The Ringmaster is the second novel featuring Sam Shepherd, but I have not read its predecessor Overkill and that did not matter as this novel stands alone well and fills in the blanks with regard to Sam’s past. The book is set in Dunedin, which for Sam represents a move to the city from rural New Zealand but still maintains a small town feel.

After a previous case appears to have left Shepherd with no choice but to move on from a tight farming community, she is now undertaking detective training in Dunedin. It is a move that puts her on the bottom rung of the investigative ladder, but it is also a sought after position and not everyone believes she deserves it, including her Detective Inspector.

It took me a little while to attune myself to the voice of the novel, Sam Shepherd. Maybe it is that small town setting, the storytelling has a down to earth feel that at first felt a little too colloquial but in time became natural as the drama unfolded. In the end the intimacy of the narration, the openness of Sam’s thoughts and motivations, is its strength. It allows us to get to know Sam and to build a relationship with her.

The story opens with murder and Shepherd is keen to get to work despite being side-lined into mundane tasks by the arrogant, bullying DI Johns. Worryingly for the people of Dunedin, she seems to be the only member of the local force with any natural instinct for the role, but her frustration and determination to prove Johns wrong drive her on to connect the dots between a series of disparate but possibly linked events.

You can see why she isn’t always the most popular figure in the police station. She is sharper than her colleagues and she isn’t afraid to say her piece. The same goes for her private life where she sends suitors packing with a cutting barb in their ears. Her friends and colleagues don’t have the advantage of hearing her inner voice, as the reader does, but some of them still break through the outer shell to the more vulnerable person beneath.

The Ringmaster is a well-paced whodunit with a satisfying journey of narrative twists and alleyways that keep you on your toes to a conclusion that could yet again have consequences for the main protagonist. The book hangs on our relationship with Sam Shepherd and, despite taking a little while to warm to her voice, I became increasingly invested in her and closed the cover looking forward to the next instalment in this sassy young detective’s story.


Death is stalking the South Island of New Zealand

Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…

Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…

Rich with atmosphere, humour and a dark, shocking plot, The Ringmaster marks the return of passionate, headstrong police officer, Sam Shephard, in the next instalment of Vanda Symon’s bestselling series.