A hostage crisis in the small Otago town of Lawrence in the South Island goes horribly wrong. A woman is shot, her children traumatised, four guys are fatally shot by police snipers, and another is killed by an explosion that blows the house to smithereens. Not only that, the father of the house has been taken hostage, and he and his kidnapper have headed into the bush.
Enter Detective Nick Cooper and Detective Tobe White. They are initially called in due to the extent of the crisis, but they become deeply involved when they realise all the dead men in the remains of the house are local gang royalty – and Nick and Tobe work for the Gang Intelligence Centre. They start leaning on gang affiliates, hoping to encourage them to put pressure on the fleeing gangster, Remu Black, to turn himself in before he does anything nasty to his hostage.
Nick and Tobe end up doing search and rescue shifts in between trying to come up with theories of what might be going on. Things are not making sense, none of the usual reasons for large scale gang activity play out in this small-town hostage situation. And Nick is pretty shaken, having been at the heart of the action rather than “called in either well before or long after the bad things happen” as usual with gang intelligence. Nick is a pretty damaged individual all round, living with the fall out of a nasty event in his youth. But he is a dedicated cop, just like his partner who won’t retire as “I don’t think he knows how to do anything else, or even how much of him would be left over to go and do it”.
There is much time for Nick and Tobe to ruminate on the traumatisation of innocent and trusting children, the effects on people and society when bad things happen to good people, and to what extent it is OK to do bad things for good outcomes. And the story is well played out; the reader starts to realise the truth of the situation long before the two detectives, as the reader is privy to the goings on in the bush. And the reader is also aware of the approach of a seemingly human-activity-sparked weather bomb that is working its way up from the Antarctic.
There is great suspense in The Easter make believers, and the predicament the detectives end up in really thrilling. Nick: “A harsh kind of honesty that can come with getting yourself this exhausted” – you really care for these people. The only disappointment for me was that the nuanced and measured lead up to the final denouement was suddenly dropped at that point, and a wall of words explains what is happening, rather than the reader working it out from the action. And black/white statements like “These people won’t change, won’t listen or ever feel sorry” appear. I much preferred the bulk of the novel, where things were grey and messy, allowing sympathy for people like one old gang patriarch, whose frozen body is crying tears, “as tears have salt in them, it lowers the point at which they freeze”, and the cops commit to their job on the side of the angels, “an ugly job where you have to do bad things to mean people”. Another great read from Finn Bell.