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Better the Blood: A Hana Westerman Thriller


Better the Blood: A Hana Westerman Thriller

In BETTER THE BLOOD, a stunning and completely unique debut thriller, Michael Bennett succeeds in taking us into a world that I can safely say we have never seen before. Set in New Zealand, it details the nefarious dealings of possibly the first-ever serial killer to prey in that country.

Above and beyond this exciting prospect is the deep dive that is taken into the life of the Māori, the native people of New Zealand, and a look at their customs and history that is different from anything I have read before. In the prologue, “A Smudge on the Page of History,” we are made privy to the infamous events that took place on October 5, 1863. On that day, a group of British Army officers proudly hanged a naked and tortured man of Māori descent. The markings on his body, along with his advanced age, showed him to be a rangatira, a chief of great stature.

"I cannot speak more highly of Michael Bennett’s ability as a writer to share his own heritage within the guise of a page-turning thriller that will keep you guessing, along with teaching you some little-known New Zealand history."

As the novel advances to the present day, we are introduced to Māori detective Hana Westerman as she is seated in a courtroom to await the outcome of a brutal and heinous case involving a law student who allegedly drugged and raped a young Māori girl. Even though the defendant, Patrick Thompson, is ultimately found guilty, he is given an extremely lean sentence of 12 months of house arrest. The judge cited that he did not wish to harm Thompson’s legal future or his prowess as a top rugby player.

The slimy Thompson sneers at Hana, who arrested him for the crime, and confronts her in the parking garage of the courthouse. He taunts her by implying that he is aware of her 17-year-old daughter, Addison, and that he might look up the young pop singer when he is out. She proceeds to grab and threaten him, and is shocked when he bashes his own face into a stone pillar, breaking his nose. He uses this injury to claim police brutality against Hana.

Making matters even worse for Hana is that her ex-husband, Jaye Hamilton, is also her boss. Even though Jaye is unhappy with the threat to his daughter, he must toe the political line and admonish Hana, letting her know that she could be put on the sidelines if Thompson presses the matter. This is rather unfortunate news since Hana and her partner, Stan, have caught a deadly new case involving a potential serial killer unlike anything the Auckland Police Department has ever seen before.

The first body is that of a twenty-something man, obviously from the streets, found naked and hanging in the rafters of a building. In a child’s playground not far from the murder is a concentric symbol written in the blood of the victim. What could it possibly mean? Meanwhile, someone is taunting Hana with videos of the murder. Why has the killer singled her out? Further inspection of the symbol reveals to Hana the Māori term utu, which represents a rebalancing --- whether for personal slight or, in this case, retribution for a crime committed eight generations ago.

The body count continues to rise as the second victim is a wealthy property developer with no apparent connection to the first, though the same symbol is found near the corpse. The case begins to get surprisingly personal for Hana as it takes her back to an incident from 20 years ago. At that time, she was a member of a team that forcefully ended a land rights occupation, making both her and members of the local Māori population doubt her allegiance to her own people.

Depictions of the dark mind of the killer are also sprinkled throughout the book, and they are enough to chill the blood. Hana is put in an increasingly difficult position here. In addition to dealing with the Patrick Thompson situation and the serial killer investigation, a genealogical connection is revealed going back to the 1863 British Army case that really pushes her life and personal identity over the edge.

I cannot speak more highly of Michael Bennett’s ability as a writer to share his own heritage within the guise of a page-turning thriller that will keep you guessing, along with teaching you some little-known New Zealand history. I can only hope that this is the start of a wonderful and long-running series.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 20, 2023

Better the Blood: A Hana Westerman Thriller
by Michael Bennett

  • Publication Date: January 10, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802160603
  • ISBN-13: 9780802160607