The Maori Detective, D.A. Crossman

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Major earthquakes aren't new in Christchurch, but the last really big one left massive destruction, dislocation and death in its wake. As a setting for a crime novel that time and place make enormous sense, giving an author the chance to delve into a society in flux, and the reality of endings and new beginnings for its citizens.

D.A. Crossman has used that time and setting to imagine a new beginning for ex-cop Carlos Wallace who is dealing with a full hand of changes. Dead wife, lost job and a return home to New Zealand. On the upside the unexpected inheritance of a house and chance to reconnect with family. On a more even keel, a new job as a PI which doesn't quite feel right to Wallace, even with his capable, new side-kick, Ginny Andrews. On the downside the case of a missing French girl is at least a change from unfaithful spouses and missing dogs, but it soon gets very messy. Did this girl simply lose her life in the February earthquake or is there a lot more to this than the simple answer everyone has opted for up until now?

Setting in this novel is obviously a major factor, and post earthquake Christchurch looms large. The sense of dislocation and loss of community and place is reflected nicely in the character of Carlos Wallace. He's surrounded by a good supporting cast as well - uncles, aunts, cousins, and an extended family and community that look out for each other, yank each other's chains if required, and generally rub along together. Add in a working partner who is up to the job of keeping the investigation on track and Wallace in line. You may find things are a little slow to get moving, given a big cast of characters and a lot of complex relationships and interactions there's a bit of set up to get through, but stick with that and you'll soon find the investigation side of things taking over, with action and a strong sense of Maori culture along the way. 

The idea behind the major case is also an interesting one. Priorities and resourcing are stretched, pushed and moved around in the chaos of the aftermath of any natural disaster, and it takes a dedicated mind to sift the facts around one dead girl from everything else going on. Local authorities may have been forced to accept everything at face value in the pressure of the moment, but her family aren't, and a dedicated PI looking at just that particular case is able to find out much that anybody with a dozen disasters on their hands isn't always going to recognise. The case isn't however, as straight-forward as you'd think and sinister undertones soon start to emerge and you realise there are plenty of people willing to turn any set of circumstances into advantage.

A debut novel, THE MAORI DETECTIVE has bitten off a lot and does a pretty good job at keeping it moving forward, although there are some ancillary byways that could have been pulled back to keep the story more focused. The setting is well drawn, and the effect that the devastation has had on everyone palpable. All in all, THE MAORI DETECTIVE is a really good start to what you'd hope the author is intending to be an ongoing series.

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He’s lost his wife, his job, and his mana. So what now? A PI? He really couldn’t get used to it. Traipsing around after unfaithful wives and little old ladies’ lost dogs? Was this the future for Carlos Wallace? And what of the beautiful matakite? Wasn’t it a sin to fall in love with your cousin? 

Carlos has spent thirteen years living in Australia, eight of them as a serving officer with the New South Wales Police. But when he kills a man in the line of duty, Carlos’ life begins to unravel. His wife is subsequently murdered in mysterious circumstances, and Carlos is dismissed from the force. A devastated Carlos returns home to his Christchurch whānau and takes up a job as a private detective. 

When Carlos investigates the disappearance of a young French girl, missing since the February earthquake, the detective becomes embroiled in a sinister conspiracy. Carlos must solve the case, and pick up the pieces of his life among the ruins of a devastated city.

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