Friday, July 20, 2018

Review: THE SECOND GRAVE

THE SECOND GRAVE by Ian Austin (2018)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Dan Calder is back. Back in his native England once again to help his best friend and ex-partner Nick Hetherington. Nick’s daughter has been arrested in connection with the death of a Nottingham prostitute. Back to face his darkest moment as old acquaintances and old enemies set his cupboard full of skeletons rattling once more. 

‘The Second Grave’ has Calder facing the battle of his life to fulfil a solemn promise to his dearest friend. New foes including a local gangster are prepared to do anything to prevent the truth being revealed.Left at home in New Zealand, Calder’s girlfriend Tara senses he also views this return as an opportunity to settle old scores. Time and the odds are against him; incredibly so too the upholders of law itself, his beloved police force. 

Dan Calder is settled in New Zealand after his hectic time in THE AGENCY, the first in the Dan Calder trilogy. He has settled down with Tara Danes (from THE AGENCY) and they have adopted a dog, Jet. Dan is doing contract work for the Police and all is calm, until he gets a call from his old mate Nick Hetherington. Then Dan flies back to the UK to help Nick, whose daughter, Amber, has been arrested and accused of unlawful killing, possibly murder.

THE SECOND GRAVE is a hard read; it is set in a milieu where sex workers are called toms, prossies, and whores. It is a world where blokes pack off their womenfolk to keep them out of harm’s way and are always surprised when a woman appears to have a brain – although in one case that’s probably because “you live with a detective for long enough and something has to rub off”. Women are criticised: “Mother’s God-awful dinners”, sexually abused, infantilised: “We need to be able to do what we have to do without me worrying about you and the girls”, and we are informed by doozies such as: “The majority of men sleep on the side of the bed closest to the bedroom door, a trait dating back to prehistoric ancestors guarding the cave entrance”.

So that is the context for the story – Dan leaves Tara and heads to England and to the aid of his old partner and friend Nick. The title of the book comes from the Confucius quote “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” And Tara realises that Dan’s eagerness is as much about seeking revenge on his bĂȘte noire Detective Chief Superintendent Jim Allen, who is in charge of the case, as it is about helping his friend Nick – but when she says she will go with him, Dan says no – who wants the voice of reason with you when you’re on a mission?

Nick’s daughter has been framed for the murder of a sex worker, Anna Rofe. Anna is a “typical tom” who won’t be missed, even one of the ‘good guys’ thinks it’s not too much of a problem mishandling her murder investigation – and one of the ‘bad guys’ complains that the killing of “worthless slags” shouldn’t be counted as murder at all.

Dan is calm on the surface, and spookily talented in his trade (he occasionally goes into meditative trances when mentally sifting through information). He and Nick methodically go about their work of finding out what really happened to Anna and why Amber is in the frame, in order to exonerate Amber. But Dan is also a wreck with demons, as we found out in THE AGENCY, and when we find out more about his background in this novel, we realise he really has got serious demons lurking in his past. And his black and white view of the world may be as much about self-preservation as prejudice and testosterone.

There are no surprises in this novel, the reader knows who did what to whom, and why. We understand where the corruption is and how some of the players got sucked in. We also realise quite early on that Dan’s take on others is not as dead accurate as he thinks. The tension in the novel comes from seeing how Dan and Nick can work it out in time, and how much additional damage will be done before the culprits are caught. The writing is tight, and the suspense builds nicely, a deadline being given by the date of Amber’s next required appearance at the Police Station. The pacing and dialogue flow, although Austin uses the device of having Dan and Nick explain their techniques to Amber as a way of letting the reader understand ‘the craft’, and this occasionally intrudes into the narrative. As with THE AGENCY there are some very moving scenes.

There is an effective confusion in THE SECOND GRAVE between the good guys and the bad guys.  The methodical actions of Dan and Nick are echoed by those of one of the gangs carrying out a liquor heist. There are very bad cops (one, Binder, almost Shakespearean in his willingness to do anything to advance his career), and there are bad cops that turn out to be good cops, and good ex-cops who turn out to have done bad things, and there is a disregard for women (except as ‘Madonnas or whores’) on both sides of the divide.

Dan’s two satori moments come when Amber starts blaming herself for one of the appalling events in the novel, and then again when he realises he may have misjudged someone. Both moments lead us to believe that there might be a genuinely brighter future for Dan, a more open and nuanced view of the world, maybe we will see that when we catch up with Dan and Tara in part three of the trilogy, FROZEN SUMMER, due out later this year.  THE SECOND GRAVE could be read as a stand-alone, but I think would be better read after reading the THE AGENCY.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

Review: MURDER MOST MALICIOUS

MURDER MOST MALICIOUS by Kitty Jackson (2017)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

When good-natured Mr Mancini discovers a body in the Winter Garden Glasshouse, he is commandeered to work alongside the newly appointed and prickly-tongued Detective Haynes. Right from the beginning the case frustrates. Besides the body having no identification, there are no reports of any missing persons. And, as Hayes, tells Mancini, ‘Don’t believe all you are told - people lie.’

In spite of their different personalities Mancini and Haynes must find a way to work together, otherwise the killer might well remain free?

Can two equally stubborn headed gentlemen manage to collaborate successfully, as well as solve such a heinous crime?

Set in the early twentieth century in mannered and beautiful Dunedin, New Zealand there are plenty of similarities between the stories of Mr Mancini and the delightfully idiosyncratic Hercule Poirot. A cerebral solver of crime, his collaboration with the acerbic Detective Haynes is a nice pairing, and then there is his sounding board, and escaper of tyrannical sisters, neighbour and dog lover.

An interesting piece of historical crime fiction, MURDER MOST MALICIOUS is entertaining reading. Great characters, a lovely sense of the time and place, and a good plot into the bargain, I certainly hope this is intended as the opening of an ongoing series. There is a particularly large cast here though, so you will need to pay attention, particularly as the body of the woman found in the Winter Garden Glasshouse is identified and connected to a group of would be writers that Mr Mancini belongs to, so his investigation starts to work it's way through friends, acquaintances, fellow would-be writers and locals.

There's good pace, a great sense of place and a nice balance between the personal back story of Mancini and his colleagues, as well as the victim and her contacts in the local community. Mancini's connection with the police is well handled and all in all there is a lot to really like about MURDER MOST MALICIOUS.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: A RISK WORTH TAKING

A RISK WORTH TAKING by Brynn Kelly (HQN, 2018)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

He can’t outrun himself… Legionnaire Jamie Armstrong lives in the shadows. A medic haunted by his mistakes, he knows better than to hope for redemption. But his latest mission brings a threat he doesn’t see coming—an attraction as irresistible as it is dangerous. Hacker Samira Desta is a woman he swore to forget, but as a key witness to a deadly conspiracy, Samira is his to protect.

But the woman he rescues might be the one who saves him. After a year in hiding, Samira’s worst fears come true when her cover is blown and the unlikeliest of allies comes to her aid—the secretive Scot with whom she shared one unforgettable night. Hunted by lethal forces and losing the battle against their desire, Jamie and Samira make a desperate play to take the fight to their enemy—but those at greatest risk of ruin may be themselves…

A RISK WORTH TAKING is the latest roller coaster read in Brynn Kelly’s Legionnaires series. A year has passed since EDGE OF TRUTH, and Samira Desta is in hiding after her whistle-blower fiancĂ©, Latif, has been murdered. Latif used to work in a company owned by the series’ arch villain, Senator Hyland, and he passed on information concerning Hyland’s nefarious deeds to Tess Newell, the tele-journalist who featured in EDGE OF TRUTH.  Hyland is also the father of socialite Laura Hyland, who hired Holly Ryan to be her body-double in the first in the series,  DECEPTION ISLAND.

What Holly, Tess and Samira have in common is a pairing up with members of a platoon of French Foreign Legionnaires. Holly was kidnapped (to prevent his son being harmed) by Rafe Angelito.  Tess was being held under threat of online execution when legionnaire Flynn was thrown in to the execution threat to enrage another country. And Samira had a one-night stand with legionnaire medic Jamie Armstrong at the end of EDGE OF TURTH, and he comes to assist her when her cover is blown when she is hiding out in a remote cottage in Tuscany at the beginning of A RISK WORTH TAKING.

Samira is a computer whiz, she builds impenetrable online security systems, then tries to hack them to test their strength. She is Ethiopian and the daughter of globe-trotting diplomats, she is not like the fearless Holly or Tess, she wants a quiet life and has panic attacks. Jamie is an ex-neurologist and surgeon, he is all quick repartee on the outside and as cool as steel in an emergency. But there’s a reason Jamie is no longer a surgeon, no longer socialises with his confreres, and is averse to entering into anything that looks like a long-term commitment.

Once Samira is flushed out of her Tuscan hideout, she flees to London, where Jamie catches up with her. They are relentlessly pursued by Hyland’s goons, and we find out about Samira and Jamie through their exploits – eg Jamie when there is a sequence in a London hospital where he once worked, Samira when she knows about diplomat protocol. When they discover that Hyland is headed for Edinburgh they head north, Jamie, the Scotsman, travelling back to some bad memories.

Samira can’t believe what is happening: “This was not her life. She’d dropped through a wormhole into someone else’s world, someone else’s skin” – nor what she and Jamie are planning to do: “Everyday people going to everyday Sunday places – markets, churches, Christmas shopping, visiting a friend to collect evidence that would take down the future American president …”

Samira and Jamie have the usual sizzle between them that we have come to expect from the other books in the series, and again this is used to highlight the vulnerabilities and insecurities of the characters: Jamie all hard legionnaire, but a mess inside, Samira a sophisticated geek but capable of extraordinary bravery and action when required. And other characters from the previous two installments play roles, appearing like old acquaintances and reminding us of the earlier stories.

Kelly’s pacing is great, her apparent facility with geek-speak impressive and her characters all have histories and depth. Hyland is a bit of a caricature of a villain, but his extreme corruption creates the dangerous scenarios our feisty women and their staunch legionnaires thrive on. This novel could be read as a standalone, but is probably more fun if you have read the previous two.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: DEATH ON D'URVILLE

DEATH ON D'URVILLE by Penelope Haines (Ithaca Publications, 2016)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Death on D’Urville is the first novel in a new mystery series featuring Claire Hardcastle, commercial pilot and flying instructor, who operates out of Paraparaumu airport in New Zealand. 

Claire Hardcastle is fiery, clever, daring —and she’s trying to prove herself in a man's world. Recently recovered from a disastrous relationship with her ex, she’s determined from now on to live on her own terms.


When her routine flight to pick a passenger up from a remote island in the Marlborough Sounds turns into a murder investigation Claire is excited to discover she may hold a clue to the crime. 

Book One in the Claire Hardcastle series DEATH ON D'URVILLE, the second book STRAIGHT AND LEVEL was released in 2017. Operating out of Paraparaumu airport in New Zealand, Hardcastle is a commercial pilot and flying instructor, which gives the author an opportunity to play with a number of recurring themes including women working in what's traditionally been a male dominated industry, people with the sorts of nerves of steel required to fly and stick their nose into tricky investigations and the complications of dealing with (and being) an alpha personality type; as well as the freedom to move Hardcastle into different locations, and different groups of people with ease. Add to that a disastrous previous relationship and there's lots of ingredients in this debut book.

Easy reading, with a casual, almost chatty style and an engaging central character, DEATH ON D'URVILLE ticks the boxes you'd want on something that's leaning towards the romantic suspense side of the genre. There's the budding personal relationship between the two main protagonists, there's a reasonably intricate plot with heaps of local colour and flavour. And there's the nice little twist of a dead novelist at the centre of a locked room style mystery.

The only downside for this particular reader was that this agreeable romantic suspense novel got a bit melodramatic towards the end, although that could very much be an issue of personal taste. Regardless, definitely a series that romantic suspense readers may find very appealing.


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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN

THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN by Karen Zelas (Makaro Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Minnie Dean: the first – and only – woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Baby farmer and child murderer, or hardworking wife and mother, supporting her family by caring for unwanted children in a society that shunned her?

Karen Zelas explores the trials of Minnie Dean using a myriad of voices, including Dean’s own, from her childhood in Scotland to the gallows in Invercargill, 1895.

It is rare, but not unknown to encounter a crime fiction novel in verse. Dorothy Porter's written some of the best examples of this that I've been fortunate enough to read, but I think this might be the first biography of a true crime figure in verse I've come across. Equally beautifully written and wonderfully laid out on the page, THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN is fascinating reading.

Minnie Dean 1872

an open face one

could say    dark hair

drawn back    nothing to hide

a little lace at throat & cuff

hands rest loose on bentwood back

gaze into the camera     eyes

soft & open    brow deep

sole adornment in her hair

                 poverty

not yet 

           staining face or dress

Minnie Dean, as the blurb explains, was the first and only woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Baby farmer and child murderer or hardworking wife and mother, supporting her family by caring for unwanted children in a society that shunned her?

The story of Minnie is told in a combination of verses, images, handwritten snippets, all of which have had particular attention paid to their layout on the page. It's a feast for the eyes, although given this combination it's obviously not an indepth exploration of all that could ever be said about Minnie Dean, her background and her alleged crimes. There is, however, more than enough here for the reader to consider - from Minnie's background and reactions, statements and reactions of the police involved in the investigation and trial, even a short snippet from the hangman and her descendants.

All the way through though there is Minnie's voice and it's desperately sad, and sometimes quite chilling.

that inquest made me

a social outcast    a

pariah

                     there is no law

                     to stop me taking babies

                     to my heart & home

                     I may take as many

                     as I want    charge

                     whatever fees I wish

                     & keep them

                     in the manner of my choosing

                         so long I don't neglect or mistreat

that is all

let them try and stop me

Eventually, obviously, they did stop her in the most final of ways. Not having previously heard of Minnie Dean I was interested to find a Wikipedia entry and some historical facts about her, suspicions about her activities, and the final events that lead to her trial and execution.

THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN is a beautifully constructed, extremely thought-provoking and moving book. It is one that I've now revisited many times since my initial reading.

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Drug-dealing ad execs and parental fears: an interview with Rod Reynolds

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the 24th instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 196th overall edition of our long-running author interview series!

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. What a line-up. Thanks everyone.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been part of the 9mm series, please do let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. We've got several further interviews with cool writers 'already in the can' that will be published soon, so lots to look forward to over the coming weeks and months.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome British crime writer Rod Reynolds, the author of the Charlie Yates historical crime novels, to Crime Watch. Although Rod is a Londoner, he sets his crime novels in the United States close on the heels of the Second World War. Charlie Yates is a disgraced former New York journalist who gets caught up in crimes in the American Southwest.

Rod wrote his debut, THE DARK INSIDE, while completing a Masters in Crime Writing at City University. Before the course had even finished he'd nabbed an agent and a publishing deal - in fact the first student in the history of that new degree to do so. The series, which has been described by top reviewers as "pitch-perfect American noir" and "subtle, original, and enthralling", has continued with BLACK NIGHT FALLING, and Rod's new third novel, COLD DESERT SKY.

But for now, Rod Reynolds becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH ROD REYNOLDS

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Clete Purcel - the sidekick in James Lee Burke's Robicheaux novels. Robicheaux himself is a bit too much of a prig for me, but Clete wears his heart - and everything else - on his sleeve. He is a human wrecking ball, and he gets all the best lines.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I was addicted to Enid Blyton's stuff as a kid - Famous Five, Secret Seven, all of her stuff. But the first adult book that really grabbed me was THE PELICAN BRIEF by John Grisham. I hadn't seen the film and I remember just being completely gripped by the storyline and the action sequences.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
The first book I had published was the second novel I'd written. My first was a thriller about a drug-dealing advertising executive set in London. It was the first thing I'd ever written and I finished it in three months. I sent it out to loads of agents and got the requisite wall of rejections back - but a few took the time to comment and the common theme to the feedback was that although the story and the characters didn't work, I could write and should keep trying. That was encouragement enough for me at the time. Looking back now, I can see I made every mistake under the sun with that first book - but it was a hell of a lot of fun to write.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I've got two young kids, so free time is at a premium! I'm a keen runner, so I try to get out two or three times a week for 45 minutes or so. It's really important to me, especially when I'm writing, as I find it clears my head, and I usually get some good ideas while I'm doing it - how to fix a plot problem, something to add to a character, a line of description. 

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'm from London and my top tip would be to go for a run over Hampstead Heath on a Saturday morning, ending up at the farmers market at the bottom of Parliament Hill. Then grab a sausage bap, and a doorstop wedge of cake, and take it up to the top of the hill, so you can scoff it all down with the best view in the whole of London.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
My choice: George Clooney. Most likely: one of the Chuckle Brothers.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
My new one, COLD DESERT SKY. It's my third book, and, in my mind, the end of a loose trilogy featuring Charlie Yates - so we've been on a long road together. It's also my most personal, as some of what happens was inspired by the horrible fears you get as a parent - not based on anything I've been through, more a kind of 'What the hell would I do if this happened...?'

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When I first got the call from my agent to say she had three offers for my book, I remember a feeling of disbelief - that something I'd imagined for years, but which you never truly know if you can achieve, was going to come to pass. I was at home with my wife and one of my daughters, so I think I just had a couple of glasses of wine that night, and I was in shock the whole time - but I do remember a bit more of a rowdy curry the next night with friends.

My book came out in trade paperback first, so it wasn't widely stocked, but I made a trip to Foyles in Charing Cross Road to see it on the shelf - that was pretty surreal. I didn't want to touch it in case someone saw me and thought I was standing around trying to hand sell it!

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
At a library event in Scotland with two other authors, one guy in the crowd took issue with the fact that we were talking about the overseas research trips we'd been on for various books. The event was predominantly for sixth-formers, and he kept interrupting and saying, how was this relevant to working-class kids from Scotland, who couldn't afford to swan off around the world on a whim, and would never be able to get published because they weren't posh like us. I mentioned that I grew up on a council estate, in a single-parent family, and that none of us were from privileged backgrounds, but he wouldn't let it go. It got quite heated until the librarian in charge very deftly moved things on.

The surreal part was, talking to the kids afterwards, when I asked if he was a teacher or something from their school - and they said to me they had no idea who he was. Shortly after, he came up to us, all smiles, thanked us for a great event and asked if he could take some pictures of us! We left there bemused...


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


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The verdicts are in: revealing the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists




The verdicts are in: female storytellers dominate this year’s Ngaios finalists

Decades after Ngaio Marsh ruled as a ‘Queen of Crime’ on the global stage, her literary heirs are laying siege to the local throne with the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists named today.

Now in their ninth year, the Ngaio Marsh Awards celebrate the best New Zealand crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writing. “It’s been a year of record-breaking numbers of entries, and our judges were faced with tough decisions among a really diverse array of tales spread across varying styles, settings, and sub-genres,” says awards founder Craig Sisterson.

“Some books our judges loved missed out, which underlines the growing strength and depth of our local writing. Kiwi readers devour tales of crime, thrills, and mystery. They’ve got lots of great choices here to encourage them to give our own storytellers more of a try.”

And after Fiona Sussman became the first woman to win the Ngaio Marsh Award last year, this year sees a significant majority of female finalists for the first time in Ngaios history.

The finalists for the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards are:

BEST CRIME NOVEL

  • Marlborough Man by Alan Carter (Fremantle Press)
  • See You in September by Charity Norman (Allen & Unwin)
  • Tess by Kirsten McDougall (VUP)
  • The Sound of Her Voice by Nathan Blackwell (Mary Egan Publishing)
  • A Killer Harvest by Paul Cleave (Upstart Press)
  • The Hidden Room by Stella Duffy (Virago)

BEST FIRST NOVEL

  • The Floating Basin by Carolyn Hawes
  • Broken Silence by Helen Vivienne Fletcher (HVF Publishing)
  • All Our Secrets by Jennifer Lane (Rosa Mira Books)
  • The Sound of Her Voice by Nathan Blackwell (Mary Egan Publishing)
  • Nothing Bad Happens Here by Nikki Crutchley (Oak House Press)


The finalists will be celebrated and winners announced at special events on 1 September as part of the 2018 Word Christchurch Festival. “We’re really looking forward to this year’s festival, and are grateful to Rachael King, Marianne Hargreaves and their team for their ongoing support of the Ngaios,” says Sisterson. “It’s lovely to be able to celebrate our best crime, mystery, and thriller writers in Dame Ngaio’s hometown.”

Recent Ngaios winners Fiona Sussman, Paul Cleave, and Liam McIlvanney will also be appearing at the Bloody Scotland festival in Stirling, Scotland later in September, thanks in part to a crime writing  exchange established with WORD Christchurch.

For more information on the Ngaio Marsh Awards, check out the Facebook page or Twitter account



Sunday, July 8, 2018

Review: LIFTING

LIFTING by Damien Wilkins (VUP, 2017)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Amy is a store detective at Cutty’s, the oldest and grandest department store in the country. She’s good at her job. She can read people and catch them. But Cutty’s is closing down. Amy has a young baby, an ailing mother, and a large mortgage. She also has a past as an activist.

This compelling novel opens in a police interview room, with Amy narrating the weeks leading up to the chaotic close of Cutty’s, a time when the store moves from permanent feature to ruin and when people under stress do strange things. An intense exploration of the moment when the solid ground of a life is taken away, this swiftly told novel shows again how unerringly and vividly Damien Wilkins traces the stress fractures of contemporary living.

LIFTING is one of those books that is charming, slightly eccentric, sad, happy, and wonderfully engaging. Set primarily within the walls of the oldest department store in New Zealand, Wellington's Cutty's is an institution that's been marked for closure. Non-New Zealander / Wellington readers will be forgiven if you can't help but feel this is a real place, renamed for the purposes of fiction, as there is so much about the store and it's history, and the affection that the staff and customers have for it that feels real, and very heart-felt. For those on this side of the ditch there's something vaguely Georges about the place - right down to the staircase, and if they didn't have a piano being played in the foyer, than they jolly well should have. But marked for closure Cutty's is, and the staff who work there are confronted with the short lead in time of a couple of months to get used to the idea.

The story evolves from the point of view of Amy, store detective, her four years at the store is nothing compared to the life long service of many employees. But she really likes the job, loves the store and she's pretty good at what she does. On the home front she's married, recently had a child and only just gone back to work. With a very ill mother and all the problems of balancing child care, home life and work, Amy's voice is beautifully done in this novel. She's got more than enough to deal with, without throwing in, very late in the stage, a surprise dead body.

But really, LIFTING isn't about crime. It's about people, and lives lived, and pasts, presents and futures. It's about disruption and change, and slipping standards, and chaos. At work, at home, and in small ways as well as major. Losing your job is chaotic, especially through no fault of your own. Losing your job when getting it in the first place was a minor miracle is even more unsettling, and Amy's background as an activist means her boss really took a chance on her as a detective. The fallout through family, relationships and everything is hard to avoid, as is the loss of friendships and working relationships established.

For something that's addressing chaos, LIFTING has a gentle, laid back, soft styling. Which makes some of the revelations even more elegantly done. From activist to store detective, from young single woman to mother, wife and worker, Amy's journey is laid out in a most engaging manner. Surrounding her with some wonderfully colourful characters made it even better, and frankly, some of the revelations into how people go about shoplifting were staggering - international cabin crew uniforms and all.


A little on the eccentric side, LIFTING is a really lovely little novel full of great insight, humour, sadness and joy. I'm not 100% sure I'd call it crime fiction but it's certainly entertaining fiction.


Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ned Kelly Awards in Australia and Ngaio Marsh Awards in New Zealand. She kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction