The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon Murder investigation in New Zealand, with a Circus to discover

The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon


The South Island of New Zealand is the setting for this powerful murder mystery, featuring the actions, attitudes and realisations of Sam Shephard. After a book evidently narrating her investigations into troubles in a small town, she has now moved to Dunedin, a bigger city with a University and a larger police department. For unknown reasons to Sam, as a young female detective constable, she has earned the antipathy of the bullying DI Johns, who is continually criticising and sidelining her. As this is a first person narrator, we discover how much Sam resents this, and how much her friends both in the force and out of it try to help her endure it. Written with both a keen sense of the dramatic and a sharp sense of humour, this is a novel in which twenty first century policing and relationships are shown in depth. There are some genuinely thrilling moments, as Sam’s farming background demonstrates that she has a toughness denied to city dwellers. There is complexity but also some funny sessions as Sam deals with parental pressures, romance and her friendships with Maggie and her colleagues in the police force. A relatively short novel which packs a real punch, Sam is a real hero in every sense. I was very glad to be given the opportunity to read and review this book as part of a blog tour.


The book opens with the murder of a young Phd student as she evidently places her trust in her killer. When Sam is called to the discovered body, her time guarding the crime scene awakens her curiosity, so her clever dealing with a protest at the newly arrived circus becomes a lesser concern. However, despite her evident abilities and courage she finds herself having to pick up from recordings of interviews what is going on in the investigation, and suddenly she becomes the focus of attention herself as her involvement with the circus forces her into much publicised action.  Alongside her dramatic professional life there are the drawbacks of city life, of parking and coming across other police officers in awkward circumstances. Her friendship with Maggie is the source of much of the undoubted humour of this book, and contributes to Sam’s professional survival in the face of her openly bullying boss. Fortunately, Sam’s strong personality and temper makes sure that she sometimes gets the better of the powers that be, and at least this reader had to suppress a quiet cheer at the brilliant replies that she comes up with when provoked.


This was a fast paced book with plenty of action and a good dollop of mystery. I enjoyed the female led action, and the ending really lived up to the rest of the novel. This is not a heavy read, yet very satisfying on many levels. No knowledge of New Zealand is needed, as many of the elements of this book are universal. It features a strong mystery, together with a fascinating investigation ambushed by the personal obsessions by some of the police. There are interesting observations on circuses, families and relationships. I really enjoyed reading it, and recommend it it as more than a murder mystery; it is a substantial mystery and satisfying read.  


Easter Monday, and the weather is still really good in this part of Britain.I hope wherever you have spent it you have had some time to read some good books!