Book review: Containment by Vanda Symon

by Vanda Symon
Penguin (New Zealand), 2009.
Sam Shephard #3

Sam (Samantha) Shephard has been promoted to Detective Constable and has transferred to Dunedin’s criminal investigation bureau. She loves her job and gets on well with her partner Malcolm Smith (“Smithy”), but suffers at the hands of the unpleasant DI Johns. For this latter reason, Sam is sent as the police presence when news comes in that a body in a wet suit has washed up in the harbour. Sam is delighted, though, when it turns out that the swimmer had not died naturally – as first officer on the scene, she will lead the subsequent investigation whatever her boss thinks.

The plot becomes more complicated as the identity of the body is eventually found, via some clever forensics work. It seems likely that the victim was involved in drug dealing, but information from his associates is sparse (if the associates can even be found, that is). DI Johns is soon able to annoy Sam again, as the case comes to intersect with an earlier incident in which Sam was assaulted by a looter when she tried to stop people from stealing the cargo of a ship that ran aground on Aramoana beach. Johns uses this fact as an excuse to reassign Sam to more tedious tasks – tasks that may well also become relevant to both investigations.

As well as her role in the crime plot, Sam finds herself in a romantic dilemma as her current boyfriend Paul tells her he’s transferring to Dunedin. Sam is very against the idea of committing herself in a relationship, despite the advice of her long-suffering flatmate Maggie, who tells her she should leap at the opportunity to settle down with Paul.

Containment is a classic police procedural novel with a contemporary twist provided by Sam’s perspective as a female outsider in an elite, male team. She’s a tough cookie, but at the same time insecure about why she was fast-tracked into the squad. The book provides a vivid portrait of Dunedin and environs, as well as conveying New Zealand attitudes and culture to those of us who live on the other side of the world. I very much enjoyed this novel and will certainly be reading more of this series.

I purchased my copy of this book.

Other reviews of Containment are at: Mysteries in Paradise, AustCrime, Reactions to Reading, and various posts with links to reviews at Crime Watch.

I have read and reviewed the first book in this series, Overkill, but have not read the second, The Ringmaster (for UK availability reasons). There is now a fourth novel in the series, Bound. The author’s most recent novel is a standalone, The Faceless. You can read synopses of all these books, and find more information, at the author’s website. There is also a post about the Sam Shephard series at Crime Watch.