Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ngaio Marsh Award on Twitter

Rather belatedly, the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel now has a Twitter account, so if you want to keep up with the news and happenings in relation to Kiwi crime, mystery, and thriller writing that's a great place to do so. Look us up on Twitter: @ngaiomarshaward. 

Crime Watch will continue to publish and curate great content about New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing, but moving forward there will be more of a focus on analysis and reviews, features, and op-ed columns like last weeks's "10 Kiwi Crime Writers Who Should be Chained Up..." piece.

Breaking news, awards, and events news will feature more on Twitter and the Ngaio Marsh Award Facebook page in future. Although as Crime Watch evolves (a new look is coming) there will be Facebook or Twitter feeds of such news in the new sidebar.

Click here to go to the Ngaio Marsh Award Twitter page, and here for the Facebook page. Join the discussion! And say kia ora, hi, gidday or hello to New Zealand crime writing on social media.

Monday, July 27, 2015

9mm interview: Alan Carter

While the United States and the United Kingdom are the traditional powerhouses of crime writing, in recent decades booklovers have slowly become more aware of the cornucopia of talented authors from other countries.

Plenty has been written about the Scandinavians, while the likes of France's Fred Vargas had a lock on the International Dagger for a while, but it's not just novels in translation where gems are found. Friends, look to the antipodes: Australian and New Zealand authors are penning tales amongst the best in the world. We're often the harshest critics of that with which we're most familiar, but stepping back a little, I'm continually impressed by the depth and breadth of the crime, mystery, and thriller storytelling from both countries.

So today, I'm very pleased to welcome Alan Carter, a crime writer who calls both Australia and New Zealand home, to Crime Watch. Alan was born in Sunderland (northern England), but immigrated to Australia twenty-five years ago. He announced himself on the crime writing scene in 2011, with PRIME CUT, which introduced fascinating investigator DS Phillip 'Cato' Kwong, an Australian of Asian heritage. Kwong's on the outs with his superiors, demoted to the Stock Squad, digging into animal deaths on farms in Western Australia. He discovers a juicier case when an unidentified torso washes up onshore - no one else cares, they're too caught up with all the troubles in a mining town.

The book went on to win the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel, and Alan has since continued the series with GETTING WARMER (2013) and BAD SEED (2015). I recently met Alan at Crimefest Bristol, and today he becomes the 125th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?  
DC Paul Winter from Graham Hurley's Portsmouth-set 'Faraday & Winter' series. From the moment he's introduced in Turnstone, one of the best character introducing paragraphs I've ever read, I was hooked. He's amoral, funny, resourceful and very effective. But no matter how far over the line he steps you know he's ultimately on the side of the angels - even if they'd prefer it if he wasn't.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?  
Alistair MacLean's When Eight Bells Toll. I read it when i was about 11 or 12 and saw the movie with a very young Anthony Hopkins in the lead role. Thrown straight into the thick of things from page one with a bloke describing in detail the history of the big gun being pointed at him.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?  
Nothing.  Although in my day job I'd been writing narration for two decades worth of TV documentaries, some cheesy, some less so.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?  
I do a fair bit of ocean swimming, not fast but dogged, and I'm recently cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats - it's a mid-life crisis thing.  A Dwight Yoakam song comes to mind, "a thousand miles of misery".

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?  
Hometown?  Home in WA is Fremantle: take a six-pack or a nice bottle of red up on to Monument Hill and watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean and glance off the dockside cranes of the port. In New Zealand, it's Havelock - get an inner tube and jump into the Wakamarina River and float down to the Trout Hotel at Canvastown.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?  
It'd be pretty tough, they'd have to pull off a Geordie (Northeast England) accent, but I hear Sir Ian Mckellen is quite good. He might need to buff up a bit though.  And eat a few pies.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?  
While I'll always have a soft spot for my first, Prime Cut, I have to choose my latest – Bad Seed. As well as digging deeper into my hero's character and getting kinda deep, I've also had a whole lot more fun with some of the support characters, So much so that I’m thinking of a spin-off series based on one of them.

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?  
It was a blast hearing first of all I was to be published as I'd never written it with that expectation.  And then seeing it on the bookshelves in the shops, I still have to check myself from doing something really sad and pathetic like going up to the shop assistant and saying - hey, that's me!  Celebration? I think alcohol might have been involved, in moderation.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?  
Like many authors, I draw some of my inspiration from real life people or events so inevitably that's going to come home to roost at some point. For both Prime Cut and Getting Warmer I've had people come up to me and say they know the person upon whom the fictional killer is based, and I’d thought the original cases had been pretty obscure. The Bad Seed killer is a complete fabrication so fingers crossed.

Thank you Alan. We appreciate you taking the time to chat with Crime Watch


Have you read Alan Carter's Cato Kwong novels? Please share your thoughts with a comment. 

Bloodied in Scotland

Congratulations to the six authors whose books have today been announced as the shortlist for the Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year. Add these to your TBR pile; fantastic storytelling.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


The first edition cover of Ngaio's first novel,
published by Geoffrey Bles in 1934
A MAN LAY DEAD by Ngaio Marsh (1934)

Reviewed by Kerrie Smith 

This is Ngaio Marsh's debut novel, a classic country house party murder mystery, where the reader is tempted to map the location of all of the characters at the location of the murder. Nigel Bathgate, with his cousin Charles Rankin, is attending his first houseparty at Frampton. He has heard these houseparties hosted by Sir Hubert Handesley are both "original" and unpretentious. There will seven or eight guests, and, upon arrival, he learns that the main event will be a Murder. Sir Hubert has his own rules for the Murder Game, and eventually a murder there is, but not the theatrically staged one they have anticipated.

This is not Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn's first murder case, although it is Ngaio Marsh's first novel. Alleyn is already a seasoned detective, with a reputation for thorough and careful sleuthing. His reputation preceds him. He arrives at Frampton from Scotland Yard the morning after the murder. The body has already been moved, and the local constabulary and the police doctor are already in attendance.

In essence what Marsh does in this first novel is establish some of the characteristics which will become Alleyn's "signature" in subsequent novels. Alleyn does not appear as the other characters expect a detective to be. He is tall, cultured, detached, thorough, and objective. He professes to have a poor memory and keeps a small note book of important facts, with an alphabetical index. We learn that Alleyn is an Oxford man who initially became a diplomat, before turning to policing. He likes to inspect things first hand, and likes to reconstruct events until he gets them right. He may also lay traps for suspects. In A MAN LAY DEAD he decides one of the characters is innocent, and then uses him as his "Watson", not only involving him in some of the sleuthing, but also as a sounding board for his deductions. Thus we see the action often through two sets of eyes, both Alleyn's and the other characters.

This is an interesting novel as Marsh has included the element of "the Russian threat". First of all there is the Russian dagger with which the victim is stabbed, then the Russian butler who disappears, the house guest who is a Russian espionage agent, and then the Russian secret society that binds them all together. A MAN LAY DEAD was published in 1934 and is indicative of the fear of Russian communism that had had Europe in its thrall for the previous decade or so.

Ngaio Marsh is a New Zealander but this novel puts her right into the vein of the Golden Age writers like Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham. It is a British cozy murder mystery through and through. In A MAN LAY DEAD she is exploring a classic scenario, and bringing a new sleuth onto the crime fiction scene. There is no hint of her Antipodean origins. The language, the slang, the setting are thoroughly British.

From a 21st century point of view A MAN LAY DEAD has survived eight decades pretty well. We wouldn't put it at the top of the tree these days, because there are things that date it. Marsh was more concerned to write a carefully constructed whodunnit, and not so taken with "why". Nevertheless it is very readable.


Kerrie Smith is a renowned Australian crime fiction reviewer and the creator of Mysteries in Paradise, an outstanding online crime fiction resource where this review was originally published. She also runs the Global Reading Challenge. Kerrie has been kindly agreed to share her New Zealand crime fiction reviews here with the Crime Watch audience.  


Saturday, July 25, 2015

10 Kiwi Scribes who Should be Chained Up until they Write Another Crime Novel (Part 1)

After decades of being maligned and overlooked, New Zealand crime writing is flourishing right now. But I want more. 

There are good signs everywhere: the media is regularly featuring our masters of murder and mayhem in reviews and articles; local crime novels are becoming bestsellers and picked up for overseas deals and translations; and more and more talented authors of all styles are choosing to write crime and mystery tales for the first time.

The Ngaio Marsh Award long-list is becoming deeper and more varied each year, and the judges are having a heck of a time picking the finalists, let alone the winner - there's so much good writing out there. But like a bear that's got a taste for honey, I want more. More crime-loving local readers giving our own authors a go, more distribution of our great tales overseas. More recognition and respect.

I want one more thing: some of our local crime writing talents who've stepped away to come back to the game. Let me explain: three years ago Paul Thomas - Godfather of modern Kiwi crime, 'Elmore Leonard on acid', one of the finest crime writers around, etc - published his first Ihaka novel in 15 years, DEATH ON DEMAND (2012). It went on to win the Ngaio Marsh Award. He'd taken a winding road back, via sports biographies, media columns, and screenwriting. Always writing, just not crime.

Likewise, it was fantastic to see Joan Druett recently continue her superb Wiki Coffin series (set on the 1800s high seas), after a hiatus of several years that was filled with short stories and much-acclaimed maritime-themed non fiction. THE BECKONING ICE was longlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award.

But other terrific authors have turned away from crime and not yet returned. They are Thomas or Druett mid-hiatus, working on other writings and other projects. Letting the demands of life steal their time, and worse, steal new crime tales from the voracious crime and mystery fans out there.

So over the next two weeks I'll be delivering my 'most wanted' list of Ten New Zealand crime writers who should be locked to their desks until they deliver us another crime novel. 

Here's the first five: 

In a five-year period starting in 2007, Symon delivered four gripping books featuring Sam Shepherd (one of the most engaging female characters in New Zealand literature), then a dark and twisted standalone, The Faceless, to rival the likes of Linwood Barclay, Harlan Coben, and Gillian Flynn.

Then the three-times Ngaio Marsh Award finalist stopped: purportedly to work on a PhD examining Dame Ngaio's use of poisons in her novels. Time-consuming for sure, especially combined with looking after a family, reviewing books for radio, delivering the Ngaio Marsh Memorial Lecture, and skewering opponents on the masters' fencing circuit. En garde! 

I have some sympathy. Some. But it's a crime that we haven't had any new Sam Shephard tales in almost five years now. Like Ihaka, she's too good a character to disappear forever.

And Symon is too good a crime writer. Back in 2011 she told me, for a feature in Canvas magazine, that she took great joy in dropping Sam into all sorts of nasty situations, and seeing how she'd get herself out of them. Well then Ms Symon, it's time to find your happiness, put fingers to keys, and drop Detective Constable Shephard back in the proverbial again, methinks!

Another reprobate from Otago, although McGee calls Auckland home nowadays - when he's not winning Katherine Mansfield fellowships and swanning off to Menton to write sweeping epics that deservedly have the critics atwitter (The Antipodeans).

McGee vaulted into the local crime writing scene back in 2009 with the startlingly good Cut & Run. Who was this mysterious 'Alix Bosco', a "successful writer in other media", we wondered. My money was on Rachel Lang, a talented TV screenwriter, given the heroine's strong voice, city/suburban Auckland setting, cover quote from Outrageous Fortune's Robyn Malcolm, and the cinematic storytelling in this excellent debut.

A couple of years later McGee, the former Junior All Black, playwright of classic rugby-themed Kiwi play Foreskin's Lament, and screenwriter (at least I got that part right), outed himself as Bosco in the lead-up to the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award event. He was a finalist for his second Alix Bosco book, Slaughter Falls. He'd won the inaugural award the year before for Cut & Run.

Five years on from Slaughter Falls, we're still waiting for a third tale featuring legal researcher Anna Markunas. Like Sam Shephard, she's a layered and complex heroine, really fun to read about, and has many more stories to tell I'm sure. It's not like McGee hasn't been busy in his un-closeted interim: he wrote the bestselling biography of arguably the greatest rugby player of all time (Richie McCaw), a fine novel under his own name in Love & Money, and now The Antipodeans, described as "wonderful" by reviewers.

But whether it's as Bosco or McGee, we need at least one more book to finish Anna's trilogy. So put back on your fishnets and boa mate, and get to work. We're waiting...

Like Val McDermid, Tokoroa-raised Stella Duffy first broke through with a groundbreaking crime series starring a strong and engaging lesbian protagonist. After 1994's Calendar Girl, Duffy went on to write four more Saz Martin books - the last (so far) being 2005's Mouths of Babes. But unlike McDermid, Duffy hasn't continued with her crime novels.

Instead, over the past 20 years the multi-talented Duffy has produced a staggeringly impressive resume of projects across the creative and charitable spectrums. Along with her five crime novels, Duffy has written eight literary novels, two of which were longlisted for the Orange Prize. She's twice been the Stonewall Writer of the Year, and has also edited the anthology Tart Noir and twice won the CWA Dagger for Best Short Story. So there's been a wee bit of crime apart from the Saz novels.

The former Victoria University drama student has also acted on stage and screen, been a comedian and improv artist, written many stage plays, and directed many others - including Murder, Marple, and Me. If that wasn't enough, she's battled cancer, toured her solo show Breaststrokes in several European cities, and been a driving force behind Fun Palaces, a movement to encourage community engagement with creativity and the arts which saw 138 'laboratories of fun' created by local communities across Britain last year.

I think if we tried to handcuff Stella Duffy to her desk, she'd just break the chains. The woman's a creative dynamo, and an inspiration. So it's just as well that word on the street is that she's already working on a new crime novel. I don't know where she's finding the time, but I'm very glad she is.

Back in 2010, as the Ngaio Marsh Award was launching, then Sunday Star-Times Books Editor Mark Broatch wrote a feature looking at the state of New Zealand crime writing. In that article, renowned editor and literary critic Stephen Stratford told Broatch (now New Zealand Listener Books & Culture editor) that he was "still waiting for a new novel from Zirk van den Berg whose outstanding Nobody Dies came out in 2004".

I've since read Nobody Dies, and Stratford is spot-on. It's an outstanding crime novel, a searing tale centred on a loner who's thrown into the witness protection programme in South Africa after witnessing a murder, unaware the cop in charge has taken it upon herself to eliminate her charges in a more permanent manner. In a Herald on Sunday review in 2012 I called it "an absorbing, tense tale that brings the expanses of South Africa to life on the page, along with the grey areas in human hearts and minds." Back in 2004 it's release caused the Listener to ask if van den Berg was New Zealand's best thriller writer - after only one book! And it was rated a Top 5 Thriller, globally, by the New Zealand Herald.

Despite it's acclaim, Nobody Dies fell out of print, in print, though van den Berg resurrected it in ebook form a few years later, and also published another thriller in ebook, No Brainer (2011). The recent Afrikaans translation of Nobody Dies won the kykNET-Rapport Prize as Best Filmable Book. But van den Berg hasn't written any thrillers in the past few years, instead concentrating on his communications business, and writing his historic drama/war and love story, Half of One Thing (2014).

That's all well and good, but whether it's a thriller set in Africa or in his adopted home of New Zealand, we need another crime tale from Zirk van den Berg. He's just too good to just stop.

For a period from the mid '90s onwards, Chad Taylor was the author who, alongside Paul Thomas, dragged contemporary Kiwi crime writing into a darker, grittier place. His superb tales of urban noir crackled with venom and were powered by skillful, stylish prose. Thomas and Taylor were a long way away from Ngaio Marsh and Laurie Mantell's decidedly cosy tales.

Taylor kickstarted things with his intriguing novella Pack of Lies (1993), and followed that up with Heaven (made into a film by Miramax), Shirker (2000), Electric (2003), and Departure Lounge (2006). Taylor received widespread global acclaim for his 'neo-noir' novels, which both danced eccentrically in and around the edges of 'crime and mystery', and subverted the genre too. Leading UK critic Maxim Jakuboski called Taylor's work "entropy noir" and "hypnotic". The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Yardley compared Taylor's stylised storytelling to Chandler, saying "cool certainly is the word for him, but there's a good deal of heat beneath".

Unfortunately for us, Taylor hasn't published any novels since 2009's The Church of John Coltrane. In a 2010 interview he mentioned he'd just finished writing a "noir, very hardboiled" novel, "Tijuana Bible", but I can't seem to find any trace of that book ever being published. In recent times, Taylor has written a sci-fi/noir film REALITi, which was nominated for several 2014 New Zealand Film Awards, including Best Screenplay. Perhaps it's time for Taylor to return to his noir novel roots - though chaining him to his desk and forcing him to write a crime novel sounds like something he might do to his own characters.

The rest of the "10 Kiwi Scribes who Should be Chained Up until they Write Another Crime Novel" will be named here on Crime Watch next week. I hope you've enjoyed this op-ed piece - I'd love to hear your thoughts on the writers above, or other New Zealand or international crime writers you want to return to the page. Join the discussion and leave a comment. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: CRASH & BURN

CRASH & BURN by Lisa Gardner (Headline, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Lisa Gardner's latest psychological thriller includes appearances from private security specialist Tessa Leoni and Boston detective DD Warren, two fabulously real and complex heroines who've endured plenty over the course of various appearances and escapades in Gardner's #1 bestselling novels. But while Tessa and DD add texture to this tale of a mysterious woman who survives a car crash only to lead rescuers on a chase for a child that may not exist, they aren't the central characters this time around.

CRASH & BURN is Nicky Frank's story. But just who is Nicky Frank? Is she a drunk who ran off the road then tried to elicit sympathy with a search for her 'missing child'? Is she confused from a series of concussions and accidents the past few months? An abused wife? Or someone trying to hide her past, even from herself?

Gardner has the reader off-balance and intrigued right from the start, as we switch between Nicky's perspective on the events around her, and that of others involved. Sergeant Wyatt Foster (Tessa's new man) is investigating the car crash and trying to work out just what the heck is going on. Does he need to protect the public from Nicky Frank? Or Nicky Frank from her husband, who is acting suspiciously? Gardner captures well the confusion and frustration of those suffering traumatic brain injuries or repeated concussions, as well as the uncertainty and emotion for the people around them who struggle to cope and understand.

If Nicky herself doesn't know what is real and what is not, what is a memory and what is fantasy, how can Wyatt know whether her husband wants to help or harm her? How can he keep her and everyone else safe?

There is a terrific sense of pace and narrative drive in CRASH & BURN, building slowly but surely before a helter-skelter crescendo as things rapidly come together. We know that something sinister is going on, but Gardner keeps the answers tantalisingly out of reach of both Wyatt and the reader. The book is full of her trademark twists upon twists. Even when we know they're coming and try to predict things, she still manages to surprise in just how things unfold, and why. Gardner also does a great job touching on the problems of those suffering from a brain injury – the confusion and fear, the way in which these physical injuries can have such a profound impact on the mental and physical health of a person. Nicky's head injuries aren't just a convenient plot device – Gardner gives us an insight into this very real issue. She makes us question, and care.

And that's the key to Gardner's storytelling talent – she makes us care. While her plotting is sublime and she nicely evokes the settings of her stories, it is in the depth and feeling of her characters where she excels the most. She makes us care about what happens to them, and engenders a visceral, very 'real' feeling as we turn the page and hurtle along the story. She can make us think, and feel, while being entertained.

A top-notch thriller from a top-notch writer.

This review was originally written for and published on Reviewing the Evidence

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

9mm interview: Julia Heaberlin

Back in 2012 I read an intriguing debut from Texan journalist turned novelist Julia Heaberlin, PLAYING DEAD. The book included some fascinating characters, a swirl of family secrets, and enough raw promise to make me look forward to her later offerings. Next month, Heaberlin's third novel, the outstanding psychological thriller BLACK-EYED SUSANS, is published.

Advance reviews have been full of praise for BLACK-EYED SUSANS, which centres on the sole survivor of a serial killer who starts to doubt that the man about to be executed for the murders, who has spent almost twenty years on death row in Texas, is the true culprit. It's an absorbing page-turner that adroitly dissects the phenomena that is state-sponsored killing in the Lone Star State - including some surprising revelations of the truth behind the headlines - while delivering a a twist-filled plotline and interesting characters. I read it earlier this month, and was impressed - it's a definite step up from PLAYING DEAD.

Today, I'm pleased to welcome Julia Heaberlin to Crime Watch. The proud Texan becomes the 124th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm. I think you'll enjoy her interview.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective, and what is it you love about them? 
My all-time favorite is Kinsey Millhone of the Sue Grafton alphabet series. I generally pick books by their own worth and don’t always follow specific authors, but I have never, ever missed a Kinsey Millhone mystery after I sunk myself into A is for Alibi a very long time ago.

Kinsey could just sit in her kitchen and eat one of her peanut-butter-and-pickle sandwiches for an entire book and I’d read it. She is clever without a fancy degree, cares about people at a cost to herself, has cut her hair with nail scissors and relies on a wrinkle-free black dress for upscale occasions. There’s all that to love, but at the heart of her is darkness and loss. As Kinsey lovers know, she was trapped with her parents’ dead bodies when she was a child for hours before being rescued. Kinsey was one of the first strong female protagonists in a male-dominated genre and set the course for the rest of us. She gets to my feminist side.

In more recent history, I’d vote for Lisbeth Salander, who’s about as badass and fascinating a “detective” as you’ll ever get. The worlds that these two live in are so different, but I think she and Kinsey would get along just fine.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?  
I generally name Rebecca as the very first book I read that made me want to write a novel. I was 15 or so, and it swept me from hot, small-town Texas to a gothic, moody place I could only imagine.

But if you’re talking about the VERY first book, I’d say Harriet the Spy. A little black-and-white sketch of her has been my Facebook profile picture for years. She’s scratching out something spy-like in her secret journal, glasses plugged on her nose. I think, like her, I’ve always preferred to be in the background observing people and wondering at their little quirks.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles? 
I was a features and arts editor at metro newspapers before quitting to try a novel and most of my career was spent assigning and editing stories other people produced. It was very helpful in that by editing myriad voices, I was able to more easily find my own. I liked best working on narrative stories that involved a mystery of some kind, or examined what happened to victims or killers years after a crime took place: the man who walked into his house, tried to slaughter his whole family, disappeared for years, and was finally caught living another domestic life; the blond, bubbly suburban mom who ended up on Death Row after slashing her children (and herself), setting up a crime scene and claiming a strange man broke into her home and committed the crime. More recently, I wrote an interesting piece for D Magazine about Rhonda Roby, the world-renowned forensic scientist who consulted on my book (and appears there as a fictional version of herself).

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise? 
Read outside on a beautiful day or in a cozy bed at night. That’s No. 1. Watch movies in a cold, dark theater, binge on Netflix, cook, grow herbs and flowers, walk the dog, road trip, beach, hang out with my husband and son in any capacity, swing on the front porch of the old house where I grew up with my 85-year-old parents. I would also LIKE to be a poet and a photographer. And a painter. And a country western singer. Hopefully there is time for all but the last one.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider? 
I live smack between Dallas and Fort Worth. People often drift toward Dallas, but Fort Worth is a fantastic combination of cowboy and culture (you can sit among Remingtons and bask in Tadao Ando architecture or watch a cattle drive and then eat chicken fried steak). As for off the beaten path, I’d suggest wandering Grapevine Main Street for weird Texas trinkets or heading to the small town of Roanoke for Babe’s fried chicken or a Kevin Bacon burger at Twisted Root.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you? 
Maybe a combination of actors? I’ll name women who’ve portrayed characters I have related to on a personal level: vulnerable, self-deprecating, weird, make me laugh, smart but don’t think they are the smartest person in the room. I’d say a combination of Kyra Sedgwick, Renee Zelwegger and Tina Fey. They can all do Southern accents.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why? 
My first character, Tommie McLeod, in Playing Dead will always be special because she led the way for everything else. But I’d say this book, Black Eyed Susans, is my best work. For a few years now, I’ve been getting a master’s class in thriller writing from my editor (Kate Miciak at Random House), who picked me out of her enormous slush pile and decided to give me a go. This book combines my fictional voice with my journalism skills. I wanted the themes in this book …Texas death penalty, forensic science, psychic trauma, memory loss … to be as authentic as possible and yet not get in the way of a flip-the-page pace.

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?
I was alone in my house when my editor called to tell me she was saying yes to two books. When I got off the phone, I screamed and scared the dog. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such instant and pure joy (by comparison, birthing a child was more joyful but long and painful). When my husband came home, we toasted with a beer, I think, probably Rolling Rock. And then we went on to taking care of a kid and our life as we still know it. I’m a practical person and knew how very lucky I was; I’d had more than two years of rejection by publishing houses despite my agent’s dogged efforts and faith in me. I have so many talented friends sitting on books that can’t get published. I tell every beginning writer I meet: At least half of it is never giving up no matter how crummy the rejections make you feel. The other half is rewriting and rewriting.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival? 
I am constantly touched by the kindness of strangers who come listen to me speak about writing (because, as you know by now, I’d rather be on the last row writing in my secret spy journal). That said, my talented indie singer/songwriter niece Laura Heaberlin and I have compared bad “gigs,” where we are reminded how insignificant we are (which probably isn’t such a bad thing except at the time it is happening).

My most awkward speech/signing was at a “marketing” event at an assisted living center. The audience was made up of eight or nine people, many in wheelchairs, some who couldn’t hear anymore. I’m pretty sure they got trapped in there with me because they didn’t finish their dinner on time. But my niece was able to top that gig. Her band, Cricket Blue, played a combination burrito/bagel “café” called Bagitos. One woman walked in and left holding her hands to her ears. Laura’s only tip was $2 from a homeless man (although she did leave with a free Bagito). So if you get nothing else from my rambling here: Support the struggling artists! And the homeless!

Thank you Julia. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch


You can read more about Julia Heaberlin and her writing here: 


Have you read any of Julia Heaberlin's crime thrillers? Comments welcome. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


SOMETHING IS ROTTEN by Adam Sarafis (Echo, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Late one night at the University of Auckland library, Brent, a troubled young man, feels a sense of accomplishment as he clicks 'send' and emails a life-changing manuscript, then soon after tumbles headlong over a guardrail and is impaled on the glass of the stairwell far below. 

So begins this intriguing debut from Adam Sarafis, the pen-name for a collaboration between acclaimed Swedish-born novelist Linda Olsson and award-winning young playwright Thomas Sainsbury. 

Sam Hallberg is muddling through life as a mechanic, having given away his role as a government terrorism advisor following a personal tragedy. When he’s beseeched by Jade, a young sex worker, to investigate the library death of her friend (ruled a suicide by authorities), he reluctantly becomes involved in a hunt for answers, and a missing manuscript. 

Is it just Jade’s grief talking, or is something really rotten going on: a cover-up in New Zealand's biggest city? Sam doesn't think there's much to it, but he starts to feel the old juices flowing when a few things just don't add up. But, besides Jade, who would care so much about Brent, a slovenly wannabe writer who had fantasies about a relationship with a more-dashing British immigrant? He was hardly a threat. Simultaneously, Sam’s friend, business journalist Lynette Church, is getting stonewalled by the government advisors and powerful businesspeople as she delves into dirty politics in relation New Zealand’s meat exports to Europe. 

Something is Rotten is an assured first offering, combining page-turning storytelling with some thought-provoking themes, including how we deal with tragedy, the nexus between politics, big business, and the media, and the power imbalances in society. The authors create a nice 'what's going on here?' vibe early on, which permeates as the tale evolves. It's an easy read, with some interesting characters and ideas sprinkled throughout. The Shakespearean quotes to kickstart chapters are a nice touch, and the way the plot comes together is very intriguing. All in all, a solid first offering and a promising start to a series that is well worth reading. I'll be looking forward to the second instalment, and learning more about Sam and Lynette. 

Something is Rotten can be ordered via your friendly local bookstore in Australia and New Zealand. 
For those further afield, it is also available in ebook form from Amazon Kindle