Doom Creek by Alan Carter, Review: Crime fiction with guts

Doom Creek by Alan Carter (Book 2, Nick Chester) is a potent mix of gritty, gutsy crime fiction and thought-provoking drama. Read on for my full review.

Doom Creek Book Synopsis

Sergeant Nick Chester has dodged the Geordie gangsters he once feared, is out of hiding and looking forward to a quiet life. But gold fever is creating ill-feeling between prospectors, and a new threat lurks in the form of trigger-happy Americans preparing for Doomsday by building a bolthole at the top of the South Island.

As tensions simmer in the Wakamarina valley, Nick finds himself working on a cold-case murder and investigating a scandal-plagued religious sect. When local and international events reach fever pitch, Chester finds himself up against an evil that knows no borders.

This is the second title in Alan Carter’s Nick Chester series. His first, Marlborough Man, won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

(Fremantle Press – November 2020)

Genre: Crime-Detective, Thriller, Mystery, Drama

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Doom Creek is an engaging combination of small-town policing, grisly murder investigation and family-life drama, with a hefty dose of stinging geopolitical and social commentary.

Alan Carter’s lead character Nick Chester is a rough-diamond that really appealed to me. Despite being jaded by what life has thrown at him, the instinct to right wrongs still burns strong. Nick is stubborn and pig-headed, usually to his own detriment, which makes for some tense moments and page-turning passages. Admirably though, he owns his personal failings and cares deeply for his family; conversations with his son who has Down’s syndrome, often providing much-needed perspective. Chester’s feisty Maori cop shop colleague Constable Latifa Rapata and her propensity to call a spade a shovel was a breath of fresh air also.

Story setting

The picturesque verdant yet treacherous landscape at the northern end of New Zealand’s south island plays a pivotal role in this novel. It cleverly underpins Doom Creek‘s resonant theme of dangers in plain sight; a fine and at times perilous line between beauty and danger, faith and cult, being hospitable and being dominated. And, how the ignorance of too many or the personal short term motivations of a small few in high places, can culminate in power imbalances with significant wide-ranging and lasting consequences.

… But does such beauty and serenity serve only to make the darkness blacker, the poison more toxic, the violence more brutal?

The answer is, yes.

Has the taste of paradise weakened my resilience? Murders, violence, bullying were everyday realities for me policing in England’s tough northern cities. Then I was able to drink with demons and fight hand-to-hand with monsters. Put dinner on the table, nurture my family and sleep soundly at night. Nowadays I see only the fungus on the leaves and the bacteria in the rivers, and I break into a sweat at unexpected touch and sound. Jumping at shadows.

Plotting and prose

The brutality and depravity of the crimes investigated in Doom Creek are not sanitized, and there are several cases at play in a given moment. The latter point was at times this novel’s weakness, as were a few instances where it was not immediately clear who owned dialogue.

Those moments aside though, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Carter’s prose from which his passions and strongly held opinion shines. Relatively few fiction authors lay their cards on the table so openly these days. Rather than literary flair being used to obscure or sanitize the underlying message so as to broaden this novel’s appeal, his serves to refine and amplify it.

Although Doom Creek is the second novel in the Nick Chester series, sufficient context was provided to make it read just fine as a standalone. That said, the fact that this novel concludes with an important personal matter hanging in the balance leaves me eager to read more from Alan Carter and (and this series) in the future.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of Doom Creek from:

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More engaging police detective fiction:
The Night Whistler by Greg Woodland  /  These Little Lies by Gretta Mulrooney  /  The Great Divide by L J M Owen  /  Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham  /  The Ice Child by Camilla Lackberg

About the Author, Alan Carter

Alan Carter was born in Sunderland, UK. He immigrated to Australia in 1991 and now lives just south of Hobart. He sometimes works as a television documentary director. In his spare time he plunges into the icy Tasmanian waters for fun. He is the author of four Cato Kwong novels – Prime CutGetting Warmer, Bad Seed and Heaven Sent and the Nick Chester novel, Marlborough Man, set in NZ. Doom Creek is the second in the Nick Chester series. Awards won include Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel (Winner 2018), Ned Kelly Award for Best First Fiction (Winner 2011) and UK Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award (Shortlisted 2010).

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2020.

* Receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.