Finn Bell

Dead Lemons

"A worthy winner."


In the far south of New Zealand, a young girl goes missing, lost without trace in the wilderness beyond her remote family cottage. A year later her father disappears in the same place. Then nothing. At all.

Eventually the years grow over the grief. The decades wear away the questions, life flows past the forgotten tragedy. Until Finn moves into the abandoned home, looking for a fresh start. A place to heal himself far from his old problems. But rebuilding life is complicated by chance encounters and odd occurrences leaving Finn with the growing suspicion that the people here are harbouring a terrible secret.

Suspicion turns to obsession the deeper Finn digs while also facing steadily escalating dangers in the here-and-now. Soon Finn's own journey of recovery becomes inextricably linked with his need to unravel the mystery. Past and present finally collide when Finn starts to learn the truth about this place and himself. Now he must choose between exoneration and condemnation, justice and vengeance.

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‘Dead Lemons’ recently won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel written by a New Zealander. Bell cleverly begins his novel in the present, and then takes us back months when Finn (yes, the character has the same name as the author), first moves to the area to try and put his life back on track. With intermittent chapters bringing us back to the present, Bell keeps up the pace of his novel. Finn is damaged goods… under the threat of becoming a dead lemon as his counsellor, Betty tells him if he continues on his usual self-destructive path. He is wheelchair bound due to a car accident, drunk behind the wheel. He is divorced and has come to the middle of nowhere to lick his wounds. But soon he comes to the attention of some very unsavoury folks. Bell is very good at characterisation, and shows how Finn, with a new and positive crowd around him, begins to slowly come to terms that he doesn’t always have to be one of life’s victims. The Zoyls, who are the source of Finn’s disharmony, are menacingly portrayed, but not everything is as it seems and Bell has one final twist up his sleeve by the end of this novel. The story of Alice’s disappearance and all that happened afterwards is mysterious and intriguing. Bell cleverly keeps the suspense held while also chronicling Finn’s long journey back to being a whole person again. ‘Dead Lemons’ is a fitting novel for this award. It has action, suspense, tragedy and humanity all wrapped up in an easy to read novel. I am not sure if we will hear more from Finn Bell (the character), but I am quite sure that we will be hearing a lot more from Finn Bell (the author) if he continues to produce such books like this debut. A worthy winner.

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