Book Review

Better The Blood

Better the Blood

  • Author: Michael Bennett
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Publication Date: January 10, 2023
  • Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Thank you to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: rape, violence, blood, murder, death of a child, mention of addiction, suicide, grief

A DETECTIVE IN SEARCH OF THE TRUTH

Hana Westerman is a tenacious Māori detective juggling single motherhood and the pressures of her career in Auckland’s Central Investigation Branch. When she’s led to a crime scene by a mysterious video, she discovers a man hanging in a secret room. As Hana and her team work to track down the killer, other deaths lead her to think that they are searching for New Zealand’s first serial killer.

A KILLER IN SEARCH OF RETRIBUTION

With little to go on, Hana must use all her experience as a police officer to try and find a motive to these apparently unrelated murders. What she eventually discovers is a link to an historic crime that leads back to the brutal bloody colonisation of New Zealand.

A CLASH BETWEEN CULTURE AND DUTY

When the pursuit becomes frighteningly personal, Hana realises that her heritage and knowledge are their only keys to finding the killer.

THE PAST NEVER TRULY STAYS BURIED

But as the murders continue, it seems that the killer’s agenda of revenge may include Hana – and her family . . .

WELCOME TO THE DARK SIDE OF PARADISE.

This is an incredible book, for a few different reasons. It had a lot to offer, and I’m not surprised that this is written by a screenwriter, because I could easily see this being adapted to a movie or TV show. 

To start with, it provided so much insight into Māori culture, history, and tradition. It’s something that I don’t have any experience with, and it was absolutely fascinating. The author doesn’t simply use te reo (Māori language) terms, but also does his best to translate these concepts, which don’t always translate easily. And it’s impossible to discuss the Māori people without discussing the violent and brutal colonization by the English. 

The colonization not only left lasting scars on the Māori people, but hasn’t been resolved, even to this day. New Zealand (Aotearoa) stole the land from the indigenous people, wiped many of them out, and then used a complex system of legal loopholes to maintain their hold on that land. I know it sounds familiar to me, as an American. To the Māori, this brutal system keeps them in poverty, increases the likelihood that they’ll be incarcerated at higher rates, reduces job prospects, and keeps them oppressed. This story is centered heavily around this information, which is provided in bits and pieces throughout the book.

On the other side of it, we have Hana, a Māori detective juggling the intense pressures of her job and single motherhood, while coparenting with her ex-husband who is a co-worker (and her supervisor). There’s echoes of a Brock Turner-type situation, where a privileged white man date rapes a Māori woman, and gets a slap on the wrist, only further highlighting the inequity between the two groups.

But when seeming unconnected crime scenes around the city of Auckland show a surprising link, Hana starts investigating, and finds a surprising link between the victims—they’re all descendants of a heinous crime against a Māori chief from the 1800s. Now, the cops are racing against the clock to track down who is doing the killings.

The characters are complex and well-developed. I loved each of the main characters, and it was intriguing to get into the mindset of the villain as well as the people on the other side of the equation. The interactions that they each had with each other were well-done and deep, and I especially loved seeing Hana’s struggle with being both Māori and being a part of a system that actively oppressed Māori people, and her having to come to terms with her own actions as a part of that system.

While the book is definitely a mystery/thriller, it has plenty of information about the history of New Zealand and the effects of colonization over the years, some information about the Māori people and aspects of their belief system, the way the legal system has worked in favor of the colonial oppressors, and even the psychology of the killer. The pace was consistently fast, and I was fascinated by the story. I loved how it switched POV between Hana, the killer, and Addison, Hana’s daughter. Overall, this is the kind of book that grabs your attention from the start, taking readers on a tour of an aspect of New Zealand that outsiders rarely know about, but it was fascinating. I will definitely be looking forward to more books, and truly hopes that this becomes a series.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 10

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