Reading Vanda Symon has been a little like getting into a hot bath. I tentatively dipped my toe into the water of The Ringmaster, testing the temperature. Gradually I lowered the rest of my body in, taking time to adapt to this new environment. Now, with Containment I have reclined fully, leaning comfortably against the back of the bath, fully immersed into the water and enjoying its embrace.
This is the third in the Sam Shephard series and it feels like the author and character are fully finding their stride. Sam is becoming not only a talented detective but also a wiser operator in a station that still does not fully accept her. She understands where she sits in the hierarchy and her actions are a little more thought through and deliberate. She is maturing into a professional investigator.
In a crime fiction world that is perhaps dominated by Noir, Vanda Symon brings us something that is now refreshingly different. There is a lighter feel to her work, as opposed to the dark, twisted criminal minds that have now become the norm. The characters are relatable and recognisable, as are their everyday motives, and the location is small, local and contained. It is crime entertainment, that doesn’t require you to go into recovery after reading it.
Containment begins with a container ship running aground off the New Zealand coast. Several containers wash up on the beach and the local residents and weekenders of Aramoana seize the opportunity to bag themselves some booty. Thus begins a chain of events that results in a brutal murder and Sam walks a procedural tightrope, sometimes putting a foot down on the wrong side of the rules, to piece together what has happened.
During the recent Orenda Roadshow, Vanda Symon revealed that originally Sam Shephard had been a male character but something just wasn’t working with the writing until she became a woman. It is hard to imagine that first drafting of the character as so much of Sam’s appeal comes from her feminine viewpoint and the shape that gives to both her professional and social relationships. Sam’s voice is central to the books and the nice thing about author events is the opportunity to understand how these key elements develop.
This is another well-paced investigation with an enjoyable blend of appealing, rounded characters and a setting that is becoming engagingly familiar. I like that this series is not only revealing more about Sam Shephard and her immediate circle, but also introducing me to a city half a world away from where I am reading. It takes time to get to know a person and a place and I feel that having read two of Symon’s books now (I still need to get hold of Overkill) I am seeing the rewards of investing in this particular crime series and getting a flavour of a country that has long had a siren call for me.
Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand
coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and
Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the
scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds
and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead.
What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground
soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the
body of a diver is pulled from the sea … a diver who didn’t die of
As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the
displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly
confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still
have more victims…
Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV 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
climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been
shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently
lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.
The Blog Tour
Containment was published by Orenda Books on 5th March 2020 and you can catch up on the whole tour using the poster below.