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

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Asterix in Scotland: an interview with Doug Johnstone

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, 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.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome multi-talented Scottish scribe Doug Johnstone to Crime Watch. I first met Johnstone thanks to the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival back in 2014, where he was a key part of Scotland's 13-1 victory over England in the football match. Luca Veste will still be having nightmares about how many goals Johnstone put past him... At last year's festival I saw Johnstone showing off his sublime musical talents at the Coo (you can find video evidence online, and he's also released two EPs). Throw in the fact he's got a PhD in nuclear physics, and it almost seems unfair that Johnstone is also a heck of a talented crime writer. His books have been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize and the Last Laugh Award, and he's been a #1 Amazon bestseller.

An accomplished freelance journalist, Johnstone's debut novel, TOMBSTONING, was released in 2006 and centered on a man who'd escaped his hometown after his best friend's mysterious death, only to return 15 years later for a school reunion, where another person to take a dive off the cliffs. Last week Johnstone's eighth novel, CRASH LAND, was published. A psychological thriller set in Orkney, where a man who's looking to escape has his life upturned after stepping in at the airport to help a 'mysterious and dangerous' woman from some unwanted attention.

But for now, Doug Johnstone becomes the 161st author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH DOUG JOHNSTONE

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I’m not really one for heroes or detectives, as it happens, and in general I prefer stand alone stories to series, so that’s a bit of a tough question! But I’m a huge fan of James Sallis, and I think his John Turner trilogy of books is just about perfect writing. Across three books – Cypress Grove, Cripple Creek and Salt River – Sallis creates this brilliant, amazingly deep character, an ex-army, ex-cop, ex-con, ex-therapist, just trying to hang on to whatever life he has left in a small town outside Memphis. These are crime novels full of existential doubt and longing, all about how we live our lives and how we fit into the world. Amazing stuff.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I was a huge fan of the Asterix books as a kid – loved everything about them. I learned everything I now know about history and geography and national stereotypes from those daft books! And I especially loved Asterix in Britain – the French view of Britain was hilarious, brutally funny. Goscinny and Uderzo really didn’t pull their punches with the humour. And of course the books were full of punch ups and drunkenness, so very cool for a kid.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I think in keeping with a lot of other crime writers, I didn’t even realise I was writing crime until someone else pointed it out. I was always writing short stories as a kid, literary things, rip-offs of my heroes like Irvine Welsh, Iain Banks and Raymond Carver. They were pretty terrible.

The first novel I wrote (the second to be published) probably wasn’t crime fiction at all – The Ossians is about an unsigned band falling apart in a mess of drink and drunks in the Scottish Highlands. The novel that was published before that, Tombstoning, was probably crime but again, I never realised it.

I also have another novel that has stayed in a drawer since I wrote it around 2008 – a big, sweeping family saga thing that is mostly crap. That’s why it’s in the drawer. I’ve cannibalized bits of it for other books, so I don’t think it’ll ever make it into print, even with a reworking.

And as for articles – well, I was a freelance arts journalist for many years before I was a published author. I started as a music writer, interviewing bands, reviewing shows and albums, then moved on to anything, really, everything from lifestyle pieces to restaurant reviews. So there’s lots of my writing out there somewhere in various forms!

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Two main things, music and football. I’ve been a musician since I was a kid, and have played different instruments in various bands over the years. These days I still write songs and record them, playing all the instruments myself and singing. It’s a fun thing to do, different to the writing for me, a release and a relaxation, though it’s still something creative. I have a batch of songs ready to go at the moment, actually, just trying to find a bit of down time to record them. It’s good, because I usually bring my guitar along to book events and play songs there too – usually loosely connected with the subject matter of the books. It helps make the event a bit different, and it means folk don’t have to listen to me prattle on forever about my bloody books.

And I play football regularly. I have a couple of weekly games of local seven-a-sides, and I’m also one of the main organizers of the Scotland Writers Football Club. We’ve been going since 2012, and we play local friendlies and occasional international matches against other writers teams. We’ve been to Rome, London, Vienna and Gothenburg to play football, and we always combine the football with a literary event of some kind. It’s a great way to meet writers from other countries, experience other literary cultures, have a few beers and kick each other in the shins.

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 in Edinburgh, which is a very familiar city for tourists. But I live away from the town centre, out east, in Portobello. Visitors should come to Porty and visit the beach – we have an amazing, long, sandy beach with views over the Firth of Forth to Fife and beyond. The promenade has bars and cafes, there’s sailing and rowing clubs, and even some brave souls swimming in the North Sea. Nutters.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Well, I’ve been told more than once that I look a bit like Jeremy Renner, so he would be the Hollywood choice. But I’m Scottish, so maybe James McAvoy or Martin Compston could play a younger me?

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Probably my last book, The Jump. It was the hardest to write in terms of the subject matter, as it’s a book about suicide, but it was the most personal thing I’ve written, and I think that meant that it had a bigger emotional impact on the reader, hopefully. Every book is fatally compromised in some way – you never manage to achieve what you set out to do in a novel, but it feels like with The Jump I got the closest that I’ve managed with my writing so far.

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?
Well, I was crazy busy as a freelance journalist under various deadlines, and we had a brand new baby in the house at the time, so it’s all a bit of a sleep-deprived blur. I remember getting the phone call from the editor directly, because I didn’t have an agent at the time, and just grinning like an idiot. I think I went for a walk along Portobello beach to clear my head and just think. Shout at the sea, stuff like that. Then later on, nappy changing, bottle feeds, trying to get our son to sleep, then crashing out. Oh, the glamour.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I did a wee mini-tour around a festival in central Europe – Czech Republic, Slovakia, and southern Poland – a couple of years ago. It was great, we were treated very well, but of course it all happened in foreign languages I didn’t know at all, with translators, which was hard work for them and us. The weather was glorious and the towns we visited were beautiful, but they wanted us to read for half an hour straight. Fuck that. I did a couple of short stories then played some songs, which went OK. Then we got questions from the audience. For some reason the publicity had made a big deal about the fact I have a PhD in Nuclear Physics, so I kept getting questions about modern developments in physics, about which I know absolutely nothing. Also, it was in the build up to the Scottish independence referendum, and the very first question I got on the first night in Brno was ‘What’s your opinion on Moravian independence?’. Erm. Lovely people and places, but a strange few days, right enough.


Thank you Doug. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

You can read more about Doug Johnstone and his books at his website, and follow him on Twitter.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Review: THE SOLDIER WHO SAID NO

THE SOLDIER WHO SAID NO by Chris Marnewick (2010)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

New Zealand was supposed to be where Pierre de Villiers would escape his past. A misadventure in Angola had cost him his faith in the military, and almost his life and sanity. Another event cost him his family. After a bizarre attempt on the Prime Minister s life De Villiers recognizes the arrow used is of Bushman origin. And suddenly he, now a policeman in Auckland, is a suspect. He must go back to South Africa for answers, and to face his demons. Can he unscramble his memory? Will he find the men who devastated his life? 

Recently South African lawyer Chris Marnewick's debut novel, SHEPHERD'S & BUTCHERS (2008), was adapted into an award-winning film starring Steve Coogan as a lawyer defending a death row prison guard who goes on a killing spree after participating in 32 hangings in a fortnight. Among other things, that extraordinary book, which blended fact and fiction and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize, introduced the character of Pierre de Villiers, a former soldier familiar with killing.

In THE SOLDIER WHO SAID NO, Marnewick's second novel, de Villiers has moved to New Zealand (a shift Marnewick made himself), where he's serving as a police officer in Auckland, catching criminals and trying to move on from fractured memories of his traumatic past.

But when an attempt is made on the life of the New Zealand Prime Minister, using an African weapon, de Villiers' past comes crashing violently into the present. The soldier turned policeman must delve deep into his own unsettling history to uncover the truth, and get justice. Legal or moral.

Marnewick is a very interesting writer, one who packs his books with strong real-life threads, while delivering gripping fictional stories. THE SOLDIER WHO SAID NO is more of a conventional thriller than his debut, but still retains a sense of asking some big social and moral questions. Pricking at uncomfortable topics, getting the reader wondering about more than just the story going on between its covers. It's not a 'breezy' tale, even if it's fast-paced and action-packed in parts.

Candidly, it took me a little while to settle into this book - the author's style and de Villiers' perspective - but once I did I really enjoyed the read. Seeing New Zealand - often considered one of the more liberal, peaceful, and egalitarian countries in the world (relatively speaking) - through the jaded eyes of a man who fought for a racist regime is an unsettling, at times jarring, experience.

Marnewick grew up and became a lawyer in a South Africa ruled by a racist Apartheid regime. In this tale he picks at racism lying beneath the multicultural veneer of modern New Zealand. De Villiers exhibits, witnesses, and suffers from racial prejudice. He's a brusque, tough man that's surprisingly (over)sensitive to things others may consider innocuous banter, perhaps due to lingering guilt for his own part in fighting for a racist regime. He's being eaten away inside, physically and emotionally.

THE SOLDIER WHO SAID NO is a very good read that poses some fascinating moral questions, about its characters and the events in the tale, but also the wider world in which we live. It's the kind of story that gets you thinking, lingering with you far beyond the final page.


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


Friday, November 4, 2016

Review: THE ICE SHROUD

THE ICE SHROUD by Gordon Ell (Bush Press, 2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

When a woman's body is discovered frozen in the ice of a river near the alpine resort of Queenstown, Detective Sergeant Malcolm Buchan faces both a mystery and a moral dilemma. The identity of the nude woman is critical to the motives and manner of her murder, and Buchan is personally involved. So are a number of locals, from ski bums to multi-millionaire businessman. Newly appointed to head CIB in the Southern Lakes district, Buchan hunts the killer through the entanglements of corruption and abuse that lie barely below the surface of the tourist towns. 

While this is a debut crime novel, it isn't the author's first book. Ell has a long, distinguished resume of photographing and writing about New Zealand flora, fauna, and history. He's published a large number of non-fiction books, and his love (and eye) for nature clearly comes through in this crime novel set among the rugged landscapes and tourist hotspots of New Zealand's Southern Lakes region. For the non-Kiwis, we're talking about a region that was used in several ways as a shooting location in the Lord of the Rings movies.

Ell adroitly makes the transition from non-fiction nature writing to murder mysteries, infusing his tale with a great sense of place, but also delivering when it comes to intriguing characters and plotlines. I was drawn in well early on, and found myself devouring the book in large chunks in less than a day, even though I was pretty busy at the time with other matters. Ell has a smooth, easy-reading style that flows well, steadily building depth to the characters and story as the pages quickly turn.

Detective Sergeant Buchan has an abrupt introduction to his new role leading the CIB team in rural Otago, called to a scene with a half-frozen body in a river ravine, spotted by traumatised tourists on a jet boat trip. Suicide? Or something more sinister? Either way, it's bad news for Buchan, who knows the dead woman, a ghost from his past life in Dunedin, but doesn't share that with his colleagues.

Sergeant Magda Hansen has seen death at road accidents, but not this kind of thing. She's not sure what to think of the case, or the enigmatic 'new boy from Dunedin' who's now her boss.

As Buchan and his team try to find out how the dead woman ended up in that remote ravine, they cross paths with some very powerful locals, the kind of people that feel their wealth and influence are of utmost importance, and whatever they do behind closed doors is no business of anyone else.

So in a way, THE ICE SHROUD is a bit of a modern Kiwi take on a classic British village murder mystery, with the working class coppers prying into the lives of the wealthy elite, being stymied for reasons that might or might not have anything to do with the crime at hand. Plenty of suspects, red herrings, and secrets. Tense business and personal relationships bubbling beneath the surface - although here that's not only among the cast of suspects, but the police themselves.

Overall, Ell's first crime novel is a heartily enjoyable one, that takes readers into a gorgeous part of New Zealand, and also into the hearts and minds of his intriguing heroes.

I certainly hope we'll see more murder mysteries from Gordon Ell in future.


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