TWISTER by Jane Woodham (New Zealand Mystery Novel)

Twister entered my radar months ago while searching around for hot new mystery novels by Australian women writers. I’m (rather pathetically) participating in the Australian Woman Writers Challenge this year. Jane Woodham is not Australian, she’s originally from England and has lived in New Zealand for nine years, but that’s the beauty of poking around on the internet–or in the library–sometimes books find you. My initial efforts to procure a print copy didn’t pan-out, but I recently dusted off my eReader for a trip and looked at Kobo’s website again and was happy to see they now carry the book.

From the publisher: Dunedin [New Zealand], in the grip of an unseasonal flu, is a city under siege. Cats are being tortured and gay men viciously targeted. Then, after five damaging days of rain, a twister rips through, exposing in Ross Creek Reserve the body of a missing schoolgirl. Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd is forced to lead the investigation despite unresolved sorrow over the disappearance of his own daughter nine years earlier. In the long aftermath of loss, his wife Kate has grown out of their marriage but she hasn’t told Leo yet. Or that she’s going to move in with her lover, Rea. Sultry weather broods over the city as suspects are sifted. Pressure mounts for Leo to solve the crime and to face his grief, and for Kate to tell the truth about leaving Leo — and about the secret she’s nursed since the hour their beloved Beth disappeared.

Twister is an excellent read, one that kept me up way too late, even when I was sick.

The novel has just the right amount of police procedural details for my taste, meaning that the story didn’t get bogged down by them. Most of the work portrayed is good old interviewing of witnesses and suspects as well as a reenactment. Judd makes some deductions and has flashes of insight that help him piece things together.  

Dunedin, New Zealand [source]

This is the first mystery I’ve read set in New Zealand, so it was fun looking up colloquialisms and place names. What wasn’t fun is the bullying and violence against girls/women and gays, which seems never-ending in this world, but at least now-a-days womanizers and homophobes are presented as the bad guys that they’ve always been. 

While there is a rather violent scene in the novel, it is not gratuitous, but shows how quickly things can get ugly among teenagers when one boy is simply being himself. There are several instances of people not seeing things throughout the novel and this scene, in particular, shows how confusing and paralyzing it can be when people do see for the first time. The choice Budgie eventually makes made me gasp, but it rings sadly true.

Woodham writes on her website that Twister is “as much a story about a detective, as a detective story,” which is right on the money. In fact, Judd’s personal story may have been of a bit more interest to me than the crimes under investigation, but its hard to tell as they’re so deeply intertwined (twisted together, you might say). The main personal relationship, which is between Judd and his wife, Kate, as well as her lover Rea, is tense and had me rooting for everyone involved. Rea was their former neighbor and a good friend to both Judd and Kate, but moved away years ago. It’s complicated, but oh-so-believable.

I enjoyed how memories from Judd’s youth come into relevancy without seeming staged, but as a more organic process. Watching the characters grow through their trials and life changes left me with a feeling of hope for them and maybe even for humanity in general. I’d gladly read more from Woodham and hope she finds an audience here in the U.S.

Title: Twister
Author: Jane Woodham
Publisher: Rose Mira Books, December 3, 2015 
Format: ebook
Source: bought it

Bottom line: Excellent read–intricate storyline that unfolds organically


  1. I've never thought of a list of books written by Australian women. I like the idea. Also, like the novel because it gives me reason to sympathize with others who have chosen a different lifestyle. Those are the ones often bullied. Also, there is a likely chance cats are harmed more often than dogs simply because they are a minority.

  2. Hi Tea, you might want to check out the Australian Women Writers page at It's a great starting place and resource. Your comment about cats is interesting to think about. Back in the 90s when more people owned cats than dogs, it seemed that dogs got a bad rap in books. There was Stephen King's Cujo in the 80s, but I recall some other mysteries where dogs died or were killed off. One even started with a dog jumping out of a window for no apparent reason (or at least not a reason that I ever got to since I quit reading the book). Now that seems to be a big no-no. I can't handle books where animals are harmed and in this one the cats were only mentioned once or twice and in no detail.

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