Thursday, June 20, 2019
OVERKILL by Vanda Symon
Vanda Symon’s Overkill, featuring Constable Sam Shephard, first appeared in Symon’s native New Zealand in 2007 and the series has since run to five books. But this edition of Overkill is both Symon’s and Shephard’s first appearance in the United States. Shephard is a “sole-charge” police constable in the rural town of Mataura, in the Southland Region of New Zealand. A place where everybody knows everybody else. The economy is based on cattle ranching and beef processing, and serious crime is something on television news rather than a real-life experience.
When Gabriella Knowes is reported missing, leaving her young daughter unattended at home and a suicide note on the kitchen table, Sam takes the initiative and organizes a search party. Sam quickly finds Gaby’s body washed up on a river bank. At first glance, Gaby’s death is a suicide, but as Sam investigates, it becomes clear Gaby was murdered. To further complicate things, Sam is removed from the case, suspended from her job, and treated like a suspect in Gaby’s murder. All because Sam didn’t tell her boss that she and Gaby’s husband, Lockie, were lovers before he married Gaby.
Overkill is an entertaining, but flawed first novel. Among its many strengths are the depictions of small town life. The rumors and comraderies, the finger-pointing and rivalries. Sam is a likable and relatable character, but she is often more whiny than she is tough. The novel’s major flaw is the Prologue because it shows the reader what really happened to Gabby. It undercuts the potential suspense since it takes Sam half the story to catch up with what the reader already knows. But Overkill’s flaws are easy to overlook because the how of Gaby’s murder is less important than the why, and, for this non-ranching city reader at least, the why is a wild and satisfying concoction.