THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE
To some compulsive readers, 32 novels in 18 months might not seem like much of a feat, but since I rediscovered a love for books early in 2017; after not reading a single book in about 20 years; for me it’s been something of an unexpected achievement.
But it’s only now that the stars have aligned to create an opportunity for me to write a worthwhile review. Worthwhile in that; a) I finally read a book prior to its general release date and b) I absolutely loved it to the point of euphoria. So I’ll endeavor to explain why.
When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems.
Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast said her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands. To find the murderer and clear her name.
Due for release in September by indie publisher Orenda Books, Overkill had me foaming at the mouth before I’d even opened the cover. And that was the reason; the cover.
It may sound shallow, but if the last 32 novels have taught me anything, it’s that the way a book feels has a direct effect on my motivation to read it. Sad? Maybe. But a fact nonetheless.
On researching other blogs about Orenda, it seems they have something of a reputation for beautiful covers. This one included. But in addition to the intriguing imagery, it’s the glossiness of the cover stock and the physical bendiness of the book that made it an absolute joy to get stuck into.
And get stuck into it I did.
My first impression of Vanda Symon’s writing suited me just fine. In conversation I’m not a waffler, I don’t enjoy small talk and similarly when I read, flowery descriptive narratives just force me to skip chunks of text in search of the nitty-gritty. In that respect, Symon does the hard work for you and this book has been beautifully edited to within an inch of its life. The language is straight to the point, choppy, witty, with no wastage of time or words.
The extraordinary prologue is quick to set the scene, and will have the hairs on the back of your neck go straight up. Without doubt one of the most hard-hitting, addictive prologues I’ve ever come across, making it impossible to put this baby down. Within a few short lines you’re made to care about the scenario you’ve been thrust into and that’s it – once you’re made to care there’s just no turning back.
A swift introduction to our protagonist Sam Shephard, creates an image of a police officer with a small frame and huge intelligence. And as the story unfolds, your respect for her just grows and grows (despite a few regretful lapses in judgment in her personal life – well…we’ve all had those right?).
The happy news is that Overkill marks just the start of the Sam Shephard saga, so we can very much look forward to seeing her life and career develop over forthcoming novels.
Symon makes no bones about Sam being at a physical disadvantage in certain situations – but instead of expecting you to suspend your disbelief while Sam lifts cars off small children, or saves drowning six-foot body builders from raging rivers, we find instead a realistic portrayal of a human being who is a police officer for a very good reason – she has a great brain.
Not once will you find yourself screaming at the pages in frustration, however you can prepare yourself to scream with encouragement at Sam when she finds herself in one of many predicaments. Yep, this is a book that you might not want to read in public – I certainly found myself talking out loud more than once, even muttering in motherly fashion, “You’re going to regret that my girl!” at the end of one specific chapter. And there are more than one *sharp intake of breath* moments.
The personal relationships in the book are fascinating, fuelled by the small-town mentality of our setting. And that brings me back briefly to the cover. Even if you don’t look at the photography on the front, you’d imagine Mataura to be exactly as it is pictured. Pretty in a raw kind of way, close-knit and hardworking – but gossip-driven and claustrophobic.
Whilst completely void of schmaltz, it’s the relationships that drive this story. That of Sam with her colleagues, neighbours, parents, even the victim’s husband; but none more so than the one she has with her best friend. After Sam, for me Maggie is this book’s standout character, and she often provides the laughs. Her script is sharp, witty and at times cuttingly honest, but don’t we all want a best friend like that? One whose loyalty is unwavering even when she doesn’t agree with you, who shields you from behind when you come out of the pub loos with your skirt tucked in your knickers and who pulls you up when she thinks you’re being unreasonable. Everyone needs a Maggie.
The plot unfolds at a perfect rate – slowly enough to be realistic; police officers are only human after all; yet quickly enough to keep you interested. The chapters are short, with the end of each one leaving you hungry to begin the next.
And it was only as the final conclusions were being drawn that for me, realisation of the plot unfolded. Despite my regular indulgence into this genre, both in book form and on TV, and despite working through each possible scenario carefully in my head in a bid to outfox the author, I didn’t see it coming.
Now you can’t ask for much more than that in a crime story. Characters you care about, a plot thicker than school-dinner semolina, and a pace that picks you up, spins you round and drops you back down before you know what’s hit you.
‘Overkill‘ is one thing this book definitely isn’t.