Claire Hardcastle flies again!
By Roger Childs
Penelope Haines lives on the Kapiti Coast and in an earlier life was a flying instructor. She operated out of Paraparaumu Airport and now, as a crime writer she has her leading character doing the same.
Straight and Level is the second thriller which features Claire as the first person narrator. I haven’t yet read Death on D’Urville which obviously establishes the main setting and the key players in what will ultimately be a Hardcastle trilogy. However, reading number two first showed that the book can stand alone as an authentic, comprehensible story.
Penelope writes well and has produced a fast moving and dramatic story with settings that range from the Sounds to the Urewera.
Claire has a partner who is in the local police force, so the angles of both the aviation scene and crime fighting are neatly covered. The detail of what’s involved in flying planes and training people wanting to be “pilots” is fascinating, and an essential part of the plot development in Straight and Level.
The advantage of first person narrative is that the lead protagonist is well drawn, however, overall, believable characters are a strong feature of the Haines approach. As you would expect in a crime novel-cum-thriller, there are plenty of heroes and villains, and the latter are very nasty.
A key element of the story is the kidnapping of Claire and one of her trainee pilots. The transformation of the teenage Melody from spoilt brat to responsible, young woman turns out to be one of the book’s highlights.
Giving too much away?
I won’t, however the plot summary on the back of the book should possibly have a warning. Many reviewers of books, films and live drama sometimes use the phrase spoiler alert, and I would advise readers to forget the back cover blurb and get into the roller-coaster flight which is frequently not “straight and level”.
The story moves along at a steady pace, but just occasionally things seem to happen too quickly, such as TV vans turning up at a remote crime scene. There are appropriately plenty of twists and turns, and the plot builds to a tense climax in the distant Urewera country.
For me the master plan of the crooks did require some suspension of disbelief, however that aside, this is a very readable and welcome addition to the New Zealand-based crime novel genre.
Claire is a likeable character, and it is good to know that she will fly again next year when Penelope brings out the third in the trilogy: Stall Turns.
Just to whet the appetite of fans, Penelope provides a few pages of the next instalment at the back of the book.
(“Straight and Level” by Penelope Haines is published by Ithaca Publishing and is available from all good book shops for $31.99.)