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A Madness of Sunshine

Review

A Madness of Sunshine

New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh is best known for her paranormal and contemporary romance series, but with the release of A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE, she turns to a new genre altogether: thrillers. Pairing her keen eye for characterization with a taut pace and a finely tuned ear for suspense, Singh has produced a thrill ride that will keep readers turning pages long past sundown.

Set in Golden Cove, a small settlement on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand, A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE tracks Anahera Rawiri as she returns to her beloved but haunted homeland eight years after leaving it at the age of 21. When Anahera left Golden Cove, she was fleeing poverty, a lack of potential and tragedy, and racing toward the life of a professional musician and wife to a prominent playwright. But when her husband dies suddenly, the now-grieving mistress decides to go home --- her real home --- to gain closure not only on her brief foray out of New Zealand, but on the ghosts of her past as well.

When Anahera picks up the Jeep she bought online at the New Zealand airport, she begins the long trek to her deceased mother’s remote cabin, an abode removed even from the furthest outskirts of town. She is soon greeted by a white SUV bearing the local police logo, and, when the window rolls down, she meets Will, a disgraced detective from a nearby town with a real police force. Too distinguished to be fired entirely, Will has been punished by receiving control of Golden Cove, a town too small for any real crime and too tight-knit for a detective of any skill level to really penetrate its inner workings. Fortunately for Anahera, Will is a classic “good guy,” and his promise to check on her to make sure she is safe is one without any underlying malevolence.

"As a pivot from romance to suspense, A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE is stellar; it has everything it needs to succeed and plays upon its author’s previous talents beautifully."

As the two drive through Golden Cove, Anahera spies many of the children she grew up with, now adults and homeowners themselves, including Nikau and Josie, her best friend and the only person she has kept in touch with since leaving her tiny town. She is overjoyed to reunite with Josie, who is as soft as Anahera is cold and achieved everything she ever wanted without having to leave the island: marriage, motherhood and the ownership of a small café. As the two catch up, Josie’s gorgeous young employee, Miriama, dotes on them, setting their table with coffee and cake before delivering the last slice to a neighbor. Anahera cannot help but remark on the young girl’s beauty and glow, and she is delighted to learn that Miriama, too, is destined for more, as she is preparing to leave the island for a prestigious internship within a few months.

Of course, Golden Cove’s dark past cannot remain secret for long. One evening, while out on a jog, Miriama vanishes seemingly into thin air. The town unites immediately, even rousing the bush men --- the people who choose to live completely apart from the small town --- to search for her, but even with Will and Nikau at the helm, they discover nothing. Though Will is from a nearby town, he does not know the landscape as well as its lifelong denizens, creating a tension in his role as lead detective, but he perseveres, calling on sturdy, loyal people like Nikau to help him take control. Playing on Anahera’s recent return to the island, he also uses her as a decoy to ask questions that townies might not want to answer --- especially with an outsider asking.

But there are certain histories and secrets the islanders are reticent to give up, including the stories of what happened to three young female hikers several years ago, at the start of the tourism boom in Golden Cove. In a small town as tight knit as Golden Cove, everyone knows everyone --- but is it possible that there could be a killer in their midst? And if so, has he or she been hiding away all this time, or is someone new responsible for Miriama’s disappearance? Overcoming their tragic backgrounds and hesitancies to form new connections, Anahera and Will must use their shared insights to discover what really happened to Miriama and, maybe, to all the missing girls before her.

A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE is an atmospheric novel above all things. Singh crafts the setting so meticulously and expertly that you can feel the daytime sun bearing down on you as easily as you can hear the crashing waves and feel the lush greenery around you. It would be easy and true to say that the setting is a major character in the book, but that is not all Singh brings to the metaphorical table. Her characters feel fully fleshed out and familiar, yet compelling. I think what I loved most about them was the way they formed a separate character entirely as the town of Golden Cove. As desperate as I was to learn their secrets and histories, I was equally conscious of wanting to respect their community. This dissonance not only kept me reading, but immersed me in the story more fully than if I simply wanted answers. This is no small feat for an author, especially in a stand-alone novel.

While the book is certainly suspenseful, I would draw the line at calling it a thriller. While there is a missing girl and threats of violence at its center, I felt that it was more slow burn than I would expect from a thriller. Many of the mysteries at the heart of the novel were playing out internally between characters rather than with bloody knives and fingerprints, making it more of a mystery than a thriller, but it was every bit as riveting. Singh clearly has an ear for personal dynamics, and it was these relationships that really moved the story along for me.

As a pivot from romance to suspense, A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE is stellar; it has everything it needs to succeed and plays upon its author’s previous talents beautifully. I look forward to seeing where Singh turns next, be it another genre altogether or a further exploration into suspense/thrillers. Either way, she has an instant buyer in this reviewer.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on January 17, 2020

A Madness of Sunshine
by Nalini Singh

  • Publication Date: December 3, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0593099133
  • ISBN-13: 9780593099131