"Maybe my eyes were playing a trick on me. Maybe there was nothing out there in the night but shadows shifting in the wind, driftwood on the black, moon-tinselled lake."
Set in Auckland and Lake Tarawera, JP Pomare's fourth book, The Last Guests, cements him in place as a leading Kiwi mystery writer.
Pomare takes stranger danger to the next level in The Last Guests.
Do you talk to strangers? Would you date a stranger you met on a dating app? Would you rent your house to a stranger online?
Probably not, after reading this book.
Cain and Anna; an ex-soldier and an ambulance officer, are struggling. Their marriage is under fire after the loss of a much wanted pregnancy. Their finances are under attack from Cain's gambling and his injuries, physical and mental, after a tour in Afghanistan.
So when their friends suggest renting out their Lake House on a website called WeStay, it seems like a good solution.
Then why is Anna meeting someone else for a date? Who the heck knows enough about it to blackmail her with a still, taken from a video of her clandestine evening?
And what is Cain so obsessed with on his computer?
"Moths are beating themselves to death against the security light we stand under as Cain makes a show of punching the code into his new lock, on the freshly painted black door."
What drives people to desperation?
For Lina, desperation is the ache to have a baby. For Cain, its the need to step up and provide for his family. For Daniel, its one night with Anna.
Pomare explores the extremes desperation can bring people to and sets his story against a backdrop of the Dark Web, stalkers and the topical drug Fentanyl, linked to recent deaths in the media.
I can see Pomare's maturity in this book, his development as a writer who messes with your thinking.
Pomare muddies the lines between bad and good to create characters who are complex and flawed - none of them squeaky clean.
His imagery and settings reinforce the foreboding feelings in his thrillers and firmly identify them as Kiwi.
It pays to not try to guess whodunnit in Pomare's novels, because he'll undoubtedly pull the rug out from under your amateur-sleuthing, making you suspect everyone in the story in the end.
Yet he meticulously ties up all the loose ends when he finally reveals, just when you're wondering, "but what about...?"
"Your mind is your enemy."
The Last Guests is a finalist for Best Novel in this years' Ngaio Marsh Awards, to be announced on 15 September at Crime after Crime, a WORD Christchurch Festival event at Tūranga. Pomare has previously won a Ngaio Marsh Award for best first novel in 2019 for Call me Evie, now he's more established can he take out the best novel gong? J. P. Pomare himself will appear at the Crime after Crime event along with fellow crime-writers Val McDermid and Michael Robotham ahead of the awards ceremony, so book your tickets!
It's going to be a bun fight: The Last Guests is up against the hugely popular Before You Knew My Name, by Jacqueline Bublitz (shortlisted for a CWA Gold Dagger Award), and a star-studded cast of other lauded Kiwis, including Nikki Crutchley, Charity Norman, and D.V Bishop, whose City of Vengeance was nominated for a Dagger Award.
Pomare's new book, The Wrong Woman, is out this month. I can't wait to read it.
- Ngaio Marsh longlist (best crime novel)
- Follow the Ngaio Marsh Awards on Twitter: @NgaioMarshAward
- Join us for a Ngaio Marsh themed Murder Mystery! Murder in the Library, Sunday 28 August and Saturday 12 November (bookings required)
- In Search of Ngaio: An exhibition celebrating of the work of Dame Ngaio Marsh, on from Saturday 27 August to Sunday 27 November.