Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sophisticated spies and surprise reunions: an interview with Emma Viskic

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the 21st instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 193rd 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 award-bedazzled Australian crime writer Emma Viskic to Crime Watch. I first came across Viskic's sublime storytelling when I read her debut, RESURRECTION BAY, back in 2016. It's a stunner of a debut, that went on to win four awards in one weekend later that year: three Davitt Awards (Best Adult Novel, Best Debut, and Readers' Choice) alongside the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel. It also was also named iBooks Australia’s crime novel of the year, and as it's become more available abroad it's continued to pick up many accolades. It was recently longlisted for both the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, and the CWA Gold Dagger.

Viskic's second novel starring deaf investigator Caleb Zelic, AND FIRE CAME DOWN, is out in the UK & Commonwealth, and will be published in paperback in the United States later this year. Viskic is a classically trained clarinetist who has performed alongside legendary singers like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carerras, as well as in the London Underground. She learned Australian sign language while researching her Caleb Zelic books, and is currently working on a third novel.

But for now, Emma Viskic becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm


9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH EMMA VISKIC

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I’ll always love Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshakwski because she was such a breath of fresh air, but my all-time time favourite is John le CarrĂ©’s George Smiley. (Yes, he’s a spy not a detective, but I’m claiming  him for crime fiction anyway) Smiley is a wonderfully believable mix of contradictions: smart, unassuming, quiet and ruthless.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
When I was ten or eleven my parents gave me free access to their books because I was bored with the kids’ section of the library. They had pretty eclectic taste so I was able to get my hands on everything from Shakespeare to pulp fiction. I’d love to be able to say that I picked up a copy of Richard III and was transformed, but it was actually From Russia, With Love. I understood very little of it, but devoured it in a couple of days. For a kid growing up on the outskirts of the bush, it all seemed incredibly sophisticated, exciting and dangerous.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I wrote two unpublished manuscripts before Resurrection Bay. They were unwieldy, lumpen things, so I turned my hand to short stories in an effort to refine my writing. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did I learn a lot about crafting sentences, plot and characters, but I went on to win both the Ned Kelly and Thunderbolt Awards for short stories.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love spending time with my family, reading, bushwalking, and binge-watching Netflix. I’m also a world champion napper.

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’d highly recommend a visit to the Napier Hotel in Fitzroy. The Napier is a great little pub by anyone’s standards, but I love it because it stars in Peter Temple’s Jack Irish novels as the Prince of Prussia Hotel. The TV series was also filmed there. The Napier is cramped and colourful, and still very much a local pub.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Margot Robbie. After seeing her in I, Tonya, I think she could capture my obsessive side, and my early years as an very bad jazz ballet student. Plus, she’d already have the Australian accent down.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
You’re killing me with this one. Resurrection Bay will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first novel, but its sequel, And Fire Came Down, currently holds centre place. I wrote And Fire Came Down during a difficult period of my life, and it was a difficult novel to write, but it’s also the most honest piece of writing I’ve ever done.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I was in a doctor’s waiting room with my daughter when I read the email offering me publication. There was a moment of stunned silence, then a lot of  hugging and screaming.  The waiting room was empty, but the doctor came out to see what was happening.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
My grade three primary school teacher came to the launch of my second book. I’d last seen her when I was eight. It was one of the loveliest, and most surreal, moments of my life.



Thanks Emma, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can follow Emma on Twitter. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review: THE THERAPY HOUSE

THE THERAPY HOUSE by Julie Parsons (New Island Books, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Garda Inspector Michael McLoughlin is trying to enjoy his retirement – doing a bit of PI work on the side, meeting up with former colleagues, fixing up a grand old house in a genteel Dublin suburb near the sea. 

Then he discovers the body of his neighbour, a retired judge – brutally murdered, shot through the back of the neck, his face mutilated beyond recognition. McLoughlin finds himself drawn into the murky past of the murdered judge, which leads him back to his own father’s killing, decades earlier, by the IRA. 

In seeking the truth behind both crimes, a web of deceit, blackmail and fragile reputations comes to light, as McLoughlin’s investigation reveals the explosive circumstances linking both crimes – and dark secrets are discovered which would destroy the judge’s legendary family name.

Returning to the crime scene after a decade away from the page, Kiwi-Irish author Julie Parsons offers readers a rich story that has many aspects of Ireland's complicated history woven throughout.

More absorbing than page-whirring, THE THERAPY HOUSE meshes a crime tale with a deep dive into the ongoing impact of violence and trauma on survivors and families at an individual level, and more broadly at a collective and national level too. This is a book that deals with complex issues and tough questions that don't have clear answers. Not your standard airport thriller or murder mystery.

THE THERAPY HOUSE has an historic murder and a contemporary murder as tent poles, though the book is about far more than those two crimes.

Decades ago, McLoughlin's father was murdered when he got in the way of an IRA robbery. It still haunts McLoughlin, especially given that some who associated with the killers are now hailed for their parts in the peace process and the politics of modern Ireland.

Now retired from the Garda, McLoughlin moved into a crumbling Victorian near the seaside outside of Dublin, known as 'the Therapy House' due to its history with counselling and medical practice. Next door lives a retired judge with a near-aristocratic pedigree in Irish terms: John Hegarty had a distinguished and influential legal career in his own right, but even more importantly, he was the son of Dan Hegarty, who had fought alongside Michael Collins before becoming very successful in business. But someone wanted the judge dead, and McLoughlin discovers his brutalised body.

The judge's family hire McLoughlin to look into aspects of his life, seeking to keep the judge's chequered past private. Information relating to the murder of McLoughlin's father is dangled as bait.

This is an atypical crime novel, with a lot going on. Plenty of layers, lots of thought-provoking issues that are dealt with subtly rather than bluntly. Questions are raised, not always answered. Situations are messy and grey. Parsons lets things unfold in a leisurely, measured pace, giving readers time to absorb things rather than skimming over them. She crafts a really vivid sense of the world her characters inhabit, and the ways in which the past is inextricably tied to the present.

Unusually for a crime novel, many of the main players are in their later years. They carry the weight of that past with them. There's a tangible sense of all their accumulated history and experiences. The compromises made, the regrets, the glories and failures that have passed yet faintly linger. There's a fascinating interplay between characters who've experienced so much.

THE THERAPY HOUSE is a clever and thoughtful crime novel told in stylish prose that is about so much more than the murders of two Irishmen, decades apart.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter

Review: FRONT RUNNER

FRONT RUNNER by Felix Francis (Michael Joseph, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

In his role as an undercover investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, Jeff Hinkley is approached by a multi-time champion jockey to discuss the delicate matter of losing races on purpose. Little does he know that the call will set off a lethal chain of events, including the apparent suicide of the jockey and an attempt on Hinkley’s own life. 

Never one to leave suspicious events alone, Hinkley begins investigating the jockey and the races he may have thrown. But there are others out there who intend to prevent his inquiry from probing further . . . at any cost.

Felix Francis's second novel featuring BHA investigator Jeff Hinkley fair tears out of the gate, gallops along at high pace, and doesn't let up  until it passes the finishing post. The sequel to DAMAGE and fore-runner to the US-set TRIPLE CROWN, it could be read as a standalone and you don't need to have read the prior Hinkley tale to get the most out of this one. There's plenty enough salted in to give you a sense of the main character and something of his history before the first page.

Here, Hinkley is investigating claims that a bettor may be operating on behalf of someone who has been banned from racing, but ends up looking into something far more dangerous. Britain's top steeplechase jockey, who Hinkley is on friendly terms with, intimates to Hinkley that he did less than his best in a recent race, before clamming up. As Hinkley tries to find out more, without immediately reporting the jockey, everything goes wrong. He's locked in the jockey's sauna and left to die, and even after breaking out, later discovers that the jockey has been found dead in his car.

A suicide because of his guilt? Or is more involved.

This is a really fun, easy read that fair tears along. Francis has an unobtrusive writing style that flows quickly, filled with plenty of action and incident to keep the pages whirring. Hinkley is an engaging hero, likable and interesting. Some of the other characters feel a little more like moving parts. There's a lot going on plotwise, and readers get a bit of an adventurous treat when Hinkley ends up leaving the mud and thundering hooves of the British racecourses to vacation in the Cayman Islands. Of course trouble is not far away.

A fun, exciting read that shows Felix Francis is more than just a foal with good bloodlines. He's a storytelling thoroughbred in his own right.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter

Review: INTO THE NIGHT

INTO THE NIGHT by Sarah Bailey (Allen & Unwin, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Troubled and brilliant, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock finds herself lost and alone after a recent move to Melbourne, broken-hearted by the decisions she's had to make. Her new workplace is a minefield and the partner she has been assigned is uncommunicative and often hostile. When a homeless man is murdered and Gemma is put on the case, she can't help feeling a connection with the victim and the lonely and isolated life he led despite being in the middle of a bustling city. 

Then a movie star is killed in bizarre circumstances on the set of a major film shoot, and Gemma and her partner Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet have to put aside their differences to unravel the mysteries surrounding the actor's life and death. Who could commit such a brazen crime and who stands to profit from it? Far too many people, and none of them can be trusted.

Overseas eyes are increasingly turning towards Australian and New Zealand crime writing in recent years, with antipodean authors becoming more readily available to northern hemisphere booklovers.

Melbourne's Sarah Bailey showed plenty of promise last year with her debut The Dark Lake, which introduced troubled  small-town cop Gemma Woodstock, and saw Bailey join award-hoarding city-mates Jane Harper and Emma Viskic as rookie Aussie crime writers garnering global attention. 

Bailey tackles the ‘difficult second novel’ by plunging Woodstock into new challenges in a new environment: she’s said ‘see ya later’ to her rural hometown, her son and ex-husband, and is now looking to advance her career as a detective living a lonely life in the big city of Melbourne. 

Now Woodstock chases killers and battles emotional emptiness with plenty of bottles and a variety of beds. Keen to prove herself to her new colleagues, she gets a chance to shine when a homeless man is murdered, but is then quickly reallocated when a new case with a much higher priority shocks the nation: a young and beloved actor who seemed on the cusp of a Hollywood breakthrough is stabbed to death in front of hundreds of people on a big zombie film set in the city. The brazen nature of the attack, plus the chaotic aftermath, creates a big mess and plenty of problems for the police. 

It's a traumatic crime for those that knew the movie star as well as those they just felt they did, vicariously through the screen. The high-profile nature of the attack ramps up the pressure on Woodstock and her colleagues, while the homeless man's case is rather sidelined. 

There's plenty to like about Bailey's sophomore effort; she delivers another solid page-turner that deepens the character of Woodstock, whose behavior and choices may divide readers but is messily, authentically human. The crime storyline gets entangled with #MeToo - both in the film world and Woodstock's own industry - and other issues that give INTO THE NIGHT a very current feel. 

There are plenty of thought-provoking touches, though at times Bailey’s writing is a little overblown, having the effect of neutering the power that important themes and moments might otherwise have had. In THE DARK LAKE, Bailey brought the small-town setting to pretty vivid life, capturing some nice nuance to the place and people. With this follow-up, there are Melbourne references aplenty, but for me the setting didn't feel quite as vivid - more green-screen than 'on location', so to speak. 

But those are relatively minor things in what is overall a good solid crime read, centred on an increasingly fascinating (if at times a little unlikable) heroine who has 'ongoing series' written all over her. You get the feeling there's a lot for Bailey to explore with Woodstock, and it'll be interesting to see where the Australian author decides to take her centrepiece in future instalments. 


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: A SHARP SOLITUDE

A SHARP SOLITUDE by Christine Carbo (Atria, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

In the darkening days of autumn, in a remote region near the Canadian border, a journalist has been murdered. Anne Marie Johnson was last seen with Reeve Landon, whose chocolate Labrador was part of an article she had been writing about a scientific canine research program. Now Landon is the prime suspect. Intensely private and paranoid, in a panic that he'll be wrongfully arrested, he ventures deep into in the woods. Even as he evades the detective, Landon secretly feels the whole thing is somehow deserved, a karmic punishment for a horrifying crime he committed as a young boy.

While Montana FBI investigator Ali Paige is not officially assigned to the case, Landon—an ex-boyfriend and the father of her child—needs help. Ali has only one objective for snooping around the edges of an investigation she’s not authorized to pursue: to save her daughter the shame of having a father in jail and the pain of abandonment she endured as a child. As the clock ticks and the noose tightens around Landon's neck, Ali isn’t sure how far she will go to find out the truth. And what if the truth is not something she wants to know?

Two stoic individuals who share traumatic childhoods and fiercely independent streaks, as well as a daughter from their brief relationship, rally the narrative duties back and forth in Carbo's fourth mystery set against the spectacular backdrop of the Glacier National Parks and rural Montana.

Reeve Landon became an unwanted poster boy for changes to gun laws in Florida after a childhood accident with his best friend. He went off the rails as a teenager, before finding some degree of salvation in the Montana wilderness. He spends most of his time with his dog, searching for signs of wildlife, and living in a cabin. It's a quiet, mainly solitary life. The way he likes it.

But then a journalist is found dead. Anne Marie Johnson said she came to Glacier to interview Reeve about the canine research programme he and McKay, his chocolate lab, were part of. But she was asking an awful lot of questions about gun laws and gun deaths, tempering Reeve's attraction.

Tabbed by authorities as the last to see Anne Marie, Reeve quickly becomes the prime suspect. Which is a huge problem for FBI investigator Ali Paige. Like Reeve she left a troubled past behind on the East Coast, and enjoys the space and solitude offered in Montana. She's a mother to Emily, but keeps her private life private. Can she keep doing that when her daughter's father is a murder suspect?

Carbo delivers a fascinating tale that blends a tight mystery storyline with a great sense of the Montana setting - the place and the people. A SHARP SOLITUDE is character-centric crime fiction, seasoned with plenty of interesting psychological and societal issues. Challenges for individuals and the broader community. There's a really nice balance - the story feels 'well-rounded' for want of a better phrase: strong mystery, good characters that are interesting and have depth, great setting.

The narrative switches between Reeve and Ali's perspectives, building tension and deepening characterisation along the way. Carbo brings rural Montana to vivid life (I've visited for a few days on my travels, and things rang very true for me, as well as deepening my perspective on the region).

There are a few 'what the?' moments along the way, where characters make some poor choices, but rather than feeling like dropped notes or 'author hand' clunkiness to force a story, these end up fitting with their characters and the world Carbo has crafted. There's a messy humanity to it all. An authenticity that deepens our understanding of angst-ridden characters scrabbling through life.

This is the kind of book you can just sit back and enjoy as the tale unfolds, but will have you thinking too. And caring. There's some nice texture and depth as well as plenty of intrigue in the storyline.

It was a couple of sittings read for me, a book I kept wanting to get back to. And when I closed the back cover, I immediately wanted to read more of Carbo's Glacier Mysteries.

So I went and bought books one to three.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter

Review: JACKRABBIT SMILE

JACKRABBIT SMILE by Joe R Lansdale (Mulholland, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Hap and Leonard are an unlikely pair - Hap, a self-proclaimed white trash rebel, and Leonard, a tough-as-nails black gay Vietnam vet and Republican - but they're the closest friend either of them has in the world. Hap is celebrating his wedding to his longtime girlfriend, when their backyard barbecue is interrupted by a couple of Pentecostal white supremacists. They're not too happy to see Leonard, and no one is happy to see them, but they have a problem and they want Hap and Leonard to solve it.

Judith Mulhaney's daughter, Jackrabbit, has been missing for five years. That is, she's been missing from her family for five years, but she's been missing from everybody, including the local no-goods they knew ran with her, for a few months. Despite their misgivings, Hap and Leonard take the case. It isn't long until they find themselves mixed up in a revivalist cult believing that Jesus will return flanked by an army of lizard-men, and solving a murder to boot.

Although I've had some Lansdale books on my TBR shelves for a little while, I first experienced his riveting, quirky world via the screen drama Hap and Leonard. Adapted from his first three books in his long-running series, that stars James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams as the seemingly mismatched pair of lifelong best friends. It's a great show - full of action, humour, intrigue, memorable characters, social issues and more - and it's well worth visiting the original material.

Lansdale has been called 'the bard of East Texas', and he has a distinctive storytelling style and vivid world creation, a sort of 'swamp noir' that is both bizarre and brilliant. It's violent and action-packed, but also funny and thoughtful and laced with character and a potpourri of relevant issues. For readers who haven't yet experienced Lansdale, it's a little tricky to offer a comparison with other authors.

He's created something terrifically unique.

JACKRABBIT SMILE is the twelfth instalment in Hap and Leonard's escapades. Working as private eyes, they're approached by a couple of Bible-misusing redneck racists who are searching for their troubled sister and daughter, 'Jackrabbit'. Hap and Leonard don't care for the mother-son duo, but their concern for the young woman has them reluctantly on the case. Plus, they could use the cash.

The search takes Hap and Leonard back to Hap's hometown, a place full of striking characters and bizarre leads. From the local sheriff whose brothers are hired goons for a cult-leader-like white separatist-not-supremacist, to old friends and enemies, there are plenty of people keeping things off-kilter. Lansdale demonstrates his deft touch for character in among all the action and confrontation. He sprinkles the tale with 'grotesques' in the Southern Gothic tradition, without falling into cliche. There's a verve and freshness to his characterisation, an authenticity to the relationships and nice moments of surprise that ensure crime readers aren't just seeing the same-old, same-old.

Overall, there is a crackling, anarchic energy to Landsdale's storytelling in JACKRABBIT SMILE. It's a quick read that doesn't feel 'thin', that is overflowing with unusual moments and characters, while also raising plenty of thought-provoking issues, contemporary and evergreen. Landsdale veers towards 'pulp' in style and mindset, but he's so much more than such distillation. A terrific read.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Key grips and candlelit museums: an interview with Valentina Giambanco

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the 20th instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 192nd 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 Italian born and raised crime writer Valentina Giambanco, who has worked as an editor in the UK and US film industry for twenty years. Valentina is the author of the Alice Madison series set in Seattle and the surrounding wilderness of Washington State. Although she lives in Southwest London - a city she first moved to for English and Drama studies at university - Valentina says she fell in love with Seattle years ago, and that city and the "ruthlessly beautiful" landscapes of the Pacific Northwest "have shaped and inspired her stories in every way".

Like our interviewee two weeks ago, Marnie Riches, I actually interviewed Valentina at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in 2016. Publication was delayed when I lost some notebooks (recently recovered during house renovations). Valentina and I have checked over her interview answers in case anything needed updating, but that wasn't the case. So here you have the interview Valentina and I did on a sunny summer's in 'the big red chair' at Harrogate.

So, at last, Valentina Giambanco becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm ...

9MM INTERVIEW WITH VALENTINA GIAMBANCO

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
This is a tricky one, but I’m afraid I have to go back to Clarice Starling, even though it was a very short series. But she definitely inspired me, and the first Thomas Harris books are as perfect as a thriller can be. Things went a bit haywire after that, but if you can have a two-book series, then she’s my favourite. Also, she’s 25 in the first and 32 in the second, and she changes a lot. I also love Ruth Galloway (from Elly Griffiths’ books), because she changes through time as well. I also love the settings, the idea of Norfolk, the wilderness and sea. The history of the background. The science. The combination of elements.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I was really into science fiction, things from Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury. So it was FAHRENHEIT 451 actually: the imagery, the sense of the story being told. It was about something that was beyond the events that were happening. Somehow it just chimed.

I’m a big film nerd, and they’ve affected me as much as books when it comes to storytelling. The film was Amadeus, though the first adult film I watched was Lawrence of Arabia. Which is a pretty good place to start.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything): unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Nothing. I had not written anything that was published. Short stories scribbled, definitely, but nothing published. I worked in film, but it was a completely unrelated field to writing. My debut was 147,000 words, which tells you it was my first crack at a novel! The second was 120,000 words and the third 108,000 words.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Movies! I’m a big film nerd. We’re talking about knowing the key grip for a particular film. I’m also a big reader, and not necessarily crime. I think it’s important - because everything goes into it, as is true of any artistic endeavour - it’s really important to get my head out of crime fiction mode. I also love travelling.

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 going to talk about London, where I live now. There’s a small museum about Sir John Soane, which is three houses joined together. He was the architect for the Bank of England and a collector. He travelled and collected paintings, Italian and Dutch masters, sculptures from Egypt. He created this amazing museum in his own home, which you can visit. He bought the two nearby homes … there’s no electricity, just natural light. It’s in Lincoln’s Inn Field in London. It’s absolutely unforgettable, and once a month they keep the house open at night and just light it all with candles. If that’s not a perfect date, I don’t know what is!

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Are we talking reality or dream? Okay, okay… Mark Rylance, because he can play anything! (laughing). Oh God oh God, who would play me? Well, that’s obvious isn’t it? Meryl Streep – who else? Meryl Streep could play Batman and do a good job!

7. Of your books, which is your favourite or a bit special, and why?
A lot of people would probably say their first one, because it’s the one, the place and time where my characters all met each other. But at the same time, SWEET AFTER DEATH is very special to me too. That moment when you just capture your character. Each book has something special that makes it dear to you, but this one set not in Seattle but in the mountains. It was difficult to write, but a lot of fun. It’s named after a plant, the deer-foot, which smells sweet after you crush the leaves. It’s also called vanilla leaf.

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 saw my book in a store, I thought someone had put it there as a joke, someone I knew. It felt utterly and completely surreal, so out of place. “What is it doing there?” That feeling never goes away, a few years later. It’s very special, seeing it exist.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
For me, it’s been the chance to meet my heroes. At Thrillerfest in 2016 I got to chat with Walter Mosley a few times, talking about writing with a man who’s been a huge inspiration to my writing. That was just fantastic. And then meeting readers who buy your books and you can just have a chat for a few minutes, this is what festivals are so important.


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

You can learn more about Valentina and her books at her website, and follow her on Twitter

Friday, June 8, 2018

Review: THE BLACK WIDOW

THE BLACK WIDOW by Lee-Anne Cartier (Penguin, 2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The Black Widow almost got away with murder. But then her sister-in-law became suspicious...

The infamous Black Widow case shocked New Zealand. An average-looking suburban housewife carefully staged her husband's 'suicide'. At first it looked like she might get away with murder, but then her sister-in-law, Lee-Anne Cartier, became suspicious and started gathering evidence and presenting it to the police. Unfortunately they didn't believe it was enough to get a conviction and signed the death off as suicide. Lee-Anne then drove the case at the inquest and a finding of 'No proof of suicide' was pivotal in getting the police to reopen the case. 

This is a story that reads like something out of a movie script, but was all-too-horribly true, THE BLACK WIDOW goes behind the headlines and gives readers a much fuller story behind one of New Zealand's most infamous modern murder trials, that of Helen Milner. Milner was married to truck driver Phil Nesbit, who died in 2009. The police thought it was a suicide, but Phil's sister Lee-Anne had doubts, and grew to believe that Helen may have murdered him.

It wasn't an easy road to change minds, and THE BLACK WIDOW outlines the long, twisting struggle Lee-Anne had over more than two years, conducting her own covert amateur investigation, to find some measure of justice for her brother. It's a compelling story; Lee-Anne was a high-school drop-out with no expertise who showed Erin Brokovich-like levels of determination and resilience, even as so many people doubted, and had to put herself and family into debt to keep on going.

THE BLACK WIDOW is a compelling read about a heroic woman who put so much of herself on the line to try to right a wrong. There could be a danger in someone like that, sharing their story in book form, as coming across as trying to 'toot their own horn' (as my Mother would say) or point out how they were right and the police and 'experts' were wrong, all along. But THE BLACK WIDOW doesn't read like that. It's just Lee-Anne sharing her story so that readers understand what actually happened to her brother, and the battle that she and her family went through to prove it.

This is a very readable, very interesting story that flows along well. It's told in fairly straightforward fashion, without the literary flourishes of some true crime writing, but also without the garish or voyeuristic elements of others in the genre. It gives us an in-depth look at a victim/victim's family perspective on the machinations of the criminal justice system, which is eye-opening, valuable, and at times troubling. Lee-Anne shares things in a candid way, which is great for readers.

A book that's not going to blow you away stylistically, THE BLACK WIDOW is a tale well worth reading, especially for the underlying story of a determined and brave woman battling for justice.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter