This is Nikki Crutchley’s first book, and for an initial outing, it’s pretty darned good.
A young tourist disappears from Castle Bay, a small tourist town on the east coast of North Island of New Zealand. When her mangled and mauled body is discovered, news crews and journalists descend on the town. Among them is Miller Hatcher, a young magazine writer battling alcoholism, who is sent there by her editor with the promise of a huge splash in the magazine if she can assemble a strong story for the next month’s edition.
Leading the investigation in Castle Bay is Sgt. Kahu Parata, a Maori and twenty-year member of the local constabulary, at least Detective Nicholson and a team of four arrive. Nicholson pushes Parata aside, leaving him to the day to day running of the station and the odious task of informing the victim’s parents. But Nicholson doesn’t know the town like Parata does. Castle Bay has some dark and well concealed history, but everyone believes nothing bad ever happens there.
Miller finds the only housing available at a wellness retreat a few minutes out of town. It is recommended to her by the wife of the head of the Town Council who herself is going there for a few days’ respite. The wellness center is populated by a small group of women experiencing a variety of crises, and has a threatening caretaker who has found needed isolation there after losing his family. A visitor at the wellness center disappeared from there many years previously, but she was never found and the town’s residents still believes Castle Bay is safe and welcoming.
There are several threads to this mystery, which the author unravels deliberately and with excruciating tension, before wrapping them together tidily in a completely unexpected ending. There are also a couple of ‘gotcha’ moments that gave me a chill. The pacing of the story is excellent and keeps you turning pages (or swiping your Kindle, as the case may be). But the best part of the book are the characters, whom Ms. Crutchley details in such precision that you can easily see them in your mind’s eye. What I particularly liked was that each of them had flaws – their imperfections made them three dimensional and human.
Of the two characters from whose point of view the mystery is seen, I found myself liking Parada, who, while caring for a gentle wife with an undisclosed but serious illness, mourns the fact they’ve been unable to have children. Miller is less likeable – her need for alcohol interferes with her investigative journalism and causes her to pull her hairs out one by one in disgusting detail. Nevertheless, she is largely fearless and determined to follow events wherever they lead, even when one of the women at the wellness center subsequently disappears.
The town itself – in an exotic locale for those of us not from that part of the world – becomes a character, full of interesting detail, and darkly looming, surrounded by jungle. As Miller investigates the trails leading into the jungle, the black cloud of evil that seems ever-present for most of the book is cloying, palpable, and ominous.
This is a satisfying read and I recommend it – a great first book for this author.
A quote to tempt you:
“She looked away from his face and took in the clear spring night, full of stars. Her last thoughts were of her mother. Would she finally care, when one day they found her body, and a policeman came knocking at her door?”
About the Author:
After seven years of working as a librarian in New Zealand and overseas, Nikki now works as a freelance proofreader and copy editor. She lives in the small Waikato town of Cambridge in New Zealand with her husband and two girls.
Nikki has been writing on and off her whole life and recently has had success in flash fiction. She has been published in Flash Frontier, Flash Fiction Magazine and Mayhem Literary Journal. Crime/thriller/mystery novels are her passion. Nothing Bad Happens Here is her first novel (but hopefully not her last), set on the Coromanadel Coast of New Zealand.
You can find the author
On twitter: @NikkiCAuthor
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nikki.crutchley.3
At her website: https://www.nikkicrutchley.com/