Sam develop with the rest of us. Now Sam has a detective constable, Sonia Richardson, to accompany her, although her relationship with long-time mentor and champion Smithy flounders. Nothing lasts forever.
Meanwhile, the case Sam is pursuing is what I believe is known as a rollicker, involving ropes, model railways and a carnivorous cat. Delightfully, the plot pivots on a suspect bidding on a model Coronation Class locomotive. But there’s fraud, revenge, backstabbing and paper shredding all for good measure. There’s another piece of evidence, too, which is there as a red herring and which is instrumental to Sam working it all out. She’s swimming against the tide of police opinion when she chooses to trust two gangsters’ molls rather than what seems convincing evidence. That means taking on long-time nemesis DI Johns in a rather fun set piece showdown.
As before, Sam is a great narrator and as the case develops we suspect everyone in turn. This is obviously helpful as when the perp is unmasked we can all nod wisely and remember that we had them marked and forget that we had them subsequently unmarked. Symon leads us up this garden path and down that blind alley. We follow, quite happily. There are some twists, with a second set of murders and I rather like that Symon has remembered that there are other detectives in Dunedin: that Sam doesn’t have to do everything herself and we can leave her to deal with her upside-down life and let her colleagues wrap up the rest and do the paperwork. Vanda Symon reminds us that there is more to life than policing, and there is more to life in a police procedural.
Thank you to Orenda Books for the review copy, and to Anne Cater for the invitation to take part in the blog tour.