Vanda Symon is the author of Overkill, was published by Orenda books on 30 June 2018.
Orenda have kindly allowed me to share an extract from with you.
A crisis in a small town and everyone wanted to help; it was one
of the beauties of a rural community. Within twenty-five minutes
of the call going out, the jet boat was in the water, working its way
upstream from near Wyndham, and the pub had disgorged itself
of patrons eager to join in the search. I’d also called in for back-up
from the Gore police station, thirteen kilometres up the road; my
Mataura community station came under its umbrella.
I was now walking knee deep in damp grass along the river’s edge.
A ballet of torchlight criss-crossed the fields and groves along the
bank, a scene repeated on the far side of the dark and now ominous
Mataura. I shivered, not just from the chill that seeped through my
damp trousers. The river proved difficult to search on foot. Often, we
had to clamber back up the bank and over farm fences when faced
with a scarp or impassable scrub. At least the jet boat made better
progress. The water level was higher than normal, making for an easy
passage. Bill had promised one quick sweep of the river while there
was still some light, then he’d get out again at first light if needed.
But the Mataura was never straightforward to search, with banks of
willows, and coal benches which jutted out beneath the water and
could conceal a body. I began to hope the gamble of a search of the
river wasn’t a waste of time. What if there was some other simple
Despite the oddity of the note, there was a part of me that still
fervently hoped Gaby Knowes would turn up at home, returning
from a friend’s place, having lost all track of time. That all she’d
have to do was live down the stigma of having abandoned her child
for a few Chardonnays and a gossip session with the girls. It was a
futile fantasy. Instinct told me Gaby was already dead and it was
now a matter of when we found the body, not if. Bodies that didn’t
beach straight away invariably popped up after seven days, when
the gases from decomposition finally built up enough to make them
float in our chilly southern waters. My predecessor had had the task
of searching for a couple of people who had died after going into the
river off the Mataura bridge.
This was my first.
It was by far the most serious event I’d encountered in the time I’d
been on the beat in Mataura. Other than the scuffles of those who
worked hard and played hard, life here was ordered and mundane.
The country had a gentle rhythm that revolved around the milking
habits of its dairy herds, and the shifts at the freezing works. Most
of my time was spent in the investigation of farm equipment and
vehicle theft. There was a lucrative black market for motorbikes,
quad bikes and other small farm vehicles – they were plentiful in
districts like this, with the trend towards lifestyle blocks and townies
looking for a slice of rural paradise. Down shifters, they euphemisti-
cally called them; bloody nuisances was more accurate. And probably
a bit harsh, but the locals did take a while to warm to new residents:
just look at Gaby Knowes. The rat-race refugees had a standard-issue
uniform, which included a quad bike to go with the Aertex shirt and
Hunter Wellington gumboots. The bikes were easy pickings for both
the opportunist and the more organised criminal element. Fortu-
nately, the latter didn’t hit here often. A strong rural Neighbourhood
Watch had made a decent impact on theft.
My head jerked upwards in response to a distant report, and
my eyes followed the graceful red arc of a flare against the night
sky. It would have been beautiful had it not been for the sense of
‘Shit,’ I muttered.
I called across to Dave Garret, who was working to my left.
‘That’ll be the jet boat; they must have found something. What do
you think? That would be a good K away?’
‘The terrain is pretty crap from here. I’m going to climb back up
there and run along the road till I find them. You and the others
continue along the bank, just in case.’
‘Yeah, sure, Sam. We’ll catch up soon enough.’
I was right: once I’d climbed the bank, the road was only two
fences and twenty metres away. I negotiated the fences and set off at a
run in the direction of the flare, my eyes straining for any sight of the
boat. The road was higher than the river and I was afraid I’d miss it.
The moonlight helped to some extent, but it was still difficult to dis-
tinguish bank from bush from animal. I didn’t like running at night
at the best of times, but in these circumstances, and with my breath
unnaturally loud in the darkness, I was more than a little creeped out.
At last I caught a glimpse of light down to my right. It had taken
just over five minutes to get here. The spot was downstream from an
area known as Sam’s Grief. Appropriate. I made my way across the
paddock towards the bank; the sheep did not approve of my intru-
sion and flocked to a distant corner. At least they were sheep, and not
cattle, or worse, deer. From this distance, I could now see the pools
of torchlight that illuminated a prone figure on the bank, as still as
the dark hump of the jet boat parked near by. I swallowed hard. It
had to be her.
About the book
When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems. Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands. To find the murderer … and clear her name. A taut, atmospheric and page-turning thriller, Overkill marks the start of an unputdownable and unforgettable series from one of New Zealand’s finest crime writers.
About the author
Vanda Symon (born 1969) is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has hit number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons.