Friday, July 22, 2016

Feeling Old & Peculier in Harrogate

Greetings from the lovely town of Harrogate in the north of England, a terrific place historically famous for its mineral spas (people travelled here from all around since the 16th century to 'take the waters').

Harrogate is a town full of history: 100 years ago it was a popular destination for the British elite and European nobility; during the Second World War its large hotels were used by  government officials evacuated from London during the Blitz (laying the groundwork for its modern-day success as a conference/events hub); and most famously - for mystery fans - it is the place where Agatha Christie was found in 1926 after the world's most popular author went missing 11 days beforehand from her estate in Sunningdale near London, more than 200 miles to the south.

Why am I here? Well, to attend the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, of course.

Just like in days gone by, the little town of Harrogate attracts visitors from all over the world - only now one of the main drawcards is a sparkling festival established soon after the turn of the millennium. What began as a small gathering of crime fiction lovers has grown over 14 editions into arguably the biggest and best crime writing festival in the world, renowned for its relaxed atmosphere where authors, readers, publishers, agents, media, and others all mix and mingle together.

For years, authors I met and interviewed raved to me about the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, and how I "absolutely must" attend sometime. I did so for the first time in 2012, and was not disappointed - and I'm very glad to finally be back here again.

This year's festival line-up includes special guests Jeffrey Deaver, Linwood Barclay, Tess Gerritsen, Martina Cole, Val McDermid, Gerald Seymour, and Peter Robinson (replacing Neil Cross), along with dozens of other terrific crime writers ranging from debutants to long-established stalwarts.

One of the things I love most about 'Harrogate' is that in addition to the authors onstage, many other crime writers come to town for the festival too. It's like an unofficial annual retreat for the crime writing community. Hanging out in the grounds of the Old Swan Hotel (where Dame Agatha reappeared, all those years ago), glancing across the crowds mixing and mingling is like the crime bookshelves from your favourite bookstore come to life. Everyone having a great time catching up with old friends and making new ones. Collegiality abounds. New stories made.

Laura Lippman in book form and real life on the train
This year, I had another 'crazy Harrogate story' even before I got off the train from London. Choosing to read rather than write during my journey up, I was powering through WILDE LAKE by Laura Lippman, fully engrossed.

As I got up to switch trains in Leeds, I glanced behind me at the line of other passengers, wondering how many were also going to Harrogate. A blonde lady right behind me looked familiar. She smiled, "Hi, I'm Laura Lippman". I don't know who was more surprised and chuffed - Laura to spot someone reading her book in public or me, who'd been so caught up in the terrific tale I hadn't noticed the author was sitting a few seats behind me!

Only at Harrogate.

Simon Theakston with Clare MacKintosh,
winner of the Best Crime Novel award
The opening night kicked off unofficially with a packed instalment of the famed Noir at the Bar, down the street a little at Hale's pub. Hosted by Luca Veste it included readings from a variety of cool crime writers established and new: Helen Fitzgerald, Brook Magnanti, AA Dhand, Graham Smith, Col Bury, Craig Robertson, Russell D. McLean, Lucy Cameron, Vic Watson and Jay Stringer.

The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival officially opened later on with the presentation of the Crime Novel of the Year Award. It was a stellar shortlist of six books, highlighted to a full-house audience of several hundred by Mark Lawson, who invited each of the finalists in attendance onstage for a brief Q&A: Mark Billingham (TIME OF DEATH); Eva Dolan (TELL NO TALES); Renee Knight (DISCLAIMER); Clare MacKintosh (I LET YOU GO), and Adrian McKinty (RAIN DOGS).

Lots of fun stories were shared, but a particular stand-out for me was when McKinty recounted meeting Muhammad Ali in a bookstore years before, and how he'd been too nervous to do a 'gloves up' picture with the champ, but his buddy - our own Liam McIlvanney - did. I'll have to try to source that photo!

After plenty of pauses for suspense, former policewoman Clare MacKintosh was announced as the winner, a popular choice if the reaction of the audience was anything to go by! "I can't speak now, I'm just going to stand here and cry for a bit," said MacKintosh as she took the stage. She went on to thank the other writers in the crime community, noting how collegial it is, and how it was with their support and encouragement that she broke through over the past 18 months - everything from cover quotes to giving her aspirin after a big night at Harrogate!

Living legend: Val McDermid with her award
At the same ceremony, Val McDermid was honored with a 'lifetime achievement' style prize, for her Outstanding Contribution to Crime Writing. I'm a big fan of Val's, both as a writer and a person, so it was pretty special getting to see her feted in this way in front of several hundred people.

Mark Billingham gave a terrific speech, touching and humorous, celebrating Val's verve for life and what she has meant to the crime writing community. From her early days as the first person from a Scottish state school to get into St Hilda's College at Oxford (at 16 years old) to her time as a reporter where she had the nickname 'Killer' because of her doggedness, to the way she's been so forthright in every aspect of her life, how she was a driving force behind the establishment of this crime writing festival all those years ago, and her ongoing support of Raith Rovers FC.

In her acceptance speech, Val had a lot of heartfelt things to say, including advice for young writers to write what you care about, not what you think will be popular. "I've always written the books I wanted to write," she said. "The books that sang in my heart". She went on to stress the special relationship between authors and readers. "Without an audience a writer is nothing, and you are the people who've made me the writer I am today. So thank you for everything."

It was a terrific moment, getting to pause and celebrate one of the all-time greats. Another Harrogate memory created. Following the official opening the crowds drank and told tales outside the Old Swan into the wee small hours. I caught up with New Zealand author Paul Cleave, met his very enthusiastic Danish publishers, German thriller writer Wulf Dorn, and many others.

A great start to what will be a great weekend. More reports to follow.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review: THE AGENCY

THE AGENCY by Ian Austin (June 2016)

Reviewed by Stephanie Jones

Dan Calder is an ex Brit and ex policeman looking for a fresh start in a new country but still carrying the baggage of failed relationships and a depressed, repressed past. He chose New Zealand because it was as far as he could get from his old life. The Agency provides a service like no other and New Zealand is the ideal location to find a new client. When Calder first encounters it by sheer chance, his life instantly changes and before long others are depending on him too. 

Engaged in a deadly game with an unknown foe; this was not the new life Dan Calder planned for himself but now at stake is the ultimate reward; his own salvation. 

For all the advances made by women in recent decades, the profession of serial killing remains dominated by men. The few outliers who spring to mind were, in most instances, co-conspirators to men, the Ian Bradys and Fred Wests and Charles Mansons who are assumed to have called the shots. But in Ian Austin’s cat-and-mouse thriller THE AGENCY, the villain is a globe-trotting femme fatale who kills for money, answers to no one, and changes her appearance and identity with the ease and speed of a spy.

The would-be conqueror of Veronica Stenning is former detective Dan Calder, who left the UK police force in hazy circumstances in 2008 and now, a little more than three years later, is living in Auckland, training for a marathon and awaiting some unforeseeable opportunity. Calder’s childhood experience of family violence was compounded by his colleagues’ veneration of his abusive father, also a senior officer, and resulted in symptoms of PTSD and a unquenchable instinct to put the world to rights.

Stenning is the owner-operator of The Agency, a shadowy outfit that promises to grant the end-of-life wishes of anyone with a spare quarter-million pounds or so. In one highly effective scene, the misleading nature of The Agency’s marketing dawns on a terminally ill pensioner moments too late, and Stenning’s artful, scrupulously planned chicanery is exposed.

When Stenning chances to follow Calder’s path to New Zealand, and fishes for new victims by hacking into a mental health website and emailing those who have used it, she snags Calder. His inner sleuth is roused and is quick to obsess over the trail of breadcrumbs left for him – but which morsels are lures and which mistakes?

Calder’s only distractions are his long runs and friendly next-door neighbours who set him up with a love interest, Tara, who assumes a Girl Friday role as Dan goes after his prey (not the only way in which THE AGENCY recalls Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike novels; both men work off the books and are motivated by a steely morality that nonetheless admits some rule-bending in support of loftier aims).

THE AGENCY reverberates with police voices, and as in so many detective novels, much of the fun is in the easy banter and camaraderie of cops – their secret language, their unabashed faith in and affection for one another. Calder even loves the grunt work, enjoying an observations post – a stake-out – more and more as the long, listless hours go by, and emerging red-eyed, reeking and triumphant. The frustrations, too, might be Austin’s own, as when Calder revisits unfinished business and contacts a British paedophile whose conviction he was unable to secure, and who he now uses for intel, to his own great distaste.

Though the plot is hearty there is some boggy ground in the pacing. A few scenes persist too long, and it’s not uncommon for one character to recount to another events the reader has already seen. Dialogue doesn’t always sound conversational, and minor language mishaps – “palate” rather than “palette”, a reference to the designer “Donna Karen” – distract the pedantic reader.

The suspense of THE AGENCY lies in how Calder will net his prey and in the tantalizing loose ends left by Austin, who with this novel begins a trilogy that promises to answer the intriguing question of what prompted the end of Calder’s police career in the UK. Auckland crime fiction is home to a few good men; add Dan Calder to their ranks.

Stephanie Jones is the book reviewer for Coast FM radio in New Zealand, and a member of the judging panel for the 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. You can read many of her Coast FM reviews here

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION

THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION by RM Cartmel (Crime Scene Books, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The second in the Commander Truchaud series finds the diffident policeman unravelling yet another mystery in the little Burgundy village of Nuits-Saint-Georges. 

A young German tourist seems to have gone missing. But what at first appears quite a straightforward affair soon turns dark when a decomposing body is found in the woods. Another episode of murder, mayhem, violence and villainy in the orderly vineyards of Burgundy.

There's a lovely leisurely pace to retired doctor RM Cartmel's sophomore mystery novel, which fascinates more with its sumptuous setting and engaging characters than any helter-skelter plotline or knuckle-whitening action sequences.

Commander Truchaud of the French National Police is facing some lingering after-effects of events in THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR, along with the worsening health of his elderly father, and this sequel plays off  that recent past, as well as other historic events which become entwined in the lives of the characters. Thus, it's more a 'work out what has already happened' mystery akin to books from the Golden Age, rather than a modern crime thriller full of ongoing and future threat.

While Cartmel turns the volume down to a low hum crime-wise, where his story is really something to savour is in his evocation of French rural life and the characters that populate his fictional world. He really brings Burgundy to life, and Commander Truchaud - the somewhat straitlaced black sheep of his wine-making family - and his various colleagues, family, and acquaintances, are a fun group to share the journey with. In a way it's the Burgundy wine area equivalent of a classic British village mystery, or an episode of Midsomer Murders or Murder, She Wrote, while being more about the engaging characters and their relationships and a strong sense of place than a complex mystery. You could say Cartmel leans more Ngaio Marsh than Agatha Christie, so to speak.

Overall, I found THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION to be an enjoyable stroll through a pleasant part of the world, alongside some engaging companions. I'd return. 

Craig Sisterson writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 150 crime writers, discussed the genre at arts and literary festivals and on national radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Koala sanctuaries and international espionage: an interview with Rachel Amphlett

Welcome to our latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. Last month we hit the 150 interviews mark, and I took a moment to pause and reflect on all the fantastic authors who have been interviewed thusfar, and where I could take 9mm in future.

I've really enjoyed interviewing so many fascinating crime writers, and hearing their stories about books, writing, and broader life. I hope you have too.

Today I'm very pleased to share my recent interview with international thriller writer Rachel Amphlett, who is based in Brisbane but I had a chance to meet at Crimefest in Bristol in May. Rachel moved to Australia from the UK more than a decade ago, after working in a diverse array of jobs including running a pub, playing guitar in bands, and various roles in television, radio, and publishing.

A keen traveller, Rachel has written four books in her Dan Taylor series of international thrillers (and a prequel short story), as well as three standalone thrillers. Taylor is part of a group tasked by British Secret Service with protecting the country's energy supplies, leading to adventures in exotic locations threaded with modern counter-terrorism and cyber security issues. The series has been compared to the books of Michael Crichton and Robert Ludlum: heart-pounding and high-octane international espionage adventures.

Rachel has recently released the fourth novel in her Dan Taylor series, BEHIND THE WIRE, but for now she becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH RACHEL AMPHLETT

1, Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Two spring to mind, starting with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch – I can’t remember how I first discovered the books but I do recall being off work for a number of weeks after a major operation six years ago and devouring at least 11 of the novels in a row. I love the way Bosch’s focus is seeking justice for the victim, nothing else. As a writer, Connelly is almost peerless in his scene-setting – and he gets you to care about the minor characters as well.

About four years ago, I discovered Robert Crais and his Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series of novels – again, they’re mostly set in LA, but Crais has a totally different way of bringing the city to life than Connelly, and in Joe Pike has one of the most engaging characters I’ve ever read. In fact, I think The Watchman is the only crime novel to make me cry in recent years.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed  - my grandfather lent it to me one rainy weekend back in the UK when I was about 13 and had run out of books of my own to read. I think it was the way in which Higgins’ used historical fact, then turned it on its head and asked “what if?” – the tension throughout the book is incredibly intense, and it’s one of those books I tend to go back and read every few years.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had a few short stories that were published in the UK and Australia.

Before I knuckled down and started writing my first novel, I dabbled in writing speculative fiction short stories while I was learning my writing craft. I’m a huge fan of Richard Matthieson and Stephen King, but when it came to writing a full-length novel I returned to my first love – crime thrillers!

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love films, especially thrillers of course, so trips to the cinema are a constant ‘must do’.

We’ve recently finished renovating a house, which has taken up most of our time and money these past two or three years, so once that’s sold and we’ve down-sized I’m really looking forward to getting back to exploring more of Queensland where I currently live (we emigrated here from the UK nearly 11 years ago).

I love to travel, so we’re already planning trips for the next 18 months, some of which will hopefully include skiing, horse-riding, and exploring historical sites as I’ve missed all that as well.

I like to do as much hands-on research as possible, so I’ll be sorting out some trips to shooting ranges and the like over the coming months now that it’s cooling down over here.

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?
One place we always take visitors to is the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, as everyone just turns into a big kid when they’re given a koala to hold or a kangaroo to feed! The trick is to go by boat rather than drive there, though – a lot of people don’t know that you can do that, so I’d highly recommend it.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Well, Helen Mirren still kicks ass and I love her attitude, even if she is over 30 years older than me. I don’t know if she would want to play me in a film, but I definitely want to be like her when I grow up.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
It’s hard to choose, but I’m going to say at the present time, it’s Look Closer because it’s so different to all my other books in that the protagonist isn’t special forces or anything – he’s an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.

It was definitely one of those stories that had to be told – I found it impossible to work on anything else while Look Closer was going round in my head.

The reaction from readers to Look Closer has been great, too – it’s definitely captured people’s imagination, and given me the confidence to try something like that again in the future, when the story reveals itself.

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?
That moment when I see the first paperback copy of each of my books has never changed – it’s so exciting to see everything come together in a package after all the work that goes into it, and that includes the team effort from the editor and cover designer, too.

Of course, by then I’m already well into the next project and trying to get words down every day, so that first print run acts as a bit of an incentive to keep going, knowing that in a few months I get to hold another new paperback!

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I always have to try to keep a straight face at book signings when people approach the table laden with my books and merchandise and ask “Are these your books?”. There are so many answers I really want to give, but of course I simply nod and smile!


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

You can learn more about Rachel Amphlett and her books, including getting a free copy of the first Dan Taylor thriller, WHITE GOLD, at her website here

Review: THE MURDER TRAIL

THE MURDER TRAIL by Leonie Mateer (2015)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Audrey is a psychopath and a serial killer residing in a coastal town in the rural far north of New Zealand. Audrey discovers a drug cartel is using her Tiromoana Cabin Resort for cocaine trafficking. She appears to be helping the police when the drugs go missing and bodies start turning up, but is she?

The third book in the Audrey Murders series, THE MURDER TRAIL is set in a very picturesque location in the far north of New Zealand. Audrey owns a beautiful holiday cabin property perched on a rural mountain top. She's been unlucky in love and she's a serial killing psychopath.

Not having read either of the earlier books in the series, this reader relied heavily on the blurb to set up the scenario. From the psychopathic serial killer, through to the likelihood that this property is remote, and the whole drug cartel moved into one of the cabins bit. Pretty soon the sketchy information provided by the blurb wasn't answering quite enough of the questions that kept arising into Audrey's background, her behaviour and why a psycHopathic serial killer is running a holiday resort in the first place.

The central plot is a drug cartel hiding out on a "fishing trip" arranging for the collection and distribution of smuggled drugs from such a remote location. Audrey's spoiling of their plans is an interesting twist, but the whole romantic sidebar that springs from that didn't make a lot of sense (one would assume it's part of the backstory though). Because there are a lot of aspects to Audrey, and her location, that likewise aren't given any context here, but rather are what they are, it was hard to avoid the feeling that this is a series that you absolutely must read in order. (The Murder Suite / The Cabin by the Sea/The Murder Trail). Without them Audrey came across as an odd mixture of languid, almost passive psychopathy, threatening in some ways and strangely disconnected in others.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares and republishes her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

Review: BOOM AND BUST

BOOM AND BUST by Angus Gillies

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Boom and Bust is a violent hard-boiled crime novel about a man forced into acts of desperation and depravity by debt. He is over-committed in the property market and is changing careers to have a crack as a real estate agent just as the Global Financial Crisis is about to hit. His timing couldn't be worse and the bodies are piling up around him as he tries to shoot his way out of trouble.

In the process of researching the background to BOOM AND BUST I found some information on a trilogy of books Angus Gillies has written about the 1985 to 1990 terror campaign of a Maori sect calling themselves the Rastafarians - in Ruatoria on the East Coast of New Zealand's North Island. Needless to say I got slightly distracted, this review has taken longer to appear than it should have. I've now got the first of those 3 lined up to be read.

But back to BOOM AND BUST which is fictional crime, set on the cusp of the GFC in New Zealand. One man, hit by debt, struggling to get out from under a flagging property market opts for a rather violent way of extracting himself from his desperate situation. Aside from the financial questions, there's a change of career underway as well - this bloke has walked himself into a heap of self-inflicted pain.

Flagged as hard-boiled crime, BOOM AND BUST does come with a bit of violence, but to my mind, hard-boiled is possibly a bit of a stretch. For this reader, it came across as a bit more of a violent caper scenario with a sense of humour. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with that - but if you're expecting hard-boiled, bitter, twisted, pared down and traditional, that wasn't my experience.

It's certainly interesting to see something set in a country like New Zealand, reflecting the stresses and strains of the GFC from a location that wasn't a big player in most of the press and conversation around at the time. It's always fascinating to see how violent fiction fits into the structure of a society not necessarily known for that type of behaviour. Even though BOOM AND BUST is not as hard-boiled as could be expected from the blurb, it was entertaining reading.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares and republishes her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

Friday, July 1, 2016

Review: DOWN RIVER by John Hart

DOWN RIVER by John Hart (John Murray, 2008)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

After being narrowly acquitted of a murder charge as a teenager, Adam Chase was hounded out of the only home he's ever known, exiled for a sin he did not commit. For five long years he disappeared into the faceless gray of New York City. Now he's back in Rowan County and nobody knows why... 

Within hours of his return, Adan is beaten and accosted, confronted by his family and the women he still holds dear. No one knows what to make of Adam's return, but when bodies start turning up, the small town rises against him and Adam again finds himself embroiled in the fight of his life, not just to prove his own innocence, but to reclaim the only life he's ever wanted.

John Hart's sophomore novel is hearty Southern Gothic fare, lush and lyrical, seething with a sense of injustice, a barely controlled rage. At it's centre is Adam Chase, an angry young man with plenty of reason to be angry. He had a tough upbringing, then was falsely accused of murder as a teenager, then saw his father side with his stepmother, who testified for the prosecution, over his own son. Banished to New York City following his acquittal, Adam returns to his North Carolina roots following a cryptic phone call from an old friend. Despite the verdict, suspicions still swirl, and his hometown doesn't exactly welcome the prodigal son with open arms. The victim was a local football star, and many still think that Adam Chase got away with murder.

It certainly doesn't help that Adam's father is a lone holdout as local landowners look to cash in, wanting to sell their land at big profits for the construction of a nuclear power plant. Or that the ex-girlfriend he left behind is now a cop. Or that his friend who phoned him has disappeared.

When bodies start appearing, suspicion turns to the man the town thinks got away with murder.

Hart delivers a compelling tale that engages through its deep characterisation and spider-webbed character relationships as much as through plot twists or action. Hart has little need for ticking clocks or other genre shortcuts, instead the drama and thrills are organic, arising from the characters and their choices and mis-steps. There is plenty of action, and lots going on to keep the pages turning, all with a sense of depth, complexity, and authenticity. Hart's prose is lush and lyrical.

DOWN RIVER is a literary thriller of the highest order, but a caveat: it won't be for everyone.

Adam is at the heart of this tale, a troubled young man who can be irritating, selfish, violent, and have a skewed view of the world, even if understandably so. Told in the first person, we never know quite how much to believe what Adam's telling us, and how much he's hiding. For me, Hart beautifully struck this balance between flawed and fascinating, creating a character and narrative both powerful and page-turning. But for others, Adam may be too much for them to handle. He can be unlikable.

There's a definite Southern Gothic sensibility to DOWN RIVER. Set in rural North Carolina, Hart does a fine job evoking the natural and human landscapes of the area, bringing the people and place of his Rowan County world to vivid, grotesque life. It's a world of subtext and secrets, symbolism and allusion. Nearly everyone has something to hide. Life is messy, complicated, often dark.

Overall, Hart has crafted an excellent literary thriller that was well deserving of the Edgar Award. DOWN RIVER is a complex, rich tale full of nuance and depth in character, story, and theme.

Craig Sisterson writes features and reviews for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed more than 150 crime writers, discussed the genre at literary festivals and on national radio, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Review: ERASERBYTE

ERASERBYTE by Cat Connor (Rebel ePublishers, 2015)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Washington D.C. is burning, blowing up before SSA Ellie Conway’s eyes. More than ever she needs her controversial connections to prevent more terror attacks and horrifying deaths. Surveillance footage mysteriously wiped away, explosions rocking the city, people blown apart, an insider forging Ellie’s signature to release suspects, and her helicopter taken down, all challenge Delta A to find the link between the terror attacks, international trade in missing girls, coded price lists and a rogue Interpol agent.

ERASERBYTE is the seventh in the "byte" series from New Zealand author Cat Connor. The characters are all part of a crack team of special agents, operating out of Washington DC, led by Ellie Conway. Conway is a classic all-action hero, capable of absorbing massive amounts of physical punishment (including injuries in a helicopter accident), and just keep on keeping on. There's romance, and the extra twist of visions, and a psychic in-head connection with the new man in her life.

Having managed to come to this series originally with DATABYTE (which I think is the sixth overall), I will admit it left me more confused than anything else. This is a cast of characters, and a scenario, that take some getting to know. Given that it's a series that's big on action, it's pleasing that there is a strong concentration along the way on characters, and in particular, how the team work together. Which means it's likely that this is a series that you're really going to have to read in order to fully appreciate. It was marked how much better the experience was with ERASERBYTE than it had been with the earlier book for this reader.

Having said that, you are also going to have to be okay with the whole paranormal visions and the speaking inside each other's head connection between the two love interests. It's possible to work around it if, like this reader, you're hard to please with that type of approach, but it is prevalent and might feel slightly out of place given the rest of the high-action, high-threat aspects of the stories.

There's also something slightly unexpected about these characters who joke, rib and tease each other mercilessly, and are closely bonded enough to be capable of light-hearted banter in the middle of extreme circumstances. Their informality appeals to a Southern Hemisphere dweller, whilst also making you wonder a bit about the more buttoned down, formal and very controlled agents of much American storytelling from a similar environment.


Having now read two books in the series it's definitely making much more sense, and allows for some of the "what the" moments to flow more easily. One for fans of high-threat action, who would appreciate a strong female central character, don't mind a hefty dose of romance and that spot of paranormal into the bargain.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares and republishes her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction