Diane Rowe finds people for a living. Whether it be for family members, PI firms, lawyers looking for witnesses, insurance companies, television shows or the cops Diane’s job is to find people who have gone missing. In the case that threads through SURRENDER some decades-old remains are found in a remote part of the Rimutakas, a mountain range on New Zealand’s North Island, and Diane is tasked with discovering who the person was.
But Diane has something else on her mind as the book opens. Her ex-husband Sean, a Wellington policeman, arrives at her house with the news that a fresh body has been found. It is the body of a lowlife called Snow, the man everyone thinks (but can’t prove) responsible for the murder of Diane’s younger sister Niki a year ago. As Snow has been murdered in the same way that Niki was it seems likely there is a connection but Diane seems unwilling, unable even, to allow the police investigation to take its course without getting involved herself.
Both stories open strongly and though they remain unconnected except by Diane’s involvement for the length of the book, Malane manages to switch back and forth between threads with ease; combining them into a snappily paced book with much to offer readers. The missing persons case proves to have several false starts and though the methods used to start narrowing down the possibilities are a little more mundane than depicted in TV shows like Without a Trace I found this aspect of the book fascinating. Diane’s dabbling in the investigation of Snow’s death, or to be more precise Snow’s life as it pertained to her sister, is equally absorbing. Again there are several points at which it seems things are resolved only to find that there is yet another twist in this satisfyingly complex tale.
Another strong element of the book is the character of Diane who narrates her story with an attractive mixture of humour, self-deprecation and introspection. She’s quite straight forward in taking responsibility for her marriage breakup, fully admitting that she was impossible to live with in the aftermath of her sister’s death, and this frankness lulls the reader into thinking that Diane is as self-aware as she will ever be. But as the book progresses and she learns more about her sister’s life Diane also learns more about herself and the ways in which her own behaviour might have failed her sister. The reflection that we often don’t know people as well as we think we do, even those closest to us, is a tough lesson but one most of us have to grapple with at some stage. Malane teased this aspect of the story out sensitively but without straying into maudlin territory and it’s all the more compelling for the restraint shown.
I always worry when I mention that a book has humour that people will think the whole thing a barrel of laughs so I’ll be clear and say this book has dark moments too. I don’t want to give spoilers but I can say that at one point Diane is personally endangered and attacked. The way she deals with the aftermath of this, though perhaps surprising for a procedural-y kind of story, had an air of authenticity and helped make the book a memorable one for me.
SURRENDER was the winner of the inaugural NZ Society of Authors award for best unpublished manuscript in 2010 and (for once!) I can see exactly what the judges were thinking in bestowing the prize. This is a very assured piece of writing that offers intelligence, humour and suspense in equal measure and there’s a strong sense of physical place, a hint of romance and a wonderful canine character. I look forward to more of all of this from Donna Malane.
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SURRENDER has been In The Spotlight at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist and has been reviewed at Crime Watch
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My rating 4/5
Publisher NZ Society of Authors 
Length 300 pages
Book Series #1 in the Diane Rowe series (hopefully there are more to come)
Source I received it as a gift from a fellow book lover in San Diego – thanks Margot, I’ll be sure to pass it on to another book lover
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