THE THREE DEATHS OF MAGDALENE LYNTON is the first in a new series from New Zealand author Katherine Hayton, followed by THE SECOND STAGE OF GRIEF and THE ONLY SECRET SHE KEEPS. The last of these, THE ONLY SECRET SHE KEEPS, has been long listed in the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards which will come as no surprise if you've been lucky enough to follow the evolving story of Ngaire Blakes.
The central character in this series, Detective Ngaire Blakes, really works. A flawed, grumpy, complicated woman, frustrated at being stuck behind the police station reception desk recuperating from nasty injuries received in an earlier case. She's a good combination of knowns and unknowns, as there is much to Blakes and her background that you'll have to take on face value. This first book doesn't waste a lot of time on backstory for her or her colleagues, it assumes that you'll work out this is a policewoman with a past and roll with it. It's also a location with a past history, and some of the classic elements of small-town connectedness and combined past histories, again a fair bit of which you'll just have to take as given. Overall this creates an extra level of mystery, and makes sure that things don't bog down in the personal past, keeping the pace of the revelations - past and present - tight, fast and flowing freely.
The blurb gives readers a pretty good idea where the title for this novel comes from. Magdalene Lynton died 40 years ago drowned in a farm slurry. Or in a dirty shed. Or did she? The plot device of three possible deaths of the one woman is an interesting idea to start out with, but add the complication of 40 years ago and things get very twisty indeed. There's a lot of red herrings for Blakes and the reader to sort through, there's a heap of confusion and doubt everywhere, and at the centre of the mess there's an investigator that's determined, flawed, pig-headed, and extremely real. It's one of those pleasing confluences of good characters, good plot and interesting sidelines. About the only downside is a slightly unclear sense of place with the incorporation of American spelling and terminology muddying the waters (pun sort of intended - what with farm slurry and the whole thing...).
Despite that minor niggle, the main aim of THE THREE DEATHS OF MAGDALENE LYNTON: introducing a new, intriguing and interesting character in New Zealand Crime fiction delivers in spades. Enough to make this reader pick up the second book in the series, THE SECOND STAGE OF GRIEF, pretty well straight away.