Monday, August 29, 2016


CALENDAR GIRL by Stella Duffy (Serpent's Tail, 1991)

Reviewed by Alice Stringer

Stand-up comic Maggie has fallen for "the girl with the Kelly McGillis body", a mysterious woman who can't commit herself. Meanwhile, South London detective Saz is hot on the trail of a woman known only as "September", who commutes between London and New York in a whirlwind of drug smuggling, gambling, and high-class prostitution. A murder brings Saz and Maggie and their respective mysteries together.

Perhaps it’s because I am a queer woman that I love novels about lesbians so much. Patricia Highsmith’s CAROL (originally published as THE PRICE OF SALT) made me sob, and is high on my list of favourite books. I travelled from London to Manchester and back in a day so that I could see a theatre adaptation of Sarah Waters’ NIGHT WATCH. I recently put forward Jenny Downham’s UNBECOMING as a suggested read for my Young Adult book group (then missed the meeting). I tore through Lucy Ribchester’s THE HOURGLASS FACTORY.

A key common factor in these is that, aside from CAROL, they are about more than their main characters’ sexualities, though this element is always prominent and important. The exception here is CAROL, which is important because it is a romance between two women, with a happy ending, and clearly and openly treats homophobia as the social ill that it is, published at a time when that simply did not happen. The rest of these books are about things that books without lesbians in them are about: disease, journalists, circuses, paramedics, mysteries. I love a good romance, but there are other genres: lesbians can be spies, astronauts, pirates, sports stars, rock stars, journalists, dancers, artists, bankers, parents, gardeners, pilots, adventurers... and detectives.

CALENDAR GIRL is without a doubt a novel about lesbians: detective Saz Martin, the two women at the centre of the murder are lesbians, their friends are mostly – though not exclusively – lesbians, and there are connections throughout that reflect just how small the community can be. It’s also worth noting that CALENDAR GIRL was published over twenty years ago: it would be brave and, sadly, rare, to publish it now, so to have done so then was even more so. It’s interesting to consider how some of the details, such as women being unable to get married, have changed, but other hints of homophobia are still seen and experienced all the time. Though I do concede that my early-1990s references are slightly out, and I had to google Kelly McGillis...

CALENDAR GIRL is Stella Duffy’s first novel, and the fourth of her books that I’ve read. I recommend her often, to all sorts of people (one of the perks of working in a library!). Her books unnerve me, intrigue me, draw me in and won’t let go, long after I read the last page. While I don’t enjoy horror, I love a good creepy murder story, and hers never disappoint: her 2013 collection of short stories, EVERYTHING IS MOVING, EVERYTHING IS JOINED is wonderfully unsettling, and there are parts of THE ROOM OF LOST THINGS that made me cringe. CALENDAR GIRL, too, delivers exceptionally well on that front, with a particular detail that still makes me shudder months later. The characters are slippery, difficult to define or pin down – it’s always uncomfortable to wonder when the bad guy is going to turn up next.

The story is clever, it twists and turns so it’s not obvious where it’s going – always such a disappointment to be able to guess too easily – but nor is it so obscure that it doesn’t make sense. There is plenty of mystery to make it difficult to put down, enough suspense to be occasionally quite stressful, enough action to keep any James Bond fan happy and, crucially, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is good fun but far from ridiculous, funny without being A Funny Book, smart without being hard work. I enjoyed it so much that it was a real struggle to save WAVEWALKER, the sequel, for my holiday, though I can now confirm that it, too, is fantastic.

Alice has been blogging since early 2015 at Alice's Adventures in Bookland, mostly about books but also about theatre, travel, and sexuality. She has worked in a school library for three and a half years, and is always happy to recommend you a book.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Crimechurch: Southern authors sweep Ngaio Marsh Awards

It was a hometown quinella on Saturday night as Paul Cleave and Ray Berard were announced as the winners of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Awards at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. 

TRUST NO ONE (Upstart Press), a mind-bending psychological thriller about a writer with early onset Alzheimer’s who starts confessing the murders in his novels were real, earned Cleave his record third Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The judges described it as “a stunningly audacious novel that functions as a literary hall of mirrors” – a book that “succeeds brilliantly on many different levels”.

Fellow Cantabrian Berard scooped the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel with his Rotorua-set debut thriller INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE (Mary Egan Publishing). The judges praised his tale of the aftermath of an armed robbery that interrupts a drug deal as “a lucid and potent portrait of good people and gangsters that is unmistakably Kiwi in flavour and tone... a fine story with considerable depth.”

“It was wonderful to celebrate our best modern-day Kiwi crime writers at a terrific event just a short drive from where Dame Ngaio used to write her world-renowned mysteries,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “It was a tough year for our judges. We had a record number of entries, launched a new category, and ended up with eight superb finalists that illustrate how varied local crime writing can be. There was everything from a former All Black entwined in French match-fixing to a robotic private eye.”

Across the board the international judging panel was highly impressed with this year’s finalists, said Sisterson. “Every novel was a strong contender in the eyes of our judges, and we would have been happy to celebrate any of them as deserving winners. But we had to make a choice, and TRUST NO ONE and INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE edged ahead from a deep field. They’re both cracking great crime tales.”

Berard’s debut, which was a finalist for both awards, was inspired by a diary he kept during his years working as an Area Manager for the TAB across the upper North Island after he emigrated from Canada during the mid 1990s. He was mentored during his writing process by Barbara and Chris Else.

“There’s a real sense that local crime writing, #YEAHNOIR, is on the rise,” said Sisterson. “We have world-class crime writers in this country who are unafraid to provide their own unique spin on a globally popular genre. Kiwi readers have a big appetite for crime tales, and I urge them to try our own.”

The Ngaio Marsh Awards are made annually in Christchurch for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novels written by New Zealand citizens and residents. The Awards’ namesake, Dame Ngaio Marsh, was a Christchurch mystery writer and theatre director renowned worldwide as one of the four “Queens of Crime” of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. More than thirty years after her death, Dame Ngaio’s books remain beloved by many generations of readers. The Ngaio Marsh Awards were established in 2010 with the blessing of Dame Ngaio’s closest living relative, John Dacres-Manning.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The tale of the tape: 2016 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists

On Saturday night, the winners of the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Awards will be announced following the Great New Zealand Crime Debate event at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival.

It is the seventh year that the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel will be presented (Alix Bosco first won for CUT & RUN in 2010), but for the first time a brand new award for debut authors, the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel, will also be made.

There were a record number of entries this year – in fact the debut award alone had more entries than many previous years of the Best Crime Novel award. Kiwi Noir seems in strong, growing health.

Each award was judged by a separate international panel made up of crime fiction experts (critics, editors, authors), from New Zealand, Australia, the USA, the UK, and the Nordic countries.

Here's a final look at this year's contenders:

The finalists for the first-ever Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel are:

  • INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE by Ray Berard (Mary Egan Publishing): an armed robbery of a Rotorua pub interrupts a drug deal, upending many lives and lighting the fuse on a violent chain of events that exposes a grittier side of Aotearoa. The panel called it “A lucid and potent portrait of good people and gangsters that is unmistakably Kiwi in flavour and tone... a fine crime story with considerable depth". Read my review here
  • THE FIXER by John Daniell (Upstart Press): a former All Blacks first five is looking to cash in on his waning career in the lucrative French league, but when he meets an exotic journalist there is far more than publicity on offer. The judges praised it as: “A taut, topical and often acerbic thriller set in the world of professional rugby and exploring themes of temptation, pride, corruption and masculinity". Read my review here
  • THE GENTLEMEN’S CLUB by Jen Shieff (Mary Egan Publishing): the lives of a Hungarian bridge builder, hairdresser madam, and troubled teenager collide as they try to survive among the seedy backstreets of post-war Auckland. The judges called it “an imaginative historical novel that focuses on crimes against children while weaving in multiple elements of social history – pacy and intriguing.” Listen to Louise O'Brien's review here
  • TWISTER by Jane Woodham (RosaMira Books): a Dunedin detective haunted by the disappearance of his young daughter is forced to confront professional and personal traumas as he investigates the death of a local schoolgirl. The panel praised it as: “Tightly plotted with a superb sense of setting and emulsive blend of the immediate with the historical and emotional – suspenseful and propulsive.” Read Karen Chisholm's review here

The finalists for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, now in its seventh year, are:
  • INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE by Ray Berard (Mary Egan Publishing): the lives of a vicious gang leader, a widowed publican, and an immigrant investigator are thrown together and forever changed by a young man’s desperate and violent act. The panel called it a “cracking great novel with some interesting underlying themes and a well-evoked setting - sociologically and geographically.”
  • MADE TO KILL by Adam Christopher (Titan Books): in 1950s LA, the last robot on earth is acting as a hulking private eye specialising in secretive and deadly jobs thanks to his 24-hour memory. But when a new client asks for his help then vanishes, he can’t let it go. The judges described it as “highly entertaining and original - all a bit daft but really gripping and a hugely enjoyable read.” Read my review here
  • TRUST NO ONE by Paul Cleave (Upstart Press): a bestselling crime writer is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and confesses that the murders in his books were real. His caregivers know it’s just part of his disease, but then why are people dying? The judges praised it as “a stunningly audacious novel that functions as a literary hall of mirrors... it succeeds brilliantly on many different levels”. Listen to Louise O'Brien's review here
  • THE LEGEND OF WINSTONE BLACKHAT by Tanya Moir (Vintage): Winstone is a 12-year-old runaway hiding out on the plains of Central Otago, fantasising about the adventures he and his partner have in the Wild West. But why is Winstone on the run? The judges praised it as: “a haunting novel of angst and breathtaking beauty that explores the outcomes of crime and the effects on victims”. Listen to Elizabeth Easther's review here
  • AMERICAN BLOOD by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin): a former New York City undercover cop now in witness protection in the rural Southwest finds himself pulled into the search for a missing woman, reigniting dangers from his own past. The panel called it “a lean action novel, superbly plotted and paced, with a riveting, enigmatic and tenacious new hero just screaming for an ongoing series”. Read my review here

Eight different books are finalists. Just who will win? 

Follow the Ngaio Marsh Awards on Twitter and/or Facebook for the breaking news this weekend. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Teenage poetry and picking locks: an interview with Chris Ewan

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. At the end of May 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.

Thanks to a number of great crime authors giving their time during last month's Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, and on other occasions, I have a lot of new interviews 'in the can' which I'll be publishing over the coming weeks. Lots to look forward to! If you have a favorite author you'd love to see interviewed here, please let me know.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome #1 bestselling British thriller writer Chris Ewan, who has been described as a leading light among a new generation of thriller writers. Ewan began his crime writing career with his 'Good Thief's Guide' series starring a globetrotting thief. His debut, THE GOOD THIEF'S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM (2007) won the Long Barn Books First Novel Award and went on to be published in more than a dozen countries. Further instalments have been based in Paris, Las Vegas, Venice, and Berlin, and American production companies expressed interest in a TV show.

Ewan's big breakthrough was SAFE HOUSE (2011), a standalone thriller which sold half a million copies and was shortlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award. That year Ewan was also voted as one of America's favorite British authors.

His latest thriller, LONG TIME LOST (Faber, 2016), was published in May, and has been said by critics to cement Ewan's reputation as one the most exciting and original crime writers around. But for now, Chris Ewan become the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
If we’re talking an all-time favourite, I’d have to go with Philip Marlowe but I always catch up with Jack Reacher each time a new Lee Child novel hits the shelves.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier, which I must have read when I was ten(ish). It’s a wartime adventure story that I got completely wrapped up in – I can still vividly picture a scene where the three children at the heart of the story make their escape from Nazi stormtroopers by climbing over a series of rooftops.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
A lot of bad teenage poetry. A lot of short stories and novel openings. The first thing I ever got published was a short story in a book magazine called INK that, funnily enough, went out of business shortly afterwards. I also wrote three novels (one literary, two mainstream) that landed me my first literary agent but didn’t find a publisher. It was painful at the time but I’m glad of it now – I think it’s best for everyone that those three novels are hiding somewhere on some old floppy disks.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
All the normal stuff. Spending time with family and friends. Taking our dog for a walk. I like to travel, but really that’s just a fancy way of saying that I like to go on holiday and laze around reading books.

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?
Although I moved away recently, I’m going to claim the Isle of Man as my home for this one and tell any visitor to sample the local delicacy – chips, cheese and gravy.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Ryan Reynolds (though he’d have to hit the gym pretty hard).

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
It’s hard to overlook how SAFE HOUSE changed things for me – it gave me the opportunity to write full-time and I’m hugely grateful to everyone who bought a copy. Of the Good Thief novels, my favourite is probably THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VENICE. LONG TIME LOST, though, was easily my most challenging book to write and I’m happy with how it turned out.

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?
Back in 2006, I was working as a film lawyer when my phone rang at work and I answered it to hear Susan Hill tell me I’d won the Long Barn Books First Novel Award and that I was going to be a published writer. The call came a week before my 30th birthday and it’s the best phone call I’ve ever received. I went to the pub with a bunch of my colleagues. My boss bought us all champagne. It was a pretty special moment.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
After THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO AMSTERDAM was published I received an email from a reader whose “hobby” was picking locks. They wanted to meet me and show me some tricks of the trade. It wasn’t an opportunity I was going to pass up so we arranged to meet in a coffee shop (somewhere public seemed like a good idea at the time …) and within a couple of minutes I could shim a padlock and use a raking tool. I was feeling pretty smug about it until I took my new lock picks home and tried to crack the lock on my front door. Turns out, it’s a lot harder than it looks …

Thank you Chris. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can read more about Chris Ewan and his thrillers at his website, or follow him on Twitter

Saturday, August 20, 2016


A New Zealand-born, Los Angeles-based writer has this month released her first crime novel, SKIN OF TATTOOS, which centres on a Salvadoran gangbanger looking to make a fresh start after being paroled from prison. 

A journalist, poet, and short story writer, Christina Hoag is a former staff writer for the Miami Herald and the Associated Press. She has quite the pedigree as a former Latin American correspondent. Hoag's website bio states "she reported from 14 countries on issues such as the rise of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Colombian guerrillas, Guatemalan human rights, Salvadoran gangs, Nicaraguan landmine victims, and Mexican protests, for Time, Business Week, Financial Times, Houston Chronicle, the New York Times, and other publications".

She has published non-fiction and young adult books, but SKIN OF TATTOOS is Hoag's first crack at a literary crime thriller. 

Here's the blurb: 

Los Angeles homeboy Magdaleno is paroled from prison after serving time on a gun possession frameup by a rival, Rico, who takes over as gang shotcaller in Mags’s absence. Mags promises himself and his Salvadoran immigrant family a fresh start, but he can’t find either the decent job or the respect he craves from his parents and his firefighter brother, who look at him as a disappointment. Moreover, Rico, under pressure to earn money to free the Cyco Lokos’ jailed top leader and eager to exert his authority over his rival-turned-underling, isn’t about to let Mags get out of his reach. Ultimately, Mags’s desire for revenge and respect pushes him to make a decision that ensnares him in a world seeded with deceit and betrayal, where the only escape from rules that carry a heavy price for transgression is sacrifice

The often-tough Kirkus Reviews have said "Hoag is a talented writer, summoning Mags’ world on the page with remarkable empathy and detail" and that "the overall experience is surprisingly nuanced and wholly enjoyable." SKIN OF TATTOOS is "A well-crafted, engaging novel."

Another Kiwi Noir talent to watch, and perhaps a contender for next year's Ngaios. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Shipwrecked sailors and Buenos Aires theatre: a 9mm interview with Claudia Piñeiro

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. At the end of May 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.

As some of you may have seen on Twitter or Facebook, I conducted several 9mm interviews at the recent Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, so there'll be plenty more instalments being published in the coming weeks. I've really enjoyed interviewing so many fascinating crime writers from all over the world, and hearing their stories about books, writing, and broader life. I hope you have too.

Today I'm very pleased to share an interview with Argentina's bestselling crime writer, Claudia Piñeiro. I briefly met Claudia at Crimefest in Bristol in May (her first trip to the United Kingdom), where she was a star on panels addressing obsession in crime and setting stories in the recent past.

Claudia Piñeiro is an award-winning writer who delves into Argentine society across a number of forms: journalism, plays, television, and her outstanding literary crime novels. The latter have been translated into several languages, and thanks to Bitter Lemon Press (who helped set up this interview after Crimefest - kia ora guys), four of her crime tales are available for English-speakers to enjoy.

As well as being engaging thrillers, Piñeiro's novels are thought-provoking examinations of society and human nature. In Betibú (Betty Boo), a crime journalist partners with a famous writer to uncover the background behind a murder in a gated community, and Piñeiro puts the media under the microscope. In Las grietas de Jara (A Crack in the Wall), a jaded architect has his stagnant life upturned by the arrival of a young woman who has ties to a past crime the architect was involved in. That novel was longlisted for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award 2015.

Piñeiro has won several awards for her writing, at home in Argentina and for the various translations abroad. But for now, she becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

Claudia Piñeiro at the Crimefest bookstore

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero, and what do you love about them?
I really like Wallander, the creation of Henning Mankell. I like the imperfections in his character. Things don’t always go well in his world, for example in his love life or with his daughter. And that makes him more human, more credible. I could be friends with Wallander. I also very much like the characters created by Muriel Spark, especially the elderly cast of her novel Memento Mori.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Leaving aside childhood reading, I think Gabriel García Márquez’s The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor is the book that made me a reader. A teacher in secondary school recommended it to me and at the time I thought ‘how could I be less interested in the account of a man who gets lost at sea?’ But soon after I began it I was hooked and that taught me that it’s not the subject matter that counts but the writing itself and the writer’s skill in telling things, whatever they may be.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything): unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had written television scripts, plays for theatre, articles and children’s books.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
The pastime that really makes me happiest is going to the theatre. I’m lucky to live in a city, Buenos Aires, where the daily offering of theatre is tremendous, there is always something good to see. I also like singing and dancing - but I seem to be getting worse at 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?
Go to the theatre, definitely. And not only to the commercial shows, but to fringe theatre, too. For example in Buenos Aires at the moment there is an excellent show that takes place in a working garage - in the mornings they’re fixing cars there.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Well!! If the budget’s no object, I’d love it to be Julianne Moore.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
I always choose the most recent. Just as, with children, one tries to protect the youngest. In this case it would be Una Suerte Pequeña (A Little Luck)

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 first thought that came into my mind was: ‘At last’. Because one doesn’t publish at the first attempt. And sometimes the journey is hard and rather dispiriting. So that ‘at last’ meant, this has been worth all the effort, worth the work, worth waiting.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
After presenting one of my novels (A Crack in the Wall) at a festival, a member of the audience came up to tell me that he had bought a copy. I quipped ‘Well, I hope now you’ve bought it you’ll read it’. He answered: ‘Yes, if I buy, I read. This will be the second novel I’ve read in my life’. I thought, what a shame that this man has read so little, but I didn’t say anything. Then immediately he added: ‘I’d like to ask for your advice: I’ve written ten novels, do you know which publisher I could send them to, to get them published?’ That was the strangest thing that has happened to me at a literary event - to meet someone who had only read one book in his life and might read a second, and yet who had written ten novels that he thought good enough to be published. I don’t think I’m wrong to assume that they couldn’t have been: nobody who hasn’t read much can write well.

Thank you Claudia. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

Read more about Claudia Piñeiro and her books at Bitter Lemon's website, and you can follow her on Twitter.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Murder They Wrote: The Rise and Rise of #YeahNoir

Murder They Wrote: The Rise and Rise of #YeahNoir

By Sarah Forster, Booksellers NZ

Founder Craig Sisterson, judge Yrsa Sigurdardottir
and 2011 and 2015 winner Paul Cleave in Harrogate
The recent rise of independent publishers in New Zealand has seen genre fiction explode. New Zealand crime fiction especially, as the judges of the Ngaio Marsh Crime Fiction Award can attest. Founded in 2010, with  fewer than ten books in the running, the range of entries has grown yearly, and in 2016, twenty-nine books were entered into the  awards, and a new ‘first novel’ category launched. And, of course, the excellent hashtag #YeahNoir was coined on Twitter, by Steph Soper from the NZ Book Council.

The Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival (now WORD) have partnered with the Ngaio Marsh Awards since they were founded by Craig Sisterson. We talked to Sisterson who is now London-based, WORD Festival bookseller Pene Whitty from University Bookshop Canterbury, and Peter Riggs from Page & Blackmore in Nelson, about the strength of Kiwi crime and how it sells.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

I can see it started years ago*…

I can see it started years ago*…
Ngaio Marsh Awards founder Craig Sisterson takes a look at some modern New Zealand crime novels released in the years before the Awards began

Phar Lap. Crowded House. Pavlova. Given our Aussie cousins’ penchant for touting Kiwi talent as their own (fingers crossed for future news of ‘Australasian’ candidate Helen Clark becoming UN Secretary-General), it’s hardly a shocker that our own Paul Thomas was co-winner of the inaugural Ned Kelly Award for Australian crime writing in 1996.

Not that we can fault their taste: Inside Dope (Moa Beckett, 1995) is a cracker of a crime novel, the picaresque tale of ex-con Duane Ricketts, who searches for the Mr Asia drug syndicate’s lost loot after being released from a Thai prison. Violent, funny, full of grit and wit, it was the second book in Thomas’s electrifying series featuring maverick Maori detective Tito Ihaka.

It would be another fourteen years before New Zealand would have our own literary prize for crime and thriller writing ... READ FULL FEATURE HERE