I am somewhat mortified to confess, having romped through this new crime thriller as fast as my greedy eyes would take me, to not having heard of Paddy Richardson before encountering Hunting Blind. A quick Google uncovered a great recent interview (http://beattiesbookblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/h-unting-blind-paddy-richardson-penguin.html) which in turn reveals that this Dunedin-based writer is also the author of a family saga and an earlier thriller about a serial killer. She started writing in her early 30s, as a young mother, and now, aged 59, is able to do so full-time, which is cheering news for all lovers of good fiction.
Hunting Blind opens in 1988, on the shores of Lake Wanaka on a sunny summer’s afternoon. Families have gathered to eat, play, chat and sunbathe. Minna Anderson is there with her four children: she’s a young mum and feeling burdened, and her marriage is weakening. In brief, skilful exposition Richardson reveals the dynamics of the Anderson family and then delivers the whammy: packing up for the day, Minna and her older daughter Stephanie can’t find Gemma, the youngest. Irritation turns to panic and in the ensuing days, massive search parties fail to detect a trace of the child. There is no reason to suspect foul play, and it is assumed she wandered into the lake and drowned.
The action jumps forward to 2005 with Stephanie, still living in the South Island, now working as a trainee psychiatrist. She doesn’t see much of her family and is in many ways closed off from the world, opting to devote herself to her career. Into her care comes a young woman around her age, Beth, who was to all appearances happily married until she fell pregnant. The pregnancy triggered an emotional breakdown and, working through Beth’s problems, Stephanie learns that Beth’s own younger sister disappeared in circumstances eerily similar to Gemma’s. The two stories are too alike to be coincidental, in Stephanie’s view, and she sets out to determine once and for all what happened to her sister.
A slight shift in genre happens at this point, with the story seguing neatly from a family drama to all-out suspense thriller. However, Richardson doesn’t abandon her story of a bereft, estranged family coping with loss once the action heats up; in one of the finest scenes in the book, Minna, her new partner and her four grown children gather at a restaurant. The Andersons had another child soon after Gemma’s disappearance, but the baby boy failed to provide the solace Minna sought and she left her family, moving to Wellington alone. The lingering pain and resentment felt by her children floats close to the surface in this scene, as Stephanie vocalizes her belief that only she cares what became of Gemma.
Hunting Blind’s unpredictability, its best feature, is enhanced by Richardson’s excellent writing and characterization and the haunting storyline. She says she was inspired by the infamous abduction and murder of the Napier schoolgirl Teresa Cormack in the mid-1980s. At the time Richardson had a young daughter of her own, and her anxiety over a similar fate befalling her child planted the seed of a novel in her mind. Two decades later, she published Hunting Blind; it was worth the wait.
3.5/5 Stars: A clever Kiwi suspense novel that lingers in the mind.