A required component of mysteries that is as old as Raymond Chandler is to make the setting the character. Chandler did so by giving California a sun-drenched seediness in which it was oft times difficult for the reader to know if the place made the characters villainous or vice versa.
Wendy M. Wilson does likewise with an unlikely country (New Zealand) and date (1868). The New Zealand that features in this often good mystery is a picturesque powder keg. The reader can often feel the tension in the air between the occupying British army, Maori rebels, and the Danish settlers. Clearly familiar with the history of New Zealand, Wilson adheres to Ernest Hemingway’s “tip of the iceberg” treatment (show the reader just enough information to assure them that the writer knows what they are talking about). As a result, readers can feel the dust kicked up by soldiers’ hooves and the coaches, and believe all of the detail is well-researched.
This authenticity is displayed in her protagonist Sergeant Frank Hardy, newly cashiered out of Her Majesty’s Army. Hardy suffers from that common malady peculiar to soldiers: boredom with a life in which he is not being shot at. He misses the adrenaline rush from his combat service in India and the Crimea. Hardy will soon get the “rush” he misses, but also will realize he should be “careful what you wish for.” Hardy is tasked by a Danish immigrant with finding two Scandinavian kids who went “missing” during one of Hardy’s military exploits. Like all great noirs, Hardy will be “hooked” by a beautiful woman; the Danish cousin of the “boy”. In addition his past will come back to haunt him.
Wilson’s part noir, part historical novel works on many different levels. The country and Hardy’s past are themselves characters, and Wilson has a gift for keeping the action going. She never hampers the pace with historical asides and treats the readers unacquainted with New Zealand history, with respect. She is good on describing action; a skill often undervalued in these types of novels. So authentic are her fight scenes that the reader will at times believe she was a soldier of her Majesty’s Army circa 1868.
All in all, NOT THE FAINTEST TRACE is a good contribution to the history/mystery genre.
~Ron Capshaw for IndieReader