Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: A FATAL THAW

A FATAL THAW by Dana Stabenow (1993)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

On her homestead in the middle of twenty million acres of national Park, Aleut PI Kate Shugak is caught up in spring cleaning, unaware that just miles away a man's sanity is breaking. When the sound of gunfire finally dies away, nine of his neighbors lie dead in the snow. But did he kill all nine, or only eight? The ninth victim was killed with a different weapon. It's up to Kate and her husky-wolf sidekick Mutt to untangle the life of the dead blonde with the tarnished past and find her killer. It won't be easy; every second Park rat had a motive. Was it one of her many spurned lovers? Was a wife looking for revenge? Or did a deal with an ivory smuggler go bad? Even Trooper Jim Chopin, the Park's resident state trooper, had a history with the victim. Kate will need every ounce of determination to find the truth before Alaska metes out its own justice....

I've been meaning to read Dana Stabenow's long-running Kate Shugak series for quite a while now, having heard good things, so when I had a wee breather between awards judging and other 'have-to' reads a little while ago, I snagged this one from my bookshelves and gave it a go. Very glad I did.

Kate Shugak is a fascinating main character. She is a native Alaskan, an Aleut, who used to work as an investigator for the District Attorney's office in Alaska's capital Anchorage before retreating from the mental, physical, and emotional wounds suffered in that job. She now calls a sprawling homestead in an Alaskan national park home, and works from there as a private investigator.

Stabenow writes a solid mystery, but the character of Shugak and the evocation of the Alaskan setting are the elements that elevate and differentiate A FATAL THAW among the crowd. As Spring blooms in Alaska, Shugak's small community is thrown into chaos when a mass shooting occurs, costing nine lives. Or that's how it seems at first - in fact one of the victims was killed by someone else.

Throughout Shugak's investigation, Stabenow brings the Alaskan setting to vivid life, both its landscapes and the people who call them home. This is a rural mystery with a real sense of frontier edge. Stabenow also does a good job taking readers into native culture with respect, alongside populating her mystery with a host of fascinating, eccentric characters you find in small towns.

Overall I really enjoyed this tale and will definitely be reading more of the Kate Shugak series.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Holds fast as peerless crime drama; Bosch Season 5 is masterful in many ways






















TV Review: Bosch, season 5 (Amazon Prime)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Fifteen months after bringing his mother's killer to justice, Bosch finds himself seeking the truth on two fronts. New evidence in an old case leaves everyone wondering whether Bosch planted evidence to convict the wrong guy. And a murder at a Hollywood pharmacy exposes a sophisticated opioid pill mill, sending Bosch down a dark and perilous path in pursuit of the killers.

From the writing to the acting to the cinematography, Season 5 of Bosch is another masterpiece of television crime drama. The series continues to march to its own beat, with long silences and ambient noise allowing the actors and emotional notes to breathe. No quick cuts and soaring soundtracks to artificially heighten tension here. The creators trust the material and the actors implicitly, and it shows. The story is delivered beautifully, masterfully.

Drawing heavily from Connelly's recent Bosch novel TWO KINDS OF TRUTH, season 5 sees Harry Bosch under pressure on multiple fronts, as an old case from his early days as a detective is challenged, threatening to return a killer to the streets and put Bosch's job and reputation in Jeopardy. Meanwhile Bosch and Edgar get entwined in an undercover operation to flush out violent killers who are running a pill mill scheme, harvesting from opiate addicts.

Of course, as with any Bosch season, there's a lot more going on too, within Hollywood homicide and beyond. There's so much to like about season 5; I won't spoil things by listing too many subplots and character arcs. Suffice to say it's pleasing to see the return of many familiar faces, who each play a part, along with some interesting new characters.

On the latter front, Honey Chandler's investigator Hector Bonner (Ryan Hurst of Sons of Anarchy & Remember the Titans), and Detective Christina Vega (Jacqueline Obradors of NYPD Blue) in particular stand out and bring a really nice energy to the already wonderful cast. Bosch's daughter Maddie (Madison Lintz) is growing into an even greater role, and her interplay with Harry, played note-perfectly again by Titus Welliver, is a key part of this season.

Bosch Season 5 is another wonderful ride, full of emotion and great characters. There's an authenticity to it, a realness that doesn't need to be overplayed or overhyped, intercut or otherwise artificially enhanced. Just great writing, great acting, and some great visual storytelling. The only flaw to Bosch is having to wait an entire year for the next season.

But with plenty of seeds planted, it'll be interesting to see just what book/s are used for Season 6. Perhaps, even, the addition of another major Connelly character? Worth staying up Late for this Show.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Roller disco deaths and the gendered nature of violence: an interview with Alafair Burke

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to another instalment of 9mm, the 209th overall edition of our long-running author interview series.

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you.

You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. If you've got a favourite writer who hasn't yet been featured yet, let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome the marvellous Alafair Burke to Crime Watch. A maestro of compulsive tales centred on strong and layered female characters, Alafair worked as a prosecutor in the American court system (she was a Deputy District Attorney in Portland) before embarking on a dual career as a law professor and New York Times bestselling crime novelist. With the release of THE BETTER SISTER this month, Alafair has now published 18 crime novels, including her series starring Portland prosecutor Samantha Kincaid, another series starring NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, several compelling standalones, and a few books in a series co-written with Mary Higgins Clark.

I had the pleasure of meeting Alafair in person and hanging out a little at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate last summer, where there was plenty of buzz about Alafair's book THE WIFE, an oh-so-relevant tale of a women with her own tragic past forced to deal with sexual misconduct allegations, and worse, against her highly successful and high-profile husband.

Alafair's new novel THE BETTER SISTER deals with another high-tension family situation that runs headfirst into criminal investigations, as a 'goody-two-shoes' younger sister ends up marrying her reckless older sister's ex and raising her nephew-stepson, only for the husband to be killed by an intruder and the estranged siblings being forced to reconnect as accusations swirl. "Mesmerizing…Burke paints a poignant portrait of sisterhood and sacrifice with this twist-riddled, character-driven whodunit," says Publisher's Weekly. That book is released in the UK tomorrow, 18 April.

But for now, Alafair Burke becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. She was the first series character who made me think, “Wow, I wish this person were real so she could be my friend, and we could meet for drinks after work.” That trick she always uses of putting known facts on index cards and moving them around to see them in a different light and to find the connections? I often do that as a way to organize my thoughts when I’m working on a novel.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. If you don’t know it, it’s the story of Claudia Kincaid, this bored suburban girl who takes off for New York City, her little brother in tow, because she thinks her parents are awful. They end up living as stowaways at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bathing in the fountain, pilfering coins from the wish fountain, and sleeping on the historic beds. In the meantime, they stumble upon an art-based mystery that can only be solved by researching the files of a rich, eccentric old woman. As a headstrong bored suburban girl yearning for something larger myself, I loved everything about this book. My husband, by the way, does security at the Met Museum, so I find that pretty funny.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I wrote little stories, almost all of them mysteries, when I was really young. My mother sent me one called Death at a Roller Disco. It starts, “I’ve seen so many killings come and go, but this is the most confusing. My name’s Bernice Blonstead and I’m a detective.” A bit derivative, but it at least had a consistent tone. As I got older, I focused more on academic and legal writing, though my prose was always relatively naturalistic compared to most legal documents. I decided to write my first novel when I had a summer off between leaving the prosecutor’s office and starting my academic career as a law professor. I realize now how insane it was to jump all in instead of biting off something smaller, but I wound up accidentally finding a long-term side hustle.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I like nothing more than hanging out with my husband, dogs, and our friends, preferably somewhere beautiful with great wine and food that sometimes I will want to cook. I love to play cards, do a jigsaw puzzle, or just sit around doing absolutely nothing in front of a fireplace or staring at the waves. I used to need constant activity, but my husband has taught me the joy of being chill, and we are lucky to have some truly terrific friends who understand how happy their absolutely sedentary company makes us.

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?
Sit on my sofa and watch Netflix with my dogs. See above. I kid. Most people will end up at or near Grand Central Station anyway, so be sure to stop by the whisper archway in the dining concourse, by Oyster Bar & Restaurant. From opposite ends of the archway, two people can whisper and the sound travels as if you’re right next to each other.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Constance Zimmer.  Explaining why would require too much talking about myself, but I love her work and the characters she has selected so far.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite or a little bit special for you, and why?
Ack, that’s like choosing your favorite kid, but harder because unlike many parents, I actually like all my books. (That was a joke, to be clear.) The recent trilogy (The Ex, The Wife, and The Better Sister) is important to me because of what I think the books have to say about the gendered nature of violence and abuse in our society, as well as the roles that women are expected to play in the lives of others. 

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 bookseller’s shelf?
I called my parents and told them about my first book deal after I’d reached an agreement with a publisher.  I think they were even more excited than I was, and I realized how special it was for them to have another writer in the family (my father is a writer). That felt pretty good, even though it wasn’t the reason I had done it.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Someone asked me to sign his book, “To Michael Connelly’s #1 fan.”


Thank you Alafair, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke is published by Faber & Faber on 18 April (£12.99)
You can read more about Alafair and her books at her website, and follow her on Twitter

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: THE DYING TRADE

THE DYING TRADE by Peter Corris (1980)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Hardy needs work. In fact, he's the type of detective who never turns down a case. He can't afford to. So when wealthy Bryn Gutteridge, a real estate heir who amuses himself by shooting seagulls, asks Hardy to find out who has been threatening his twin sister, Susan, the private eye agrees. And finds himself on a case that turns more brutal every day.

First Gutteridge's butler is murdered. Then his pretty young stepmother is badly beaten. Hardy himself takes a few punches. And before long it's hard to tell the victims from the villains.

The end of the Cliff Hardy series was announced when WIN, LOSE OR DRAW was released in 2017, and then with the subsequent death of Peter Corris, I made a promise to myself to re-read this excellent series, every year, during the Boxing Day Test, as I'd been doing with every new release.

The problem is I can't count and simple arithmetic defeats me, but even I've now managed to work out that 2020+41 = 2061. As I'm unlikely to still be alive in 2061, I'd better get a move on because I'm determined that I will re-read the Cliff Hardy series from start to finish before I too die. So, with fingers crossed on at least a few years left, that means a minimum of 2 books a year. Might make that 4 just in case.

In 1982 the Commodore 64 8-bit computer was released; Malcolm Fraser was PM and Bill Hayden was Opposition Leader; autobiographer Albert Facey died; the movies Monkey Grip and Running on Empty, as well as Far East were released (starring Bryan Brown who was also in the movie THE EMPTY BEACH, based on the Cliff Hardy novel of the same name); athlete Ian Thorpe was born and THE DYING TRADE was first published.

When Text Publishing re-released THE DYING TRADE in 2012 as part of their "Text Classics" series, they included a quotation from The Age:
‘A quintessentially Australian literary icon.’
That quote sums up the entire Cliff Hardy experience to a tee. Succinct and pointed, as all these novels are, Cliff Hardy is quintessentially Australian. From the Ford he drives, to the city he lives in, the pubs he drinks in, his propensity to wade in where others may have feared to tread, his dry, acerbic wit and laid back style, a propensity (in the early novels) to drink and smoke way too much, and his absolute refusal to age (gracefully or disgracefully). Cliff Hardy was always our Australian lone wolf, and over the 42 books in this series, he indeed became a literary icon.

THE DYING TRADE is an introductory novel. Right from the start it sets a standard that readers came to expect. It's pointed, it's dry, it's observational and it gets on with "it". Whatever "it" is, there are always some givens. Hardy will take a case that he probably shouldn't, he will care, he'll get a thumping along the way, he'll solve the case, he might even get the girl, but he'll lose her again, and he'll return to his small terrace house, park his Ford out the front, open a bottle of wine, stare at the walls and spend a few moments wondering about what could have been. Never long, never drawn out, never overly reflective.

Early 1980's Sydney is a world away from current day Sydney and yet in many ways it's not, and the Hardy series is a testament to the similarities and changes. Hardy is a product of this place, and he inhabits a world that Peter Corris seemed to love, understand and despair of. The descriptive elements of the novels are beautifully done, crisp, pointed, short, sharp, Corris was a master at the art of the precise and the pithy.

It's comforting to go back to the start of such a long series and see that right from the start there's the pattern, the style and the structure that carried forward for so many years. You can also see very clearly, after a long, drawn out battle to get publishers to take note and realise that we needed to hear stories in our own voices, set in our own locations, that they were bloody lucky to get the Cliff Hardy series.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Ngaio Marsh AwardsShe kindly shares some of her reviews of crime and thriller novels from Australian and New Zealand authors on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction. where this review was first published.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Review: BETON ROUGE

BETON ROUGE by Simone Buchholz, translated by Rachel Ward (Orenda Books, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of Germany’s biggest magazines. He’s soon identified as a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in a similar way. Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect . . . to the dubious past shared by both victims. Traveling to the south of Germany, they step into the hothouse world of boarding schools, where secrets are currency, and monsters are bred . . . monsters who will stop at nothing to protect themselves. 

Hamburg author Simone Buchholz combines slick storytelling with substance in this slimline tale centred on a hard-living public prosecutor. When I reviewed BETON ROUGE, my first taste of the Chastity Riley series, as part of my regular crime roundup for a print magazine in New Zealand, I compared the book to a straight shot of top-shelf liquor: "smooth yet fiery, packing a punch, with no extraneous ingredients watering things down."

That encapsulates things quite well, I think. BETON ROUGE is slick and flows smoothly without feeling insubstantial. There's depth here, a weight to the story even if the book isn't weighty in size. There's also a dark energy to the fast and furious tale; it's a fascinating and appetising slice of German Noir. And noir it is: the main character is pretty hardbitten and there's a melancholy, even a sense of despair, running throughout, while at the same time there's dry humour and razor-sharp prose that gives BETON ROUGE an interesting energy and keeps things from becoming depressing.

Buchholz has plenty of style in her storytelling. Along with translator Rachel Ward she writes in a way that's both lyrical and concise. Punchy but poetic, like a haiku more than a long saga.  Chastity Riley is a fascinating heroine - not always likable, but always compelling. Like the writing itself, she is razor-sharp and peppered with dry humour. Both Riley and the reader get taken to some dark, even brutal, places in BETON ROUGE, but Buchholz and Ward never make it seem gratuitous.

It's a little bit tricky to describe BETON ROUGE as it is quite unique and original, without feeling try-hard or having an obvious author hand forcing 'this is so different' onto the reader. It's just a really, really good crime novel that sparkles darkly, has a fascinating heroine, a great evocation of people and place, and a bit of a philosophical sense to it - while being more than the sum of its fine parts.

I'll certainly be reading more of Simone Buchholz and Chastity Riley.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Review: THE SHORT LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE FURLONG

THE SHORT LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE FURLONG by Kelly Dennett (Awa Press, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Jane Furlong was seventeen when she disappeared off Auckland City’s Karangahape Road - a notorious sex strip - in 1993. Her disappearance became a media frenzy, with Jane’s face and halo of fiery red hair emblazoned on newspapers and television screens across the country. It soon emerged she was to have been a witness at the trial of a wealthy businessman charged with sex crimes. The police identified a number of suspects. No one was charged. 

Nineteen years later a woman walking her dog on a beach an hour’s drive from Auckland made a gruesome discovery: a skull was poking through the sand. The body in the windswept dunes was found to be that of Jane. Kelly Dennett unveils the story of Jane’s life, her disappearance, the frantic and unsuccessful search to find her, the huge impact on her family and her partner (who rapidly became the police's main suspect), and the abiding mystery of her killer.

Humanity. If there's one thing that resonated to me throughout talented crime reporter Kelly Dennett's first book, it's a sense of empathy and shared humanity. A quarter of a century ago, Jane Furlong vanished from a notorious red light district in New Zealand's biggest city. Jane was a teenager, a mother to a young baby, a drug user, and a prostitute. You can imagine the headlines and some of the attitudes at the time (or still now) among the general public, media, and police.

Dennett does a superb job digging beyond the headlines and bringing us a much broader and more nuanced story of Jane's life before her disappearance, and the impact on those who knew or loved her of never seeing her again. This is a fascinating, very well written book about a tragic case that remains unsolved, even after Jane's body was found a few years ago. Most New Zealander's would at least vaguely recognise the name 'Jane Furlong', without knowing much if anything about her. As Dennett shows, Jane was much more than a headline snapshot of another hooker preyed upon.

There is a heck of a lot to like about this book. It flows wonderfully, and informs without ever feeling lecture-y or soap-boxy. It touches on a lot of broader issues, as well as personal ones.

I was a little surprised to see Dennett putting so much of herself into the story at times, sharing how affected she was by her research and her interviews and interactions with those who knew Jane well, as well as her rollercoaster journey writing the book. But it works, and is quite brave at times.

THE SHORT LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE FURLONG is a book that raises many questions about a variety of societal issues and the way people treat each other individually and in groups, while having the strong central question snaking throughout of 'whodunnit?'.

Jane's case remains unsolved, despite theories and possible suspects. Dennett canvasses a range of scenarios, letting the reader come to their own conclusions around what may have happened to Jane.

This is a very fine book about a Kiwi tragedy that unfortunately is not all that uncommon around the world. Far too many women like Jane have fallen prey to male violence. A heartbreaking tale where Dennett deals with the subject matter, and everyone involved, with compassion and authenticity.

A tale that shows the humanity behind the headlines, from an excellent writer.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Review: CALL ME EVIE

CALL ME EVIE by JP Pomare (Little Brown, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

For the past two weeks, seventeen-year-old Kate Bennet has lived against her will in an isolated cabin in a remote beach town--brought there by a mysterious man named Bill. Part captor, part benefactor, Bill calls her Evie and tells her he's hiding her to protect her. That she did something terrible one night back home in Melbourne--something so unspeakable that he had no choice but to take her away. The trouble is, Kate can't remember the night in question. 

The fragments of Kate's shattered memories of her old life seem happy: good friends, a big house in the suburbs, a devoted boyfriend. Bill says he'll help her fill in the blanks--but his story isn't adding up. And as she tries to reconcile the girl she thought she'd been with the devastating consequences Bill claims she's responsible for, Kate will unearth secrets about herself and those closest to her that could change everything

As we tick into the second quarter of 2019, one of the biggest thrillers of the year so far in Australia & New Zealand is being released in the US and the UK. CALL ME EVIE is a true slice of #SouthernCrossCrime (Australian & New Zealand crime writing) as it's set in both the bustling Australian city of Melbourne and a remote rural community in coastal New Zealand.

Plus the author himself has called both countries home, growing up on a horse farm in the Bay of Plenty before moving across the Tasman to Melbourne as an adult. As I interviewed JP Pomare for a large feature in the New Zealand Listener in January, I didn't review the book at the time, instead publishing a review from top Australian crime aficionado Karen Chisholm here on Crime Watch.

Given CALL ME EVIE has recently been published in hardcover in the USA and is about to be published in hardcover in the UK (already out in ebook, for British readers who can't wait), I thought I'd share a few of my own thoughts on this debut 'literary thriller' that's a pretty damned good read.

If unsettling tales delivered by an unreliable narrator are up your alley, then CALL ME EVIE is a book you should rush to. While JP Pomare now hails from the same locale as modern-day Australian queen of crime Jane Harper, to me CALL ME EVIE Pomare is a superb twist-filled chiller much more akin to the early novels of Gillian Flynn (eg DARK PLACES) than Harper's Outback tales.

Kate Bennet is a seventeen-year-old whose life has been turned completely upside down, though she can’t remember all the details of how or why. She thinks something very bad happened to her recently, and now she’s spent the past fortnight living far away from her suburban Melbourne home in a cabin in a seaside backwater in New Zealand. She's not there by choice. There’s a man who says he saved her and helped her escape after she did something terrible, and now he’s trying to nurse her back to health. Her memory is fractured, and he’s concerned about what she remembers, but is he trying to help her remember, or ensure she forgets? Can Kate trust him? Can she even trust herself?

Pomare adroitly shifts reads between present and past, between ‘before’ and ‘after’ the mysterious life-changing event which lies at the heart of Kate’s plight. But is the teenager a victim or a villain? Would it help or hurt if she could remember? CALL ME EVIE is nerve-jangling psychological thriller infused with literary flair, troubling characters, and a strong sense of place. The reader isn't quite sure where they stand, and there's some beautiful storytelling sleight of hand that feels natural and authentic, rather than forced. Even feeling suspicious throughout, Pomare manages to surprise, and builds to a courageous conclusion that eschews any 'pat' endings.

Overall, CALL ME EVIE marks the arrival of a strong new voice who offers something distinct and rather stand-out among the recent sea of psychological thrillers. Recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Review: THE PUMPKIN EATER'S WIFE

THE PUMPKIN EATER'S WIFE by Tannis Laidlaw (2017)

Reviewed by Rewa Vivienne

Is Murder Ever Right? Jeanie knows one thing. She can’t get away from her abusive husband. She tried. And failed. Has scars to prove it. So, what about doing something more … permanent? 

She plots; she plans. Each time he drinks, she watches and waits. Will he threaten? Belittle her? Disparage her? Roar at her? Grab whatever is handy and…? Or will he fall into one of his rare drunken stupors? Is murder ever right? Can Jeanie get the new life she so desperately wants? 

Domestic violence, both physical and psychological abuse, identity theft, HIV, immigration offences, an estranged child. This book has them all.

It is the story of a woman escaping a very bad marriage and carrying the knowledge she is a murderer. We follow her as she escapes to another country breaking many laws along the way as she attempts to make a new life for herself.

Predictably, it all works out well for her because she is our heroine. She gets the life she wants and the baddies get their comeuppance.  How she gets away, finds jobs and friends all seems a bit too easy to me but it keeps the story moving along and the pages turning, which is what we ask of thrillers.

At the beginning the author apologises to North American readers for using New Zealand English. Why? Do American authors ever apologise to us for using different spelling and syntax? Maybe this novel was aimed at the American market as the name refers to the American Nursery Rhyme “Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater”.

I would probably class this an airport novel.



This review was first published in FlaxFlower reviews, which focuses on in-depth reviews of New Zealand books of all kinds, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Flaxflower founder and editor Bronwyn Elsmore.