Cover Image: Better the Blood

Better the Blood

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Member Reviews

A bit slow at times, but otherwise an incredible book. Fascinating story, characters, and history. I loved the mystery, though that's where it got a bit slow. I think the book needs some editing cuts to make it more powerful. 

The introduction to Maori culture and the history of racial injustice was deftly woven in to the story, and I learned a lot. 


Extremely dark and emotionally intense, to be aware.
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Although this is billed as a thriller, Better the Blood presents a deep dive into the infamous evils of colonialism, in this case, New Zealand, Auckland to be specific.  As with any land where settlers swoop down and settle in places they have no legal claim to, there is displacement and disrespect for those already inhabiting that space, a marginalization of the people themselves and trashing of their cultures and histories.  It's happened on every continent without fail.  

The plot features a long-held search for atonement for a past atrocity, and the serial killer perp is revealed as a man with a purpose, garnering reluctant admiration but also understanding.  At the core is Hana Westerman, a woman of Maori heritage who leaves her mountain for the city and a career as a Detective.  As she gets zeros in on the answers of several seemingly unrelated murders,  things get closer to home.  All well and good as far as thrillers go, but it was the atmospheric portrait of Auckland, the portrayal of its people, the use of the te reo language throughout that enthralled me and kept the pages flying.
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Gripping tale of a Mori Native New Zealander police detective who starts receiving anonymous video texts, which lead to oddly placed murder victims.  With a serial killer in Auckland, a rapist who received a laughable sentence threatening her own teenage daughter, she pieces together the purpose and reasoning behind the series of killings, hoping to catch the murderer and protector herself, her family, and all those in her community.  well written, this a page turner with true style!
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This is an engrossing and well-written mystery.  But what really sets it apart is the setting and the mystery's ties to New Zealand's colonial past.  Not only was I captivated by the mystery but I appreciated learning a bit about New Zealand's past.
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CONTENT WARNING: rape, violence, blood, murder, death of a child, mention of addiction, suicide, grief

This is an incredible book, for a few different reasons. It had a lot to offer, and I’m not surprised that this is written by a screenwriter, because I could easily see this being adapted to a movie or TV show. 

To start with, it provided so much insight into Māori culture, history, and tradition. It’s something that I don’t have any experience with, and it was absolutely fascinating. The author doesn’t simply use te reo (Māori language) terms, but also does his best to translate these concepts, which don’t always translate easily. And it’s impossible to discuss the Māori people without discussing the violent and brutal colonization by the English. 

The colonization not only left lasting scars on the Māori people, but hasn’t been resolved, even to this day. New Zealand (Aotearea) stole the land from the indigenous people, wiped many of them out, and then used a complex system of legal loopholes to maintain their hold on that land. I know it sounds familiar to me, as an American. To the Māori, this brutal system keeps them in poverty, increases the likelihood that they’ll be incarcerated at higher rates, reduces job prospects, and keeps them oppressed. This story is centered heavily around this information, which is provided in bits and pieces throughout the book.

On the other side of it, we have Hana, a Māori detective juggling the intense pressures of her job and single motherhood, while coparenting with her ex-husband who is a co-worker (and her supervisor). There’s echoes of a Brock Turner-type situation, where a privileged white man date rapes a Māori woman, and gets a slap on the wrist, only further highlighting the inequity between the two groups.

But when seeming unconnected crime scenes around the city of Auckland show a surprising link, Hana starts investigating, and finds a surprising link between the victims—they’re all descendants of a heinous crime against a Māori chief from the 1800s. Now, the cops are racing against the clock to track down who is doing the killings.

The characters are complex and well-developed. I loved each of the main characters, and it was intriguing to get into the mindset of the villain as well as the people on the other side of the equation. The interactions that they each had with each other were well-done and deep, and I especially loved seeing Hana’s struggle with being both Māori and being a part of a system that actively oppressed Māori people, and her having to come to terms with her own actions as a part of that system.

While the book is definitely a mystery/thriller, it has plenty of information about the history of New Zealand and the effects of colonization over the years, some information about the Māori people and aspects of their belief system, the way the legal system has worked in favor of the colonial oppressors, and even the psychology of the killer. The pace was consistently fast, and I was fascinated by the story. I loved how it switched POV between Hana, the killer, and Addison, Hana’s daughter. Overall, this is the kind of book that grabs your attention from the start, taking readers on a tour of an aspect of New Zealand that outsiders rarely know about, but it was fascinating. I will definitely be looking forward to more books, and truly hopes that this becomes a series.
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Wow. Just wow.

This is a superbly written crime novel which highlights the eye opening injustices experienced by the indigenous people of New Zealand and is intertwined with an enlightening look at the Maori culture. 

I value the insights this book has given me but let me make it clear that this is a bloody good read. The characters are fascinating and their motivations feel genuine. The suspense kept me glued to the pages and there were moments of anticipation where I was expecting the expected only to be led in another direction entirely.

A book with many layers, this will be a Must Read of 2023.

I received this arc from netgalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for my honest review.
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This was an interesting story both for the mystery and the cultural information.    Hana is an indigenous detective and she is struggling with being a cop and being Māori.    She is stuck in between the two cultures.   The story is captivating and even when we know the killer and why, we still don’t know how the story will end.
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By Michael Te Arawa Bennett
Atlantic Monthly Press, 336 pages

The opening chapter of Better the Blood might sound familiar. The year is 1863, and six white men pose for a photograph with the dark-skinned man they’ve just lynched hanging in the background. But this is New Zealand, not the American South.
In Máori, the phrase n tea hi ka tahuna he ahi an loosely translates “in the fire a fire is lit,” an expression that, in context, means violence begets more violence. Better the Blood is a gripping murder mystery that also highlights profound differences in how New Zealand and the U.S. respond to violence. Without giving too much away, there is a world of difference between the American public’s “an eye for an eye” measure of justice* and the Máori, standard of utu, a restoration of balance. 

From 1863 we fast forward to 2023, when Detective Senior Sgt. Hana Westerman is outraged when Patrick Jonathan Thompson walks away with a warning and a chance of expunging his record despite his conviction for raping a young Máori woman. The judge, no doubt in a side deal with Thompson’s expensive counsel, incredulously declares he doesn’t wish to ruin Thompson’s plans to go to law school! Hana knows full well that were the attacker Máori and the victim Pákeha (white), the rapist would be in prison. As a final insult, Thompson taunts Westerman in the car park, threatens to rape her daughter, smashes his own face into a pillar, and blames her for breaking his nose. No witnesses and it’s his word against Hana’s and she too is Máori.

To say that Hana has a lot on her plate doesn’t begin to get it. A tip leads her to an abandoned building where she and Stan, a younger detective, find a bound junkie hanging from a ceiling beam. Oddly, he was dead from an 11 centimeter (about four inches) wound before he was hanged. Shortly thereafter a developer leaps to his death from a tall Auckland building¬–or so the first report goes until Hana notices his puncture wound and discovers a spiral in blood. If this weren’t enough, her adolescent daughter Addison has just moved in. Hana is divorced, though Jaye Westeman is also her boss. The two remain friendly, but Addison is tired of hearing Jaye’s Pákeha partner pontificate about social justice in ways she finds patronizing–not to mention that’s Addison’s turf when she performs as a rapper. 

A few more bodies appear before Hana recognizes the link between the body count and the1863 photograph. For North American readers, a bit of history is in order. In the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, many Máori iwi (tribes) ceded land to the British Crown in exchange for protection from other erstwhile European imperialists What happened next is analogous to treaties with North American Indians. What does “cede” mean and how extensive did Máori believe it to be? It remains a contentious issue; the Waitangi Tribunal settles disputes but Máori now own less than six percent of New Zealand’s land.  

Someone has decided that the tribunal and utu are at odds. Hana, Jaye, and Stan soon identify the serial killer as Poata Raki. Once exposed, he begins to text Hana, who bears some major identity guilt of her own. Eighteen years earlier, when she was a rookie cop, Hana took part in dragging Máori protestors off government land atop Auckland’s Mount Suffolk, which a local iwi regards as sacred. Its members and other Máori–including Addison when a YouTube video of the protest surfaces-- regard Hana as kápapa (traitor). Hana fears they may be right, but does Poata’s concept of utu justify murder? 

This dilemma, the identity of the victims, and Poata’s moral code lead some to admire him, even when thinking he is misguided. Better the Blood adopts the desperation, escalation, and beat-the-clock devices common in crime novels, but Bennett skillfully constructs back stories that add richness and depth to the book’s major characters. If you ascribe to eye-for-an-eye justice you might applaud Poata’s assertion, “The time of the lamb is over…. It is time to return to the old ways. Of utu. To avenge that which has never been avenged.” Among Máori, the word whenua means both land and placenta. What is the best way to replenish (better) Máori? You will be surprised.

Bennett is a New Zealand director and writer. His very English name notwithstanding, he is also Máori. His surname, Addison’s, and Hana’s—as well as a non-binary lesser character subtly infuse the novel with another knotty issue: identity in the multicultural present. In short, Bennett’s novel is a cut in complexity above standard mystery fare.

Rob Weir

* Many Americans believe an eye for an eye is Biblical. Nope! It’s from Hammurabi’s Code.
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Hana, the detective is Maori and working in Auckland when bodies start appearing. The murderer is clever and it becomes apparent also Maori. There are links to Hanas past  and her daughter also becomes involved.
An interesting read on the whole  and I liked the traditional Maori story and way of life. The crimes are intricate , not immediately obvious and take some working out. The main family characters are well described, others are more shallow. The plot was slow going at times, but all in all a good read 
Thanks to Net Galley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review
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Hana Westerman is a Maori Detective Senior Sergeant in Auckland, New Zealand. She becomes embroiled in a potential chase for a serial killer as she receives tips on her phone. Bennett creates a suspenseful story while weaving in Māori sayings, beliefs and cultural information. I have read a lot about the people and visited Auckland myself so this novel was almost like flying back to NZ!  Hana is a great character, the story was well written. I hope to see a tv series and many more books featuring her and her partner!

If you like police procedurals, learning about other cultures, or just want to "visit" scenic New Zealand, Better the Blood is for you!
#GroveAtlantic #MichaelBennett #Bettertheblood
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I received a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley.

This was more about the history of the wrongs done by white settlers to the Maori than it was a crime novel. At times I thought the Maori elements were well done (the idea that Maori police officers would be selected against their knowledge and will to lead the removal of Maori protesters from their traditional territories was shocking), but at others it felt a bit as if we were being given mini lectures. Also, the author used Maori words and then (randomly about a page later as my Kindle set the book out) they were translated, which was frustrating.

The mystery of what was going on was revealed half way through and after that it was more of a thriller than a police procedural. I found the behaviour of Hana's daughter incomprehensible.

This was OK, but not an effective crime novel for me.
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"Better the Blood" was ultimately just "meh" for me. I didn't connect with any of the characters, felt a major plot point was fairly implausible, tiresome and confusing and while I can appreciate some moral conflict, I was not intrigued by this story.

P. S. Many thanks to #netgalley for the ARC.
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As a debut, author Michael Bennett stuns! Had it just been a murder mystery it still would have been excellent; however, giving the reader a slice of Maori/ NZ history of colonialism made it shine. The main characters were all well developed and believable. It was especially moving to use the Maori language to help tell this story. Highly recommended .
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I cannot continue to read this book. It needs major editing. The sentences run on needlessly. The lack of flow was so annoying to me I put the novel down. The prologue, set in 1863, used language I felt would never had been uttered. Send the book back to the editors with several red pencils. I really cannot critique something so poorly written.
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Five big Stars. This stunning novel will likely be the most atmospheric, immersive and compelling book I will read this year. Set in and around the New Zealand city of Aukland, an outwardly idyllic place, one is engrossed in its blood-soaked colonial past. British settlers in the 19th century were intent on destroying native culture and taking their land and were backed by a brutal British army. Underlying the crime story and police activity are the unhealed wounds and brutalities in the Maori experience. Many indigenous people feel disenfranchised and fear unfair encounters with the present justice system. I stayed on North Island decades ago and witnessed an ongoing protest for restoring traditional lands. 

 Echoes and harm to our Canadian indigenous tribes started with colonizers and continued into our recent past, where children were taken by force and placed in schools with the intent to destroy their language, culture and identity. Many were abused. The Pope was here apologizing for harsh treatment and abuse in the schools, but will there be reconciliation and forgiveness for the suffering of children, many who died or those who still carry emotional wounds?

 The Maori's history of a brutal past resonates in the present. A profound sense of sadness runs through this splendid, brilliant novel.

 Hana Westerman is a Maori detective and Senior police sergeant with the Aukland detachment. Police action against peaceful protesters 18 years before has alienated her from her heritage and family. The protest was held on Mount Suffolk, considered a sacred place by the natives. Hana has a teenage daughter, Addison, who splits her time between her mother's home and her father's. Addison has strong beliefs against racial and sexual injustices in society. Hana mentors young policeman DC Stanley Riordan. 

 Two murders have been committed, but the victims are so different that no connection is found. Hana is sent a video of a condemned building. In a secret room is the body of a man hanged with his hands and feet bound. The murdered man is a young drug addict charged with killing his baby. A spiral symbol is noticed nearby the scene. The following person to die is a wealthy banker who is thought to have committed suicide by jumping off a roof until Hana notices a similar symbol nearby. The next victim is a local Shakespearean actor. An old photograph from 1863 depicts six soldiers posing near a dead Maori chief. He has been hanged from a tree with his hands and feet like a young drug addict. The old photo and the spiral symbols seem to connect the victims, but how and why are they chosen? The police seem to be hunting a man bent on vengeance, but what could be his motive in targeting such different victims? The killings escalate into a bombing that kills and injures innocent victims. Included dead in the explosion was a woman believed to be the next victim being taken into protective custody. A policeman who was Hana's friend was seriously wounded.

 Introduced is the concept of utu, the balancing of past injustices. Better the blood shed by innocents than no blood. The killer has been identified. He is a cold, emotionless killer, highly intelligent, and with righteous motivation. One cannot help feeling some admiration and sympathy for the cold-hearted killer. The dread and suspense are tangible. Hana's family is believed to be in danger. Police close in to apprehend the armed killer who has been hiding in a cave, brush and forest. I feared the outcome, whichever way it went.
 Riveting, intense, and beautifully written. Highly recommended!
 Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the ARC of this superb, enthralling and memorable reading experience.
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DNF @ 58%

I went along with some of the book's interesting twists on the murder-mystery genre, and I admire Michael Bennett's commitment to telling a story about an oppressed people, but he struggles to make the Maori traditions an actual element of the novel (the footnotes are a major distraction; this being a work of fiction, they could've been relegated to the Author's Note).

Halfway through the novel is a big reveal that doesn't work simply because it isn't earned; it's stated. And that's boring. Coupled with the thing that happens mere pages later (which I'd been dreading from the beginning, to be honest), I didn't find it in me to keep going with Better the Blood.

Thanks, NetGalley and Grove Atlantic, for an ARC of the book.
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