The Sound of Her Voice, Nathan Blackwell

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Cop-turned novelist, Nathan Blackwell (true identity hidden due to covert police operations) has written a debut novel, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE, which is intense, unsparing, realistic, brutal and will stay with the reader for a long time.

Every year the Ngaio Marsh awards for New Zealand crime fiction throw up an unexpected perspective, something brave and unusual that will set you back on your heels and make you think. For this reviewer, this year, that book was THE SOUND OF HER VOICE. In what's a combination of police procedural, and tragic police perspective, Detective Matt Buchanan has been in the job too long, and he's had a gut full of the nastiness of human nature. Unsolved murder cases haunt him, people being bastards haunt him, everything haunts him. He's bitter and he's well on the way to being twisted, and the murder of 14 year old Samantha Coates puts him on the trail of something big, and even nastier than he had even thought possible.

If you're a fan of crime fiction that glosses over reality, pulls punches, draws veils then THE SOUND OF HER VOICE isn't the book for you. This book is real to the point of "drag you down a back alley, whisper abuse in your ear and belt you over the head" real. It's also a book in which the central hero is flawed and tricky, a man surrounded by bad, with right on his side, and decisions to make. Every step of the way in Buchanan's head is an uncomfortable place. It's impossible to not empathise with a man dealing with all this crap on an hourly basis, it's even possible to understand some of the wrong moves he openly chooses to make. If it's possible to empathise with the end justifies the means, then this is a novel that gives the reader a lot of opportunity to go down that path, hotly pursuing Buchanan's own conclusions.

Obviously this is dark, unrelenting reading, and it's a debut. It's not a 100% pitch perfect, slick as, totally perfectly crafted piece of crime fiction, but then again I'm not sure any of that would have served this author's aims. What we have here is raw, full of realistic emotion, reactions and voices. It's as about as authentic a police perspective as you'd get, somehow managing to maintain it's essential Kiwiness, whilst exploring a descent that's probably all too real for law enforcement the world over.

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For Detective Matt Buchanan, the world is a pretty sick place. He has probably been in the job too long, for one thing. And then there’s 14-year-old Samantha Coates, and the other unsolved murder cases. Those innocent girls he just can’t get out of his head. When Buchanan pursues some fresh leads, it soon becomes clear he’s on the trail of something big. As he pieces the horrific crimes together, Buchanan finds the very foundations of everything he once believed in start to crumble. He’s forced across that grey line that separates right and wrong – into places so dark, even he might not make it back. 

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