About the Book
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…
I adored getting to know Sam Shephard in Overkill and I’m thrilled to have the chance to share my thoughts on the brilliant second book in the series featuring her, The Ringmaster!
The Ringmaster follows Sam as she investigates the murder of a university student. In the course of the investigation Sam ends up looking in to the circus that’s in town as it seems possible that there is a link. Sam has recently been promoted and has moved to Dunedin but her superior officer isn’t happy with this and makes Sam’s work life difficult but she is determined to prove herself.
Throughout The Ringmaster I loved seeing Sam build a working relationship with her fellow Officer Smithy and hope to see more of him in future novels. I also enjoyed seeing her tentatively embarking on a new romantic relationship. Sam is such a down to earth woman – she isn’t perfect but she’s very likeable and works really hard – so that seeing her go about her day having the sort of mishaps that happen to me at inopportune moments just really endears her to me. I feel like I could be friends with her. I said in my review of Overkill that I thought I might have found a new detective to fill the Kinsey Millhone-shaped hole in my life and now I can absolutely confirm that I absolutely have! Sam Shephard is such a brilliant character!
The opening of The Ringmaster is shocking, perhaps not quite as shocking as the opening chapter of Overkill, but very nearly! It seems a young woman may have been lured to her death and there’s something so terrifying and devastating about the idea of someone being killed like that by someone they trusted and cared about.
The Ringmaster is a novel that really explores at how it is to be other, to feel on the outside, to be marginalised. Sam is new to the Dunedin and made to feel like an outsider at work, she’s also having to stay with her friend Maggie’s family so doesn’t have a home of her own at the moment. The circus workers that get questioned over the murder are of various nationalities and this seems to heighten suspicion around them regarding the murder. I know what it is to other and it’s so hard when you feel that people have pre-judged you on something you can do nothing about. My circumstances are very different to the workers from the circus but I still felt an empathy for them as they tried very hard to fit in.
I struggle with understanding circuses that use animals, it doesn’t sit right with me at all. I was felt particularly sad reading about Cassie the elephant in her enclosure. In one part of the novel something really awful happens at the circus, which leads to heartbreaking scenes and I found myself in tears at this part of the book. Vanda Symon has such a brilliant way of writing scenes such as this though – she doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of the situation but at the same time there is a real sensitivity to her writing that makes me want to keep reading.
The Ringmaster has an underlying tension running through it as you look with suspicion at quite a few characters wondering if they might be the murderer. I enjoyed the psychology aspect of the investigation as Sam, with help from Maggie, tries to profile the murderer in order to try and get a lead in the case. This is definitely a whodunnit crime mystery but it’s also very much a whydunnit so even if you think you know who the murderer is you’ll still have to work out the why. I loved that there was more than one element and it certainly kept me on my toes as I was reading. The why was more of a shock to me than the who but I was still left utterly reeling by the end!
Vanda Symon is such a brilliant writer who brings something really fresh to crime fiction, a genre that I read a lot of but Vanda’s books really do stand out in the crowd. The Ringmaster is an emotional, powerful and gripping novel. I loved it and highly recommend it!
Many thanks to Orenda for my copy of the book and to Anne for the blog tour invitation. All thoughts are my own.
The Ringmaster is out now and available here.
I’ve previously reviewed Overkill, the first book in this series, here.
About the Author
|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.|
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