ONLY THE DEAD is the third Sean Devereaux novel from NZ author Ben Sanders, but only the second I've read. Back in 2012, reading the second book, BY ANY MEANS, it was obvious then that Sanders is an author who likes to work with pace, and complexity. The plots in both these books are built on swirling / shifting sands, making sure that the reader is never exactly sure of anything. Add to that a strong reliance on a noir style, taking a central protagonist, putting them through all sorts of physical challenges, and keeping them dancing that line between good and bad, right and wrong.
Building on many of the basic elements from the earlier books, Devereaux plays a lone hand for most of the action, although he does have a good relationship with ex-cop John Hale, working PI in Auckland and good backstop. Particularly as Devereaux spends much of this book on the outer - sidelined, under suspicion, suspended. In this book he also has a rather shaky romantic relationship lurking around in the background, but that's more about a how to guide on screwing up your personal life.
In the earlier book the music, the popular culture references, and a tendency to lose the basic stylings detracted markedly from the plot, getting things bogged down often. That's been sorted out in ONLY THE DEAD, with the asides and around abouts less distracting and built into the action more naturally and seamlessly. That noir, pared down, choppy style is much more consistent, albeit heavy-handed, but combined with the types of characters, and the action it works. Well enough to make it perfectly acceptable that a place like Auckland would have a dark side, that there's violence and dodgy cops barely under the surface, and that a working PI would be meaningfully occupied.
If you've not read any of the earlier books, ONLY THE DEAD would still work. It is definitely the book where this series starts to make it's mark. Although you do have to feel a bit sorry for tourist authorities in these sorts of locations. There's enough realism here to make you wonder what they're not telling you about "the City of Sails".