Books & Literature

Book Review: Return to Blood, by Michael Bennett

THRILLER: From the award-winning author of ‘Better the Blood’ comes the gripping new Hana Westerman thriller.

A solid addition to the crime library.
4

Feature image credit: Simon & Schuster

Screenwriter and director Michael Bennett made his authorial debut in 2022 with Better the Blood, which went on to be shortlisted for several literary awards.

With Return to Blood, he once again gives us protagonist Hana Westerman. Like many a good fictional crime investigator, she is unorthodox, feisty, and doesn’t play by the rules. She also often relies on her Māori background in seeing situations from different points of view.

In her latest case, a teenage girl is found dead in the sand dunes near Hana’s ancestral home town on the north-west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. It is the body of girl who went missing four years previously. To add to the mystery, nearly 20 years before, another young woman was found dead in the same place, and in similar circumstances. Her killer confessed, was convicted, and eventually died in jail.

But did they get the right person?

Woven around this solid mystery framework are explorations of family, home, and racial tensions. Bennett paints a beautiful portrait of place, delivering his own version of the “cosy village” along with the occasional trip to Auckland. He keeps the narrative pacy and tight by mixing up the structure. We have the murder victim’s first-person account of the days leading up to her killing. Then we have the more standard third-person story of Hana’s quest to find the killer. We are also given some insightful third-person exploration of the mind of the main suspect. All of this adds richness. And throughout Bennett gives us a loving glimpse of Māori culture.   

In genre terms, there are a couple of interesting twists, although the main narrative doesn’t maintain suspense long enough to be completely satisfying. Bennett’s constant use of footnotes to give definitions of Māori words and phrases becomes distracting after the first few pages. Many of these don’t need defining because their meaning is obvious from the context. And others could have been gathered up in a glossary.

Despite these problems, Return to Blood delivers characters and a setting that draw you in, dialogue that is tight and realistic, and an exploration of social issues that avoids didacticism. And most importantly, it’s a cracking read.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: April 2024
RRP: $34.99

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