The Water's Dead, Catherine Lea

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

THE WATER'S DEAD is the first novel featuring DI Nyree Bradshaw (BETTER LEFT DEAD is out in September), set in the upper north island region of New Zealand, with idyllic scenery, pockets of poverty, a strong, tight knit Māori community, and a lot of fractious relationships.

None more so than the relationships of Huia Coburn, a young woman whose body is found dumped in a rock pool at the bottom of a waterfall by a couple of tourists with a messy story of their own. The complications of Huia's murder are compounded when it's realised that she was looking after a young, diabetic child at the time of her death. Lily Holmes is now missing, and time is running out to find her, as well as a killer who would batter a young, pregnant woman to death.

Introducing DI Nyree Bradshaw is part of the work that this novel undertakes, a woman with a complicated backstory and enough family dysfunction to get what is going on in Huia's fractured family setup. Mind you, Huia's own mother is an odd one, and her stepfather even more dodgy. Add that to the highly questionable boyfriend, and Huia's recent reconnection with her Māori father and his iwi marae (tribal meeting / gathering ground), and there is a lot for Bradshaw to be looking into very closely.

As is the way with many New Zealand crime fiction novels, the Māori words and concepts are used freely when the storyline involves people or places that are relevant. Readers not familiar with the terminology will have no problems in following along in THE WATER'S DEAD. Sufficient context is always provided, leaving this particular reader with a strong sense of longing that we would at least attempt the same in this country. Along with that sense of culture's crossing, there's a really strong sense of the place in this novel as well, which contrasts with the unrelenting sadness of a young woman dead and a young child endangered. Both of which affect Bradshaw deeply, making her absolutely driven to find the child, solve the crime, and get rid of some policing dead wood imposed on her, without ever realising the complications until it's almost too late.

Despite the growing concern that her investigation is being sabotaged, despite the family dysfunction on all sides, and the ridiculous and downright inexplicable behaviour of a lot of people, Bradshaw is one of those cops that ploughs on. When she's threatened, she persists. When her home is invaded, she continues forward (although that thread did mysteriously disappear from view), and when it feels like Lily is unlikely to have survived, she doubles down on her determination.

A debut novel like this will always have some work to do - introducing a new character, explaining some of her foibles and aspirations, setting up the background to the place, position and motivations for all. Which nearly always explains why a few things might disappear in the mix (like a comprehensively trashed house). The point is whether or not there is plenty to be going on with, particularly when it comes to a potential series character, and Bradshaw's got that in spades. Her estranged son and she have some work to do, the police service has some work to do, and there are some families in the wake of this murder that definitely have some work to do. Now looking very forward to reading the second book.

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The chin tattoo confirms the victim is Maori. The whorls of ink from her lower lip to her chin—the moko, is worn only by Maori women. So, her ethnicity is a given. Finding who murdered Huia Coburn, and dumped her body in the volcanic rock pool at the base of Mason’s Rock waterfall has now fallen to DI Nyree Bradshaw.

From the strangely unsympathetic parents, to the belligerent boyfriend on home detention for drugs, it seems everyone has something to hide and no one is telling the truth.

Then Nyree discovers six-year-old diabetic, Lily Holmes is missing, last seen in the victim's care. Now, Nyree must now find the killer to save Lily.

She has already failed her own son. She cannot fail this child.

Review The Water's Dead, Catherine Lea
Karen Chisholm
Tuesday, April 30, 2024
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