Today I’m reviewing The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon, the second in the Sam Shephard series. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for letting me have a copy of the book to review.
Blurb: Death is stalking the South Island of New Zealand…
Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…
Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…
My Review: At the end of the previous book (Overkill) we left Sam as she decided to move to Dunedin and make a new life there for herself. As this book is set in Dunedin it can be read as a stand alone as any links to the previous book are explained during the story.
Sam goes from essentially being in charge to bring at the bottom rung of the ladder as a detective and with a boss who appears to hate her and want to hinder her progress. When a body is discovered she gets frustrated at being sidelined in the investigation and does what she can to be more involved.
I love police procedurals, always have, and it was interesting in this book to read from the perspective of someone lower down in the investigation, rather than the leading officer. Sam is clearly frustrated at not being more involved and that comes through quite clearly. I can understand her frustration, given she was in charge in the previous book but she did annoy me at times when she appeared to expect to be able to jump a few rungs on the ladder, rather than learning her job the same way as everyone else. Having said that, it was good to see how she dealt with her frustration and also nice to see that being so normal, and something different from the usual alcoholic, damaged detectives that are in so many other books.
It’s the characters that drive this story, even that of the person found dead in the Botanic Gardens. Their character and how they impacted those around them is clearly shown during the investigation. There are quite a few characters in the book, not all human, but all of them are distinct and well-written. You get a clear sense of them from the writing which is something that I like. For a story to work well, especially a crime story, you need to care about the characters, otherwise, if there are times of danger (which in crime there usually are!) there is no concern for the character, for whether they will survive or not.
This book is a good, solid read. It works well as a stand alone so you don’t have to read Overkill first if you just want to jump straight in. If you like crime stories and want to expand your reading to new countries then this book is definitely worth picking up. There’s enough that will be familiar to UK readers that it won’t seem like too much of a culture shock but it will give you a new country to explore and that could add more books to your to-read pile which is never a bad thing.
About the author:
Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.