Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Entries are now open for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards

Three-time Ngaio winner Paul Cleave with
publisher Kevin Chapman (cr: Upstart Press)
Last August at WORD Christchurch, Paul Cleave walked away with his record third Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, for the outstanding psychological thriller TRUST NO ONE, while Ray Berard took out Best First Novel for the terrific debut INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE (which was also a finalist for Best Crime Novel).

You can read my feature in the Sunday Star-Times about the winners here, or an in-depth interview with Ray Berard in The Spinoff here.

This week we've begun the process to discover who'll follow Cleave and Berard as Ngaio Marsh Award winners. Entries are now open for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards.

You can follow the progress of the awards, and get updates about events and various things, on Facebook here and on Twitter here. If you have any questions, leave a comment below, or email ngaiomarshaward[at]gmail[dot]com.

It looks like it will be a very interesting year for the judges, with Kiwi Noir (#yeahnoir) continuing to grow. Last year there were a record 29 books entered in the awards. This year there are 50 potential entries - and that's without any of the past winners in the running. Lots and lots of new blood.

I'm very grateful to everyone who supports the Ngaio Marsh Awards, in various ways. From our terrific judges spread all over the world, to bloggers and reviewers and publicists and those in the media. It's great to highlight the crime writing talent we have in our little country at the bottom of the world. New Zealand has always been a frontier place, a wild and young country out on the edge of the Empire, and we've definitely got authors stretching the boundaries of the crime genre in various ways. As well as just writing some of the best straight crime and thriller tales you'll find anywhere on the globe.

I'm looking forward to reading more of our recent Kiwi crime throughout the Ngaio Marsh Awards process, and will be highlighting some of the entries here on Crime Watch. I'm also very curious to see what will happen with the judging this year. Exciting times.

If you're a keen crime reader, perhaps look to pick up some #yeahnoir next time you're in a bookshop, library, or surfing your favorite online bookstore. I'm happy to provide some recommendations (past winners, finalists, and longlisted books from the Ngaios is a great place to start).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Bermuda scooters and Cambridge cemeteries: an interview with Peter Swanson

Welcome to the first Crime Watch post of the new year, and the latest issue of 9mm, our long-running author interview series. I apologise for the unexpected hiatus. I was back visiting friends and family in New Zealand, and Google's automated security measures seemed to think I was a hacker - new country, new device etc - locking me out while I was abroad (even though this blog was operated from New Zealand for several years).

Thankfully, everything is sorted now, so expect normal service to resume, including an exciting revamp of Crime Watch on the near horizon.

Today though, we're back with a bang! I'm very excited to welcome a truly outstanding crime writer to the 9mm ranks: Peter Swanson. I first met Peter, a Massachusetts native, in London two years ago when THE KIND WORTH KILLING, his Highsmith-esque sophomore thriller, was Book of the Month at Goldsboro Books. Although a relatively new crime writer then, he'd received plenty of acclaim and accolades for his debut, THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART, which had been a finalist for the LA Times Book Award.

There was a great buzz about Peter as a writer worth watching (and reading), which has only grown since. THE KIND WORTH KILLING was a finalist for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, won the New England Society Book Award, was translated into 30 languages, and has been optioned for film adaptation. It's an exceptional thriller. Here's a snippet from my review:
This modern take on Patricia Highsmith's famed STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is a pulsating thriller of betrayal and love skewed, with plenty of extra twists to its tale. Swanson keeps the tension high, even as he switches perspectives between characters, and throws in some exquisite curveballs, taking the story beyond where you think given its set-up and initial hook. 
But this isn't just a well-plotted high concept book full of action and suspense - Swanson threads in some lovely prose and nuance, along with good depth of character to elevate THE KIND WORTH KILLING above most other big-name 'domestic suspense' and psychological thrillers out there.
A couple of years later, Peter Swanson returns with HER EVERY FEAR: a London art student who's suffered horrible trauma tries to find escape by house-swapping with a distant cousin in Boston, only to find herself caught up in a murder investigation that threatens her sanity, and perhaps her life.

Another intriguing set-up, and a book that's jumped right to the top of my TBR pile. But for now, Peter Swanson becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH PETER SWANSON

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Travis McGee, in the series of novels written by John D. Macdonald from the 1960s through the 1980s. He's a very unique hero, a salvage consultant who will help anyone get back what they've lost or had stolen from them in return for half of it. He lives on a houseboat in Ft. Lauderdale, drinks a lot of gin, and pursues a lot of women, but he is also philosophical, and toward the end of the series, almost melancholy.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The House With a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs. It was a very creepy book about a boy who goes to live with his uncle in an old house, and discovers many secrets. It wasn't the first book I read, but it was probably the first book I read and re-read many times.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
This would be a very long list, filled with all of the above. Many short stories, hundreds of poems, and three complete novels, two of which were whodunits that featured an amateur sleuth who was also a struggling poet. The third unpublished novel was about a bridal party that are kidnapped and kept in a sealed garage on the day of the wedding.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love to walk, either in the country or in the city. My ideal day would be a long walk, a couple of hours spent reading, then drinks and a really nice dinner.

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?
I live just outside of Boston. Even though it's fairly popular with tourists, a walk down Charles Street to the Public Gardens is my favorite section of the city. A little less known is Mount Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, which is the first garden cemetery in the country, and a great place to visit.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
It would have to be someone very good because my life is quite dull and they would need to make it interesting. How about James McAvoy.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
My favorite is Her Every Fear because it's my most recent, although my favorite character I've ever written is Lily Kintner from The Kind Worth Killing.

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 was actually in Bermuda with my wife on a vacation when I got the call from my agent that he'd sold my book. It was an amazing moment. We skipped the champagne and went straight to the Dark'n Stormys. I also turned in the scooter that I had rented because I was scared I was going to kill myself on it, and I didn't want to die right after getting a book deal.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?

Listening to a woman tell me how a character I'd written was exactly like her. What made that particularly strange (and frightening) was that the character she was talking about was a serial killer.


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

HER EVERY FEAR by Peter Swanson is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

You can read more about Peter at his website, or follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

12 Books of Xmas: My Best Reads of the Year

It's that time of year again, where we look forward to the festive holidays while also looking back at the year that's past. I hope y'all have a wonderful holiday season with your loved ones, whether you're tucked up warm in the northern hemisphere or slapping on the sunscreen down south. As for me, I'll be splitting time between my current home (London) and my always-home (New Zealand), doing some volunteering with the homeless and then catching up with friends and family.

There are plenty of 'best books of the year' lists flying about at the moment, and it's great to see good and great crime novels being highlighted.

I've contributed to some such lists, for a couple of different publications (you can see my picks for the New Zealand Book Council here), but for my own personal list here on Crime Watch, I'm taking a Christmas approach, and a different angle. (You can see my Gr8ful Eight list from 2015 here)

So over the next 12 days, I'll be updating this post by revealing one terrific book a day until I complete my best reads of the year, my 12 Books of Xmas. I'm tempted to include some fantastic kids books, since I've been reading a lot of them to my daughter this year, but will stick with crime. I'll update the image above as each present is opened each day too.

It's been a great year of reading - I'm approaching 170 books read, including several dozen crime novels. There are plenty of cracking books I haven't got to yet, some of which may have elbowed their way onto this list if I had. So with apologies to those who haven't made it, and without further ado, let's dive right into the 12 Books of Xmas.

On the first day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
REDEMPTION ROAD by John Hart (Thomas Dunne Books)
I had sky-high expectations going into this - John Hart was a double-Edgar winner who'd seemed to me a potential heir apparent to James Lee Burke for the title of 'greatest living crime writer'. Hart's earlier tale, THE LAST CHILD, is on my short-shortlist of the best crime novels of the past decade.

After a five-year hiatus, Hart didn't disappoint. REDEMPTION ROAD is a powerful, intoxicating tale that manages to be both skin-crawlingly disturbing and achingly beautiful at the same time. Elizabeth Black is a hero-cop to some, psycho-cop to others after unloading 18 shots into two black suspects while rescuing a young girl. Former cop Adrian Wall has a body and mind full of scars after 13 years in prison for a killing he says he didn't commit. A young boy burns for revenge, a young abductee tries to recover, and an even greater darkness stalks the county.

Filled with a vivid cast of chasm-deep characters, REDEMPTION ROAD is a tour de force of Southern Gothic storytelling, a potent concoction of tense thriller, atmospheric evocation of the rural Carolinas, and literary mastery. It's elegant, lyrical, and absorbing. Deeply satisfying as a crime novel and a very fine piece of literature. This book just got under my skin, becoming a stay-up-all-night page-turner even though Hart doesn't resort to staccato chapters, ticking clocks, or other gimmicks.

Smooth and full of depth, this is a well-aged, handcrafted, small-batch bourbon of a crime novel.


On the second day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
AFTER YOU DIE by Eva Dolan (Vintage)
I'd heard very good things from fellow reviewers about Dolan's crime writing, so was excited to finally dive into one of her Zigic and Ferreira tales this year.

AFTER YOU DIE, the third in Dolan's series starring the Hate Crimes detective duo, is a superlative example of modern British crime writing. Dolan combines gripping plotting with intriguing characters and extremely topical, if harrowing, social issues. Ferreira is back at work after being severely injured on duty, and she and Zigic investigate the brutal murder of a woman who'd made several complaints about harassment of her disabled daughter in the past. While the mother lay dead downstairs, the daughter was left to starve.

Dolan isn't afraid of delving into some dark areas of modern society, and tackling tough, controversial issues head on. The quality of her writing means doing so doesn't feel schlock, or for mere effect, but instead organic and a natural part of the unfolding story. AFTER YOU DIE is beautifully written, and for me, it cements Dolan as an extraordinary voice in British crime, and a must-read for crime fans.

On the third day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Thursday 15 December 

On the fourth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Friday 16 December 

On the fifth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Saturday 17 December 

On the sixth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Sunday 18 December 

On the seventh day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Monday 19 December 

On the eighth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Tuesday 20 December 

On the ninth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Wednesday 21 December 

On the tenth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Thursday 22 December 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Friday 23 December 

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Santa gave to me: 
To be revealed Saturday 24 December 



Have a very merry Christmas everyone! I hope your holidays are filled with good times, good food, great people, and maybe a good book or two. Best wishes to all.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Sneak Peek: MARLBOROUGH MAN

Today award-winning crime writer Alan Carter has revealed the cover and backcover blurb for his upcoming fourth crime novel, MARLBOROUGH MAN. It is Carter's first novel set in New Zealand, where he now lives, and is a standalone. His first three books featured Asian-Australian detective Cato Kwong,

Carter took part in the Murder in the Library event in Nelson earlier this year, alongside fellow Top of the South resident Mike Ponder, and two-time Ngaio Marsh Award finalist Ben Sanders.

The scenic beauty of the Marlborough Sounds, an area Carter now calls home, provides the backdrop for this upcoming thriller, which will be released by Freemantle Press in mid 2017.

Here's the backcover blurb:

"If New Zealand is God's work, it is unfinished. It's still finding its place and its shape in the universe. I know the feeling. 
Sergeant Nick Chester is in hiding after an undercover job gone wrong. If the rivers aren't flooded and the land hasn't slipped, the Marlborough Sounds can be paradise. Unless a ruthless man with a grudge is coming for you, in which case remote beauty has its own kind of danger. 
While Nick waits for his past to catch up with him, he and his colleague Constable Latifa Rapita spend their days patrolling for speeding motorists and trigger-happy hunters. But there's a predator at large, snatching children off the streets and it's not long before the press give him a name - the Pied Piper.  
Marlborough Man is a gripping story about being the hunter and the hunted, and about what happens when evil takes hold of a small town."

I'm really looking forward to reading this. I grew up in the Top of the South, just south of Nelson, and it's great to see a top crime writer setting a story in what is an intriguing area of magnificent natural beauty filled with an eclectic mix of people - from hippies and artisans to seasonal workers and big business moguls. Carter is a really good crime writer, and it's great to see him adding to #yeahnoir.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Men adrift in a world of violence: a 9mm interview with Neil Broadfoot

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. Earlier this year we hit the 150 interviews mark, and I took a moment to reflect on all the authors who have been interviewed thusfar (full list here), and where I could take 9mm in future.

If you have a favorite crime writer you'd love to see interviewed as part of the 9mm series, please do let me know, and I'll look to make it happen.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome Neil Broadfoot, a talented Scottish crime writer, to Crime Watch. I first met Neil at the Bloody Scotland festival in 2014, where he was part of the Scottish crime writers team that hammered their English counterparts the day after the independence vote fell short. Neil is an experienced storyteller - fifteen years as a journalist for local and national newspapers - but at that time he was a relative crime writing newbie, having just published his first novel, FALLING FAST.

FALLING FAST is an action-packed tale where journalist Doug McGregor investigates the grisly suicide of a victim who had connections to a prominent Scottish politician. It quickly established Neil as an exciting new voice in Tartan Noir, being shortlisted for both the Dundee International Prize and the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award. Neil has continued the adventures of Doug McGregor and his police contact DS Susie Drummond in THE STORM and ALL THE DEVILS.

And now, Neil Broadfoot becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH NEIL BROADFOOT

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
It’s difficult to single out one favourite, as I love crime fiction and many of the series out there. Like a lot or readers, my first exposure to a recurring character in crime fiction was Sherlock Holmes, and I still find myself going back to Baker Street from time to time; there’s a lyricism and pace to the writing that just lures you in. I also love Laidlaw and the trilogy written around him, McIllvanney really did blaze the trail for us all to follow and showed us just what a so-called genre novel could do as it delved into the human condition and the character of a man adrift in the world of violence.

Of the contemporary series characters that are going around, I’m a sucker for Craig Russell’s Lennox. A Canadian inquiry agent in 1950s Glasgow, he’s a damaged man with a quick wit and a shrewd eye. The books are superbly atmospheric and Lennox, along with the supporting cast, are fascinating, well-rounded characters.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Going all the way back, probably The Monster At The End Of This Book featuring Grover from Sesame Street, who undertook increasingly dramatic attempts to stop the reader from turning the pages to get to the monster. I was only about three or four, but I remember my gran reading in with (to) me, and she always made me laugh.

The first book that really had an influence on me as a writer was probably Carrie by Stephen King. I first found it as a bored 13 year old wandering the school library. And no, it wasn’t on a shelf, the librarian was reading it and I decided to, ah, borrow, it from her. It’s got its faults, but what hit me was the pace of the writing, you could almost feel the speed with which King hammered it out. It was the first time that a book hit me as a visceral experience, and it made me want to write something like that myself.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’ve always written and told myself stories, it’s just something that’s built into me. I suppose I followed a fairly well-worn path, starting out with short stories to test what I was capable of and ramping up to novellas and then books from there. I used to write a lot of horror, mostly on a bet with my oldest friend that I couldn’t write something that would terrify him. A bet, I should say, he lost!

I was a journalist for 15 years, so I’ve written more news stories and features than I care to remember, most of which are probably kicking around in paper libraries somewhere. And, like every writer, I’ve got a box full of jottings and half-finished ideas that I keep going back to.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
The majority of my time off is spent with my four dogs, two-year-old daughter and the world’s best wife.  But, away from them, I like to try and keep fit so I’m usually rattling around the gym. Like most writers I’m also an avid reader, so I try – and fail – to make a dent in my teetering to-be-read pile. Aside from that, my neighbour has been trying to get me involved in cricket for a few years now. I enjoy the training, but never get the time for a full game, so will have to try and change that!

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?
Book a room- and no, not in that way before you think it! Dunfermline is seen as a commuter town, the gateway to Fife after crossing the Forth and heading up to the East Neuk or St Andrews, which are the well-known tourist hot spots. But it’s sometimes forgotten that Dunfermline is the ancient capital of Scotland, and awash with history of its own. It’s also the home of Andrew Carnegie, arguably the world’s first true philanthropist, and his legacy can be seen around the town, especially in the gorgeous Pittencrieff Park, which is maintained by the Trust he set up in his name. So come, get a steak bridie, wash it down with a pint from the micro-brewery then take a walk around and lose yourself in the past for a while. Just watch out that you don’t bump into me, as I might well be wandering around the Park thinking out my latest book!

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I’m not sure any actor could fully convey the crippling self-doubt and trauma a writer goes through when they’re waiting for feedback on their latest book! Joking aside though, I’m not really good at visualising people in roles. For example, I have no idea what Doug or Susie  from the books look like. I know who they are, and how they’ll react to a situation, but I’ve never seen their faces. That said, if my rapidly dwindling hairline is anything to go on, Sir Patrick Stewart or Jason Statham would both have to be on the shortlist to star as me – poor sods!

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
The next one. That sounds like a line, but it’s true. I’m trying to improve with every book that I write, so hopefully I bring something new to the reader every time. That said, I’m proud of my latest. All The Devils. I really tried to up my game on this one, stretch myself as a writer, and the early indications and feedback I’ve received from other writers and readers seems to indicate I pulled the trick off, which is a relief!

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?
The first reaction was shock. I got a message from my now-publisher saying they “wanted to take things further” with Falling Fast, and the world just froze for me. See, I always wanted to be published so I could fulfil a promise I made to my gran when I was a kid, which was to dedicate my first book to her. I waited for years to make it happen, and then, suddenly, it did. I poured a very large whisky then went and wrote the dedication to her, which you can find in Falling Fast. And now, three books in, I’m still not used to seeing my name on the shelf!

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
One of the best things about being a writer, especially in crime, is going to the festivals and meeting other writers, reviewers and readers. There’s a real community feeling to it all, which is fantastic. There have been a few odd experiences over the last three years – meeting Lee Child, getting whisky with a chunk of raw ginger in it, finishing a really sweary rant at an event and looking down to see my day job boss smiling up at me and nodding along, being grilled by English lit students in Dundee with one of the worst hangovers of my life.

But by far the strangest was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year. They take photos of all the authors appearing then dot them around the Square for visitors to see.  I was doing an event with Michael J Malone and the photographer hit on the idea that we should have stockings over our faces. So there I am, me in one stocking leg, Michael in another, back to back and trying to glower at the camera as the flash blinds us. And two things hit me at the same time- I’m actually appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a published crime writer, and the take-home image a lot of people will have is of me with a stocking over my head. Crime writing is great, but sometimes it isn’t big on dignity!


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

You can read more about Neil Broadfoot and his books at his website, or follow him on Twitter

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review: THE DEAD DON'T BOOGIE

THE DEAD DON'T BOOGIE by Douglas Skelton

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A missing teenage girl should be an easy job for Dominic Queste – after all, finding lost souls is what he does best. But sometimes it’s better if those souls stay lost. Jenny Deavers is trouble, especially for an ex-cokehead like Queste. Some truly nasty characters are very keen indeed to get to Jenny, and will stop at nothing... including murder. As the bodies pile up, Queste has to use all his street smarts both to protect Jenny and to find out just who wants her dead. 

There's a lovely mix of darkness and light in the first instalment of Douglas Skelton's new series, which tips a fedora towards the classic California noir of Chandler, Macdonald et al, while still wearing a kilt. Full of wisecracking dialogue and moments that'll make you grin despite the violence and ratcheting tension, THE DEAD DON'T BOOGIE is a one-sitting kind of read that pulls you along into the chaotic world of ex-cokehead Dominic Queste, finder of lost souls.

Like some of those classic California noirs, THE DEAD DON'T BOOGIE is very stylistic in prose, dialogue, and events, which at first can seem a little affected rather than authentic. But once I settled into the rhythm of the tale I really loved it, and devoured the whole thing in a few short hours.

Skelton has a wry eye as a writer, and a skilful touch for blending thrills with sharp humour, as well as creating starkly memorable characters. Queste himself is an unusual but compelling hero, an ex-druggie who scrapes together a living as a private eye. His best friends are ex-enforcers with a passion for culinary arts, and he often finds himself offside with those on both sides of the law.

When Queste tracks down a missing teenager, that should've been the end of his assignment, but instead he's dumped into a Pandora's Box of violence and betrayals. Getting to ride shotgun with Queste is a lot of fun, as hurtles around from the coastal village of Saltcoats to the dingy backstreets of Glasgow, uncovering (and creating) mayhem. Violence abounds, but Skelton peppers in the laughs. I got the sense that THE DEAD DON'T BOOGIE would make a fantastic screen tale. I think readers who love films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or Layer Cake would love this read.

Some of the incidents in the book veer to the ridiculous at times, but it's delivered with such a sense of fun, and with an adroit touch, that that's never really a problem. Everything fits and is believable (if eye-popping and gasp-inducing) within the world of Dominic Queste that Skelton has crafted. The author keeps us readers on our toes with the unusual characters and surprising twists, and I raced to the end of the book with a grin on my face, firmly looking forward to meeting Mr Queste again.

Highly recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 160 crime writers, discussed crime writing at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia and on national radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ngaio's house & Godiva's bloodline: an interview with Jo Hiestand

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. Earlier this year we hit the 150 interviews mark, and I took a moment to reflect on all the authors who have been interviewed thusfar (full list here), and where I could take 9mm in future.

I have some further terrific interviews 'in the can' already, which will be published soon. Among them will be AK Benedict, Marnie Riches, and VM Giambanco, who all sat in the 'Big Green Chair' with me at Harrogate this year, so lots to look forward to. If you have a favorite crime writer you'd love to see interviewed as part of the 9mm series, please do let me know, and I'll look to make it happen. Requests welcome.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome Jo Hiestand to Crime Watch. A Missouri native but self-confessed Anglophile, Hiestand writes two crime series, both set in Britain. As well as being an author, she has been heavily involved in the mystery writing community as a teacher at St Louis Community College, founder and first President of the Greater St Louis branch of Sisters in Crime, member of Mystery Writers of America, and newsletter editor for a US-based Ngaio Marsh Society.

Hiestand's first-ever piece of published writing combined her love of travel and crime writing - a feature on visiting Ngaio Marsh's house in New Zealand, for Mystery Scene. Hiestand has a love of Golden Age British mystery writing, particularly from the likes of Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, and Josephine Tey, and this - combined with touring England as a singer - led to Hiestand setting her mystery novels in the UK. She has written nine novels in a series centred on DS Brenna Taylor and DCI Geoffrey Graham of the Derbyshire Constabulary, and another six featuring ex-cop Michael McLaren, who investigates and solves cold cases on his own. Peter Lovesy has called Hiestand's writing "atmospheric" with hallmarks of "immaculate research, attention to detail, and elegant style".

The seventh and eighth instalments in that series, AN UNWILLING SUSPECT and ARRESTED FLIGHT, will be released in 2017. But for now, Jo Hiestand becomes the 162nd author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH JO HIESTAND

1. Who is your favorite recurring crime fiction hero/detective, and what is it you love about him?
Without a doubt, my favorite is Ngaio Marsh's Detective-Chief Inspector  Roderick Alleyn. There are so many dimensions to him: he's aristocratic, intelligent, tenacious, well-mannered, and has a sense of humor that rises from the murder inquiry every so often. I think he's a refreshingly different sleuth due to his background and the environments/people he investigates. I'd say the country manor house plots drew me to the series at first, even though there were other such story settings by other authors, but they didn't call to me with the same magnitude that Alleyn did. I'd have to put his personality and the story settings down to Marsh's outstanding writing, so perhaps the mixture of all three elements developed my enthusiasm for Alleyn. Maybe add to that the wonderful character of Inspector Fox and Agatha Troy - both are realistically drawn. I'm envious of Marsh's talent for creating character sketches from a few sentences.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
My mother read to me when I was a child, but I guess the first book I read that I loved and that hooked me was the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles.  It has all the elements that I like and, whether coincidentally or not, I frequently use in my own books. I loved the eerie setting - bleak  moors, isolated great house, moody weather - and I liked the suspects limited to a handful of people who knew the deceased. That intrigued me, how people could harbor such intense anger or hatred or cunning, be known to the victim and yet the victim wasn't aware of that or the murderer's intent. That added to the mystery, the smiler with the knife under his cloak, as Chaucer put it. And though that roughly defines the cozy genre, I don't really write cozy mysteries, though I do like the closed setting, which I do employ. Of course, I loved the actual "Hound" story, too, but I think the elements intrigued me and stayed with me. From there I read Daphne du Maurier, the Bronte sisters, Mary Stewart, Alexander Dumas, to name a few. But Conan Doyle stuck with me.  I often wonder if first books influence all writers.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything): unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
In my young teen years, my sister and I, along with two next door neighbors, put on puppet shows for children's birthday parties and I wrote the scripts for those. I wrote a few mystery novel manuscripts in my twenties, but they never got farther than my desk and subsequent burial in the recesses of my closet. As an adult, I took a citizens police academy course, did a bunch of ride-alongs with police officers, and wrote an article about that experience, but the magazines and newspapers that I honored with the submissions didn't accept it for print. In 1996, when I returned home from my holiday in New Zealand, I wrote an article that was published in Mystery Scene magazine - I was the first visitor to the Ngaio Marsh House Museum. That was my first piece in print.  A year or so later, my hometown newspaper ran a contest one hot summer, asking for poems about the heat wave.  I did a parody on Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" and won first place (a hardy handshake and name in the paper). I then wrote an article about one of cats, and it was accepted for publication in a cat magazine. When the Ngaio Marsh Society came along, I wrote some pieces for that. I guess those bits bolstered my literary doubts, so I again tried my hand at a novel. I guess I don't have a large amount of unpublished short stories or articles since my goal was always to be a mystery novelist and I concentrated on that. But I still have those three fledgling manuscripts… somewhere. I'd sell 'em cheap…

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love to read, of course, and I enjoy music -- playing my guitar, listening to CDs, and attending music events. I've recently become addicted to researching my genealogy (which is good and bad - I've discovered I come by my aversion to nudity and love of chocolate honestly: my 47th great grandmother was Lady Godiva). Camping and photography are also pleasurable pursuits, as is feeding, watching and sketching my 'backyard menagerie' of birds, chipmunks, raccoons, etc.

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 some of the hundreds of music venues and listen to the live music. The area hosts a variety of styles, so you can find just about any music you like. Nothing beats listening to live music, in my opinion, and there are so many outstanding musicians here. I'd tell any music lover coming to St Louis to take in a performance at any of these spots. I think you'll be amazed at the diversity and quality of the music.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Wow, what a tough question to answer!  I know who I'd like to see portray my protagonist Michael McLaren and his sidekick Jamie Kydd if the books ever went to the silver screen, but I never thought of an actress portraying me. I guess Amanda Redman would be my choice. We've the same figure, same roundish face shape. and we're blondes… at least she was on 'New Tricks'!  If she can mimic the St Louis accent, she's perfect.

7. Of your writings, which is your favorite, and why?
Right now I'd choose the seventh McLaren mystery, An Unwilling Suspect. McLaren is on holiday in Cumbria, coming to grips with a personal problem. While there he becomes a suspect in a murder case. Through both of these aspects, the reader learns a bit more about him and hopefully is drawn closer to him. I like turning the tables on him, have him be the person under investigation instead of him being the investigator. I also like the "immediacy" aspect of the case vs. his usual poking into a cold case. And the ending is quite exciting, I think, involving Morecambe Bay. This book will be released in 2017.

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?
The magazine editor phoned to tell me that my Ngaio Marsh article was accepted. My hands shook as I recradled the phone. After a minute of doing a happy dance, I rang up my parents and my best friend. I think that was the extent of my celebration, though I may've downed a piece of chocolate! I enlarged on the celebration when my first novel came out, though. I had a party with a buffet lunch and cake, the top of which was iced to emulate the Union Jack. About two dozen friends came to join in my excitement. When I unpacked the box of books, in preparation for signing, I discovered the printer had slipped my novel's dust jacket onto another author's book of poetry! And no, the poet didn't get any royalties from that shipment - I returned the books.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
It was an outdoor event.  I had a booth where I was selling my McLaren mysteries.  A guy with a dog comes up. The guy's got a cigarette jammed into his mouth and evidently is interested in looking at a book or two. He's holding the dog lead with his left hand. Well, he obviously wants to pick up a book and thumb through it but he doesn't want ash drifting down from the cigarette in his mouth, coating my books.  So how does he solve this dilemma? He removes the cigarette from his mouth, crams it into his pocket, and proceeds to peruse the novels. It doesn't take long before I notice smoke coming from his pocket and the fabric turning a dark brown color. I say, "Sir, I think your pocket's on fire." Of course he starts dabbing at the inferno. I hand him my bottle of water so he can take care of the inconvenience and safely continue his browsing. He bought a book, though whether it was in gratitude for my firefighting expertise or his interest in McLaren, I'll never know.


Thank you Jo, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

You can read more about Jo Hiestand on her website

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Review: THE KIND WORTH KILLING

THE KIND WORTH KILLING  by Peter Swanson (Faber, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson


Delayed in London, Ted Severson meets a woman at the airport bar. Over cocktails they tell each other rather more than they should, and a dark plan is hatched - but are either of them being serious, could they actually go through with it and, if they did, what would be their chances of getting away with it?

Back in Boston, Ted's wife Miranda is busy site managing the construction of their dream home, a beautiful house out on the Maine coastline. But what secrets is she carrying and to what lengths might she go to protect the vision she has of her deserved future?

This modern take on Patricia Highsmith's famed STRANGERS ON A TRAIN is a pulsating thriller of betrayal and love skewed, with plenty of extra twists to its tale. Swanson keeps the tension high, even as he switches perspectives between characters, and throws in some exquisite curveballs, taking the story beyond where you think given its set-up and initial hook.

But this isn't just a well-plotted high concept book full of action and suspense - Swanson threads in some lovely prose and nuance, along with good depth of character to elevate THE KIND WORTH KILLING above most other big-name 'domestic suspense' and psychological thrillers out there.

"Truthfully, I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing."
The hook is set early, as a man and woman meet at the airport bar in London, and their conversation takes a darker turn. Ted confesses his wife is cheating on him with a contractor working on their mansion, and jokes he'd like to kill her. Lily thinks certain people deserve to die, and seems willing to help. Serious, not joking. A set-up straight out of Highsmith, but Swanson makes it his own throughout the rest of the book, laying down twist upon twist upon twist as the story heads to the United States and he ratchets up the tension. The best laid plans go awry.

Flashbacks flesh out what we know about characters, shifting perspectives, suspicions, and understanding. Just why is Lily encouraging, even pushing Ted to take action? Who is playing who? The line between heroes and villains blurs, morphs, and flips. Swanson adroitly keeps us on our toes.

It's hard to talk about THE KIND WORTH KILLING with much specificity without giving too much away about the plot, which is very clever and well-thatched. Murders are planned, committed, and investigated. Tension builds well throughout. There are lots of twists, but even going into the book knowing that, Swanson still manages to surprise. The shifting perspectives between characters could be a clunky format in lesser hands, but Swanson writes with style and a deft touch.

Overall, this is an excellent thriller that's likely to elbow its way into your 'best reads of the year' list.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 170 crime writers, discussed crime writing at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson