On a morning commuter train in New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, the lives of three people briefly intersect. Sally is a 17-year-old, tentatively stepping into womanhood. Brendan is a middle-aged widower, living in the shadow of his wife's death. Tamas is a Hungarian immigrant, missing his wife and child as he struggles to begin a new life far from home. Meanwhile, in a nondescript building near Dunedin's Otago University, Farida translates messages for the security services and catches glimpses of a plot that could threaten them all.
THE DIRECTION OF OUR FEAR is such an interesting idea - multiple characters living separate lives, getting on with their day to day existences, moving through place and time without knowing each other, or even being aware that there will come that intersecting point - a morning commuter train in Wellington. It's an appealing idea as we become increasingly aware of the randomness of fate in our modern day world.
As the individual stories of the characters are built, alongside the shadowy world of surveillance and external threat, the reader is left constantly wondering not just what is the thing that connects all these people, but when will it happen. This could leave some searching for some sort of connection with these disparate stories, as that connection to character is paramount, because the threat is so insidiuous, taking what feels like a long time to eventuate. For this reader it engendered a somewhat detached feeling, observational as opposed to intuitively emotionally invested. What investment that did eventually occur then felt a bit engineered, almost like the threat came at a point where disconnection was starting to become an issue. Perhaps there was something there mirroring standard government behaviour where it's hard to miss the occasional external threat chucked into the daily message when it's become obvious that voters are switching off in droves.
Having said that, THE DIRECTION OF OUR FEAR is obviously exploring love, loss and human relationships against the backdrop of threat - maybe if you approach the novel less as a crime novel or thriller and more as a look at the human condition, as there's much to consider from the later point of view.
Review - SURRENDER, Donna Malane
"A detective as tough as the country she comes from..."
Missing persons expert Diane Rowe is used to making sense of other people's lives. It's just a pity she's not having much luck with her own.
The brutal murder of her little sister, Niki, and the break-up of her marriage have tested her usual tough optimism. When Niki's killer turns up dead, Diane is determined to nail the truth, despite the best efforts of her policeman ex-husband to sideline her.
The first book in the Diane Rowe series, SURRENDER is part of a two book series (MY BROTHER'S KEEPER is out now), set in Wellington, New Zealand, featuring a private investigator scenario that makes a huge amount of sense.
Diane Rowe is an ex-cop and now missing person's expert. Her marriage to still serving cop Sean fell apart as she struggled to cope with the murder of her younger sister Niki (all of which happened before this book), and now Sean now finds himself investigating the murder of the man everyone believes is Niki's killer. Which investigation Rowe cannot help but interfere with - even though she's warned off by everyone.
Told from Rowe's point of view, the action is fast moving and the style is witty, pointed and nicely nuanced. Rowe's a strong character who will be the sort of wise-cracking, self-doubting, frequently daft but undeniably brave, and dedicated female character that reader's are either going to get, or hate. But she does work really well - holds the central viewpoint strongly, is believable and understandable. There's a strong sense of humour built into Rowe - even when she's grieving her sister, even when she's just got herself into a tricky situation. Her relationship with her now ex-husband is really well done, as are the trials and tribulations of someone you love moving on, and what Rowe is going to do about her own personal life.
It doesn't hurt that she's an animal lover and now owner of an ex-police dog who is a character in these books in his own right. It also doesn't hurt that the central investigaion is balanced against the discovery of a long dead body, deep in the New Zealand bush, who Rowe is called upon to identify.
As happens all too frequently around here, I read the second book first, which really made me want to go back to the start of the series and get Rowe's backstory from the outset. The missing person expert angle is an elegant way of getting Rowe into all sorts of situations, and the style with it's lighter touch, and slightly wacky female protoganist is increasingly common in the mystery world. Which means that fans of this sort of book have lots to choose from, particularly with a more local flavour.
Review - MY BROTHER'S KEEPER, Donna Malane
Diane Rowe, our missing persons expert, will once again take us on a dark ride through the underbelly of a city not prepared to give up its secrets easily. Ex-con Karen needs Diane's help to track down her fourteen-year-old daughter, Sunny, who she's lost contact with while she's been in prison. To Diane, this appears at first glance to be a simple case of a mother wanting to reunite with a beloved daughter. But she soon learns that while Sunny miraculously survived her mother's attempt to kill her, little brother Falcon was not so lucky. Tracking the girl down is easy.
MY BROTHER'S KEEPER is the second Diane Rowe book from New Zealand author Donna Malane, and it's a really strong idea for a protagonist. Rowe is a PI who specialises in looking for missing people, which seems like such a believable, unsurprising thing to do, even in this cyber-connected-technical-no-fault-divorce world, that it gives the character gravitas from the outset.
Not that she's an overly sober or considered woman. Rowe comes across as someone of great compassion, and concern for her clients, but flawed and a bit chaotic. She's a straight talker, and prepared to go the extra mile, but she's also not bullet-proof or perfect. Her personal life is just crazy enough to be believable, her professional instincts strong enough to give her credibility, her determination to continue makes her very likeable.
The book isn't all about Rowe though - Sunny, the daughter being sought, is also a strong character. A realistic 14 year old, with the sort of fragile core that seems to go with the aftermath of her mother's actions. At the same time, she's a teenager with a protective father and a fractious relationship with her stepmother. When her life starts to spiral out of control again, her turning to Rowe for support makes sense.
Finding Sunny for her mother is only part of this plot, as that doesn't take too long. Convincing Sunny and her father to meet with her mother after all these years isn't the easiest task, and Rowe has to work hard to convince everyone. Along the way the situation at Sunny's home starts to become clearer, and her father, and stepmother are soon under question. Not as much as Sunny's mother Karen though.
Whilst this plot is intricate and heads off in a lot of directions, it's reasonably strong. Even though there's a real possibility that reader's could guess the truth, getting it confirmed, and understanding the why is as important as who and what. There is even a strong romantic thread built in for fans of that sort of development. Set in both Wellington and Auckland it's possible to get a bit of a feeling for both those places. There's also a very good, dry, wry sense of humour built in. Interestingly the author is a producer and script writer, but in this book she's balanced the effects of that background by compressing the action into a number of days, without giving the entire thing a film script treatment.
Definitely a great series for fans of something slightly lighter, yet not completely cozy and fluffy, MY BROTHER'S KEEPER is a really enjoyable outing which doesn't seem to suffer from not having read the earlier book.