I’ve followed the Ngaio Marsh Award for New Zealand crime fiction from its inception and it’s been heartening to see the competition go from strength to strength. The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman is one of the shortlisted entries and rightly deserves its place there. The award’s creator, Craig Sisterton thought I’d enjoy this book and he was right. I’m very much concerned about the portrayal of the impact of a crime on a community and this novel focuses on the psychological legacy of a devastating act on two individuals – Carla Reid, one of the victims and Ben Toroa, the perpetrator.
Carla is the victim of a terrible act of violence which results in the death of her son and her husband seriously injured in an attack in their home. The decisions she is forced to make after the investigation is completed and the media have moved on to other stories are heart wrenching. Salvation comes in the unlikely form of people around her. An Asian neighbour struggling to make New Zealand her home and a doctor who lost his family in the Balkan conflict provide glimpses of the possibility of a future for Carla.
Ben is realistically although less sympathetically portrayed. His life was already on a collision course and it as a matter of time before tragedy occurs.Maori culture and history is woven into Ben’s story and the lack of hope and expectations contrasts with the lost future of Carla’s much loved and longed for child. The detention centre is brutal but its close confines offer Ben a structure in which to redeem his own future.
The Last Time We Spoke is beautifully written and takes you into the heart of two survivors stories. It’s an incredibly moving book and deserves a much wider audience. I wish it all the best in the Ngaio Marsh competition.