Book Review: The Ringmaster

(Sam Shephard #2)
04.18.2019 | Orenda Books
Rating: 4/5 stars


After a disastrous end to a case she was investigating, Sam Shephard has packed her bags and relocated. She is now at the bottom of the detective ranks in the Dunedin police force, but ready to prove her worth. Working against her is her boss, DI Johns, who she happened to rub the wrong way in that aforementioned case. Shephard is soon placed on her first homicide investigation when the body of a local university student, Rose-Marie Bateman, is found. Most believe this to be a crime of passion, but Sam believes there is more than meets the eye.

As Sam starts to dig deeper into the death of Rose-Marie, she finds herself being given meaningless tasking and forced to work on another case involving the circus that has recently come to town. Never one to let this deter her investigating, Sam begins to uncover strange connections. Could there be something linking these cases together?

There was no such thing as a gentle way to shatter someone’s world.

THE RINGMASTER is the second installment in Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard series and picks up a few months after the ending of book one, OVERKILL. We see Sam starting a new life in another, slightly larger, New Zealand town called Dunedin. She’s hoping for a fresh start, but a connection from her past case to her new boss is making things difficult. Sam is unwilling to let this hold her back and is determined to make a position for herself in her new police department.

The character of Sam Shephard continues to steal the show in THE RINGMASTER, as the reader cannot help but love her tough, determined attitude. Symon shows us what’s under the surface to this exterior persona, which is a vulnerable Sam who doubts herself at times, just like all of us. This multifaceted portrayal of Sam works to truly connect the reader with her, the emotions she’s feeling, and her mindset when investigating the cases she has been assigned. I love that Sam is not stereotyped or made to fit into a specific character mold.

She’d lied, she’d deceived and she’d gone against her own principles for him. Did he set out to steal her soul as well as her body?

While Sam is the main focus of THE RINGMASTER, Symon yet again gives readers an amazing cast of secondary characters to truly solidify your investment in this story. We see Maggie, Sam’s roommate, back in this installment, as well as another, unexpected OVERKILL character who makes his return. I won’t tell you who, because that takes away the fun of their meeting!

In my review for OVERKILL I told you all how much I loved the crime at the heart of the story. That it was original and something I hadn’t read before. Symon’s imagination certainly doesn’t fade with the answers behind the death of Rose-Marie. This mystery has everything you want in a work of crime fiction. There’s a suspicious nature to the crime, a lack of suspects, a victim who was hiding secrets, and a possible connection to something bigger. The answers that come out are definitely not always what you’re expecting. Symon does a brilliant job of throwing in twists and red herrings to keep you on your toes! Yet again it’s safe to say…I didn’t see that coming!

If you’re looking for a series centering around a strong, female detective with fascinating cases and clever plotting, you need to put OVERKILL and THE RINGMASTER on your TBR immediately! I promise you will not be disappointed!

This book is available to buy from: Amazon | Book Depository

Disclosure: What Jess Reads is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This in no way influences my opinion of the above book.

Disclosure: Thank you to Orenda Books for sending me a free copy in exchange for my honest review!

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