Better the Bloodby Michael Bennett
An absorbing, clever debut thriller that speaks to the longstanding injustices faced by New Zealand’s indigenous peoples, by an acclaimed Māori screenwriter and director
A tenacious Māori detective, Hana Westerman juggles single motherhood, endemic prejudice, and the pressures of her career in Auckland CIB. Led to a crime scene by a mysterious video, she discovers a man ritualistically hanging in a secret room and a puzzling inward-curving inscription. Delving into the investigation after a second, apparently unrelated, death, she uncovers a chilling connection to an historic crime: 160 years before, during the brutal and bloody British colonization of New Zealand, a troop of colonial soldiers unjustly executed a Māori Chief.
Hana realizes that the murders are utu—the Māori tradition of rebalancing for the crime committed eight generations ago. There were six soldiers in the British troop, and since descendants of two of the soldiers have been killed, four more potential murders remain. Hana is thus hunting New Zealand’s first serial killer.
The pursuit soon becomes frighteningly personal, recalling the painful event, two decades before, when Hana, then a new cop, was part of a police team sent to end by force a land rights occupation by indigenous peoples on the same ancestral mountain where the Chief was killed, calling once more into question her loyalty to her roots. Worse still, a genealogical link to the British soldiers brings the case terrifyingly close to Hana’s own family. Twisty and thought-provoking, Better the Blood is the debut of a remarkable new talent in crime fiction.
“A stellar series launch set in contemporary New Zealand . . . The narrative moves at a quick pace. Immersed in modern-day technologies and with a keen sensitivity to cultural issues, this is a finely crafted page-turner. Bennett is a writer to watch.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Bennett establishes himself as an excellent storyteller . . . The book’s immersion in tribal culture and history makes the greatest impact, lending complexity and sweep to the narrative . . . One can only hope this is the beginning of a series. A striking debut and a significant addition to Indigenous literature.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Riveting . . . Bennett deftly illuminates the plight of the Māori people and its continuing effects in New Zealand. His action-packed narrative, blended with various cultural references, recalls the novels of Tony and Anne Hillerman, Craig Johnson, and William Kent Krueger.”—Library Journal
“Bennett unflinchingly weaves together layers of fallout from New Zealand’s bloody colonization, enduring Māori culture, and gripping procedural details. Hopefully this compelling debut heralds the start of a long-running series.”—Booklist
“A compelling, atmospheric page turner with an authentic insight into Māori culture.”—Val McDermid
“Stunning. Better the Blood is a tremendous debut, and Hana Westerman, the Māori detective at the center of the story, instantly becomes one of the great characters in crime fiction on any continent. This novel has it all: a gripping mystery, complex and memorable characters, and timely social and cultural commentary. Don’t miss it.”—David Heska Wanbli Weiden, author of Winter Counts
“Carefully crafted and beautifully written, intelligent and insightful, Bennett opens a unique window onto a fascinating Antipodean society as only world-class crime fiction can. I devoured it. (And, as a South African, I found great pleasure in the rugby references too.)”—Deon Meyer, author of The Dark Flood
“Better the Blood touches on themes that have become increasingly urgent in recent years including the far-reaching impacts of colonialism and the often uneasy integration of identity and heritage into modern multicultural society. A tensely plotted, gritty crime novel that has the courage to force us all to rethink our relationship with the past.”—Vaseem Khan
“As page-turning as it is eye-opening. An excitingly fresh perspective upon a world you thought you knew.”—Ambrose Parry