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Containment by Vanda Symon
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Containment

by Vanda Symon

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The third story to feature detective constable Sam Shepherd opens memorably as a container ship runs aground near Dunedin on New Zealand's South Island and the contents of several of its containers are strewn across the beach. Sam wakes up to witness locals descending en masse to make off with the spoils and when she tries to break up a dispute between two men arguing over the same box she is knocked unconscious by one of them. The bizarre Sunday morning incident turns out to cause more problems than this for Dunedin police as a skull is among the detritus and later a body is found in deep water nearby.

Sam Shepherd is definitely the star of this series, fairly universally described as feisty and not someone who always does the smart thing, though her motives are pure and her heart is definitely in the right place. I like her a lot, being able to relate to someone who doesn't always shut up even when she knows it would be the sensible thing to do. As well as her complicated work life, where she is in a constant battle with her DI, she has some trials in her personal life and I thought the depiction of her reaction to her Dad's problems was particularly touching. In this novel some of the supporting cast of characters were more well-drawn than in the first book in the series (2007's [b:Overkill|1971699|Overkill|Vanda Symon|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1207628180s/1971699.jpg|1974942]) especially Sam's partner Smithy who is struggling with a family crisis at the same time as he works on the complicated cases arising from the container ship's accident. There are also several minor characters who offer some lightness and humour including Sam's housemate Maggie and a new friend/suspect Spaz.

The story in Containment is another one of those that at first seems like it will follow a predictable path but then veers off in several surprising ways and I really liked the way the different threads unfolded here. There is the deceptively simple case of the assault on Sam, the attempts to locate all the items 'salvaged' from the beach that were part of a wealthy (and apparently extremely gorgeous) immigrant's household items which were being shipped to his new home and of course the investigation into the murder that resulted in a body being found at sea. In each case the police have several false endings where they think they have found the solution they uncover yet another half-truth being told by one of the players which leads them off into another direction which is very satisfying as a reader (though undoubtedly annoying if you were an actual police officer).

Although I enjoyed the first book in this series I think Containment is a better novel, requiring less credibility stretching and displaying more humour which seems to be in keeping with Sam's character and the team of Dunedin detectives. I really enjoy Symon's novel openings which are full of great imagery and are very memorable and her storytelling is engaging (I read this book in one sitting). I could do with a little less concentration on Sam's relationship woes but this is a minor grizzle about an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable read.

My rating 3.5/5 ( )
  bsquaredinoz | Mar 31, 2013 |
CONTAINMENT is the third in the Sam Shephard series from New Zealand writer Vanda Symon. It's rapidly stepped up to be one of my all time favourite series for a whole bunch of reasons.

Firstly these are truly humorous books. Subtly, ever so slightly tongue in cheek, the humour is both self-deprecating and tension alleviating. My favourite sort. Sam's voice is particularly appealing - as she busily beats herself up mentally, leaving the physical assault to the scavengers on the beach in the case of CONTAINMENT. As mentioned in earlier reviews - because the books are told from Sam's point of view, her self-deprecation and self-analysis is part of what alleviates any sense of myopia or self-servitude that can sometimes occur with that viewpoint.

Secondly they are solid, believable, twisty and nicely complex plots. They are particularly believable and realistic in the setting in which the action takes place. Symon's small town or country New Zealand is a place where the crimes, the perpetrators, the cops and the victims all fit perfectly. Often the action starts out small-time and stays that way, in other cases things escalate rapidly, frequently slightly out of control and mostly inexplicably until everything just explodes around the cops and perpetrators ears!

Lastly, but not least of all, there are great characters in these books. The stand out is obviously Sam Shephard herself. The country cop who has moved to the bigger city, but not lost that practical, self-deprecating, country sensibility. Her awareness (and willingness to beat herself up) for her shortcomings, her understanding and forgiveness and care for those who surround her is .. here's those words again .. realistic and believable. Sam is definitely the sort of cop that you can well imagine running into at a crime scene, at the pub, in a hospital bed. Because she is a little accident prone. Mostly because of enthusiasm and concern for the job, partially because of a stubborn refusal to think things through totally, Sam spends more than a bit of time in her own physical or mental wars. Just to add to the mix, the course of true love gets smacked around the head pretty regularly by Sam, and the bosom of her loving family has it's own twists and turns.

Whilst Sam is definitely the star of her own show in these books, the supporting cast isn't one dimensional or off-camera. Her interactions with the other cops in her team, her boss, her parents, cop boyfriend and best friend Maggie are very good. Particularly her relationship with friend, flatmate and voice of reason Maggie. It's actually a fantastic element of these books - to have a strong, supportive and brutally honest relationship between two women drawn so clearly is a relatively rare occurrence, and it's done extremely well in these books - although Maggie is possibly slightly less present in CONTAINMENT than I recall her in the earlier books.

For all the gushing of this review, these books aren't just light-hearted entertainment. There are often elements in the plots which are unexpected, unpleasant even - characters that are expendable, deaths that are confrontational or emotional. The light-hearted touch of Symon doesn't conceal the reality of criminal activity, murder or mayhem. It just makes the lesson slightly more palatable. ( )
  austcrimefiction | Oct 20, 2011 |
When the container ship the Lauretia Express runs aground near Dunedin and spills containers across the Aramoana sands the city's normally staid and law abiding denizens turn out in force to apply their own rules of salvage. Detective Constable Sam Shepherd can't believe the pillage she is witnessing. Nor does she expect to be walloped when she intervenes in a squabble between two looters. To complicate things Sam's assailant very nearly dies in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and Sam saves his life.

One of the containers held a well documented antique collection, now widely dispersed, which the owner is anxious to recover. The discovery a week or so later of a body in the sea off Aramoana, with all the signs of foul play, adds another complicating element.
And if work is not complicated enough, Sam's personal life hypes up a notch when her boyfriend announces he has applied to come to work in Dunedin, and she's not at all sure she wants him that close.

CONTAINMENT is #3 in Vanda Symon's Sam Shepherd series. I thought there were elements of humour in this one that I had not noticed in the earlier novels, OVERKILL and THE RINGMASTER. Sam Shepherd is a likeable, feisty character who doesn't always make the wisest decisions. She is constantly in trouble with her section boss D.I.Johns but then she often causes headaches for him.
I must admit there were times when I wondered if a detective constable would really behave that way, would really take that action on herself, but those slight stretches of credibility aside, CONTAINMENT is a well plotted page turner. I like the way the character of Sam Shepherd is developing and I think New Zealander Vanda Symon is an author well worth keeping an eye on. According to a promo in the back of CONTAINMENT we can expect a fourth title in the series. ( )
  smik | Apr 28, 2010 |
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Sam is training as a detective at Dunedin Central when she is assigned to investigate what seems to be a routine diving accident off the Otago coast. But the forensics reveal that the man didn't die from drowning. And that the body was stuffed into its wetsuit after death.… (more)

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