Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book review - "The Killing Ground" by Finn Bell

I came across this book on the New Zealand Crime & Mystery Writing Facebook page – it sounded good, it was on special so I thought I’d give it a go. Besides, it was set in NZ, my home country, and I love reading crime fiction set there. What could go wrong?

Well, nothing. In fact it all went not only right, but fantastically well. It was one of the few books I’ve read this year that I really didn’t want to put down. The main character, Finn Bell, is a broken man, literally. He’s in a wheelchair after smashing apart his life and then smashing up his car, and we meet him in the opening chapter jammed upside down over a beach full of deadly rocks. How he got there, and why, is the story that unfolds, moving back and forth between the cliff and the beach in the present, and five months before, when it all started. This dual narrative is handled skilfully and kept me guessing all the way.

The Zoyl brothers are the villains, but they’re clever and cunning and seem to have got away with quite a few crimes over the years, including murder. Why nobody has been able to find enough evidence to convict them is the conundrum. Finn, in his bid to run as far away from the wreck of his life as possible, has ended up in Riverton in the far south of the South Island. He’s bought a cottage with a history, one that involves the murder of two people, and he inevitably becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to them.

There are a number of well-drawn supporting characters in the story, and one of my favourites was his no-nonsense therapist, Betty Crowe. That the author has been a forensic psychologist shows, not just in Betty, but also in his keen insights into the characters and their motivations. I think this is one of the biggest strengths of the book, and you tend not to see it in a lot of crime fiction. I was as engaged in Finn’s internal changes and growth as I was in the cleverly twisting and turning plot. (And yes, the main character has the same name as the author – it’s the result of losing a bet, and Finn Bell is also a pseudonym. Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter!)

I was curious about who published this and the three other titles Bell has written, and was quite astonished to discover in an interview he’d done that, even after winning the NZ Ngaio Marsh First Novel award, plus a bunch of others, he still wasn’t able to get a traditional publisher. I’ve already bought the second book and can highly recommend The Killing Ground. (Original title was Dead Lemons, which isn’t quite as catchy.)
Buy on Smashwords or Amazon or your favourite e-book store.

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