Sunday, June 16, 2019


LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman (Faber & Faber, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Cleo Sherwood disappeared eight months ago. Aside from her parents and the two sons she left behind, no one seems to have noticed. It isn't hard to understand why: it's 1964 and neither the police, the public nor the papers care much when Negro women go missing.

Maddie Schwartz - recently separated from her husband, working her first job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun - wants one thing: a byline. When she hears about an unidentified body that's been pulled out of the fountain in Druid Hill Park, Maddie thinks she is about to uncover a story that will finally get her name in print. What she can't imagine is how many lives she is about to ruin, or how many hearts she's about to break, by chasing a story that no-one thinks is hers to tell.

There are many different ways an author can grab readers from the very first page. Sometimes it's an intriguing first line that draws you in, sometimes it's a stark incident or piece of action that tractor-beams you straight into a propulsive narrative. And sometimes its something subtler but even more powerful (in the right hands): just the pure, mesmerising quality of the writing, the voice.

LADY IN THE LAKE, the latest standalone from the superb Laura Lippman, is a pretty great example of the latter. From the first lines we know we're in the hands of a master storyteller as we're enticed deep into 1960s Baltimore by the voice of Cleo Sherwood, a poor young black woman who's recalling the first time time she saw Maddie Schwartz, then a finely dressed Jewish housewife.

Maddie Schartz would go on to create a whole host of problems for a lot of people, including Cleo, who might have preferred to have been forgotten, despite all the tragedies in her young life.

Cleo and Maggie, two mothers in 1960s Baltimore, different in many ways but both shackled by prejudice. Both woman also hungered for more in their lives, and would risk a lot to chase it.

Perhaps too much.

Unlike Cleo, who goes missing and is rather forgotten and becomes the 'Lady in the Lake' when a body finally emerges from a fountain, Maddie Schwartz gets a chance to be more.

LADY IN THE LAKE follows a pivotal year in Maddie’s life as she flees her stable but stale marriage, trading affluence for independence, domesticity for a search for passion and meaning.

After helping the police find a missing white girl whose story filled the newspapers, Maddie is looking for another story to help her get a foothold in the male-dominated field of journalism, and turns her attention to Cleo, a black woman whose story has been left untold by the white press.

Lippman intercuts Maddie's narrative with rich vignettes, first-person perspectives from a variety of people that Maddie encounters along the way. These chapters really texture the novel and weave together to form a stunning portrait of Baltimore life in that era - the place and the people living in it.

The multiple perspectives also give the reader differing views on how Maddie and her efforts are seen by herself and others. Readers themselves may have mixed feelings about Maddie, and some of the decisions she makes. She is a complex, fascinating character, and has an interesting arc from bored and rather repressed housewife to independent, ambitious career woman unafraid of breaking rules. Throughout it all, Cleo lingers as a contemptful specter as Maddie throws stones into several ponds, oblivious to the dangerous ripples she may be creating in her pursuit of a story to make her name.

Overall, Lippman has forged a sublime, suspenseful tale that flows along so wonderfully that it perhaps obscures its own genius. I was reminded of watching a brilliant musician onstage, or perhaps a particularly special athlete on the field - in each case they can make things that are incredibly difficult look deceptively simple. There's a flow and ease because of their mastery, and we're so entranced but what we see or hear that it's easy to overlook the skill involved. Lippman is that level.

This is a stylish, rich tale from one of the crime genre's very best.

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. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019


CONVICTION by Denise Mina (Harvill Secker, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

Anyone who has read any of Denise Mina's books over the past 20 years knows that she's a highly talented crime writer. Her resume is packed with awards and accolades, and whether it's one her one of her three acclaimed series (Garnethill, Paddy Meehan, Alex Morrow) or inventive standalones like SANCTUM and THE LONG DROP, there's evidence aplenty that Mina is crime writing royalty.

After celebrating the twentieth anniversary last year of her striking debut GARNETHILL, Mina now underlines her versatile talents with this zesty new tale imbued with up-to-the-minute issues.

The main character in CONVICTION is Glasgow wife and mother Anna McDonald, who lives a fairly domestic existence with her lawyer husband Hamish and two young daughters. The comfort and safe banality masks Anna's past and very public trauma she suffered years before.

Now living under a new identity, Anna’s lukewarm reality is upturned in a single day when Hamish leaves her for her best friend, and she learns from a true crime podcast that an old acquaintance is dead. Even worse, a powerful woman who made Anna’s life hell could be involved in some way.

Untethered and desperate for a distraction, Anna becomes obsessed with the true crime podcast, and starts picking at the case of a luxury yacht that sank in the Mediterranean, finding an unlikely ally in the form of the anorexic ex of her former best friend. Pandora's Box opened, together they follow a trail from the Scottish Highlands to continental Europe, hunting for some sort of truth while visiting the hideaways of the rich and the wretched and trying to stay ahead of some very dangerous people.

There are so many things to love about CONVICTION. First and foremost for me, there's a real verve and sense of energy to Mina's storytelling, which blends gut-punch moments with great characterisation, a clever structure, and some nice touches of black humour. This fair hurtles along, and is one of those smile-inducing books even as its full of dark deeds.

CONVICTION is a whirlwind, in the finest way. 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. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


PAINTING IN THE SHADOWS by Katherine Kovacic (Echo Publishing, 2019)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Art dealer Alex Clayton and conservator John Porter are thrilled to be previewing the Melbourne International Museum of Art’s (MIMA) newest exhibition, until they witness a museum worker collapse and badly damage a reportedly cursed painting.

Belief in the curse is strengthened when MIMA’s senior conservator Meredith Buchanan dies less than twenty-four hours later while repairing the work. But Alex and John are convinced there is a decidedly human element at work in the museum.

The evidence sets them on the trail of a mysterious painting that could hold a key to Meredith’s death, and the stakes are raised higher when Alex is offered her dream job at MIMA. Damaging the museum’s reputation will jeopardise her professional future.

The friends soon realise they are facing an adversary far more ruthless than they had anticipated, and there is much more at risk than Alex’s career.

Katherine Kovacic's Alex Clayton series (all two books of them so far...) could be used as a teaching tool for aspiring Australian crime novelists on achieving balance between personal backstory and plot, and how to craft a realistic strong female lead character, because they are both extremely good examples of that and much more. There's always been a bit of chatter about second novel syndrome and it's hard to ignore as there have been some amazing debuts followed up by something that's not as strong, confident or unsurprisingly as original, but PAINTING IN THE SHADOWS has none of the syndrome symptoms, and all of the impact of the initial novel.

I wasn't sure where Kovacic would take Clayton, her best friend John Porter, and their art-world based shenanigans in this second novel. The collapse of a museum worker, damage to a cursed painting and the death of a senior conservator is the perfect scenario pulled off with considerable aplomb (helped by Kovacic's obvious knowledge of art history), combining wit, some personal and professional angst and enough personal jeopardy to make the whole thing believable, tense and perfectly balanced between plot and character, personal and professional, career and relationships.

Alex is from the prone to wisecrack her way through life category of accidental PI's, and her career has been directly impacted by past events at MIMA which are hinted at early, and expanded as the plot moves forward. Porter on the other hand, is a respected freelancer whose expertise is needed when one of the centrepieces of a new exhibition - the cursed painting - is damaged in an accident. This gives him an in to the backrooms of the museum and it's here that together they uncover a very odd photograph and a startling discovery. Fraud is not unknown in art circles, and this one appears to have big implications in the Australian art world in particular, although finding the perpetrator isn't as easy as you'd hope as there's more than enough red herrings stinking up the place to provide confusion, and that aforementioned jeopardy. Clayton and Porter are a great pairing, and the idea that they are mostly just old friends with a propensity to be a bit nosy is an elegantly simple device to get them "into" an investigation.

When reviewing the first novel (THE PORTRAIT OF MOLLY DEAN) I noted that the real-life subject of the portrait - Molly Dean - and Alex Clayton had a few similarities. Both strong, determined individuals and whilst Porter might not have quite as much of either of those qualities, the friendship between he and Clayton feels real and genuine. Mind you, the original review also mentioned both women could be daft and clever all at the same time, and it certainly feels like Porter's stepped into that aspect of the personality match quite happily.

After two books, the Alex Clayton Art Mystery series is shaping up to be one of the good ones. Make sure you read them both if you've not had the pleasure before. Oh, and a hat tip to the cover designer Nada Backovic, it's an absolute stunner.

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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019


ALL THAT'S DEAD by Stuart MacBride (HarperCollins, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Inspector Logan McRae was looking forward to a nice simple case – something to ease him back into work after a year off on the sick. But the powers-that-be have other ideas…

The high-profile anti-independence campaigner, Professor Wilson, has gone missing, leaving nothing but bloodstains behind. There’s a war brewing between the factions for and against Scottish Nationalism. Infighting in the police ranks. And it’s all playing out in the merciless glare of the media. Logan’s superiors want results, and they want them now.

Someone out there is trying to make a point, and they’re making it in blood. If Logan can’t stop them, it won’t just be his career that dies. 

Stuart MacBride has built a strong crime writing reputation on his adroit blending of gruesome crimes and gallows humour, delving into dark places without dwelling too long without a laugh or two in the pages too. (I've thoroughly enjoyed his books since I came across his first Logan McRae tale, COLD GRANITE, a decade or so ago.)

Sometimes those strong threads of brutality and banter can make it easy to overlook that MacBride has also got a really great touch for memorable characters and fascinating character relationships in his storytelling, and textures his tales with some nice evocation of setting and relevant social issues.

All of that is well on show in his twelfth novel starring Aberdeen detective Logan McRae.

In ALL THAT'S DEAD, McRae is welcomed back to Professional Standards a year after being stabbed with a case that could be a career killer. A right wing ranter has vanished, leaving only bloodstains on his kitchen table. Professor Wilson has plenty of people who don't like him - for his personality as much as his viewpoints - but who would cross over to violence? With rumours circling about lead detective DI King’s youthful ties to violent nationalist groups, a still-recovering McRae has to shadow the tinderbox investigation while tiptoeing through police infighting and waiting for a journalist to toss his unpinned grenade into the mix. Carnage is hovering for all involved.

This is an intense tale that's a terrific page-turner while also addressing how bitter politics and zealotry of any shade can lead to violence when beliefs are glorified beyond human life. MacBride delivers plenty of humour to leaven the dark deeds and weighty issues; McRae’s interactions with colleagues such as DS Steel and DC “Tufty” Quirrel are a particular highlight.

For those who've followed the series from the start, it's smile-inducing to see the ongoing evolution of the McRae-Steel dynamic, from their reversal of police hierarchy to their unusual personal ties.

Overall, ALL THAT'S DEAD is an engrossing read from a master storyteller who is much more than just blood and guts with some laughs.

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, June 7, 2019

Young offenders, criminal histories: 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award longlist revealed

Young offenders, criminal histories: 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award longlist revealed

An extraordinary literary tag-team is among several tales inspired by historic events to be named today on an eclectic longlist for the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.

“It’s surreal and strangely fitting that in our tenth season of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and almost forty years after Dame Ngaio’s passing, our judges are considering a story that she began writing herself during the Second World War,” says founder Craig Sisterson.

The Dame faces plenty of stiff competition for this year’s prize, with several award-winning authors on the longlist for the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.

“Our international judging panel faces quite a challenge this year, that’s for sure,” says Sisterson. “Along with Stella Duffy’s brilliant resumption of Inspector Alleyn, we have superb fictional explorations of real-life crimes from another local Dame and a past Ngaios winner, exciting new tales from past finalists, and several hard-hitting stories about young people.”

The Ngaio Marsh Awards have celebrated the best New Zealand crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writing since 2010, and this year’s longlist runs the gamut of settings from rural New Zealand to New York City, time periods from the 1940s to modern day, and themes ranging from teen bullying to societal discrimination and the verisimilitude of memory.

The longlist for the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel is:
  • NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU by Nikki Crutchley (Oak House Press)
  • CASSIE CLARK: OUTLAW by Brian Falkner (OneTree House)
  • THIS MORTAL BOY by Fiona Kidman (Penguin)
  • MONEY IN THE MORGUE by Ngaio Marsh & Stella Duffy (HarperCollins)
  • THE QUAKER by Liam McIlvanney (HarperCollins)
  • CALL ME EVIE by JP Pomare (Hachette)
  • THE STAKES by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)
  • MAKE A HARD FIST by Tina Shaw (OneTree House)
  • THE VANISHING ACT by Jen Shieff (Mary Egan Publishing)
  • RAIN FALL by Ella West (Allen & Unwin)

The longlist is currently being considered by a judging panel of crime, thriller, and suspense writing experts from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The finalists will be announced on 2 August, along with the finalists for the Ngaio Marsh Awards for Best First Novel and Best Non-Fiction. All the finalists will be celebrated, and the winners announced, as part of a special WORD Christchurch event on 14 September.

For more information on this year’s longlist, or the Ngaio Marsh Awards in general, please contact founder and judging convenor Craig Sisterson,

Sunday, May 19, 2019

McIlvanney and McDermid among outstanding Theakstons shortlist

This morning (BST) the shortlist for the prestigious Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award was revealed, with six outstanding crime reads chosen from a very strong 18-book shortlist.

Among the shortlisted authors is Liam McIlvanney, a University of Otago professor and past winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award (in 2014 for Where The Dead Men Go), for THE QUAKER, a tale which "uses a lightly fictionalised version of the real-life Bible John killings as a launch-pad for a textured, nuanced crime novel with a vivid sense of time and place" (New Zealand Listener, 100 Best Books).

The full shortlist is:

Bauer is a previous winner of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award (RUBBERNECKER, 2014) was also longlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize for SNAP. 

Inspired by the murder of a pregnant woman, Marie Wilks, on the M50 in 1988 (the real-life crime remains unsolved), SNAP became one of the very few crime-genre novels ever to be considered for the Man Booker prize. The judges described it as “an acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma.”

THIRTEEN is the latest Eddie Flynn courtroom thriller by Steve Cavanagh, hailed by Ian Rankin for “plotting that takes the breath away.” Cavanagh is an Irish lawyer and author born and raised in Belfast. Thirteen offers an original twist on the courtroom thriller, where the serial killer isn’t on trial – he’s on the jury.

Both Mick Herron and Val McDermid were shortlisted for last year's Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year (won by Stav Sherez for THE INTRUSIONS). McDermid last won Crime Novel of the Year in 2006. The No 1 bestseller and ‘queen of crime’ could reclaim the title with her latest, BROKEN GROUND. The Karen Pirie thriller digs up a secret buried for 70 years in a Highland peat bog and has been praised for its "masterly handling of pace and plot". McDermid has won many awards including in the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award in 2016.

Mick Herron’s widely acclaimed Jackson Lamb novels have been shortlisted twice for the Crime Novel of the Year and LONDON RULES puts him back in the running: the fifth outing for the misfit disgraced band of spies at Slough House with the backdrop of Brexit Britain and a terror plot. 

Dubbed ‘the UK’s new spy master’ by the Sunday Times, Herron’s writing was praised by critic Barry Forshaw for, “the spycraft of le Carré refracted through the blackly comic vision of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.”

THE QUAKER by Liam McIllvanney has already scooped the 2018 McIlvanney Prize which was named to honour his father, the late ‘godfather of tartan noir’, William McIlvanney. Liam, an author and a professor of Scottish studies in New Zealand, set THE QUAKER in Glasgow in 1969 drawing on the real-life, never-caught serial murderer Bible John.

The only debut author on the list is that of Senior IT Officer turned novelist, Khurrum Rahman, with his first novel, EAST OF HOUNSLO.  Mixing edgy humour and pulse-racing tension, Khurrum was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger Award 2018. East of Hounslow follows his young hero Jay, a dope dealer who ends up reluctantly working undercover for MI5 while undergoing radical Islamist training. Khurrum lives in Berkshire with his wife and two sons.

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: 
“All shortlisted authors are deserving of the title, but there’s only one Novel of the Year. The public vote will be invaluable, readers have real power, so I’d encourage everyone to make their voice heard - it’s free and simple to vote online. It will be fascinating to see which of these remarkable titles prevails, all are simply outstanding.”

Shortlisted titles will feature in a dedicated online campaign with WH Smith and a nationwide library promotion. The overall winner will be decided by the panel of judges, alongside a public vote that opens on 1st July and closes on 14th July at

The winner of the award, run in partnership with T&R Theakston Ltd, WH Smith, and the Mail on Sunday, will be announced on the opening night of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival on 18th July. The awards ceremony, hosted by Mark Lawson, will also reveal the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Outstanding crime fiction shortlisted for 2019 Petrona Award

Six outstanding crime novels from Denmark, Iceland and Norway have been shortlisted for the 2019 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, announced today.

  • THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)
  • THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)
  • THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)
  • THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin Random House; Iceland)
  • RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)
  • BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)

"We faced a challenging but enjoyable decision-making process when drawing up the shortlist," said the Petrona judges. "The six novels selected by the judges stand out for their writing, characterisation, plotting, and overall quality. They are original and inventive, often pushing the boundaries of genre conventions, and tackle highly complex subjects such as mental health issues, the effects of social and emotional alienation, and failures of policing and justice."

The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 11 May during CrimeFest, held in Bristol on 9-12 May 2019. The winning author and the translator of the winning title will both receive a cash prize, and the winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at CrimeFest 2020.

"We are extremely grateful to the translators whose expertise and skill allows readers to access these gems of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction," said the judges.

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year. The Petrona team would like to thank sponsor David Hicks for his continued generous support of the Petrona Award.

Here are the judges comments on the shortlisted titles.

THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)
Kjell Ola Dahl has achieved international acclaim for his ‘Oslo Detectives’ police procedural series, of which The Ice Swimmer is the latest instalment. When a dead man is found in the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour, Detective Lena Stigersand takes on the investigation while having to deal with some difficult personal issues. With the help of her trusted colleagues Gunnarstranda and Frølich, she digs deep into the case and uncovers possible links to the Norwegian establish-ment. Once again, Dahl has produced a tense and complex thriller, with his trademark close attention to social issues. 

THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)
Winner of the prestigious Riverton Award and Glass Key Award for Nordic crime, Karin Fossum is a prolific talent. The Whisperer focuses on the case of Ragna Riegel, an unassuming woman with a complicated emotional history, who has recently been arrested. As Inspector Konrad Sejer delves into her psyche in the course of a claustrophobic interrogation, Fossum slowly reveals the events leading up to Ragna’s crime. This is a highly assured mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, which really gets to the heart of one woman’s mental turmoil, and how easy it is for an individual to become unmoored from society.

THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)
Jørn Lier Horst’s ‘William Wisting’ novels are distinguished by their excellent characterisation and strong plots. In The Katharina Code, a dormant investigation is reopened when police focus on a missing woman’s husband and his possible involvement in an earlier, apparently unconnected case. Wisting, who has long harboured doubts about the man’s innocence, becomes a somewhat unwilling participant in the surveillance operation. This finely plotted thriller with a strong sense of unresolved justice shows how Lier Horst is as comfortable writing about rural landscapes as urban settings.

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin Random House; Iceland)
In Ragnar Jónasson’s The Darkness, the first in the ‘Hidden Iceland’ trilogy, a Reykjavík policewoman on the brink of retirement looks into a final case – the death of Elena, a young Russian woman, which may mistakenly have been labelled a suicide. As much a portrait of its flawed investigator, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir, as of the investigation itself, the novel explores themes ranging from parental estrangement and the costs of emotional withdrawal to the precarious status of immigrants trying to make their way in a new land. The novel’s ending is bold and thought-provoking.

RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)
Ane Riel’s Resin is an ambitious literary crime novel with a remote Danish setting. Narrated mainly from the perspective of Liv, a young girl, it tells the story of three generations of one family, while exploring the complicated factors that can lead individuals to justify and commit murder. Other narrative voices – such as those of Liv’s mother and a neighbour – provide further nuance and depth. A moving meditation on the consequences of social isolation and misguided love, Resin is an innovative novel that offers its readers a keenly observed psychological portrait of a close-knit but dysfunctional family.

BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)
In this highly acclaimed, long-running series, former social worker turned private investigator Varg Veum solves complex crimes which often have a strong historic dimension. In Big Sister, Veum is surprised by the revelation that he has a half-sister, who asks him to look into the whereabouts of her missing goddaughter, a nineteen-year-old trainee nurse. Expertly plotted, with an unsettling, dark undertone, this novel digs deep into Veum’s family past to reveal old secrets and hurts, and is by turns an absorbing and exciting read.

The Petrona Award judges are:

  • Jackie Farrant – crime fiction expert and creator of RAVEN CRIME READS; bookseller for eighteen years and a Regional Commercial Manager for a major book chain in the UK.
  • Dr. Kat Hall – Editor of CRIME FICTION IN GERMAN; translator and editor; Honorary Research Associate at Swansea University; international crime fiction reviewer at MRS. PEABODY INVESTIGATES.
  • Sarah Ward – Author of the DC Connie Childs crime novels set in the Derbyshire Peak District (Faber and Faber). New Gothic thriller THE QUICKENING (Trapeze) under the name Rhiannon Ward coming February 2020. Crime fiction reviewer at CRIMEPIECES.

Further information can be found on the Petrona Award website.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Hungry Caterpillars and Volcano Views: an interview with Nathan Blackwell

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to another instalment of 9mm, the 210th overall edition of our popular and 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 crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, 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 a fresh voice in antipodean noir, Nathan Blackwell, to Crime Watch. A man of mystery, Nathan Blackwell is the pseudonym of a former undercover cop and police detective in New Zealand, who has written an outstanding debut crime novel, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE, which was published by Orion in the UK and beyond last week. It's a masterful tale about Detective Matt Buchanan's descent into the abyss over the course of his twenty-year career, as he's haunted by the disappearance of a young woman from his earliest days as a cop, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE has garnered terrific reviews, and is particularly praised for its authenticity.

It was originally self-published in New Zealand, and garnered great reviews and media coverage due to the quality of the storytelling and its grim look into the realities faced by, and impact on, law enforcement when they're dealing with violent crime and constant stress throughout their careers.

The book went on to become a finalist in two categories of the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards, with the judges saying THE SOUND OF HER VOICE had "everything you want in a book about a cop who realises the system sometimes can't mete out the right justice" and that the book "probes what exposure to violent crime does to those who investigate the worst of human behaviour".

Following the release of THE SOUND OF HER VOICE in the UK, Nathan Blackwell will be appearing onstage at Newcastle Noir on 5 May - a great chance for crime fans to learn more about this mysterious author who's burst onto the crime scene with a really strong, gritty debut.

But for now Nathan Blackwell becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Batman. Hands down. He's human, he's got a pretty dark backstory, and he doesn't have any super powers. I've enjoyed him since I was a kid through until Christopher Nolan's trilogy and beyond. Always something new, but you know what you're getting.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The Hungry Caterpillar. Man, that guy could eat! But I think the Famous Five, the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators were the first books I really got into as a kid. It was the adventure that grabbed me, and the idea of having a mystery to solve. I guess they made an impression!

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Absolutely nothing ... I nearly failed English at high school. Couldn't write essays or fiction to save myself. But I think my problem was I needed to write about something I was into ... something that I knew a bit about, and a genre I enjoyed.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I don't get to do any of these as much as I'd like ... lack of time and money get in the way! But I love getting out into the bush, I love scuba diving (anything on or in the water really), and I have a private pilot's licence so flying would be number one. Aviation has been in the blood since I was a kid, and being up in the air is like nothing else.

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?
It is definitely in the tourist brochures, but c'mon it's Auckland, not Rome! Take the ferry to Rangitoto island and walk to the summit. Do one better and kayak, and include a sunset in your trip. The view of Auckland city and the Hauraki Gulf from the top of the old concrete bunker on the summit is incredible.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Eric Bana or Christian Bale. They're both handsome guys. No seriously ... probably Marlon Brando, Carey Grant, or Humphrey Bogart. Because to be playing me, in a movie about me, things would have to be pretty dire. As in you'd already be dead.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
Definitely my fifth form English essay where I misquoted something from King's 'Stand By Me' in a question about Piers Paul Read's 'Alive'. I mean they're pretty similar stories. Same genre. Same everything really.

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?
When Mary, Sophia and Anna from Mary Egan Publishing took on the project and gave me some great feedback, I was blown away just thinking that other people liked it! Seeing it on the shelves was odd ... I felt like an imposter next to people that could truly write. When the book was picked up by Orion, and Craig phoned me to give me the news ... I think I s**t my pants.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
The time my girlfriend went up to Lee Child at a book signing in Auckland, and said "Hi Lee, enough about you, see that guy in front of me whose book you just signed? He's an author too. You should read his book." How embarrassing.

Thank you Nathan. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

Nathan Blackwell will be appearing on the 'Do You Come From A Land Down Under' panel at Newcastle Noir at 11.30am on Sunday 5 May. His highly acclaimed debut, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE, is now widely available in ebook, audiobook, and trade paperback. Check it out at your favourite bookstore.