“Good to have you back, Sergeant. We need a sheriff in town.” Sergeant Nick Chester is once again living up the Wakamarina Valley with his wife Vanessa and their son Paulie, “getting a taste for the simple life.” That is until the bodies start piling up, the whackos from the U.S. move in, and Nick finds himself fighting fires on all sides, professionally, personally, and at one stage literally. And until Vanessa starts to think moving back to gangland Sunderland might be a safer location than “Your dumb, cute, decent little country.”
Nick’s still a bit of a grump: “The logging is creeping further up the valley and goldminers are sniffing like blowflies around a wound”, but he’s grown to like Havelock, and as the story progresses we learn how much the locals have come to like him. Constable Latifa Rapata still sits alongside him in the Havelock police station, beneath the giant fibreglass mussel that shows “we’re part of the community.” Nick is pretty unimpressed at being told to babysit a film crew who are shooting an historical drama up his valley, but when a body is discovered in the local Four Square coldroom, and another one is revealed at the filming location when an earthquake causes a landslip, Nick and the reader know that the relative peace of New Zealand as “a village masquerading as a country” is about to be shattered.
One theme in Doom Creek is the potential for danger when groups decide to create their own reality, whether a white male supremacist reality overflowing from the U.S., a white male religious reality setting up on the West Coast, or even a family deciding to go off the grid up the end of the remote Wakamarina. And the actual danger when such a group has the confidence to start pushing out the boundaries, literally and figuratively, of their control. “Truth is though, I feel like this has been coming ever since Cunningham sucker-punched me that day in the bakery”, Cunningham lives at the heavily guarded “hunting lodge-cum-resort” down the valley from Nick, he is an arrogant American who gets under everyone’s skin, even that of the unrufflable Latifa. He has the confidence of being a henchman for James Oliver Bryant, a U.S. oligarch with dual citizenship, billions of dollars, and international influence.
Cunningham and his gang also have lots of assault weapons, astoundingly legal in New Zealand, leading Nick to presciently wonder, “what will it take to change that?” The Christchurch Terrorist Attack is not mentioned in the book, but the milieu which enables such atrocities is. I read it as the turmoil of the U.S. election was still playing out, as news services were cutting away from a presidential press conference due to the president telling lies and inciting community violence. As well as his Wakamarina fortress, Bryant, a White House insider, is also developing an “adult wellbeing retreat” in the Sounds, Māhana, which is guarded like Fort Knox, and which turns out to have some pretty creepy customisations. So, Cunningham et al. loom large as suspects. Some odd coincidences popping up in the police investigations, also lead to an equally culturally appropriating Whakakitenga religious community on the West Coast, widening both the geographic and time-line scope of the investigations.
Doom Creek is a police procedural, and there are lots of cases running in parallel, between which Nick flits. There are plenty of dangerous incidents and more suspects than mussels in a Havelock chowder. Even Nick falls under suspicion at one point, and he is not sure he’s not guilty. Doom Creek is also a good old whodunnit, with clues enough for the reader to get there before the main cop, “… something nags at me but I can’t grasp it,” though to be fair, Doom Creek is also character driven, and Nick has some close-to-home concerns that are an increasing distraction. All the characters are detailed and interesting, many sympathetic and some downright scary, “If you believe in the End Times, like these jokers do, then the only rules are the ones you write yourself.” And there are side eyes towards some in N.Z. government agencies, who are suspected of being more in league with like-minded overseas organisations than with the “leftie virtue-signallers” in Wellington they work for.
Somehow Doom Creek manages to convey the beauty of the South Island bush, even with all the mayhem playing out. The violence is shocking, as is the realisation that although some of the victims may get some sort of justice, the perpetrators of other crimes have the protection and techniques of the untouchable: “Look, bullshit and bluster, disrupt and distract. It’s the political strategy du jour.” And through the plot winds Nick’s unfolding personal situation. Doom Creek is a great read, and despite its serious themes is amusingly written. Although there is the possibility of his leaving our shores, I hope, along with the Havelock locals, that we haven’t seen the end of Sergeant Nick Chester.