Tue, Jun 27, 2023 5:55 PM

Chapter and verse



The Marlborough Book Festival 2023 will be held from Thursday 20 July to Sunday 23 July.

This year sees 23 sessions with a range of  exciting author sessions. Rina Pinker reviews Michael Bennett Better the Blood, a crime thriller with a message about New Zealand’s colonial past and how it reverberates in society today.

Michael Bennett will be appearing at the ASB Theatre on Saturday 22 July at 7.30pm.

There is nothing better than spending a cold, rainy weekend curled up with a good book and Michael Bennett’s book Better The Blood was a weekend well spent.

As a lover of all crime and thriller novels I have to admit that Better The Blood is my first foray into Aotearoa thriller fiction and I was gripped from the very first scene.

The opening is set in 1863 with six British soldiers posing in front of the body of a Māori leader. It's confronting as a reminder that our history is not as far back as we would like to think.

Cut to present day Auckland and we are introduced to Detective Hana Westerman. A Māorisingle working mother who is dedicated to gaining justice for her victims, even when faced with endemic prejudice. To further add to her layers, she is estranged from her wider whanau and shares an 18-year-old daughter with her ex-husband who also happens to be her superior.

I admit that I did expect these circumstances and the diverse characters that come with them to hold her back, however she remained incredibly tenacious and focussed. This tenacity and her Māori background make her the perfect protagonist to the serial killer that seems to be choosing his victims at random but is linked terrifyingly close to Hana in ways she never expected.

This is not a page turner in the respect that you want to power through this as fast as you can to get to the big reveal. This book is far more nuanced and whilst building the story Bennett has managed to weave in the cultural and political effects of colonisation on a people, how trauma can affect generations, and how no matter how far we think we have come there is still more work to be done.

However, this isn't done in an uncomfortable way. Bennetts writing is incredibly poetic whilst building up a case both for and against our antagonist who is revealed around halfway through the book. What happens after the reveal tells far more than the lead up. All the characters' actions, decisions and the outcomes in the aftermath are what makes this book interesting and gripping.

What starts as a story of good and bad, hurt and injustice, turns into something really rather healing. Gripping and thought provoking, I was left singing the praises of Michael Bennett's Better The Blood long after I had finished.

To buy tickets and to find out more about the full line up of authors and guest speakers visit https://www.asbtheatre.com/events/Marlborough-book-festival-2023/

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