It was a dark and stormy night, or at least it could’ve been in Jane Woodham’s Twister. After an almighty tempest has swirled its way through Dunedin, devastating the area, a missing schoolgirl’s body is found. The only man on hand is Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd, who some feel is too close to the case after his own daughter disappeared nine years ago. His wife has a few secrets that she’s been struggling with and the atmosphere is tense, to say the least. The muggy closeness of the weather and the flu that’s wiped out half the town give a mounting sense of pressure and unease.
Twister is a solid piece of work – it’s nicely structured, set out with the days and dates as chapter titles because we all know how important time is to a murder investigation. There are some fun flashbacks – but there’s no escaping the niggling worry that it’s a little dull. The main characters aren’t totally fleshed out and left me wanting. Detective Judd feels Luther-lite, a Londoner who is weighed down by the memory of his daughter’s last days but not given enough weight to his back story and whose personality isn’t clear. He’s definitely a good guy but he’s also our lead, our way in, yet there’s little of the connection we need to really get behind him. Kate Judd, his wife, is given slightly more but comes across as a whiny, entitled bitch rather than someone with whom we can empathise. Her lesbian affair seems unforced and natural, but it’s a bit overcooked at times with drama for the sake of it. However, it’s nice to see the LGBT crowd get a look-in.
Dunedin is a huge player in the book, street names and local institutions laying the flavour on a bit thick. It’s not a city like New York; it feels slightly odd that it’s given so much prominence. Woodham clearly loves it – she’s a regular swimmer at the Hot Salt Water Pool that features heavily in a number of scenes.
While the main narrative is not overtly exciting, you do want to know whodunit and it’s worth pursuing for an odious suspect who is eminently punchable. I would say it’s a little disappointing in the denouement but I also like that not all loose ends are tied. Life is messy and murky that way.
Twister is unfussy in style, generally tightly written and well-ordered but there are only a few paragraphs of real poetry and elegance – it would have been good to see more stylistic flourishes and graceful prose. For a first time novel it’s a decent one and an encouraging start.
Twister, by Jane Woodham is available from www.rosamirabooks.com for $13 (e-book), hard copy published 3rd December, available from Makaro Press