Better the Blood by Michael Bennett is a detective story set in Auckland, New Zealand.
Hana Westerman, a detective and single, divorced mother receives a short video file on her phone leading her to the scene of an apparent suicide by hanging. But there are indications that it was a murder and pathology quickly confirms this. Soon, evidence of other deaths are sent to her suggesting she is hunting a serial killer. Perhaps too remarkably, Hana discovers a link to an historic crime in Auckland and as the murders continue it becomes clear that present-day relatives of a colonial-era killing of a Maori chief are the targets and this seems to include Hanna or her ex-husband or perhaps their daughter. The murders seem to be utu/revenge/pay-back for the earlier killing.
In Hana’s early years as a police officer she and her colleagues were required to break up a protest, causing pain and humiliation to some tribal elders. This seemed to be the trigger for the killer whose mother was arrested and dragged away by Hana. The killer was a small boy at the time and it seems he blames Hana personally for the humiliation suffered by his mother.
Superficially, the story is one of chasing down a serial-murderer, but the author clearly has another story to tell, that of generational pain and suffering associated with colonial-era wrongs and their effects on the injustices expereienced in modern-day, New Zealand. I’m not sure the two stories work together and as the book developed, the serial-murder thread seemed to be overwhelmed by the politics, grief and injustice thread/theme. There are clearly two compelling stories to be told and in my opinion, they should’ve been told separately.
The writing is sound, the characters are developed well-enough although Hana’s daughter, partner and ex-husband all seemed cliche. More back-story and more inter-play between the characters would’ve made the story work better and perhaps give the reader more reason to empathise with the potential victims and therefore care more about the story’s ending. It felt like Hana solved quite obscure ‘clues’ too easily/quickly and sometimes just by sheer chance. There seemed a lack of that old-fashioned, tiresome detective work and not enough dead ends and red-herrings. This is breaking the basic rules of the Agatha Christie murder-mystery and gave me a sense of being cheated; I want a fair chance to solve the crime before the detective.
I enjoyed much of the book, especially the unique setting, both the physical and cultural context. I liked that history played a role in the crime, but the two separate stories muddled together rather dampened the experience.