Wednesday, December 17, 2014

9mm: An interview with Gold Dagger winner Wiley Cash



It's that time of year where everyone is sharing their 'best of' lists for 2014 - personal thoughts on favourite things, including the best books of the year. It's always fun to reminisce about all that we've read and what really stood out, even months later. And it's nice to highlight great books that might be otherwise overlooked in some cases, in amongst all the big-name bestsellers and cause celebres. In recent years I've contributed several times to such 'best of' lists for some great newspapers and magazines in New Zealand, as well as sharing my own thoughts here on this blog, but this year I'm taking a break, for a number of reasons.

I will say though, that one of my favourite reads of the year was THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY by Wiley Cash. Beforehand, I'd heard terrific things about Cash's much-acclaimed debut, A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME, which was tabbed by some critics as brilliant southern gothic storytelling, a cross between Harper Lee and Cormac McCarthy. I was intrigued, especially as I've spent a lot of time in the American South (including four summers in Cash's home state of North Carolina), and am a fan of James Lee Burke, John Hart, and other writers of that ilk where the southern setting bleeds into the storytelling.

I really enjoyed THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY - it is one of those tales that could seem deceptively simple, but had a lot more going on beneath the surface. It is atmospheric and thought-provoking. And I wasn't that surprised at all when it went on to win the Gold Dagger from the CWA. It deserves plenty of critical acclaim. I'll have more to say about the book at some point, but for now, please allow me to share my recent interview with Wiley Cash, the 95th instalment in the 9mm series.

9MM: An interview with Wiley Cash


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective? 
This is a tough question. I don't read a lot of crime series, so it's hard to pick out one hero. But there are a lot of heroes in crime books I've loved. I loved the mysterious lawman in Tom Franklin's story "Poachers," the sheriff in Ron Rash's ONE FOOT IN EDEN, and the social work investigator in Smith Henderson's new novel FOURTH OF JULY CREEK.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why? 
When I was a kid I loved the choose-your-own-adventure books. I read them over and over, astonished by the many ways the story could turn depending on the decisions I made as a reader. But the first novel that made me want to become a writer was Toni Morrison's SONG OF SOLOMON.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles? 
I'd published a few short stories in literary magazines in the states and a dozen or so critical essays on American writers like Ernest Gaines, Langston Hughes, and Thomas Wolfe.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise? 
My wife and I really enjoy traveling, both domestically and in places like Italy, the UK, and Iceland. We've recently moved back to North Carolina, and I've taken up gardening as a way to relieve stress and lose myself in a process that's more immediate than writing. We're expecting our first child in October, so worrying over the birth and nursery preparation has also become a bit of a hobby.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider? 
Go to Tony's Ice Cream in Gastonia, North Carolina, and get a hot dog, hamburger, and a milkshake. The place is featured in my second novel, THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you? 
I don't think my life would be nearly interesting enough for that. I'd pity whoever'd have to shoot those long scenes at the desk, typing, worrying, starting over.

7. Of your writings, published and unpublished, which is your favourite, and why? 
Right now, I feel the closest to and most excited about my third novel, which I'm about 25,000 words into. It's about a textile mill strike in my hometown in 1929 and how the murder of the strike's leader affects three generations of women in North Carolina.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a online or physical bookseller’s shelf? 
I celebrated by calling my wife at work and telling her that there was a small chance I could leave my teaching job in West Virginia and move us home to North Carolina. We didn't make the move for another two years, but it was always in our sights. We love West Virginia, but North Carolina will always be home.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
As soon as we moved back to North Carolina in the fall of 2014, I got a tattoo of the state's outline on the inside of my right arm. I published an essay about the experience that was accompanied by a few photos. Several months later I was at a book signing in Greensboro, North Carolina, and an angry woman pushed herself through the crowd and held a cell phone up to my face. On it was a picture of someone's arm with the same tattoo. "This is my teenage son," she said. "He did this because of you!"

Thank you Wiley. We appreciate you taking the time to chat with Crime Watch. 

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You can read more about Wiley Cash and his writing here: 


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Sunday, December 14, 2014

James Ellroy and Lois Duncan named as 2015 Grand Masters by MWA

In a case of 'what? really - he isn't one already?', the much-acclaimed James Ellroy has today been named as one of two new Mystery Writers of America (MWA) Grand Masters for 2015. Lois Duncan, who has been writing mysteries for several decades, has also been named a new Grand Master.

The Grand Master Award is touted by the MWA as representing "the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality". So for UK readers, it's the equivalent of the Diamond Dagger, or something of a 'Hall of Fame' type of award.

Ellroy and Duncan will receive their awards at the Edgars Banquet, held in New York City next April.

Upon learning he was named a Grand Master, Ellroy said, "This is a splendid honor; it lauds my career to date and spurs me on to stay young, healthy, and productive. The Mystery Writers of America: ever honorable, ever grand in their contribution to the craft of crime writing."

Duncan is best known for her thrillers for teenagers, which were nominated several times for the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Crime Novel (and some were made into films). She said: "I'm stunned and overwhelmed by this incredible honor! To have my own name included on this illustrious list of my idols — Agatha Christie, Ira Levin, Stephen King, Tony Hillerman — is something I could never have imagined."

Previous Grand Masters include Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: THE HARROWING by Alexandra Sokoloff

THE HARROWING by Alexandra Sokoloff (St Martins, 2006)

Reviewed by Grant Nicol

It’s Thanksgiving and all the residents of Baird College are going home for the holidays. All of them that is except for the disenfranchised and discarded boys and girls of the Mendenhall dorm. The five members of Sokoloff’s very own ‘Breakfast Club’ stick around in the dark, lonely rooms and empty corridors of the old building rather than heading home to households they no longer want to be a part of. It appears that for each of them a lonely four-day weekend in the deserted building is preferable to having to endure the torments of spending time with their respective families.

Martin, the overly-serious, studious and withdrawn Jewish law student is undoubtedly the brain of the outfit hiding himself away in the library hunched over law books in his self-imposed scholastic solitude. He would prefer no company at all to frivolous company and is more than happy to point this out to the others if not with words then with his body language and unmistakable withdrawal.

Patrick, the jock of the ‘club’is a stereotype and an enigma all at the same time. His princess girlfriend Waverly is one of the ones heading home for the break and he is happy to see the back of her. Yet for whatever reason he would rather stay and drink on his own instead of seeking out like-minded company elsewhere.

If there is a basket case in the group then it is definitely Robin Stone who starts the story off with an aborted suicide attempt with her roommate’s (Patrick’s girlfriend, Waverly) spare medication in the dark as soon as she thinks she’s alone. When she discovers that she’s not the only one hiding out in the building for the Thanksgiving break she hides the pills and attempts to cover up what she was about to do but still harbours a dark desire to die.

Then we have our two other outcasts to make up the five members of Sokoloff’s ‘club’. Cain, we’ll call him ‘the musician’, is a brooding, intellectually superior artist with a cynical heart and a mind to match. Lisa, we’re going to have to call her ‘the promiscuous one’ because I don’t think I should call her a slut. She is damaged and loathes many things in her life but probably herself most of all.

Five disparate individuals and highly unlikely allies thrust together by fate and boredom and loathing who ostensibly have nothing in common until they decide to sit around in the dark together after a power cut and share a few beers and joints. As you do. I certainly did a lot of that in the dark when I was their age. Despite their uneasy alliance they find themselves initiating a séance with the help of an unearthed Ouija board and a distinct lack of anything better to do.

Scepticism is slowly replaced by an uneasy feeling that they have really stumbled upon something and their lives soon begin to run in an agonizing parallel with the original users of the board. From here on in there is a comparison to be drawn with William Peter Blatty’s great novel of 1971 but to say anything more would be inappropriate and might get me in trouble in this life as well as the next.

The main problems that the characters face throughout the remainder of the story is finding a way to cooperate with each other. They are all just so different but that is the fun of what is basically a locked-room mystery with supernatural overtones. Only the room isn’t as singular or as locked as you might think.

Sokoloff does a great job of building tension between the characters as they attempt to navigate their way through a hazardous minefield of conflicts and arguments with each other, the tension between Lisa and her polar opposite Patrick being particularly delightful to watch unfold.


I actually read this over Thanksgiving in the middle of a really nasty stormin Reykjavík and for much of it I was actually there with them. Locked away in my 4th floor attic bedroom the banging windows, the flickering candlelight, the howling wind and pounding rain took me into the heart of their nightmare. Once alone in their brave new world their struggle to get on with each other is soon superseded by a struggle just to survive.

Haunting, engrossing and thoroughly spooky this is exactly what a horror story should be like.

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Grant Nicol is a crime writer who lives in Reykjavik, Iceland. You can follow him on Twitter @GrantNicol1. 

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Friday, December 12, 2014

9mm: An interview with Ned Kelly Award winner Adrian McKinty

Well, after an appalling start on the Anzac spirit front with the 9mm series (one Australian crime writer covered out of the first 72 editions), I've been rectifying things a little with a few talented Ocker scribes in amongst the past 20 or so editions that we've ripped through in the past three to four months.

I have over 110 Kiwi and international author interviews in the bag now, although I'm only up to the 94th instalment in terms of publishing the series. The good news? So many more cool author interviews to come!!

Today's 9MM celebrates one of the finest crime writers in the antipodes, and the winner of the 2014 Ned Kelly Award. And just like our New Zealand award, the Ngaio Marsh Award, was taken out by a migrant from the north, Scotsman-turned-Kiwi Liam McIlvanney, the Australian crime writing prize this year went to the wonderful Adrian McKinty, who was born and raised in Northern Ireland before moving to the United States as an adult then eventually settling in Australia.

McKinty is a crime writers' crime writer, one of those high quality exponents of the genre who pens great prose that weaves in greater issues beyond an exciting plot, while delivering on that front, with terrific characters too. A former law student and Oxford graduate (philosophy), he's known for his acclaimed Sean Duffy trilogy, which explores the Troubles of Ireland, but even before he began addressing those issues in that series, he was beloved by crime fiction aficionados for his stylistic and violent writings in more than a dozen other books, with Publisher's Weekly calling him 'one of his generation's leading talents'.

I had the pleasure of meeting McKinty in person for the first time at the Sydney Writers Festival in May (picture below is of him signing books following a great session with Michael Robotham and John Connolly).

But for now, Adrian McKinty faces down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM Interview with Adrian McKinty

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective? 
Can I give a controversial answer? I kinda don't like recurring heroes or detectives. I prefer standalones because you have no idea what the hell is going to happen to any of the characters. Thats why I love The Maltese Falcon and Jim Thompson's novels so much...But if you had to press me, I like the virtually unknown today Dr Gideon Fell who appeared in 23 of John Dickson Carr's novels and of course Marlowe...

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The Hobbit. It was 1977 and I was about 9 or 10. It took me off to another world completely and I really dug that. And the map. I loved that map. I wrote to JRR Tolkien to thank him for the book and someone at the publishers (Allen and Unwin I think) told me that he was dead, but they had forwarded the letter to his son Christopher Tolkien, who about 6 weeks later wrote to me! Such a thrill.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles? 
I'd published a novella and a few short stories and I'd done some ghost writing (which I'm still not allowed to talk about).

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise? 
I've got a little kayak and I like to paddle it around the bay, sometimes I'll take a fishing rod with me - nothing that exciting I'm afraid.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
If they're going to Carrickfergus they should visit my sister's pub The Joymount Arms - best pint of Guinness in Northern Ireland! Also take a walk up Coronation Road where most of the Duffy books take place and it really hasn't changed that much since then (I was just there in August), even though most of the houses aren't council houses anymore.  #113 Coronation Road is the house where I was born and grew up and where Duffy lives in the books.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you? 
Jennifer Lawrence. She's got a very expressive face and she would give the punters something to look at in what would clearly be a very very boring movie.

7. Of your writings, published and unpublished, which is your favourite, and why?
I like different bits of different books. I think the opening page of I Hear The Sirens In The Street is the best thing I've ever written, but probably my favourite book is The Cold Cold Ground because I finally had the balls to write about the Troubles after avoiding it for 10 years.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a online or physical bookseller’s shelf? 
Initial excitement and then a lingering, bitter sense of disappointment as the book failed to sell, got taken off the shelves and was remaindered.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival? 
I've been heckled twice. Once at a book reading in Boston where a guy accused me of being a snob because I "used big words" and once in Belfast for sectarian reasons. You don't see that much at book readings in general.

Thank you Adrian. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch. 

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You can read more about Adrian McKinty and his writings here: 

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Stephen King, John Connolly, Paul Cleave, Tana French...

The hits just keep on coming for Christchurch thriller writer Paul Cleave. After his last book, JOE VICTIM, was shortlisted for both the Edgar and Barry Awards in the United States, his newest thriller, FIVE MINUTES ALONE has received starred reviews from both Kirkus Review and Publishers Weekly, and has now also joined a select list of crime novels on the prestigious LA Times Holiday Book Guide 2014. 

The LA Times list features the best of fiction, short stories, pageturners (thrillers), sci-fi and fantasy, and poetry. Much-acclaimed literary giants such as Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, and Hilary Mantel are on the list, and the line-up of thriller authors is also incredibly high-calibre. 

I'm sure for Cleave, one of the biggest thrills will be the fact that two of his all-time favourite authors, writers who have inspired him as his career flickered into early life then grew into a blaze, join him on this year's LA Times list: Stephen King for REVIVAL in the sci-fi/fantasy category, and John Connolly for THE WOLF IN WINTER in pageturners. 

When I first interviewed Cleave back in 2010, he told me that King was his biggest influence as a teenager, and that the three crime writers he admired most were Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and John Connolly. "When I think about John Connolly, I think about an amazing writer," said Cleave. "I still love reading Stephen King – I bought his new one, UNDER THE DOME and am really looking forward to reading it."

Cleave's much-praised FIVE MINUTES ALONE is certainly a book that a lot of people are looking forward to reading. Here's the blurb:

"In the latest thriller by the Edgar-nominated author of Joe Victim, someone is helping rape victims exact revenge on their attackers, prompting an edge-of-your-seat, cat-and-mouse chase between old friends, detectives Theodore Tate and Carl Schroder. 
Carl Schroder and Theodore Tate, labeled "The Coma Cops" by the media, are finally getting their lives back into shape. Tate has returned to the police force and is grateful to be back at home with his wife, Bridget. For Schroder, things are neither good nor bad. The bullet lodged in his head from a shooting six months ago hasn't killed him, but, almost as deadly, it's switched off his emotions. 
When the body of a convicted rapist is found, obliterated by an oncoming train, Tate works the case, trying to determine if this is murder or suicide. The following night, the bodies of two more rapists surface. It's hard to investigate when everyone on the police force seems to be rooting for the killer. 
There's a common plea detectives get from the loved ones of victims: When you find the man who did this, give me five minutes alone with him. And that's exactly what someone is doing. Someone is helping these victims get their five minutes alone. But when innocent people start to die, Tate and Schroder find themselves with different objectives, and soon they're battling something they never would've expected: each other."

The other thriller writers on the LA Times list are Connolly, Tana French, Megan Abbott, Chelsea Cain, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman, Mary Kubica, Ed Lin, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid, and Fuminori Nakamura (translated from Japanese by Allison Markin Powell). As an aside, it's cool to see over half the chosen authors are female. Sometimes the terrific female thriller writers out there get overlooked.

You can see the full list here. Congratulations to Cleave and all the other crime writers.