April Book Blast: The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon


The April blog tour for THE RINGMASTER by Vanda Symon I’ve been following reminded me I’ve been remiss in writing a review. So, I’m featuring her terrific book on the first monthly “Book Blast” post which will become a recurring feature here on my blog.   Each month on Book Blast I’ll review a book from another great crime fiction author.

I absolutely love Vanda Symon’s writing style, a blend of no worries Kiwi sensibility and talented twisty, intelligent storytelling. Here’s an embarrassing confession… I found OVERKILL (Penguin NZ, 2007), the brilliant debut novel in Symon’s Sam Shephard series so mesmeric I was instantly transformed into a fanboy as Symon leapt atop the list of my favorite crime fiction authors.

Finding it absolutely impossible to wait for the publication of the new edition from Orenda Books, I admit I first purchased a used copy of the Penguin Books paperback version of THE RINGMASTER to sate my ravenous appetite for more Sam Shephard. But, as a true blue fan, I have since purchased the new eBook edition so I can support the author by posting a verified review on Amazon.

Now, without further ado, here is my review of THE RINGMASTER.

Plot Details

Since the last glimpse of the heroine Sam Shephard and her endearing best mate Maggie in OVERKILL, the pair has moved to Dunedin where Sam is a detective in training as a detective constable. The book opens with a horrific murder in the Botanic Gardens.

Shephard, as low woman in the pecking order is dispatched to the murder scene on a Saturday to secure it until the arrival of the forensic team and the detectives assigned to investigate.

The victim, a young woman is discovered in water, circumstances that evoke a sense of déjà vu for Shepherd because of the similarity with a past murder she investigated as a constable in Mataura.

Shephard’s sense of duty, instinctual curiosity, and empathy for the victim leave her chomping at the bit to take an active role in the murder investigation though her intractable, grudge-holding boss DI Greg Johns stubbornly tries to keep her squarely on the periphery of things.

Undeterred, the oft times impetuous and sometimes insubordinate Shephard, inserts herself into the investigation working on her own time and following up on the bits her partner Smithy hands over.

In time, Sam works out the murder may not be an isolated incident, but perhaps another in a string of deaths, possibly the work of a serial predator on the loose in Dunedin. She also discovers a possible link between the string of deaths and a visiting circus.

The Review

One of the strengths of THE RINGMASTER is the author’s familiarity with the setting, one Symon is so obviously comfortable in and knows so well, the central-eastern coastal city of Dunedin, the principal city of the Otago region in the South Island of New Zealand. With only a few descriptive sentences here and there, Symon so masterfully paints the scene for us, you feel almost as if you’ve been there.

Another of Symon’s enviable talents is her ability to draw for us realistic and memorable characters. I think it impossible for a reader to avoid falling in love with the intrepid Sam Shephard despite her flaws, feeling empathy for her, and rooting for her to succeed. Similarly, at times you feel so enraged by DI Johns’ unfair treatment of Sam, you wish he was real so you could poke him in his smug face. Next to Sam, I find Sam’s mate Maggie the other most endearing character. In fact, her personality reminds me of that of a close Kiwi friend from Queenstown which makes it super easy for me to identify with her.

As an American reader, I will mention reading Symon’s novels exposes you to some of the nuances between the lovely way English is spoken and written in New Zealand in comparison to the Americanized version. While American readers may find a word here and there or turn of the phrase which may seem a bit unfamiliar, it’s far from a distraction. As someone who has had the good fortune of visiting New Zealand a number of times and who has some amazing Kiwi friends, I love the way the language is spoken in New Zealand and it only makes Symon’s writing all the more engaging and enjoyable to read.

Beyond the awesome setting and the true to life characters, Symon has excelled at telling an entertaining, engrossing story that keeps you turning the pages to see what happens next. Like any great police procedural read, there are plenty of twists and turns along way. THE RINGMASTER is masterful plotting from the first page to the last. Any serious crime fiction fan should have it on their to-read list. I rate it as a five-star read only because I can’t give it six!

Publication Date: February 18, 2019
Orenda Books
eBook; 320 Pages
Genre: International Mystery & Crime, Crime Fiction
Paperback/Kindle book-review

About the Author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, television presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. Symon currently lives in Dunedin with her husband and two sons.

For more information, please visit Vanda Symon’s website. You can also find her on Twitter, and Goodreads.

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