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Something is Rotten - Book Review

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Published July 27th 2015
Scandinavian noir fiction with a strong Kiwi flavour
The collaboration between Swede Linda Olsson and New Zealander Thomas Sainsbury has given birth to a new series of books that would make Stieg Larsson proud.

Exciting Debut: Adam Sarafis' Matakana series, starting with Something is Rotten, has elements of Scandinavian noir, as well as a strong New Zealand flavour.

Called the Matakana series, these books describe a chain of corrupt events unfolding in the New Zealand government, often with global implications. The first, omething is Rotten was released this fall and introduces us to former terrorism expert Sam Hallberg, who is haunted by his wife's brutal murder. Like Mikael Blomkvist from the Millennium books, Sam is reluctantly drawn into a difficult investigation involving really dangerous people, putting his life in grave danger at times.

The mysterious death of a budding writer brings a young woman to Sam, who is now working as a mechanic. She has doubts that it was a suicide and beseeches Sam to look into the case. Meanwhile, Sam's friend, Journalist Lynette Church is running her own investigation on a prominent businessman in New Zealand who might have been implicated in the Oil for Food scandal in Iraq. As the pair dig further in the course of their respective investigations, the links between two apparently tenuous issues become closer than they would like to think, setting the stage for a tense climax.

Olsson and Sainsbury, writing as Adam Sarafis, have captured the spirit of New Zealand in the mid-2000s. This was a time when the Iraq War was still in its early stages and when the footage of US troops abusing prisoners in Abu Ghraib first made its rounds. The weaving of real-life controversial events into a plotline for noir fiction is cleverly done. Additionally, having a male-female team writing as one ensures somewhat that characters of different genders end up being better-rounded. Often, singular authors create characters of the opposite sex that are relatively one-dimensional.

Overall, it is a good attempt and deserves to be applauded, although the ending seems a little rushed and slightly unconvincing. Still, one cannot help but wonder if New Zealand's literary world is trying to cash in on Millennium fever by producing its own Scandinavian-inspired noir fiction with a local twist. It remains to be seen what the next book in the Matakana series would be like. One thing for certain: it will face stiff competition from David Lagercrantz's The Girl in the Spider's Web, which picks up where Stieg Larsson left off.
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