Marginalised by her previous antics, Sam Shephard is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it.
However, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, Sam finds herself on her first homicide investigation.
Sam soon discovers that the student’s murder 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…
I had the pleasure of reviewing Overkill, the first book in Vanda Symon’s antipodean-set Sam Shepherd series, last year and said at the end of the review that I hoped we’d see more from Sam Shepherd and Vanda Symon. Well, my wishes have been granted because the second book in the series, The Ringmaster, has now been published in the UK by Orenda Books!
Although following on almost directly from the first book, The Ringmaster can definitely be read as a standalone. The events of the first novel inform Sam’s backstory and some of her relationships with supporting characters, but all of the important information is re-capped here and the central plot, which revolves around the brutal murder of a Dunedin university student, is self-contained within this book.
Sam’s character is nicely developed from book one. As I mentioned in my review of Overkill, Sam is feisty without being cliche. Clever, determined and aware of her own failings, she’s a refreshingly realistic voice. In The Ringmaster, we get to find out a little more about some of Sam’s personal relationships and are privy to some of the fiery exchanges that she has with her difficult and somewhat overbearing mother. We also see her tentative first steps into a new relationship with a fellow officer.
These insights into the personal add a new dimension to Sam’s character, and helped me to understand some of the more difficult aspects of her personality, like her fiery temper, her self-deprecating humour, and her doubts about her life and career choices. It also helps The Ringmaster to feel like a development from Overkill, a chance for readers who have experienced the first book of the series to enhance their relationship with the central character – always one of the joys of reading a series.
By moving the setting from the small town of Mataura to the larger community of Dunedin, Symon has taken away the small-town focus of Overkill but the transition is, I feel, a successful one. Sam is no longer a lone-wolf, the sole officer dealing with a case. Instead, she is part of a larger team of detectives and has to overcome the challenges posed by not having immediate access to all the information. She also has to overcome an obstructive and bullying boss, a man Sam crossed in her previous investigation and who is determined that she won’t be allowed to forget it. This makes the plot more complex, as Sam has to unpick the various strands of the investigation and re-knit them to get at the whole picture. It makes The Ringmaster more of a police procedural than a thriller, without sacrificing the fast-pace and page-turning quality that made Overkill such an enjoyable read!
Overall The Ringmaster is a satisfyingly meaty police procedural, a taut and atmospheric page-turner with a fantastic female lead. Perfect for fans of Jane Harper, this is a brilliant addition to an already accomplished series and I cannot wait for Vanda’s next book so that I can see what Sam gets embroiled in next!
The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon is published by Orenda Books and is available now as an ebook and on 25 April 2019 in paperback. It is available from all good bookshops and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. The tour continues until the end of the month so do check out the other stops for reviews, extracts and more!