(26. – 956.) Marlborough Man by Alan Carter – Sgt. Nick Chester is a suspicious man. Even though he is living in the quiet countryside of the South Island of New Zealand he is wary of the unexpected and the unexplained.
He has been a recent émigré, more like refugee, from England. A few years ago he had gone undercover in Sunderland to penetrate the gang run by Sammy Pritchard.
His guise was clever, an officer in the Prisons Department, but surprisingly Chester uses his real name. It helps with the infiltration for Pritchard knows of Chester from going to the same school. It also means the gang knows he is married to Vanessa and has a son, Paulie, with Down’s Syndrome.
When the gang goes after them Chester and his family are re-located to New Zealand.
In New Zealand Chester is called out to the murder scene where six year old, Jamie Riley, has been found dead. The location is a local landmark. A thousand pairs of kids shoes have been hung on a fence.
The terse description of death by DC Ford says enough:
‘Neck snapped. But there was other damage too. Somebody has had him for a week now.’
Aiding Chester is a newly graduated officer, Constable Latifa Rapata. She is bright and ironic and capable. Her sharp tongue daily jabs Chester.
Chester is not the only resident of Havelock escaping a past. Australian pedophile, Patrick Smith, has come to the edge of New Zealand after constant harassment in Australia. He is living on an isolated beach only accessible by water.
DI Marianne Keegan, called in from Wellington, is leads the investigation. She is uncomfortable that Chester, a Sergeant, is stationed in Havelock, a town of but 500 people, and that Chester has no history.
Residing in a rural area of limited population means no stranger can stay unnoticed and local “sad bastards” are well known.
I was intrigued that the focus of the plot is divided almost equally between the murder investigation and Chester’s life.
Is Pritchard tracking down Chester and his family so he can wreak vengeance? The never ending tension is cruelly affecting his marriage to Vanessa. The question has to be resolved. His marriage cannot cope with the strain.
Having spent a lifetime representing people facing criminal charges, fractured marriages, broken contracts and all the other conflicts that lead to court I recognize that Chester will no longer turn away from his trouble. I say to many clients that everyone at least once in life must decide if they will stand up and fight for themselves. I will stand with them in court but only they can determine if they are ready to do battle. Chester will no longer run.
The characters are interesting. I cared about them.
Chester is a real man with a darkness to his character. A willingness to let the ends justify the means caught up to him in England. His work ambition has led him into exile far from home. Now he is dedicated to being a good police man. Being a good man is harder.
Chester’s wife, Vanessa, is a complex woman. Frustrated over being forced from England she is striving to re-build her life in this new land. She wants to love Chester however there are “buts”.
Paulie is a rarity in crime fiction. Relatively few mystery authors give their sleuths real families. Fewer yet have a sleuth with a challenged child. Chester and Vanessa love Paulie and think continually of his future needs.
The investigation is a gritty draining process. A book about a child killer hunt has a distressing and cruel theme. While never losing sight of the dreadfulness of the killings Marlborough Man is not a depressing book.
Carter skillfully involves Maori characters, Maori culture and the Maori language into the story.
The geography of the setting on the north edge of the South Island is important to the plot.
There are more bodies falling than I thought needed for the telling of the story. There was already abundant drama from the investigation in to the child killings and Chester's life.
Carter has the knack of the best crime fiction writers in drawing readers deeply into the story. I consider Marlborough Man a strong candidate for winning the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction.