Contains mild spoilers.
Hana is a tenacious cop, juggling carear with single motherhood – so far, so tropey. However what makes Hana different from the thousands of other police people who are only alive on the page is that Hana is Maori. Given that Maori people are over represented in the New Zealend prison system due to the structural injustices of colonialisim, Hana’s decision to join the police was not easy and one she paid for with an estrangement from the people she grew up with. Hana however finds solace in her daughter Addison, who is creative and loving, is fiercly proud of the culture and history she has inherited, even though it is one that most recently is extreamly painful.
After Hana discovers a man hanging, hidden behind an empty apartment wall she is on the trail of a serial killer. It becomes clear through her work that the killer she is tracking is not only Maoir, but is killing in an attempt to right the wrongs done to his ancestors. Many will have a deep sympathy with the plight of indigenous cultures which have been decimated by colonialism, but we also need to acknowledge that sympathy, and it’s twin pity, are not what anyone is actually asking for.
It is these kind of tensions between big ideas of ownership, justice, retribution which lie at the heart of Better the Blood, which are played out in the chase between Hana and the killer, and also between Hana and her daughter Addison, who struggles to accept the role her mother, as a police officer, has played in the suppression of her own people.
The surface question of this book is “Who is killing these people?” but as a book of layers, readers who choose to dig down further find other questions, many of which will be uncomfortable. Like it’s antipodean counterpart, Dust off the Bones, we are seeing an emergence in crime fiction of narrative which deeply engages with crime. Not just the crime that propels a reader to turn the page to find out who dun it. Rather crime that is rooted in great injustices, crimes of nations and states, crimes for which no one person can be jailed, so we can easily say justice is done and move on. Crimes which are so large, that they ripple throughout history, and on the level of time are still present, happening and, ongoing, before our very eyes.
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