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The Wild Card by Renée

Ruby Palmer has been dealt a rough hand. She was left in a kete at the back door of the Porohiwi Home for Children when she was a baby, and then at seven she discovered that Betty – who stopped the bad stuff happening to Ruby at the Home – had drowned.

Now in her thirties, Ruby needs to find out what really happened to her and Betty at the Home – and her only lead is a notebook that uses the symbols in playing cards to tell a story she doesn’t fully understand. But her investigations set off a chain reaction: a man in a balaclava attacks her and there are break-ins at her apartment and the local theatre where she’s acting in The Importance of Being Earnest. As Ruby goes deeper into the mystery at the heart of the Home, she starts to find answers to questions she hadn’t dared ask.

Author Renée (Ngāti Kahungunu) is one of Aotearoa's writing rangatira, a pioneer of women's writing for the stage, who turned 90 this year.

The Wild Card is her first crime novel, and it is superb.

Ruby is a strong female protagonist who isn't afraid to stand up for herself or for others. She is no stereotypical character, but one who feels well-rounded, flawed, yet immensely strong. There are a lot of characters in the story, and to start with it was a little hard to keep track of them all and how they related to each other. But each character ultimately adds a new depth to the story, is diverse and holds a strong role.

Renée also highlights some brutal truths about New Zealand socially and politically - both then and now. The story revolves around a crime against a Māori state ward thirty years earlier, and the deeply profound affects of that. The treatment of children put into state care, and abused in the institutions that were meant to care for them, is a deep part of the story. So too though is the fight for justice, as it the institutional racism that still pervades society today.

The Wild Card is an intriguing, gripping read that covers some brutal topics. Renée shines a bright light into the shadowy parts of our society, and our history, that some want to keep shrouded.

Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser The Cuba Press, RRP $35.


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