When Mariko Goto is grabbed and held captive in the apartment next door to her own, she drops exquisitely folded messages about her plight out the window. Grace finds the clues, and after talking to her only friend at work, Linda, she documents her findings and goes to the police. When Grace disappears, Linda contacts her old school-mate, Plum. Linda knows Plum’s older brother, Hunter Grant, has a reputation for solving crimes. Hunter says he will help in a hands-off way – but any reader familiar with Hunter Grant knows that arrangement won’t last long.
Folded is the third Hunter Grant novel, and Hunter is now living with Dao. Dao has a “whole network of people” on her side after her traumatic history, which readers of the series will know, but which is sketched out in this installment for those who don’t. Dao is immediately sympathetic to Mariko’s plight and wants to help. She and Hunter also have grave fears for Grace. But the police are being oddly slow to investigate.
Mariko’s clues however are detailed enough for Hunter and Dao take them very seriously. The head of the police investigation, Inspector Bakker, for reasons we later discover, takes an instant dislike to Hunter. One of the things Mariko has managed to convey, is that she has an American father, John Anderson, a corporate lawyer. Anderson flies over to Aotearoa when he hears of his daughter’s abduction, he is charming and very concerned about Mariko. But for Dao “learning to read the subtle signals of reactions and intentions was for her a way of avoiding being punished” – and she is suspicious of Anderson.
Hunter and Dao have support from friends such as detective Benson, ex-soldier buddy Charlie, and Simon the lawyer. And they are having some success piecing together what might have happened to Mariko and Grace, mainly using CCTV footage from Mariko’s building. But when Bakker’s dislike of Hunter stretches to his being arrested for interfering in her investigation, Dao is on her own. Or rather she chooses to be on her own, as she is loath to involve anyone else, not wanting to be responsible for their getting hurt.
Dao has promised Hunter she won’t go near Mariko’s building – but Mariko’s building isn’t the only one owned by a dodgy series of corporations, whose lawyer just happens to be Mariko’s father. Folded becomes very nail-bitey when Dao starts her investigation of a suburban warehouse, with only hired limo driver Richard for back-up. Her methods of surveillance are tense enough, but when the police again are bureaucratically slow, she goes in full tilt. The scenes in the warehouse and nearby mangrove swamp are tense and horrific.
Dao’s discoveries finally convince Bakker that Dao and Hunter are right. The case seems more or less a wrap, until they realise it’s not only the ‘good guys’ who can use CCTV for evidence – and Dao has probably now got a target on her back. Dao and Hunter go into lockdown, and into the doldrums, “I wonder if we are all in some mild state of PTSD”. Their state-of-the-art surveillance equipment then picks up a car casing the joint, and Hunter get’s his turn to narrowly escape death in an insane final action sequence – “If his thumb moves off the safety lever, the thing blows up in five seconds.”
At the centre of the Folded mystery is an extremely unpleasant international criminal enterprise. But it is the characters rather than the plot that carry the book. And for me the stand-out character is Dao. She has a stare that is like “being pinned to the wall with black arrows”. She is methodical in her planning, keeping a record of what she will do and why. She teaches herself to use a Glock off YouTube, and she’s fearless. Which is why, for me, Hunter constantly referring to her as “little thing” is so annoying, especially when she repeatedly tells him to not do it – and then he eventually manipulates her into accepting it.
Almost as bad as “little thing” is Charlie’s overuse of “warrior princess”. Maybe it’s something about serving in Afghanistan that leads to the use of infantalising nicknames? The reader gets relevant backstories for Bakker and Grace, but the other main protagonist is Hunter. His is the only narrative in the first person, and apart from his belittling Dao, I found him interesting. He is still having nightmares from Afghanistan. Despite being a “protection expert” and Mr. Capable, he is oddly naïve – he doesn’t know how the Darknet works, he’s never heard of Manga.
Unlike the first book in the series, The Chinese proverb, where the characters were either good or bad, the characters in Folded are more morally complicated. The villain in the final showdown is oddly sympathetic. Benson flies close to turning a blind eye to law-breaking. And Hunter makes an unconvincing attempt at defending his business from accusations of it being a hiring agency for mercenaries. But I find flawed characters intriguing, and Dao is an exceptional creation.
Folded is a good addition to the Hunter Grant series. And as threads of the two previous outings are unobtrusively recapped through the book, it can also be read as a stand-alone. I for one hope Hunter’s declaration: “we are stopping, we’ve discussed it and I’ve promised Dao we will never help anyone again” is not true.