Sunday 21 May 2017


There’s nothing better to make a murder mystery extra-chilling than to set it in an idyllic location. Marlborough Man, Alan Carter’s fourth novel, is set in Marlborough, centred on the sleepy village of Havelock. Under all that idyll, crime lurks, along with decades-long grudges. Traffic infringements, firearms misdemeanours, drunken arguments and shoplifting are the usual fare for Havelock’s Sergeant Nick Chester, and life has been reassuring uneventful. Just the way Chester wants it (even if he is a bit bored), hiding out in New Zealand far from his past life in the criminal underbelly of Sunderland. Yet Nick Chester is watching his back, knowing that he is being hunted. Alan Carter and Nick Chester have some things in common: they are both from Sunderland and have been living in the Wakamarina Valley for a few years. While Carter’s not in a witness protection programme and no one is hunting him, he does draw on his experiences of living in a small community, of being an outsider and of observing our society with a candidness which is refreshing, giving Chester a realistic and sharp perspective. Marlborough Man is a murder mystery, yet, as with Carter’s other crime novels (the 'Cato 'series, which is set in Perth), there is commentary about social and political circumstances that gives depth to the plot, and the criminals are psychologically complex, the crimes disturbing. When a young boy’s body turns up beside the ‘shoe fence’, life becomes complicated and past grievances rise to the surface. A murder of a local boy five years earlier gets Chester digging, even though the Wellington detectives are handling the case. As another child disappears the clock keeps ticking. Mix this with the prospect of thugs coming to find him, trying to keep his marriage on an even keel and the ins and outs of the local community, and you have the recipe for a layered and compelling tale complete with an array of intriguing ‘locals’, the tensions between competing and opposing lifestyles, and some wry humour which balances the novel’s darker moments.

{Reviewed by STELLA}

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