A Great Book Recommendation

This Recommendation comes from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist…

My Brother’s Keeper is the second of Donna Malane’s novels to feature Wellington-based missing person expert Diane Rowe. As the novel begins, Rowe gets a call from Karen Mackie, who wants to meet with her to discuss a possible case.

But this isn’t just any case. Mackie has recently been released from prison, where she served time for the murder of her son, Falcon, and the attempted murder of her daughter, Sunny. At the time of the tragedy, she was an addict. But since that time, she’s stopped using drugs and is trying to start her life again. She’s ‘found religion’ as the saying goes, and she wants Rowe to find Sunny, who is now fourteen. It’s a very delicate situation, and Rowe explains that Sunny and her father, Justin, may very well not want any contact. Mackie accepts that, but wants Rowe to find Sunny, anyway. Rowe accepts, and starts asking questions.

It doesn’t take long to find Sunny and her father. They’ve changed their surname, and Justin has remarried and now has another son. But they’ve made no real secret of where they are. At first, as you can imagine, neither one is at all interested in having anything to do with Karen Mackie. But Sunny has unanswered questions, and a big part of her does want them answered. Finally, and reluctantly, her father and stepmother give permission for her to have the meeting. When Mackie doesn’t show up, at first it looks as though she simply wasn’t interested in seeing her daughter. But then, she is found dead, and it’s clear that there’s more going on here than it seems.

Now, Rowe works to find out who would have wanted to kill her client. In the meantime, she slowly discovers that all is not as it seems in Sunny’s family. Is Sunny in danger? If so, is it connected to her mother’s death? Bit by bit, Rowe puts the pieces together and discovers that several things about this case are not at all what they appear to be.

Maxine enjoyed multilayered stories, where things are more complex than they seem. She disliked simplistic solutions, too. That’s one reason I believe this book would have appealed to her. There are layers to the plot, and we learn that things are more complicated than it first appears.

That’s just as true of the characters as it is of the plot, and I think Maxine would have appreciated that, too. She liked characters with depth and faults and strengths, and these characters are like that. As we get to know Sunny, her father, her mother, and her stepmother, we learn that they are not one-dimensional. Neither is Rowe.

And that’s another thing Maxine would have liked. She enjoyed strong female protagonists, and that describes Diane Rowe. She’s no superhero; she has faults, and she certainly makes her share of mistakes. But she is smart and persistent. More than that, she grows over the course of the novel, and Maxine would have liked that very much.

The story is told mostly from Rowe’s point of view (first person, past tense), so we get to know her. She and her ex-husband, Sean, are working towards selling their house, and that means she’s having to come to some closure about their marriage and divorce. She’s involved with one of Sean’s police colleagues, Robbie, and she and Robbie are trying to work out how permanent their relationship will be. And yet, she’s not obsessed with either man, and she doesn’t wallow in her personal situation. Maxine would, I think, have appreciated that Rowe is a complex person, as we all are, with her own strengths, successes, messiness and quirks.

The novel takes place in New Zealand, and I think Maxine would have appreciated the distinctiveness of the setting. She always liked it when a novel gave the reader a sense of really being in a place. And that’s what happens here.

The story doesn’t have a neat, pat ending, although we do find out the truth about the case. That, too, would have appealed to Maxine, I think. She knew that life isn’t tied up with a neat, pretty bow, and she liked it when stories acknowledged that. Things aren’t magically all right again, and Malane acknowledges that. That said, though, there is a sense that life will go on. For Rowe, there’s a sense, too, that she’ll be able to move on with her life.

This isn’t a sprawling story with a large cast of characters. And while there are moments of danger, it’s also not a thriller, really. I think Maxine would have liked that about the novel. She enjoyed quieter stories where the focus is on the characters, and that’s the sort of story this is. The pacing isn’t slow, but it’s not a novel with a lot of narrow escapes, plot twists, and so on.

One more thing is worth noting. This is the second novel to feature Rowe, but it’s not really necessary to have read the first (Surrender) in order to be drawn into this one. I think that would have appealed to Maxine a lot, as she didn’t always read series in order.

My Brother’s Keeper is the story of one family and what happens to its members when real tragedy strikes. It has a distinct New Zealand setting, and features a strong, but very human, missing person expert as the protagonist. I truly think Maxine would have enjoyed it, and I wish she were here to read and review it.

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