I have never read Graham Greene before, but I do realise on looking at his novels turned into movies that I have seen a number of the movies, including the 2002 movie of The Quiet American starring Michael Caine as the older, cynical worn journalist Thomas Fowler, and Brendan Fraser as Alden Pyle, the quiet American, considerably younger, greener, more idealistic, cocky and too American for his own good. The book itself was first published in 1955, and due to its subject matter - American invasion/interference/call it what you will in the affairs of countries not their own - remains as relevant today is it was then.

Novels about spies and espionage never go out of fashion, and this is the core that the story is built around. Indo-China (now Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) is a colony of France. A war has been simmering since the 1940s as the locals fight to regain control of their country. They Americans have recently decided they want a piece of the action too, to prevent the rise of communist elements. Fowler is an English journalist, reporting the news. He lives with the much younger, and very beautiful Phuong. Fowler loves Phuong very much, cares for her and her family. I feel he is getting  tired of the work he does, but realises the importance of reporting the news and remaining objective and fact oriented. He has nothing left in England other than a wife who will not divorce him, and an employer who can't decide what to do with him.

Into this cosy life comes Alden Pyle. Younger, virile, ambitious, clouded by US doctrine, he arrives in Saigon as an attache to the US Embassy, but secretly, although widely known, a spy. He also immediately falls love in Phuong and using her sister, cruelly takes Phuong away from Fowler. The death of Pyle is reported very early on in the novel, so nothing given away by stating this fact now. What follows is the unfolding of events leading to his death, and the part, if any that Fowler plays in the death.

This is very good, very good writing indeed. Moody, dangerous, unsettling, characters compromised by their own morals, ethics, no one comes of out this looking good. The world of war is very murky, and when living on foreign soils much more so, as nothing or anyone is as they seem. Plus one's own mores, traditions, ways of doing things and lines of thinking are constantly challenged by what is clearly different in this unfamiliar world. Such a good book. 

TOAST by Nigel Slater

I first came across Nigel Slater when he was the food writer for the English Marie Claire magazine in the 1990s. I loved the simplicity of his food, how he wrote about whatever the month's dish was with such care and and love. I always felt revived and rested, as if I had just finished a good cup of tea after reading his column. So it is with this book, first published in 2003, a memoir of his childhood, how he got hooked onto food, how innate and precious food was to him. The book has since been made into a movie with Freddie Highmore as the young Nigel, and Helena Bonham Carter as his step mother - perfectly cast.

Nigel was born in the late 1950s, an only child. His mother Kathleen 'never was much of a cook'. What an understatement. I get the impression she wanted to be a good cook, but somehow there was a massive disconnect between what she wanted to produce and what was actually produced. Tragically Kathleen dies, and eventually his father remarries Joan, it would seem the complete opposite of his mother in every way. But boy, could she cook! Unsurprisingly Nigel has a difficult relationship with his stepmother. Joan doesn't come across as the horrible stepmother - it cannot be easy to take on a young boy who loved his mother very much. But there are some very strained times between the two of them. Nigel eventually grows up, leaves school, finds his food mojo, and as so often happens with young people who are a bit lost, he builds great relationships with one or two older adults who sort of mentor him, ensuring he gets onto the right path for him.

I loved this, just loved it. How he writes about food, the tactile feel of working with your hands. I have learnt a better way to rub butter into flour when making scones, and the result is much better. You can almost feel that he is crafting his food while he rights about it. A very precious book.


Oh how I loved this book, beginning with the cover. The whole experience of reading this is a roller coaster of emotional reactions to grief, friendship, loneliness, bonds of family, exile, despair, fear, and above all love. Sure, there are aspects of the writing that are a bit uneven, and sometimes I felt there were too many threads to the narrative, all competing for attention to be the dominant thread, but it just manages to hang in there and meld together in a most satisfying manner by the end.

Such an unusual premise for basing a novel on too. The author, being third generation Japanese-Canadian, was born after the second world war. Her parents and both sets of grandparents were sent to internment camps during the war, as were thousands of people of Japanese descent in Canada and the US. A pretty appalling episode really, and unsurprisingly this was not a subject talked about when the author was growing up. As an adult she has done her own research which is where this novel has sprung from. However the actual experience of internment is not the main thrust of this novel, although definitely part of the background. This novel is about the post war experience of those living in an almost destroyed Tokyo in 1947, now under the Occupation of the US, led by General MacArthur, a figure it would seem who is almost revered and adored by his conquered populace.

Such is his mana that people from all over Japan write him letters, asking for help, looking for lost family members, giving suggestions on how to fix things, sending him gifts. The Allied Translator and Interpreter Service was set up to translate these letters into English, staffed by Japanese-Americans, and in this fictionalised account, Corporal Yoshitaka 'Matt' Matsumoto, who sees himself as American but is looked upon as being Japanese.

Also in this position is thirteen year old Aya. Aya and her father were interned in a camp in Canada during the war. Her mother died during the internment. Her father opted to return to Japan after the war, unable to face living in Canada and now Aya, more Canadian than Japanese, has to adapt to a new life, new people, new language. In her new school she is a perfect target for bullying, led by Fumi, who lives with her parents and sister. Her father was a bookseller who lost his shop and livelihood in the war. Her older sister Sumiko works in the 'entertainment' district of Tokyo, where there are plenty of US troops to be entertained. Her earnings support the family, until one day she disappears. An unlikely friendship springs up between the two girls - the feisty, angry Fumi and the bullied, unhappy Aya - when Fumi realises that Aya is fluent in English and is able to write to General MacArthur asking for his assistance in finding her sister.

By chance the letter ends up with Matt, but this does not stop the two girls from taking matters into their hands in looking for Sumiko, taking them into the underbelly of Tokyo, a very murky place indeed. Interlaced with these three characters are Sumiko herself who has her own reasons for disappearing, and the girls's school teacher Kondo who tries to make money on the side as a street side translator,

The themes of recovery, rebuilding, rediscovering, and rearranging life and self permeate the entire narrative and the characters. There is a lot of being in limbo, physically and figuratively, especially for Aya, her father and for Matt who has the added complication of possibly also being gay. I liked this book very much, almost sorry when it ended. It is also really good to be getting novels about the post WWII experience taking place in areas outside Europe.

THE INFINITE AIR by Fiona Kidman

New Zealand has produced some truly amazing women over the decades. My all time favourite is Nancy Wake, the Whtie Mouse who was on Hitler's most wanted list. Jean Batten would have to be my second favourite, a marvellous woman who did spectacular feats of flying and survival in the 1930s. If she was a cat, she would have used up a number of those nine lives: her courage and determination were extraordinary, and she became a legend in her own lifetime.

Extraordinary things happen to ordinary people from very ordinary beginnings. Jean's father was a dentist in Rotorua, and she had two older brothers. It was her mother, Ellen, however who became the driver in Jean's early life, the unstoppable force behind Jean's achievements, the two inextricably entwined for the whole of Ellen's life. Much in the same way that Andre Agassi's father exposed his son to tennis glory from birth, so too did Ellen. She put a picture of the first person to fly across the English Channel above Jean's cot, captivating the child from an early age. Unsurprisingly she did become obsessed with flight, eventually becoming the Garbo of the Skies as she was known.

Jean Batten's life story is well known, and very accessible via excellent biographies, as well as Jean's own accounts of her journeys, all of which the author has used in her research for this novel. She has also spoken with descendants of Jean to help provide a fuller picture of this enigmatic and reclusive woman. This novel covers much of the ground in previously published material, but being a novel, has allowed the author to give a very human face to Jean Batten. Because she was so private and gave very little of herself away, hiding behind the very glamorous image she created of herself, very little is actually known of the person herself. Which is a dream scenario for a novelist.

The result is this very readable and enjoyable account of Jean Batten's life, with all the well known milestones and achievements, as well as what happened to Jean once WWII came along, putting an immediate stop to her gallivanting around the world making and breaking flying records. Her life purpose seemed to stop at this point, and the resulting years till her death in 1982 are really rather sad. It shows perhaps that Jean was human, just like all of us, and that sometimes the extraordinary life is not quite what it is cracked up to be. 

THE MOON IS DOWN by John Steinbeck

This book has taken my book club by storm. There is plenty of information, reviews, study notes about this book on-line, as there is with most of John Steinbeck's novels. Published in 1942, it would seem to  be the famous book that you have never heard of, which includes me. And I have read John Steinbeck before too - The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath - probably his most well known novels.

A small coastal town in a fictitious country, widely lauded as Norway, is taken over by an invader during a war,  widely lauded as the Nazis during WWII. Norway was actually a neutral country when the war started, and had been neutral during WWI so was ill prepared for an invasion. Resistance became the name of the game and this is exactly what this novel is about. It's a slow burner of a novel, even though it is so beautifully put together, as well being extremely compact - so much said in so few words.

The invaders don't really want to be there, and don't really know what to be doing. They feel unsafe, vulnerable, unable to be effective conquerors, neglected to a certain extent by the high command of wherever it is that they are from. The loss of freedom on the part of both the community and the occupiers lies heavily on both sides. The conquered have a certain advantage in that they know the lie of the land, and can be passive aggressive in their own unique way. Things take a turn for the worse for when one of the town's leaders is executed, changing the fine balance that had sorted of evolved. From that moment on, passive aggressive is out the window, a resistance movement begins to take shape and the badness really begins. AT one point, there is a huge mammoth parachute drop of dynamite and chocolate on the town and the region, which just serves to inflame the occupying force even more, making them realise that they are never going to win this particular section of the war. And you have to wonder why an invasion ever took place in this small remote community in the first place.

It is not a happy book. Despite the fortitude and defiance of the locals, and unlike my fellow bookclubbers, I didn't find it uplifting. It was just more of the same horrible, tragic and unnecessary war stuff that we seem to continually find ourselves confronted with in the world  we live in. There is never a happy ending in anything like this, I was glad when I had finished it. Well written yes, but just not for me.


Combined with the perfect timing for Mother's Day, the pretty and colourful cover, the by-line 'a novel of love, lost memories & rediscovering dreams', this really looks like a great piece of enjoyable reading, in rare and craved for moments of solitude, cat or dog curled up next to you, glass of wine, cup of tea, piece of cake! Bliss.

Karen McMillan is a North Shore, Auckland based writer. She has previously written, to popular acclaim, two novels themed around WWII in Poland and America - The Paris of the East and The Paris of the West. This novel is quite, quite different in every possible way from her two previous novels. The writer has tapped into the now getting a little worn theme of 'woman losing memory', focusing on Rebecca, who loses the memory of ten years of her life, from her 32nd birthday to present day. She is now 42, when she wakes up in hospital, concussed from a fall down some stairs. She is still married to Daniel - a once successful NZ rock star now music tutor,  lives in Browns Bay on Auckland's North Shore, and works in the city in some sort of graphic designer capacity.

In the ten year period that she can't remember, many things happen to her and Daniel - illness, death, loss, good times and bad times. None of this of course is known to Rebecca when she wakes up, seeing her adorable and adoring husband by her bed, her best friend Julie, life is peachy, other than a bit of a headache. Not so. The novel, of course, then sets about revealing what has really gone on in those ten years, working towards a well managed climax, and subsequent resolution. Well crafted then, with plenty of tension, some curve balls, a mysterious stalker, the horrible boss, ageing parents, health issues, and at the core of the novel, the state of Daniel and Rebecca's marriage.

So much of this novel is good, with a straight forward story, some very insightful writing on grief, the nature of memory, the brain recovering its memories, the complications of every day life and relationships, and especially the sections on Rebecca's serious brush with breast cancer, which I understand are strongly based on the author's own experience of breast cancer. I learnt a lot, not just about the physical experience of the disease but also the emotional experience. Very, very good.

But, for me, and I stress most strongly that this is my own personal reaction to this book, it is just average. There are a number of unfinished threads, and I just could not relate to Rebecca or Daniel. I couldn't understand, and there is no explanation in the book, why such a talented and successful artist as Rebecca was ten years ago, is now working in some horrible unpleasant design firm doing reworks of work she has already done; we never find out how the accident happened even though decent sized chunks of Rebecca's thoughts are taken up with this mystery; how serious is this head injury, how long had she been in hospital for, concussion can take months to recover from - she is back at work seemingly full time two weeks after she becomes conscious again with nothing but the odd headache.

I honestly thought Daniel was pathetic, a wimp of a man. He can't bring himself to tell his wife of one terribly tragic event, or that they were on the verge of separating, because suddenly, what-ho, his newly conscious wife is a sex-goddess! What man in his right mind would want to lose that! Best friend Julie is by far the best character. Forever berating Daniel for his inability to talk to his wife, she spends most of her time protecting Rebecca from herself, looking after Rebecca's elderly mother in the rest home she works in, and generally trying to keep one step ahead of all those around her. And I am being oh-so-picky here, but I couldn't stand Rebecca being called Rebs. Google it -  and you will see why.

This is a very Auckland-city novel, depicting the city's love affair with real estate - big modern homes and quaint Devonport villas, cafes, the hideousness of the transport infrastructure, the whole glossy magazine feel about the place, the people, the lives they lead. Even though I live in Auckland, I found all this quite cliched and cringing. We get this in the papers, on TV and media every single day, surely there are other aspects of the city that the author could also have found to illustrate her novel. It reflects what I feel overall about this novel - that despite the serious and important themes, much of it lacks depth and insight, too glib, things are just brushed over instead of going just a little deeper. There will be people who love this, I appreciate that, and for an easy, lazy Sunday afternoon read, it will definitely fill the gap.

RED HERRING by Jonathan Cullinane

What a top read this turned out to be. So much diversity in what New Zealand authors are writing about at the moment. This was completely unexpected, as one would expect with a title like 'Red Herring'. Not a fish in sight. But 'red' does refer to the time and setting of this story - the 1951 Waterfront Strike -  a very significant event in NZ's history, that impacted hugely on the country in every possible way. The fear and paranoia around the rise of communism, reds under the bed, the growing power of the unions completely freaked out the government of the day. Such the perfect setting and atmosphere for a thriller, a murder, and a private investigator with his own murky past!

The hero of the day is Johnny Molloy, hard man, ex war veteran, killed a man or two in his time, now working as a private investigator in downtown Auckland. It's so interesting reading about Auckland city in 1951, suburbs we now think of prime real estate, with character homes, actually all quite new then; downtown Auckland a little seedy and down at heel with equally seedy characters lurking in the scenery. Trams are the main form of public transport, as well as taxis, s few privately owned cars.  Googling photos shows a very, very different Auckland!

Even though the war finished some six years earlier, these are still dangerous and uncertain times, with a fair few dodgy characters, hidden agendas, a heightened sense of lawlessness. An American  insurance rep has arrived in town looking for an Irishman who has apparently faked his own death and is now in Auckland. He approaches Molloy to track this miscreant down. Also doing her own detective work is young newspaper reporter Caitlin O'Carolan. Together the two of join forces, playing a dangerous game as they attempt to unravel a conspiracy linked to the strike, the government of the day, trying to stay as many steps as possible ahead of those hunting them down.

Great reading - gripping, diverse characters and motivations, really good depiction of Auckland and what it was like to live there in those times. The author is a filmmaker, and I can just see this being turned into a movie or a TV series. Fantastic stuff. 


A WWII novel not set in Europe for a change, but in Perth, Australia. Yes, there was a very real Japanese threat to Australia during the war, cities and communities on the coast at high alert at this time. Perth, being the main population area on the west coast was the base for all defence activity on that side. By January 1943, US troops were camped in Perth, as well as a number of returned Australian soldiers, injured and/or redeployed back to the home land.

Meg Easton lives in Perth with her mother and sister. She works in an admin capacity at the local police station. She is terribly unhappy as the love of her life has recently been killed in action in Africa, she simply going through the motions of daily living. Quite by chance, she meets in her street, her finance's brother Tom. Tom is recently back from active service, having been seriously injured and disfigured in fighting the Japanese. He has quite a senior position, but like many is having trouble adjusting to life back in Perth, as well as dealing with the ongoing pain and trauma of his injuries.

Is it coincidence or not that the day Meg first meets Tom, not far away is also the day that her neighbour is found murdered. Meg finds herself drawn into this murder mystery, involving both Australian and American soldiers and various others who may or may not be red herrings. It is actually a good story, nicely plotted, plenty of tension and suspense, but never really tipping over into  the suspense wielded by the likes of Lynda La Plante or John Grisham for example. A pleasant, easy read with a few surprises thrown in. What the author is good at however is reimagining for the reader what life in 1940s Australia was like. Her descriptions of residential streets, houses and gardens are vivid, as are how people dressed, including the soldiers, transport, what shops were like. I loved reading this side of the story, it really brought the city and the people who lived there to life. 


She just keeps getting better and better, does Jodi Picoult, her novels always relevant and timely. Her title is based on a quote by Martin Luther King Jr - 'If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way'. So not surprising that she is taking on the issue of race. But her novel transcends just the concept of race as being how you are 'labelled'. It goes much deeper, and looks more at the concept of personal identity, way beyond the idea of skin colour being how we are defined and how we define ourselves. It is simply a superb novel, with extremely complex ideas, troublesome to many, that have been woven in into a first class story of present day  race relations in the US.

Ruth is a nurse, extremely competent, professional, highly respected, working in a maternity unit of a hospital. She looks after women in labour, during and after the birth, as well as the new born baby. She is also black, proud of how she has made it in the white man's world, intelligent, well educated, at the peak of her career. She is widowed, her husband having died serving his country in Afghanistan, and she is the mother of 16 year old Edison, a top student, also on the path to success. 

One day she is working, helping a young couple who have just had their first child. Turk and Brittany Bauer are white supremacists, and take exception to Ruth being the nurse attending to Brittany and the baby. So they insist that she not be allowed to have anything to do with the baby or them. Naturally Ruth is extremely shocked, upset and angry. But it would seem there is nothing she can do about this requirement. In an unfortunate series of events - short staffing basically - the baby dies, and Ruth is blamed for his death. 

Suddenly she finds herself arrested, charged with murder, her life completely turned on itself. She is a black woman charged with murdering a white baby. Everything she had ever known about herself, the world she lived in, her life programme, her self belief, her future for her son is going to be ripped away from her. What becomes painfully obvious for Ruth as the novel progresses is that she is and always will be a black woman living in a white person's world. Her life, the life she has made for herself is really just an illusion, her success is 100% defined by how well she has coped with and adapted to the rules, the mores, the culture, the undercurrents, the everything that is the world of the white person. She might think she has successfully entrenched her place in her world, but in fact she hasn't and never will. 

Her lawyer is a public defender, a white woman, Kennedy, who also finds herself on a very long and unexpected learning curve; on the flip side, the public prosecutor is a black woman who is also confronted with issues she didn't think she would need to think about.  At the centre of all this of course is  newborn baby, dead from natural causes or otherwise. And the bereaved parents. 

Jodi Picoult is a genius in how she brings all this together, and holds the interest compulsively for 450 plus pages. This will stay with you for ages after, every time there is some race based controversy in our society, or more particularly in the US, you will be reminded of this book, of the message in it. It is good reading - the best reading is that which makes us think, which makes us question, puts us in another person's shoes, and that is what this does. 

A DYING BREED by Peter Hanington

Thriller alert, thriller alert! Another excellent recently published thriller, this time focusing on the exciting, adrenaline fuelled world of being a foreign correspondent in dangerous spots. A sobering reality check too - the world of being such a foreign correspondent is not glamorous, has extended periods of boredom and waiting around, fellow journalists are doing it just as hard. They are all part of 'a dying breed', at the mercy of the owners of the various news channels they work for.

The hard core veteran of news gathering in this novel is William Carver, who knows his work inside out, keeps his nose close to the ground, nurtures and looks after his local contacts, increasingly disillusioned with his bosses, the ethics of news reporting, and what the listener/viewer does not get to hear/see. His office is Kabul and the tragedy that is Afghanistan.  His nemesis is his employer, the BBC, who don't like his unconventional methods, their inability to manage him as they would like, and often their non-reporting of what he thinks is worth reporting. He reports to Rob Mariscal, also a hard man who has been on the broadcast scene for many a year, cynical, embittered, but still loyal to a story.

Carver is in Kabul, on the eve of Presidential elections - an unpredictable and nerve wracking time for everyone. A bomb goes off in a tailor's shop killing a number of people including a local official. When Carver finds out the story is not being reported as he thinks it should, his excellent nose smells that something is not quite right with the bombing, and with his translator Karim, sets about trying to get to the bottom of the situation. To try and rein him in, Mariscal sends a young, wet behind the ears producer, Patrick Reid, to Kabul to 'assist' Carver. It isn't long before Carver, Reid and Karim discover that there is considerably more going on than meets the eye, putting themselves in more and more danger as they work to expose the real reason for the bombing in the tailor shop.

This is a great thriller, given added spice and upping the danger level with edge of the seat narrative and vivid descriptions of a semi-destroyed Kabul, its buildings, markets, seediness, shady dealings and disrepair. The country itself is famous for its rugged and unforgiving geography, and how alienating it is to Westerners - journalists, mercenaries, military personnel and anyone else who finds themselves at the mercy of the land. Or the locals. It is also an alarming reminder to us, yet again, how the truth, the news is manipulated to suit an end, and who really does wield control of the news. It is certainly not the journalist. Quite frequently through the book, the chemical weapons story that resulted in US/British invasion of Iraq is referred to, which as we all know now was a complete lie. There is also a most interesting section on the opium trade, how that too has been taken and exploited, manipulated and controlled by invaders for their own ends, to the complete detriment of the Afghans themselves.

So, within the thriller narrative there is also a dark and despairing message. It is unlikely Afghanistan, bordered by Iran, Pakistan, China and ex Soviet countries, will ever be what it once was - a proud nation of beauty, productivity, harmony and strength. But it is certainly the perfect place to plot a story with the themes of good and evil abounding.


SO much fascinating and informative material in this marvellous book. Part history lesson, part biology lesson, part philosophy and social commentary, so much going on here it is all a bit of whirlwind. I wish I had a photographic memory, then I could randomly quote whenever I heard people saying all sorts of rubbish like there is a gene for cocaine addiction, there is a 'transexual gene' that makes men feel like women, or there is a gene for height, or best of all, there is a gene that tells you what time of day you will die.

All wrong, wrong, wrong.

The ten best things out of dozens that I learnt from this book, and that I want to retain in my memory bank, are as follows:
1. Race is not genetic.
2. You are born either male or female
3. The peoples of Africa are more genetically diverse from each other than all the peoples outside Africa are from each other.
4. We all have a small percentage of Neanderthal in us.
5. The 'warrior' gene does exist, and rightly or wrongly is being used as a form of defence in criminal trials.
6. People of European descent generally are not lactose intolerant
7. All people of European descent have Charlemagne (8th century AD) as their common ancestor
8. Red heads will not die out due to climate change
9. Scottish Celts are more different to Welsh Celts than either are to the English; people from Cornwell are more closely aligned to the Breton Celts in France than they are to the English
10. Do not have a child with your first cousin

And so it goes on, and on and on. Truly fascinating stuff.

Extremely difficult to make science reader friendly, and despite my best endeavours,  I just skimmed over all the business about the human genome and almost daily advances in knowledge, the billions of genes we have, the proteins, enzymes, what the alleles do, the ins and outs of Charles Darwin's and Francis Galton's theories of evolution.

What is clear over the centuries, is how we as human beings, have attempted to classify ourselves and others around us simply based on looks, tendencies, religious practices, perceived cultural norms and ways of doing things. This book goes some way to dispelling many of these variables. There will always be people in our midst convinced of their own superiority or knowledge base as to where and how the rest of us should be classified. It is up to us therefore to educate them, and a book like this is a fine start. 

NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan

Odd, very odd, extraordinarily clever, somewhat disconcerting, there is a lot to consider, digest and ponder in this latest novel, the fourteenth by Ian McEwan. Also brilliant, weird, and alarming. For a start, the whole story, all 200 pages of it, is narrated by an unborn child, 8 months gestation, from the increasingly confined space of it's mother's womb. We don't know the sex of the baby, but it is quite clearly Hamlet, and the story is yet another retelling of Shakespeare's tragedy. The baby's mother is Trudy (Gertrude), who is married to John, but is now living with her lover, Claude (Claudius) who is John's brother. John is a poet, semi-successful, Claude is a property developer who has his eye on the London house Trudy lives in. John is a huge inconvenience to Claude, and in true Shakespearian style, needs to be disposed of. The two of them hatch a plan to murder John, much to the baby's distress and anger. The baby in turn, hatches it's own plan of revenge against its mother and lover for the murder of its father.

A simple tale you may well think, and that in a nutshell (ha, ha) is what happens in the story. It's brilliance comes, not just from the unique and unexpected style of narration, but also on the commentary the baby makes about relationships, the bond between mother and child, father and child, the unwanted presence of the stepfather - all classic stuff of tragedy since the days of Ancient Greece. We also get a most beguiling and revealing look at life in the womb - the comforting and familiar noises of Trudy's digestive system, the increasingly confined space the baby is living in and the frustration of this, baby's examination of the cord and how it could possibly strangle itself, the ghastliness of Trudy and Claude's lovemaking, the pleasure of the alcohol rush when Trudy partakes of more than she should. It is wonderfully fascinating.

What is not so fascinating, for me at least although many other reviewers seem not to think so, was the endless and out of control commentary on everything in the world. Everything the baby knows comes from the exchanges Trudy has with people in her everyday life, and from what it hears on the radio via the earbuds Trudy wears. Honestly, 99% of it is waffle, has very little if any bearing on the story, and for me is just padding. I realise we have to suspend belief just a bit - an unborn child narrating a murder - and this part of it was fantastic, but the rest of it..... I just did not get the endless ramble. Still, this is a novel definitely worth reading for its sheer brilliance and innovation. 


'If you save somebody's life, you are responsible for them forever'. This is quite a burden to take on, and is the Chinese proverb at the centre of this gripping, very readable, action thriller.  Hunter Grant, retired army veteran at the age of 38, looking for the peaceful life after a bruising time in Afghanistan, finds himself back in the conflict zone, taking on the responsibility of saving then looking after the life of another.

A single man, he lives in Auckland, and also has a cabin deep in the bush north of the city. While staying at his place in the bush for a few days, he and his dog Scruff stumble upon a young woman, almost dead, exhausted, hypothermic, malnourished, terrified, and clearly abused. This is Dao, the one whose life Hunter saves, and whom he becomes totally responsible for. Skilfully the writer reveals the bare details of Dao's story while Hunter does his best to give her immediate care, warmth and food. She has been held captive by a brutal man called Bram on a remote coastal farm - chained, beaten, abused, threatened, alone, her mother having died, in a constant struggle for survival. The real person in charge however, is a sinister and frightening character called the Boss, who turns up from time to time at the farm wearing a Darth Vader mask, thus unrecognisable, calling the shots.

Even though she has escaped, Dao is still in danger, Hunter in turn now also finding himself the target of the bad guys. The story takes place over 15 days, with Dao and Hunter trying to stay alive, trying to find out Dao's history, where she came from, her real name, and ultimately, uncovering exactly what has been going on at the farm. Everything around Dao is scary and unfamiliar, her having been hidden away for so many years. Even though the reader is familiar with city life, shopping malls, driving, eating out, for Dao this is all very unfamiliar. We see this through Dao’s eyes, giving a slightly sinister undertone to the urban/suburban scenes, threatening and a little unsettling, so contributing perfectly to the evil brewing.

The main focus of the story is on the relationship between Hunter and Dao. It could easily become exploitative, with Hunter having the position of power, especially considering what Dao has come from, what is normal to her.  But no, not once is there any hint of impropriety, taking advantage or exploitation. This Hunter is one heck of a guy, taking his position of guardianship very seriously, at all times aware of the peculiar and compromising position he is in. He has some great women in his life - his two sisters Willow and Plum, and his best friend Charlie, who was in Afghanistan with him. These three women help him in his care of Dao. As Dao's confidence, trust and self-worth blossom, the nature of the relationship between Hunter and Dao changes, but it is never sleazy, uncomfortable or weird. Perhaps because the writing is by a woman?

I doubt if the plot would move so fast in a real-life situation - this is one very damaged young woman, still in considerable danger - but it is a great 15 day ride. Plenty of action, great characterisation and very believable characters. This is a thriller, a whodunnit, at times scary and violent, edge of the seat stuff but constantly tempered by the relationships between Hunter and Dao, Charlie and the two sisters. So much packed into 300 pages. A great story, deserves to be widely read and publicised. “