‘Surrender’ by Donna Malane is the winner of inaugural NZ Society of Authors Pindar Publishing Prize and it’s not hard to see why it won. It’s a gripping read, blending an intriguing mystery with a tense atmosphere and dark humour.
The novel opens with Diane Rowe, a missing persons expert, working in her ex-laundry/office when her ex-husband, Detective Sean Callum, shows up with some unexpected news. A body has been found – her younger sister’s killer has been murdered, stabbed between the shoulder blades with a boning knife, just as her sister had been. It’s a compelling plot that hooks the reader in from the get-go and doesn’t let up on the tension and pace.
Diane is an appealing character to follow on her investigation into the gritty criminal underworld of Wellington. She’s smart, competent, and tough. She doesn’t smile but has an enjoyably cynical sense of humour. For me, she was only occasionally upstaged in terms of likeability by her faithful German Shepard, Wolf, a one-eyed ex-police dog.
I haven’t read many books recently that are written in a first person narrative from the point of view of the detective but it's hard to imagine ‘Surrender’ any other way. Diane’s account gives the reader concise but insightful observations laced with dry wit. The story follows not only the gripping mystery but also the tangled personal issues Diane faces. As she tries to find out who wanted both her sister and her sister’s killer dead against the adamant orders of the police, she's also working on a case identifying the headless remains of a John Doe discovered in the Rimutaka bush. Her investigation is not only personal; it becomes very dangerous as well.
The setting of the Capital City of Wellington is vividly portrayed. Diane’s investigations lead her through police stations, funerals, seedy bars and squalid flats. Every place is deftly described whether it’s the city morgue or the scenic green belt or the streets of Wellington at night.
I haven’t read any crime novels set in Wellington before. In ‘Surrender’ the Capital City has a brutality and genuine creepiness which was far outside my personal experiences of living there but feels convincingly authentic. I really enjoyed seeing every familiar landmark or street cast in a different light. It felt like my memory and my imagination had bumped into each other and stopped to have a chat.
'Surrender' is definitely worth a read but may leave you wanting another Diane Rowe mystery in the future and feeling awfully tempted get a pet German Shepard.