The Student Body by Simon Wyatt – 2016

Natasha Johnson, a 15-year-old schoolgirl – seemingly a paragon to her peers and elders – student-bodyis found murdered at her school camp at Piha Beach.  Newly promoted Detective Sergeant Nick Knight lands the job of managing the suspects side of the case, and he and his team have to sift through a number of likely suspects and persons of interest.  Wyatt himself was a detective and wrote The student body while convalescing from an illness.  He hasn’t quite got the knack of incorporating his detailed knowledge into the narrative – and at times the novel reads like a text book on police procedure.  The writing, while at times quite thrilling, is very patchy: I found some of the similes clumsy: “The savagery of these attacks … still hung around the area like prostitutes around K Road in the early hours”; “Cunningham’s reaction was to storm out of the room as quick as a Nazi soldier invading Poland”.  I also found the sex scenes out of place and gratuitous and wished that Wyatt agreed with José Saramago who once wrote “I don’t think it is worth explaining how a character’s nose or chin looks”, as Wyatt’s detailed descriptions of all of his many characters gets in the way of the narrative flow.  And the plotting is good and deserves a good flow.  There are parallel themes of domestic and student bullying, and a number of likely suspects for the initial horrific crime and others that ensue.  I didn’t find the resolution totally satisfying, as the story was so driven by Knight we got the facts of what happened but no depth of motive – and an apparent lightness of attitude to statutory rape.  With Wyatt’s background, it is understandable that the book is written from a police perspective – but along with this comes a slightly unhealthy view of the rest of society, and a dodgy view of women, which for me led to a loss of sympathy for Detective Sergeant Nick Knight.  I suppose some of this might result from Knight’s tragic background that is alluded to, and we find out he has a strained relationship with his criminal lawyer father – so maybe future installments will redeem him, after all he does love his dogs, even if they do get left home alone a lot.  And if there are future titles I think it would be interesting to see more of the criminal lawyer father – perhaps a way of giving the reader a bit more moral complexity.

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