Review: Overkill by Vanda Symon

Title: Overkill

Author: Vanda Symon

Publisher: Penguin [2007]

ISBN: 978-0-14-300665-7

No. of pages: 320

The book opens with young mother Gaby Knowes being murdered: the killer threatening Gaby’s baby daughter to ensure the murder goes smoothly. Although Gaby does what she can to leave clues that her death is not the suicide it is supposed to look like, the lone Police Constable in town, Sam Shephard, at first assumes Gaby did take her own life. However discrepancies soon appear and and Sam calls in the assistance of a full investigative team from a nearby city. Shortly afterwards Sam is thrown of the case but continues to investigate matters on her own.

Sam Shepherd is a likable and quite engaging character. She reminds me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone in many ways. She shares the doggedness and disregard for her own safety in the pursuit of answers and can also be a little childish to her own detriment. Sam had a personal connection to this particular case and the way she dealt with her feelings over the course of the book was very thoughtful. There were a lot of other characters glimpsed but not many were terribly well fleshed out and I thought the book would have benefited from another ‘major’ character to participate in the action and help develop the plot. For me Symon did a better job of depicting the small farming and manufacturing town of Mataurain New Zealand. There’s a nice combination of local flavour and shared traits with isolated communities the world over: people look after their own, are distrustful of strangers and love a good gossip about their neighbours.

In the end the plot held together although I found myself struggling with elements of it during the middle of the story. There were things that didn’t ring true, such as the ferocity with which Sam was removed from the case and the interactions between Sam and the murdered woman’s husband who is Sam’s own ex lover. Possibly due to everything being told from Sam’s perspective there were parts of the story that were undeveloped. Why, for example, were Sam’s colleagues so willing to accept the possibility of her own guilt when, normally, Police are slow to accept the guilt of ‘one of their own’? However the last third of the book was quite a page turner and the ultimate resolution was both well crafted and very credible.

Overall this was an entertaining debut novel and I will certainly look for the next in the series which looks to move Sam to a bigger city which is a smart move on the part of Symon as there’s a limit to how many interesting crimes can take place in a small town (Cabot Cove excluded of course).

My rating 3.5/5

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Reviewed by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise

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