Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! Containment by Vanda Symon

Containment CoverChaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.

Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead.

What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea . . . a diver who didn’t die of drowning.

As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims…

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know from my reviews of Overkill and The Ringmaster that I’ve been a fan of Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard series since the start. Set in New Zealand and with the gloriously unconventional Sam at its heart, the series to date has produced two solidly-crafted and immensely enjoyable police procedurals.

Containment, the latest book in the series to hit UK shores, provides more of the tightly-plotted action that fans of the series have come to enjoy. Opening with a bang when a container ship washes up on the shores of Aramoana, Sam is thrown into the action when she’s assaulted, seemingly at random, by a scavenger. The discovery of a human skull at the same site, followed shortly afterwards by the finding of the body of a diver, adds more and more layers to an increasingly complex case for Sam.

As with previous books in the series, Containment balances the slower-paced procedural sections with moments of heightened tension and action to keep the momentum going and the pages turning. Vanda Symons really is a master of intelligent twists and watertight plotting and, without giving any of the plot away, Containment has a satisfyingly tense conclusion that may make it the best one of the series yet!

The other major delight of this series for me is Sam Shepard herself. Sarcastic and stubborn, Sam is whip-smart and deadpan funny. I adore her banter with her fellow cops and her late-night chats with her long-suffering roommate Maggie. This isn’t to say that Sam doesn’t have her issues, however! In a new and somewhat tentative relationship with a fellow police officer, Sam’s emotional intelligence is sometimes a little…lacking in tact shall we say! And although hostilities with her sour-faced bully of a boss have descended from all-out war, there’s no sign of a truce being brokered anytime soon.

But Sam is such a well-rounded and endearingly human character that I’d defy anyone not to be charmed by her – I love her spiky wit and her dogged determination, even if I sometimes cringed at her actions or choice of words. And, whilst knowledge of the first two books in the series certainly isn’t a requirement to enjoy Conviction, I love how Sam as a character is maturing and developing as the series progresses – and how the relationships she has with those around her alter too.

Fans of a well-crafted police procedural will enjoy wrestling with the tightly-plotted mystery, whilst mystery-thriller fans will get a kick out of the tension, action, and unfolding drama as the case progresses. Plus you get the benefit of some armchair travel to a beach in New Zealand – albeit one that is littered with cargo containers (and possibly a dead body)!

Highly recommended, Conviction is an accomplished addition to an already impressive series and I look forward to reading about whatever Sam Shepard gets up to next.

Conviction by Vanda Symon is published by Orenda Books and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including the Orenda ebook store, Hive, Waterstones, Book Depository, and Amazon – as well as from your local independent bookstore! 

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 from 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 other stops for more reviews and content!

Containment BT Poster




Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!!! The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon

The Ringmaster Final CoverMarginalised 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! 

The Ringmaster Poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Overkill by Vanda Symon

Overkill CoverWhen 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. 

I’ve been reading a lot of crime and thriller writing recently, especially from the extremely well-curated list at Orenda Books – a publisher that I have an ever-increasing amount of regard for given their high production values, stunning covers and their talent for spotting overlooked novels and new voices. One of the things that I’ve most enjoyed in exploring the Orenda list however, is getting the opportunity to read crime fiction set outside of the UK and USA, and from authors that are well known in their native countries but being published for the first time over here.

This is the case with Overkill; the first in Dunedin based writer Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard series, which introduces us to feisty rural police constable Sam and the small rural community of Mataura in which she works. The book opens with a real bang as a young woman is accosted by a professional hitman in her own home and forced to fake her own suicide. It’s an intense and chilling prologue that really hits the reader in the gut and, for a few pages, I was worried the book might be a little on the dark side for my tastes. Fortunately though, once Sam takes over in chapter one, the brutality takes a back seat and the focus is very much on the investigation of the crime and why someone would commit such a dark and violent act in this small town.

Sam is a great female lead – she’s feisty without being cliche and has a sarcastic sense of humour that helps lighten the otherwise rather taut, atmospheric mood. She’s also human – dedicated to her job and protecting her community but capable of mistakes and aware of her own limitations. She reminded me in a lot of ways of Sarah Ward’s Connie Childs – definitely a good thing as I’m a huge fan of Sarah’s police procedurals. I also found Sam’s complicated feelings about the victim Gabriella, the wife of Sam’s ex-lover Lockie Knowes, to be an intriguing addition to her character and was really glad that, for once, this complicated romantic history wasn’t used in a cliched manner but instead to add drama and tension to the plot.

As for the plot itself, it’s full of small town dramas that gradually knit together to reveal larger cover-up that has dark implications for Sam, Mataura and possibly even for New Zealand itself. Moving at break-neck speed, Symon does an excellent job of pulling together the threads of a relatively complex plot whilst keeping the pace high and the pages turning in a manner similar to that of Jane Harper’s excellent Australian police procedural The Dry. Fans of Harper will definitely get a similar feel and flavour in Overkill, with its focus on a small community unbalanced by a tragic and violent event.

If I had one tiny criticism it would be the ending, which felt a little rushed in parts and had a couple of moments where I felt the otherwise capable Sam acted out of character for the sake of drama. Overall however that definitely didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book – as a police procedural, much of the pace and atmosphere comes from the solving of the crime, rather than in the explosive set-piece ending, and Symon does that brilliantly. I also liked the possibilities left open to Sam at the end of the book, and can definitely see this novel as being just the start for her as a character.

A controlled and pacy police procedural, Overkill is an accomplished debut with a fantastic heroine and a gripping, page-turning quality. A brilliant addition to Orenda’s already ‘jam-packed with awesome’ crime list, I’m hoping this won’t be the last we’ll see of Sam Shephard or Vanda Symon!

Overkill by Vanda Symon and published by Orenda Books, is available now as an ebook and is out in paperback from 06 September 2017 from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me onto the tour. The tour continues until 19 September 2018 so please check out the rest of the tour stops along the way!

Overkill Blog Tour Poster