Tragedies have a way of showing what people are made of, as the saying goes. Some people possess quite a bit of inner strength and resolve, but it’s not necessarily evident until something terrible happens. Then, people can show a surprising amount of resilience and strength.
That’s certainly true in real life, and it’s true in crime fiction, too. For example, in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red, we meet the Dickson family: Rowan Dickson, his wife, Angela, and their children, Katy and Sam. One horrible day, three members of the family are murdered. Only Katy survives, because she wasn’t at home at the time of the killings. Angela’s brother, Connor Bligh, is arrested, tried, and imprisoned for the murders. Years later, there are little pieces of evidence that suggest that Bligh might be innocent. Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne learns of this possibility and decides to investigate. If Bligh is innocent, this could be a major story for her – one that will cement her place at the top of New Zealand journalism. Naturally, she wants to talk to Katy, but Katy is convinced of her uncle’s guilt. Besides, she’s survived the trauma of her family’s deaths, and wants no part of raking everything up again. Still, Thorne presses on, and soon finds herself closer to the case than she had imagined. Throughout the novel, Katy Dickson is a strong character who hasn’t let the deaths in her family defeat her. It’s helpful, too, that she’s got friends and family to support her.
Cat Connor’s Ellie Conway Iverson is an ex-pat New Zealander who now works as an FBI Supervising Special Agent (SSA). (Qubyte, the tenth novel in this series, has recently been released). Since her early days with the FBI, Ellie has been through more than one tragedy. I don’t want to spoil story arcs or major plot points. Suffice it to say that she’s had more than one death among people she cared about, and more than one terrible thing happen to her. But Ellie isn’t the type to give up and run away. She’s smart, capable, and determined to survive. Plus she knows how to use weapons. What’s more, she has the strong support of her team. Things may go wrong, but Ellie doesn’t quit.
In Finn Bell’s Dead Lemons, we are introduced to 37-year-old Finn Bell (yes, he shares a name with his creator). He’s at a crossroads in his life as the real action in the story begins. His marriage has ended, and a car crash has left him in a wheelchair. In part, it’s his own doing, and he admits that. His drinking led to both the car crash and his divorce. Now he has to make some difficult choices and decide what he’ll do next. He takes a cottage in the tiny town of Riverton, on New Zealand’s South Island, and arranges to meet with his assigned therapist, Betty Crowe. Then, he becomes intrigued by a mystery surrounding the cottage he’s taken. It seems that the Cotter family, who owned the cottage before Bell bought it, suffered a double tragedy. In 1988, Alice Cotter disappeared. A year later, her father, James, also disappeared. It was always believed that the Zoyls, who live not far away, were responsible for both incidents. But there’s never been any proof. In part out of curiosity, Bell starts to look into the matter. And he soon finds that crossing the Zoyls is a dangerous thing to do. But he doesn’t give up. With Betty’s help, he doesn’t give up on himself, either. Little by little, he returns to the world, if I can put it that way. He doesn’t quit, and he finds out the truth. He also finds support in the community.
Jenn Shieff’s 1950s-era The Gentleman’s Club introduces readers to Istvan Ziegler, a refugee from Hungary who’s come to Auckland to help build the Harbour Bridge. He doesn’t speak the language well, and he has no guarantee of a job, but he takes a cheap room and gets started. One day, he hears someone obviously in distress in the next room. He goes to see if he can help, and discovers Judith Curran, who’s come to Auckland to have a (then-illegal) abortion. She’s gotten an infection and is in real danger. So, Istvan nurses her as best he can, and takes care of her until she’s back on her feet. Each in a different way, Istvan and Judith become aware of Brodie House, a home for children run by Lindsay Pitcaithly. On the surface, it’s a haven for children who don’t otherwise have a place to go. But it soon comes out that some dark things may be happening there. Both Istvan and Judith are, in their ways, vulnerable. But they stick together, and, with help from some friends they make, they learn what’s going on at Brodie House, and take the risks they need to take to do something about it.
And then there’s Nathan Blackwell’s The Sound of Her Voice. In it, we meet Matt Buchanan, an Auckland police detective who’s been on the job long enough that it’s left deep scars on him. But that doesn’t stop him from wanting to solve a case from 1999: the disappearance of Samantha Coates. She went missing while coming home from school one day and hasn’t been seen since. Buchanan works other cases, of course, as the years go by. But he doesn’t give up on the Coates case. Then, small bits of evidence related to the case come up, and he’s determined to pursue those leads. And he finds that the trail may lead to something much bigger than he’d imagined. He doesn’t give up, though, and it doesn’t stop him that he may have to face some of his own monsters.
In case you hadn’t noticed, all of these novels are by New Zealand authors, and about Kiwis. I’m not a Kiwi, myself, but I can say this. These stories show two important things: Kiwis don’t give up and quit when things get difficult; and, Kiwis stick together and help each other. Doesn’t matter whether they worship in mosques, synagogues, churches, somewhere else, or nowhere at all. Kiwis stand by each other. Yesterday’s awful tragedy in Christchurch isn’t going to stop New Zealand in its tracks or make New Zealand fearful. And it’s not going to divide a group of people who stick together when the going is tough. Fear and hatred will not win. To those whose personal lives were touched by this horror, please know that millions of people, myself included, stand with you, and wish you healing. And be in no doubt: this isn’t going to stop New Zealanders from supporting each other, no matter who they are or what they believe religiously.
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by REO Speedwagon.