Who dies hanging upside down from a wheelchair anyway?
Finn Bell has hit rock bottom. He’s lost everything - his friends, his wife, his ability to walk - to alcohol and depression. He runs as far south as he can get, to the southernmost cottage, south of the southernmost town in the South Island of New Zealand.
Much to his surprise, he begins to put down roots. He adopts a stray “Mumcat” and four kittens. He makes friends with the locals. He joins a Murderball squad (a more unruly and brutal version of wheelchair rugby). But Finn has really creepy neighbours. The Zoyl brothers feel “just plain wrong”.
In fact, the book begins with Darryl Zoyl attempting to murder Finn, who ends up hanging upside-down in his wheelchair off a cliff – a literal cliff-hanger!
It was so easy to fall into this book. The mix of characters allowed for a wide-range of events; wheelchair rugby, therapy, rural farming and fishing, with good police thrown in. I was instantly hooked, wanting answers before I’d even finished the first chapter. Does Finn make it? Can he be saved? Should he give up? Is he a "Dead Lemon?"
So what is a Dead Lemon? It’s a “Bettyism”. Who is Betty? She’s Finn’s therapist.
“See that’s a dead lemon. Someone who knows they are never going to work out, but still hangs around causing nothing but pain for themselves and the world. What’s the point?” Betty says, then looks me in the eye. “You a dead lemon, Finn?”
I found her approach to psychotherapy delightful, despite (or maybe because of) the abruptness of her manner. I honestly felt this elderly woman's insights into what makes up the human psyche the best part of this story.
The mystery strand of the novel is both disturbing and engrossing. While investigating the history of the cottage he just purchased, Finn comes across the story of a girl who disappeared from it many years ago. Her pelvic bone was found between the cottage and the creepy Zoyl brothers’ farm, and then a year later her father also went missing. Finn starts digging into the past, becoming obsessed with the mystery. But the more he uncovers, the more he realises someone really doesn’t like him prying...
Bell has a strong narrative voice and perfect pacing, switching from present immediate peril to what led up to Finn’s predicament flawlessly. He effortlessly evokes the Deep South of New Zealand, both its array of modern rural personalities and intriguing history.
I couldn’t put this book down and would highly recommend it. This is a fantastic contribution to the #yeahnoir genre.
This review is part of the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists blog tour. Be sure to check out the other reviews, and join the conversation on Twitter using #yeahnoir.