Full Moon Fever
Rodewald Family Trust, $25.00,
The Bone Tiki
Bold Blood comes with a foreword recommendation from Mark Todd, which may appear a little odd as he confesses: “I’m not a big reader at the best of times.” But his comments do confirm that Lindy Kelly knows what she is talking about as she sets her first crime novel in the horsey world of eventing in New Zealand, and indeed she should as she used to compete internationally in this sport.
Kelly, who has written more than 15 children’s books as well as short stories, poems and plays, begins her novel with young doctor Caitlin Summerfield receiving news that her mother has been hurt in a fall from her horse in Nelson. Though estranged from her mother, and possessed of a promising career and a rich boyfriend in Wellington, Caitlin heads off to her mother’s horse headquarters to sort things out. With her mother in a coma, she has to take charge of the horses and finds her earlier equine enthusiasms coming back.
When Caitlin discovers her mother’s saddle in the paddock and notices that a strap has been cut, she starts to suspect foul play. The play gets fouler and fouler – someone is very determinedly trying to win a rich contract to supply horses to the United States, and sees wiping out the opposition as the path to success. The murders start. Caitlin has allies – godmother Jean, hunky neighbour Dom and rebellious but good-hearted teenager Kasey – but they are riding on very dangerous ground. When Caitlin enters an event herself, she gets thrown from her horse because a villain has pushed a dog out on the course to spook the horse.
The story gallops along, with plenty of dark deeds, and on this level it’s all good clean fun for the crime connoisseur. The book derives added depth from the relationships among the characters, especially that between Caitlin and her mother, who is not at all pleased with Caitlin’s efforts to help. Everyone else thinks mum is great, but she is quite nasty to her daughter: “You snooping little bitch! … Just piss off back to Wellington. I don’t want you here or need you!”
Then there’s Caitlin’s relationship with her limerick-writing father, who died long ago in a farm accident with her brother. And as for salt-of-the-earth Dom, well it doesn’t take much perspicacity to spot that he’s going to be serious competition for the rich boyfriend back in Wellington.
The writing is clean and crisp, the dialogue is natural Kiwi stuff, this is a good read. And if horses fail to excite you never mind, you can speed-read through the technical bits without losing the plot.
Full Moon Fever is much more serious in intent and indeed wider in scope, as it involves the threat of a global pandemic of a new strain of bird flu. Professor Vo is a Vietnamese virologist who has been thirsting for revenge against the United States for 30 years, since his village was bombed and his beloved wife was killed by chemicals dropped from American planes.
Vietnam has changed in that time:
It was crazy how some of the younger generation had such short memories that they even looked up to America: despite the bombings and the murder of three million Vietnamese in the war; despite the six hundred thousand people killed since the war by unexploded mines and ordinance; despite the cruel deformities, cancers and brain damage still occurring as a legacy of Agent Orange and other chemical weapons. So long as the kids in Saigon and Hanoi had the latest cellphone, the latest motorbike, they didn’t care.
Vo does care. When he discovers a mutated and particularly deadly form of bird flu, and knowing that he is dying anyway, he decides his time has come. He injects himself with the virus and flies to New York to spread it as widely as he can. Both the Vietnamese and the American authorities try to stop him.
Vo has disowned his daughter Chi because she had taken up with an American doctor, Jack Cole. Traumatised by experiences with the army in Iraq, Cole spends his off-duty hours drinking and womanising. Finding out about Vo’s plans re-energises him; he and Chi set out to save the world. They also need to avoid Vietnamese colonel Tran who wants to kill them, and to sort out their own relationship.
David Rodewald clearly has sympathy for the Vietnamese and their sufferings in their wars with France and America, and expresses these feelings in ways that are a little heavy-handed at times. Still, he raises valid concerns about American ways of doing things, and he still knows that it’s really not a good idea to kill millions of Americans with a virus, no matter how obnoxious they might be.
So here we have an action thriller with political undertones, a romance and some instruction in the science of viruses, plus a lot of blokey dialogue. The writing is not as professional as Kelly’s but it is effective and the story pulls you along. Rodewald, a Kiwi who travelled widely, died accidentally in 2006. His family have now got his book published, and it is certainly a worthwhile memorial.
The Bone Tiki is actually a teen novel, and only peripherally a crime story. Fifteen-year-old Napier boy Mat takes a bone tiki that had been promised to him, and discovers it can transport him into a parallel New Zealand – 19th century New Zealand, in the days when the Pakeha were arriving in the country. The tiki can summon up a dead Maori warrior to help him, and catch a ride on a taniwha down the Waikato River as he tries to escape from some very bad people.
Good writing makes all this work, and the crime-fantasy story is a nice way of letting younger readers learn more about the history and culture of their country. But don’t tell your teenagers it’s instructive; just say it’s thrilling and entertaining, which is true.
Bernard Carpinter is a Napier journalist.