The Koneke, a period novel set in small town 1940s NZ

Published: Wed 20 Nov 2013 02:40 PM
The Koneke, a period novel set in small town 1940s New Zealand
Bay of Plenty writer Suzanne Singleton’s first novel The Koneke is a brooding mystery set in small town rural New Zealand of the 1940s.
The township of Te Kauri is disrupted and its residents unnerved when local pig farmer Joe Priestley and his wife Molly vanish in mysterious circumstances. Tenacious policeman Will Grayson leads the investigation and is challenged by current and past events. His efforts are thwarted by a belligerent superior officer, a freak flood and a crafty bootlegger. These obstacles only harden Will’s resolve to succeed.
The writer, a former psychologist who has worked for the New Zealand Police, and in private practice in Hamilton, Auckland and London, has plenty of gritty life experience to draw on. A childhood spent in the King Country provided her with ample pickings to be able to craft authentic rural scenes with a strong sense of time and place.
Suzanne says her personal and working life provided rich involvement with all kinds of people, from cops and the victims of abuse, to many others. Her writing draws from her time spent as firstly, a teacher and parent, and later, her challenging 30-year career as a psychologist (formerly Suzanne Quinn). “Fertile ground which may be turned and tilled to grow stories.”
The flood depicted in the novel has been drawn from her own experience of the destructive 1958 Otorohanga flood. Likewise, with many of the convincing scenes from country shows and conversations in a bustling stockyard, to a young boy’s efforts to catch a giant eel, the author writes about things she knows well.
The character-driven tale was inspired by a chance meeting with the grandson of a former 1920s police officer who solved a double murder. Suzanne says she set out to focus on a mystery disappearance, and then became more involved in the personal mysteries of her characters and their motives. The reader is soon transported into the inner world of the main characters’ minds. Scenes have pathos and capture the mood of the era, evoking a strong sense of 1940’s New Zealand. But clear imagery and a concise style make for easy reading:
‘He’d known a tough childhood in that isolated community on the other coast of the North Island. It was a place where wild winds lashed the mud flats and rough tides pounded the black iron-sand. He rode to school on horseback, at first behind his older brother, and then later with him taking the reins and the next child holding on behind. His was a large family of eight children. They grew up with the older ones caring for the younger ones. It was a long journey along the beach and when the tides were lapping the rocky foreshore, they took the alternative route over a hilltop on a narrow clay track. During the summers he and his brothers ran free over the mudflats, the thick sludge squelching between their toes as they searched for crabs. They dropped their net or fishing lines from the wharf, often for hours on end, not returning home until there was a catch for tea.’
Suzanne, who “loves history” and has done a lot of genealogy, says “New Zealand has just started in earnest to value its past, “and while she’s not averse to ‘the present,’ she finds it fascinating to delve into “significant” events from the past.
Reviewer Ian Clarke of Oceanbooks says if you’d like an insight into rural New Zealand during the war years The Koneke is a good choice.
Suzanne Singleton’s first book of fiction The Promise, a novella and collection of short stories, was published in 2012 by Oceanbooks Ltd.
The Koneke is available from: or or email the author RRP $26.95

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