Review: Containment by Vanda Symon

The third story to feature detective constable Sam Shephard opens memorably as a container ship runs aground near Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island and the contents of several of its containers are strewn across the beach. Sam wakes up to  witness locals descending en masse to make off with the spoils and when she tries to break up a dispute between two men arguing over the same box she is knocked unconscious by one of them. The bizarre Sunday morning incident turns out to cause more problems than this for Dunedin police as a skull is among the detritus and later a body is found in deep water nearby.

Sam Shephard is definitely the star of this series, fairly universally described as feisty and not someone who always does the smart thing, though her motives are pure and her heart is definitely in the right place. I like her a lot, being able to relate to someone who doesn’t always shut up even when she knows it would be the sensible thing to do. As well as her complicated work life, where she is in a constant battle with her DI, she has some trials in her personal life and I thought the depiction of her reaction to her Dad’s problems was particularly touching. In this novel some of the supporting cast of characters were more well-drawn than in the first book in the series (2007’s Overkill) especially Sam’s partner Smithy who is struggling with a family crisis at the same time as he works on the complicated cases arising from the container ship’s accident. There are also several minor characters who offer some lightness and humour including Sam’s housemate Maggie and a new friend/suspect Spaz.

The story in Containment is another one of those that at first seems like it will follow a predictable path but then veers off in several surprising ways and I really liked the way the different threads unfolded here. There is the deceptively simple case of the assault on Sam, the attempts to locate all the items ‘salvaged’ from the beach that were part of a wealthy (and apparently extremely gorgeous) immigrant’s household items which were being shipped to his new home and of course the investigation into the murder that resulted in a body being found at sea. In each case the police have several false endings where they think they have found the solution then uncover yet another half-truth being told by one of the players which leads them off into another direction which is very satisfying as a reader (though undoubtedly annoying if you were an actual police officer).

Although I enjoyed the first book in this series I think Containment is a better novel, requiring less credibility stretching and displaying more humour which seems to be in keeping with Sam’s character and the team of Dunedin detectives. I really enjoy Symon’s novel openings which are full of great imagery and are very memorable and her storytelling is engaging (I read this book in one sitting). I could do with a little less concentration on Sam’s relationship woes but this is a minor grizzle about an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable read.

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Containment is one of three novels on the shortlist for New Zealand’s inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, the winner of which will be announced on November 30

So far I’ve only reviewed the first book in the series, Overkill. Containment has also been reviewed at Mysteries in Paradise

The fourth novel in this series is called Bound and is due out next February and the author showed us its cover on her blog earlier this week

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My rating 3.5/5
Publisher Penguin [2009]
ISBN 9780143202295
Length 309 pages
Format paperback
Source I bought it

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8 Responses to Review: Containment by Vanda Symon

  1. Bernadette – Thanks for this review. I like the Sam Shepherd character, too. Your review touches on something I hink is so important, but often overlooked: taking a story off in a different and unexpected direction without losing the thread of the plot. That’s not easy to do well, and I do admire people who can do it.


  2. kathy durkin says:

    Thanks for this review. I liked this book, too, especially Sam’s character–feisty, disobedient and strong, a good woman protagonist. She might be a better private detective, rather than a police officer, as she does her own thing, even defying the authorities in doing so–that makes her a more interesting, independent character.
    This book got me through a bad period, after reading a traumatic ending to a previously-read book, about a realistic episode in a country which carries out what the book portrayed. So I needed a distraction and humor. I got it with “Containment,” and I appreciate that.


  3. I’m in need of a bit of light reading myself right now Kathy and you’re right it suits that need. I also agree with you that Sam might do petter as a PI given her scrapes with authority figures


  4. Vanda Symon says:

    Hi Bernadette. Thanks for the review and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I’ve sometimes thought Sam would be a good PI. God knows she gets herself into enough crap at times that if she was slung off the force she’d have to find something constructive to do. I’m always pleased when readers are entertained by the Sam books, there is so much dark crime fiction out there I thought there was a need for something lighter, optimistic, and with humour.


  5. Pingback: Crime Fiction Alphabet: N is for New Zealand | Reactions to Reading

  6. Pingback: Review: Bound by Vanda Symon | Reactions to Reading

  7. Pingback: Book review: Containment by Vanda Symon | Petrona

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