Better the Blood

By Michael Bennett

Better the Blood by Michael Bennett

The story opens with a horrific action in 1863, of the English against a Māori chief. It then jumps to present day Auckland. Hana is a senior detective for the Auckland police, and she is Māori. Her actions in police operation 18 years earlier made a significant impact on her life, resulting in her estrangement from her family, and ultimately the breakdown of her marriage.

At the beginning of the story, we come in to the end of a rape trial. The attacker has been found guilty and it is now time for sentencing. The judge lets him off with what amounts to a slap on the wrist for him and a slap in the face to the victim. The author tries to tell us this is because he is white and the victim is Māori. Yes, if the races were reversed the outcome would have been different, but actually what we are seeing is what has been seen over and over around the world, regardless of the ethnicity of the victim: a young white male from an affluent family, with his whole life ahead of him and showing such promise – why should one youthful mistake ruin his life. Yes, it is sickening. Yes it happens too often. This storyline then takes a weird turn. I honestly wondered why it was there and thought surely it didn’t resolve at the point we think it does. It must come up again otherwise what was the point. And I thought this all the way to the end. But no, it was just a pointless storyline – completely unnecessary.

The main storyline is about a serial killer. The blurb on the back says this is New Zealand’s first serial killer, but this isn’t anything that is referred to in the book. The killer sends videos to Hana of his crime scenes for her to figure out where they are from and if there has been a crime (at least in the case of the first one). Hana is portrayed as the super-clever detective that can figure out things that others can’t. Somewhat unrealistic, like your average action movie or spy novel, but doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the book.

This novel isn’t a whodunnit like most murder/thriller books. We learn the who about half way in. The why we know after the first death (or before you start the book if you are reading the blurb). Instead it is a game of chase as Hana and her department race to catch the killer before he completes his plans. And as the story progresses we see the links between Hana and the killer – and therefore why he has been sending her the videos.

The author has a message he is wanting to convey in this book about colonisation, the wrongs done to Māori both on the arrival of the English and still today. In contrast to other authors I have read recently (and reviewed rather unflatteringly on this blog), Michael Bennett doesn’t choose to hit you over the head with it repeatedly with lectures that characters are giving the reader, taking you out of the story. Yes, there are some places where his dialogue comes close to crossing that line, but for the most part, his message is wrapped up in the story itself.

Despite its flaws, I was engaged from the beginning of the book, and there was an explosive scene that had me wanting to keep reading until I finished. Luckily I was at the airport so was able to do so once I got on the plane.

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