Thursday, April 29, 2021

Native leaders and John Cusack movies: an interview with David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest instalment of our 9mm interview series, which is running weekly in 2021. This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, on and off, and today marks the 229th overall edition. 

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Sicangu Lakota storyteller David Heska Wanbli Weiden to Crime Watch. David is the author of one of my absolute favourite reads of the past couple of years, WINTER COUNTS. An outstanding debut thriller set on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, it was recommended to me by SA Cosby (author of BLACKTOP WASTELAND), and I absolutely loved it. 

I'm not the only one - WINTER COUNTS has been nominated for the 2021 Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery, Reading the West Award for Best Debut Fiction, and appeared on numerous 'Best of the Year' lists from major magazines, websites, and other publications. 

The book has been published in French earlier this year (as JUSTICE INDIENNE), and will also be translated into German and Turkish. Funnily enough, it's not the most widely available for UK & Commonwealth readers just yet, being out in US hardcover at the moment. (Edit: But in some great news since our interview, WINTER COUNTS has been picked up for UK & Commonwealth publication, and will be out in print in those countries later this year. Well worth a pre-order.)

And it's well worth nabbing a copy - following Shawn's fervent recommendation, I ordered a hardcover copy from the United States, and it was well worth it. Fantastic read. As I said for the current issue of Mystery Scene, which highlighted our favourite reads of 2020, WINTER COUNTS was: 

"My favourite debut of 2020; an exceptional first novel ... On the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota those who can’t find justice from the legal system or tribal council call on Virgil Wounded Horse, the local enforcer. When heroin threatens the reservation, and his nephew, Virgil undertakes a dangerous investigation. Character-centric crime fiction that packs a punch in a setting that pulses through its lyrical prose."   

David is a Professor of Native American Studies and Political Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and lives in Colorado with his two sons. He also teaches creative writing at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, the MFA program in Writing and Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and the low-residency MFA program at Western Colorado University.

For those of us who aren't his students, we'll be hoping he finds the time in among all of that for another Virgil Wounded Horse tale sometime very soon. But for now, David Heska Wanbli Weiden becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


9MM INTERVIEW WITH DAVID HESKA WANBLI WEIDEN

1. Who is your favorite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Tough to pick a favorite! As a kid, I devoured every one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. Today, I love Easy Rawlins, Walt Longmire, and Dave Robicheaux. And of course, I’m in awe of what Tana French accomplished with the Dublin Murder Squad series. All of these authors combine unforgettable characters with an amazing sense of place, and I’m so grateful to have been able to study their books as I was learning how to write my own fiction. 

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Excluding comic books, which I loved as a little kid, the first book I really loved was The Works of Edgar Allan Poe. This was an old volume, owned by my parents, which contained the poems, short stories, and the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. I ignored most of the collections but was completely fascinated by “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Purloined Letter.” I don’t know much I understood of these stories, but Poe’s work clearly made a life-long impression on me. 

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Before the publication of WINTER COUNTS in 2020, I’d published a handful of short stories, including the story in which Virgil Wounded Horse first appeared, back in 2014 in the journal Yellow Medicine Review. I’d also published a children’s book, SPOTTED TAIL, in 2019. That book is a biography of the life of the great Sicangu Lakota leader, Chief Spotted Tail. That volume won the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, but, more importantly, many Native families have informed me how much their children love it. I’m really proud of SPOTTED TAIL and am really grateful to Reycraft Books for the wonderful job they did with it. 

4. Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Music—live and recorded—is one of the passions of my life. Before the pandemic hit, I’d attend a fair number of concerts and I really miss them now. I listen to primarily alternative music, such as PJ Harvey, Radiohead, and the like, although I also love standard jazz--Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, etc. I confess that I may be the last person to still purchase CDs, as I’ve never really figured out how to use digital music services. This last fact greatly amuses my two teenage sons. I’m also a sports fan—American football, basketball, and hockey—and have long rooted for my hometown team, the Denver Broncos. Interestingly, my oldest son now enjoys sports, and I’ve promised to take him to a game as soon as we’re again allowed to attend these events. 

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?
Anyone visiting Denver, Colorado should certainly visit Casa Bonita, which is a deeply strange restaurant/theme park. It’s a massive space with indoor cliff divers, puppet and magic shows, and a cave that kids can explore. I love it so much that I put it in WINTER COUNTS! On their trip to Denver, Virgil and Marie visit the place and rekindle their relationship there. Although the food is not spectacular, the experience is great, and it’s one of the last remaining Denver landmarks that give the city its unique character. 

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Well, a movie of my life would be pretty boring! I spend most of my time with my family and my work. But I suppose I’ve always liked the actor John Cusack. He’s appeared in some of my favorite films: Being John Malkovich, Grosse Point Blank, The Ice Harvest, Say Anything. . . , and many others. His roles tend to be offbeat and unconventional, and that appeals to me. 

7. Of your writings, which is your favorite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?
Without a doubt, my novel WINTER COUNTS is the most special thing I’ve written as well as my favorite. I truly poured everything I had into the book: Native life, being a parent, my thoughts on how the city of Denver is changing, and much more. I awoke at 4:00 am every day for 18 months to write the book and then revised it for another six. I can honestly say that I’m completely happy with how it turned out, and that the book accurately reflects what I had envisioned when I first came up with the idea. That’s rare for me, as I sometimes feel that I may not have completely realized my concept after I’ve finished a manuscript. But with WINTER COUNTS, I was able to write the book I’d been dreaming of. 

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?
Well, I was both elated and overwhelmed when I was informed that Ecco Books was going to publish WINTER COUNTS. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if a crime novel set on a Native American reservation would be of interest to most people, and I’m delighted that it’s resonated so strongly with both critics and readers. And of course, I’m tremendously honored that the novel has been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by the Mystery Writers of America. To be recognized by fellow writers and critics is certainly a dream come true. As for celebrations, after being nominated for the Edgar Award, I took my family to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant, and my two sons certainly took advantage of the all-you-can-eat concept!

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Because my fiction debut occurred right in the middle of the pandemic, all of my events were virtual. However, that didn’t stop one bizarre individual from crashing a virtual reading I was taking part in with the wonderful Vanessa Lillie at a bookstore in Oklahoma. The man—who seemed to be about 80 years old--appeared on our screens, completely naked, and, uh, pleasuring himself. Thankfully, the organizers cut him off immediately, but it took all of us a while to stop laughing. 


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

You can find out more about David and his writing here, and follow him on Twitter. 

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Hidden people and toe-dipping artwork: an interview with Sólveig Pálsdóttir

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest weekly instalment of our 9mm interview series for 2021. This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, and today marks the 228th overall edition. 

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Icelandic author Sólveig Pálsdóttir to Crime Watch. Sólveig is a trained actor who has performed in theatre, television and radio, and also taught Icelandic literature and linguistics, drama and public speaking, as well as producing radio programmes and public events. 

I first met Sólveig at the Newcastle Noir festival in 2019, where she appeared on a panel about Icelandic crime writing, although her work wasn't yet translated into English, although she had been a bestseller in her home country for several years and her books had been translated into German. Her 2012 debut, Leikarinn ('The Actress') is being developed for a film. 

Last year, Corylus Books started bringing Sólveig crime tales to English-speaking readers, with the publication of THE FOX. I was thrilled to see this, especially after meeting Sólveig the year before. THE FOX was Sólveig's fourth crime novel, but first to be translated into English. It continues her series following "the detective team of the family man Guðgeir and the ambitious Særós", and is told from the perspective of Guðgeir and also Sajee, a Sri Lankan immigrant to Iceland.

Michael Ridpath, a British author who set several novels in Iceland, called THE FOX "a sinister story of fear and isolation told with imaginative flair. Mesmerising". This year, Corylus Books has brought another Sólveig Pálsdóttir tale to our shores and our shelves, SILENCED. 

But for now, Sólveig Pálsdóttir becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm. 


9MM INTERVIEW WITH SOLVEIG PALSDOTTIR 

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson and Kurt Wallander from the Henning Mankell novels, both from Sweden. And Erlendur from Arnaldur Indriðason’s books.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I read a lot of poetry as a child, especially those of Páll Ólafsson, an Icelandic poet who died long before I was born. He wrote a great deal of verse, some very beautiful and others that are satirical and funny. I also read a lot of Icelandic folk tales, and some of those are very disturbing. They are about ghosts and hauntings, the hidden people, elves and terrible weather.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I never wrote pure fiction until starting on my first novel at the end of 2010, and it was published in May 2012. Before that I had written articles, teaching materials and radio scripts, plus as an actor I had done a lot of improvisation. Of course I had written a great many essays while I was studying literature at university.

4. Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I walk a lot, preferably in natural surroundings, and travel a lot in Iceland. I’m a member of a book club and also a walking group, and I swim practically every day. At the pool I spend a long time in the hot tub, and get changed in the outdoor (ie, unheated) changing room, even when the temperature is below zero and there is snow on the ground. There are outside swimming pools in virtually every town and community in Iceland and these are important places, not just in terms of health, but thes ealso serve as social centres. There can be quiet in the hot tub, or the world can be put to rights – but there’s never an argument. I go to theatres, concerts and exhibitions, as well as meeting freinds and relatives – except that Covid has out an end to much of that for the moment. As a writer I feel it’s important to be in touch with people of all ages and to follow what’s going on.

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 go for a swim and then a meal at a good restaurant, preferably local fish or lamb. Then a walk to the beach where I pull of my socks and shoes and dip my toes in Ólöf Nordal’s Bollasteinn artwork, which has a constant flow of cooled thermal water running through it that has unique properties and even healing powers. It’s wonderful to sit and look out over the sea and the mountains with your feet in the hot water.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I don’t know ... Emma Thompson or Laura Linney maybe...

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?
My latest book, Klettaborgin (2020) is very dear to me as it contains my memories from the age of five up to around 20.

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 went straight home after signing my first book contract, and my family were waiting in the garden with chilled white wine and grilled prawns...When the book was published, my publisher threw a fantastic party.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I don’t recall anything in particular, except that when one of my books was published there was a young man in the queue who wanted the book signed ‘to Mum, from Sólveig Pálsdóttir.’

I though it was very odd and asked twice if he was sure he wanted those words, and he was absolutely sure that was exactly how he wanted it!


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

You can find out more about Sólveig Pálsdóttir and her writing here, or by checking out some of the blogs below who will be featuring her and her new book SILENCED this month. You can also follow Solveig on Twitter. 





Thursday, April 15, 2021

Historical injustices and homemade knives: an interview with David Whish-Wilson

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest instalment of our 9mm interview series, which is running weekly in 2021. This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, on and off, and today marks the 227th overall edition. 

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Western Australian author David Whish-Wilson to Crime Watch. I had the pleasure of meeting David when he passed through London a couple of years ago (oh for the days of travel and hanging out with people), and along with being a terrific storyteller he's also a good bloke. David's led a well-travelled life, though he's called Western Australia home for a long time. 

The author of the highly acclaimed Frank Swann series set in 1970s-1980s Western Australia, David was raised in Singapore, Victoria, and Western Australia. As a young man he headed abroad on his 'big OE' (as we call it Downunder), and lived and travelled throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, working as as a "barman, actor, streetseller, labourer, exterminator, factory worker, gardener, clerk, travel agent, teacher and drug trial guinea pig". It was during those travels he began publishing short stories. 

David's novels and short stories have been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award, Vogel/Australian Literary Award, and WA Premier's Book Awards. His crime novels have real depth of character, setting, and societal issues to go along with the thrilling plotlines. As I say of his crime debut LINE OF SIGHT (the first Frank Swann novel) in SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME

"Whish-Wilson creates a bleak yet compelling portrait of a time and place where crime and graft are rife, and even the honourable are tainted. Atmospheric and stylish noir more than police procedural, LINE OF SIGHT doesn’t provide pat solutions."


David, who lives in Fremantle, also began the first prison writing programme in Fiji and has taught writing in the prison system in both Fiji and Western Australia. His latest novel is SHORE LEAVE, the fourth Frank Swann tale, and he also teaches creative writing at Curtin University. 

But for now, David Whish-Wilson becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm. 


9MM INTERVIEW WITH DAVID WHISH-WILSON 

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
That's a deceptively tricky question, in that most of my favourite crime novels have been standalones by writers such as Megan Abbott, Peter Temple, James Ellroy et al. I guess my favourite crime protagonist is an anti-hero, namely Parker of the Richard Stark novels. While I've always had a soft spot for Dave Robicheaux as a detective character, and a few others, on fellow-Aussie crime writer Andrew Nette's recommendation I read the Parker novels quickly and then re-read them soon after. 

I like his character's hungry animal instincts and strong moral code, plus his absolute focus on the job at hand. I've always been a sucker for a heist movie, and despite the similar plotlines of the Parker novels there's always enough dramatic tension drawn out by emphasizing something that all good crime fiction does, I think, and that is looking at people in extreme situations - there isn't much more extreme than the high stakes game of pulling off a big score and then surviving the inevitable aftermath.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
When I was about six or seven my mother gave me a copy of the Illustrated History of Australian Bushrangers. It was gruesome and illuminating, and I thrilled to the tales of the wild men and women who lived outside the harsh colonial law, and who more often than not suffered the consequences for it. It was great, too, to read something set mostly in the kind of outback terrain that I then inhabited with my friends after school, on the outskirts of our remote Pilbara mining town. We didn't play 'cowboys and Indians' but more 'trapper and bushranger', alive to the injustices of the period and playing them out in hunt and chase narratives that took place in dried gullies and high gorges. 

It didn't surprise me at all to later learn that a high percentage of the first films made in Australia were bushranger films, although they were banned in some jurisdictions because of the mocking of authorities and behaviour of the crowds. As kids, we loved all of that stuff, especially the deification of the rebel character, which I guess justified our bad behaviour at school, although we were sadly blind, as per the period, of the 'true history' of the places we newly colonised, where real rather than imaginary crimes had taken place in clearing the area of its Aboriginal inhabitants.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I was lucky enough to be mentored by the writer Bruce Pascoe when I was just starting out. I was working as a labourer in Wellington, New Zealand, and then a bartender in Tokyo, posting my stories in by snail mail and almost disbelievingly finding them published in the journal Australian Short Stories. At that stage I wasn't taking writing seriously, and didn't know any other writers, and it was Bruce who metaphorically gave me a kick in the arse and suggested I do exactly that - take writing seriously. 

There followed a couple of shortlistings for the Vogel Australian Award for an unpublished young writer, and later (in 2006) the publication of my first novel, set in Berlin in 1933 - THE SUMMONS. My first crime novel, LINE OF SIGHT, followed a few years later and was started in Suva, Fiji, where I worked as a creative writing lecturer for a couple of years. 

4. Outside of writing and writing-related activities (book events, publicity), what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I am by nature a lazy person. I enjoy doing very little. I enjoy having a drink with friends, snorkelling with my family on the local reefs, cooking, or because despite being lazy I'm also a compulsive maker - I like making practical (ie chef's) knives in my backyard, campfire forge, which is a bit like writing a novel because its time-consuming and wearying in a pleasant way. Every now and then I get itchy feet and then I like a good long 6-8 hour country drive - that's the Western Australian in me coming out - heading out into the desert with my kids to camp where there are no other people.

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 would suggest, respectfully, that Perth and Fremantle are places that often conceal their most interesting aspects behind either a beguiling surface charm, or a layer of unpromising material. To that end, I'd greatly suggest either pre-loading by reading the local historians and crime writers before arrival, or heading directly to one of our terrific indie bookshops, to get the best recommendations. I'd also encourage people to find out where there are Noongar tours of country that will, from my experience, deepen your understanding of this place, and why it feels like it does.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I worked as a casual actor and extra in Bollywood, and in Kenya. While there are few places more dull than a movie set (although Bollywood was pretty lively - on one move, Karma, they blew up a gigantic timber palisade with real gelignite without telling us what was going to happen, and the shock wave bowled us all over), over the years I have developed a deep admiration for the craft of acting. Because the thought of doing it terrifies me, I'd probably want to act as myself (my god that would be a boring movie.) Or, if you're asking my ego - Brian Brown circa the 1970s?
 
7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or a bit special to you for some particular reason, and why?
I think it would have to be LINE OF SIGHT, because there was so much at stake. Because the novel described the real-life murder by WA detectives of a friend of mine's mother (the 'brothel-Madam' Shirley Finn), and because there had always been an enforced silence around the murder, the research journey that involved interviewing dozens of citizens, ex-cops, and prostitutes from the period was extremely cagey. Around the time the book came out I started getting threats, which escalated for a while to the point that it was clear that some people key to the story were considering violent payback, or worse. At the time I was kind of in denial, my stubborn streak was aroused, but in retrospect, I took a serious gamble in writing that book. While for the crime reader it's probably just another novel, and despite the fact that I just need to think about it (as I'm doing now) to get the chills, I'm proud that we stuck with it and brought the story out into the light, where it deserves to be.

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 can still see the handwritten message from Bruce Pascoe telling me that he was going to publish my first story. I probably still have it somewhere. Even then, it didn't seem quite real, possibly because I was living in Tokyo and I received my published copy in the mail. I can't remember an actual celebration - in those days I celebrated every night, but I'm sure it was a good one.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
When my first novel was coming out, a caring writer friend of mine gave me a book called MORTIFICATION, detailing all of the bad and humiliating things that have happened to writers at festivals and readings over the years. It's a very funny and cathartic book, that I now press on young writers going out into public for the first time. My first Perth Writer's Festival appearance was a very humbling experience - I sat at the signing desk next to Gregory David Roberts, who'd just released SHANTARAM. He had a line going out the door and round the block, while I sold a single copy of my novel (to a friend). Despite this, I remember thinking, Ba, I've read MORTIFICATION, it's not as bad as when XXXX fell off the stage drunk at a reading into rows of empty seats, or when YYYY....


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

You can find out more about David and his writing here, and follow him on Twitter. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Review: THE LAST CHILD

THE LAST CHILD by John Hart (John Murray, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Thirteen-year-old Johnny Merrimon has to face things no boy his age should face. In the year since his twin sister's abduction his world has fallen apart: his father has disappeared and his fragile mother is spiralling into ever deeper despair. Johnny keeps strong. Armed with a map, a bike and a flashlight, he stalks the bad men of Raven County. The police might have given up on Alyssa; he never will. Someone, somewhere, knows something they're not telling.

Only one person looks out for Johnny. Detective Clyde Hunt shares his obsession with the case. But when Johnny witnesses a hit-and-run and insists the victim was killed because he'd found Alyssa, even Hunt thinks he's lost it.

And then another young girl goes missing ..

So here we are - the 100th day of the year, and the 100th day of the #100Days100Books challenge I set myself to start 2021, a bounce-back from my posting on Crime Watch being very sporadic last year.

I hope you've enjoyed some of the books covered, and the 14 editions of 9mm interviews that were woven throughout the challenge as well. I really enjoyed talking to these fantastic crime writers. 

I've gone back and forth on what to include here as the 100th and final book/author in this wee mini-challenge to myself. I felt it should be something special. Perhaps the new Penguin Classics edition of a Chester Himes book, that I read this week? I was even tempted when I woke up this morning and saw my Nelsonian booklover and blogger Alyson Baker - who regularly contributes to Crime Watch as a reviewer - had posted a review of my own book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, to maybe use that... 

In the end, I've instead decided to revisit and highlight a really superb novel that was one of my very, very favourites from my first few years of being a magazine/newspaper reviewer and blogger. A book that I'd been thinking about a fair bit lately, even though it came out 12 years ago. 

As I mentioned last week, recently I've been thinking about the best books of not just a single year, but an entire decade - thanks in part to a series that highly regarded book blogger Grab This Book (aka Gordon) has started, getting reviewers and writers to share books they'd add to a library of great tales.

Attorney-turned-author John Hart's third novel, THE LAST CHILD, would be one of my top contenders for best novel of the 2000s decade. To be honest, his second novel DOWN RIVER may be in the mix as well. He had an extraordinary start to his career, being shortlisted for the Edgars for each of his first three books, winning the Edgar for Best Novel twice (a rarity), for consecutive books.

In THE LAST CHILD, Johnny Merrimon is a thirteen-year-old boy who looks ten but has seen and endured more than most sixty-year-olds. His twin sister disappeared a year ago, his father cracked under the pressure and left, and his mother has given up; turning to drugs and a relationship with a rich but abusive man. A burnt-out cop tries to help but has his own issues, and Johnny finds himself alone on a vigilante mission. Then another young girl goes missing, and a dying man’s last words fuel Johnny’s long-held hope. Could the disappearances be linked? 

Can he finally find answers and heal his broken family? 

Sometimes when I read a novel that has received a lot of praise, I can be left a bit underwhelmed, even if I enjoy the story overall. That's happened again and again over the past 13 years of writing reviews for magazines and more. It's almost as if the expectations are raised too high, and the author has to knock it far out of the park to even make par (okay, mixed sporting metaphor there). 

But put simply, THE LAST CHILD is an exceptional novel; a literary crime thriller that is as much about its rich cast of layered, authentic and damaged characters as its intelligent and engrossing storyline. Hart writes beautifully, evoking aspects of the human condition alongside echoes of the Southern Gothic tradition, building his tale towards a surprising yet most fitting conclusion.

Huckleberry Finn meets James Lee Burke, all in a strong and unique narrative voice.

When I first read THE LAST CHILD over a decade ago, I thought it was a masterpiece. Revisiting it having read more than a thousand books since, it remains a standout crime novel. In the years since, Hart has produced several other terrific novels, and even revisited the characters of Johnny Merrimon and Jack Cross as young men in THE HUSH, a rural thriller with a touch of magic realism. 

For my money, John Hart is one of the finest crime writers in the game. He's not a book every year kind of author, but each of his novels has been well worth the wait. Go back to the beginning and try KING OF LIES, DOWN RIVER, and then THE LAST CHILD. If you like lyrical crime writing with chasm-deep characters, drenched in a Southern Gothic setting, you just may become a very big fan. Like me. 


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of Australian, Scottish, and NZ crime writing awards, and is co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Review: DEAD OF WINTER

DEAD OF WINTER by Stephen Mack Jones (Soho Press, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A shadowy Detroit real estate billionaire. A ruthless fixer. A successful Mexicantown family business in their crosshairs. Gentrification has never been bloodier.

Authentico Foods Inc. has been a part of Detroit’s Mexicantown for over thirty years, grown from the small home kitchen to a city-block-long facility where sixty people produce Mexican foodstuffs for restaurants and stores throughout the Midwest.

Detroit ex-cop and Mexicantown native August Snow has been invited for a business meeting at Authentico Foods. Its owner, Ronaldo Ortega, is dying, and is being blackmailed into selling the company to an anonymous entity. Ortega is worried about his employees and wants August to step in. 

August has no interest in running a tortilla empire, but he does want to know who’s threatening his neighbourhood. His investigation immediately takes a shocking turn. Now August and his loved ones are caught up in a heinous net of billionaire developers who place no value on human life, and August Snow must go to war for the soul of Mexicantown.

Stephen Mack Jones is an author I'd heard good things about, so I was excited to read his new novel DEAD OF WINTER, the third in his award-winning series starring Detroit ex-cop August Snow. 

I was quite intrigued by the fact Jones had won the Hammett Prize with his debut, a crime writing award I've long held in high regard as it celebrates 'literary excellence' in the field, and has a list of winners including some remarkable stylists such as Elmore Leonard, William Deverell, James Lee Burke, George Pelecanos, James Sallis, and literary doyenne Margaret Atwood. Past nominees also include Cormac McCarthy, Walter Mosley, Laura Lippman, and Normal Mailer. Greatness indeed. 


While it may not be as widely known as the CWA Daggers or Edgar Awards, the Hammett Prize is an award I looked to when establishing the Ngaio Marsh Awards over a decade ago. So for Stephen Mack Jones - who's been a playwright and poet before turning to crime - to have joined such an illustrious list of winners and nominees with his debut novel, AUGUST SNOW, was eye-catching to me. 

I'm very glad to say DEAD OF WINTER more than met my high expectations, to the point where after finishing it I immediately went online and bought both the prior books in the series, kicking myself for dallying in getting to Stephen Mack Jones' terrific, rich and multi-layered storytelling. 

While Detroit native August Snow has the skills of a detective, he carries neither badge nor license. Instead, the former marine sniper and Detroit cop has a reputation, hard-won and whispered among some of the businesspeople and residents of Mexicantown: "I was both Batman and Chupacabra. Superman and Satan. A half-breed angel with blood-soaked wings in search of cultural and holy redemption”. August Snow is an honourable man who tries to help people - particularly the downtrodden or overlooked - thoughtful and sometimes (necessarily) violent. 

One of the things that impressed me most about DEAD OF WINTER is that it is a thrilling tale that stalks along with a blend of power and poetry you might see in a middle-weight boxer. Flowing in a balletic way between, even during, the brutal moments. There's poetry and power, grace and grit. 

The first bell rings when August Snow is summoned by Ronald Ochoa, a dying businessman who’s being blackmailed into selling his company Authentico Foods, a stalwart of Detroit’s Mexicantown for decades. Can August, whose bank balance runs to ten figures thanks to a settlement from the city after he was wrongly jettisoned as a cop, save Authentico Foods’ workers and the neighbourhood? 

Ochoa wants August to buy his company rather than it falling into the wrong hands; August prefers to investigate the shadows. Just who is behind the not-so-friendly takeover, and what do they really want?

Stephen Mack Jones crafts a superb tale that bobs, weaves, and hits hard as August’s sleuthing puts himself and those he loves into grave danger. There’s action aplenty, but also rich characterisation, wonderful writing, and a strong sense of place. August’s investigation entwines with the whims and wishes of ruthless billionaire developers, and there’s plenty to chew on for readers when it comes to thought-provoking issues around gentrification, race relations, and inequality to go along with the moreish descriptions of culinary delights. Overall, DEAD OF WINTER is a superb crime novel from an author with a distinctive voice and something to say, in among the crime and carnage.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed Kiwi lawyer who now lives in London and writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. Craig's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, McIlvanney Prize, is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020.


Thursday, April 8, 2021

Jars of moles and kidnapped sisters: an interview with Anna Mazzola (The Lost Files)

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the latest weekly instalment of our 9mm interview series for 2021. This author interview series has now been running for over a decade, and today marks the 226th overall edition. 

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. 

My plan is to to publish 40-50 new author interviews in the 9mm series this year. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. Some amazing writers.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by sending me a message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. Even as things with this blog may evolve moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome the wonderful Anna Mazzola to Crime Watch. Belatedly. 

(A few years ago I published some 'lost files' 9mm interviews, which I'd originally recorded with some crime writers during my first attendance at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, only to misplace the audio recordings on my journey back to New Zealand, before stumbling upon them a long time later. Something akin to that happened with my 9mm interview with Anna, with her interview getting misfiled during a semi-botched laptop repair (exacerbated by in the 9mm hiatus last year).) 

Anna is an Edgar Award-winning crime writer who lives in London and also works as a human rights and criminal justice lawyer. Her novels blend literary, historical, and Gothic elements with crime and mystery. Her debut, THE UNSEEING, was inspired by a real-life crime where a young London bride-to-be was brutally murdered the night before her wedding in 1836, and another women was sentenced to death. That book went on to win the Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original in 2018.

Anna's second novel, THE STORY KEEPER, is set in 1857 and follows a folklorist’s assistant as she searches out dark fairy tales and stolen girls on the Isle of Skye. Her third historical Gothic mystery, THE CLOCKWORK GIRL, is set in Paris in 1750 and based partly on the story of the vanishing children of Paris. It centres on a young maid with a scarred face and hidden past who goes to work for automaton-maker and his clever daughter. But Madeleine the maid is actually a police spy tasked with a secret investigation. THE CLOCKWORK GIRL will be published next January. 

But for now, Anna Mazzola becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


9MM INTERVIEW WITH ANNA MAZZOLA 

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Columbo. Obviously. But if you mean in fiction, then Ripley. More of an anti-hero than a hero, of course, but what a fascinating character. 

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Strange Riders at Black Pony Inn by Christine Pullein-Thomas. I desperately wanted a horse when I was child. Instead my mum got me mystery horse fiction. And so began my lifelong love of mysteries. (I still don’t have a horse).

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Not counting dull legal texts and articles, I began with short stories, and it was out of one of them – a story called "Crossing the Line" – that my debut novel, THE UNSEEING, emerged. I still write short stories occasionally, but god, they’re hard.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Like many writers, I’m still working, so I tend to write at times when other normal people might be watching telly or knitting or playing squash. Fortunately I don’t like knitting or playing squash. I go running, which I find helps me to write. I go to the theatre when I can, and to gigs, to museums and galleries. And of course I read a lot. That’s my real love.

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 a big street art fan and there is loads of awesome street art in London, especially around Shoreditch. There are also many fascinating cemeteries. And everyone should to go to the Grant Museum of Zoology. Where else can you find a jar of real moles?

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Oh god. No idea. Would anyone want the part? 

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
My first venture into crime fiction: The Kidnapping of Lucy. I wrote it aged 8 and gave it to my mother for Mother’s Day. It’s about the abduction of a baby called Lucy. My sister’s middle name is Lucy and she was a baby at the time I wrote it. My mother kept it, presumably in case she needed it as evidence at any point.

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?
Mainly shock, and then elation. I found out my novel would be published while I was taking small kids around the Natural History Museum and had to try to act like a normal person, when I just wanted to shout and shake people. I think that day was the high point. I swiftly realised that unfortunately lots of other people were having their books published too.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Someone came up to me after a panel event and said he was writing a novel. What was my top tip When I and my fellow panellist told him to read as much as he could, he got very cross with us and told us he didn’t like reading and didn’t have time for it. That struck me as rather odd: why would you want to write a book if you didn’t actually, you know, like books?


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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Review: DANCE PRONE

DANCE PRONE by David Coventry (VUP, 2020)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

1985. Neus Bauen, a post-hardcore band from Illinois, are touring America, on the brink of fame. When one member of the band is sexually assaulted and another is wounded by a gunshot, these two cataclysmic events alter the course of the band’s four members’ lives forever.

Decades later, amongst the sprawl and shout of Morocco, some of the band are reunited. There they attempt to piece together what happened to them during the lost years between their punk-infused days and nights on the road, and the world they find themselves in today.

Dance Prone is a novel of music, ritual and love. It is live, tense and corporeal. Full of closely observed details of indie-rock, of punk infused performance, the road and the players’ relationship to violence, hate and peace.

Set simultaneously during the post-punk period and the narrative present of 2019, Dance Prone was born out of a love of the underground and indie rock scenes of the 1980s, a fascination for their role in the cultural apparatus of memory, social decay and its reconstruction.

Con Welles was a punk rocker in the 1980s, touring the U.S. in a van and bludging food to stay alive. Most of his friends from that time, later became professionals: lecturers, lawyers, artists … But Con had been left in a hiatus, never knowing who had violated him, never knowing why his friend Tone Seburg shot himself the same night – his life defined by “what occurred there in Burstyn in ’85”.

DANCE PRONE ranges in time, from periods in the 1980’s through to 2019, and drifts geographically, from the US to Northern Africa, Croatia, Spain, New Zealand… 

It is written in a poetic, hypnotic cadence, like a never-ending song lyric. The young characters talk in that slightly wanky way of well-read youth, which slides into a form of short-hand communication as they age. Years pass between Con’s meeting with one or other of his friends, years between the sharing of shards of information. As you become immersed in the lives of the characters, you start to see images from the past coming into focus.

The novel is about the unreliability of memory, the fact that history and explanations are all invented narrative: “The oldest form of violence.” Con watches videos of events he has no recollection of attending. His on/off/on girlfriend, Sonya, lies about their past, but does it really matter? In one awful moment of revelation, Con realises he had unwittingly burdened another woman, Miriam, with his angst at a time she was dealing with her own horrific experiences.

Coventry’s wonderful debut novel, THE INVISIBLE MILE, had the same mesmeric technique of using one event, in that case the Tour de France, to explore the confused experiences of one man, and his attempts to make sense of his experiences. In THE INVISIBLE MILE, the stones of Carnac eerily and ambiguously emerge from the mist. In DANCE PRONE, Conrad comes upon a “strange array of columns …, seven lined across the centre of the field. Thirty feet high and waiting on something”. Coventry is a master at making the reader see significance, make their own narratives.

“I think how Angel’d said once how it takes up the same amount of memory recording nothing as it does an orchestra”, the vagaries of time, the pointlessness of art. 

There is a nihilistic thread through DANCE PRONE, “I thought every instant was a version of the end” – but then it is told from the point of view of post-traumatic confusion. Con and his friends consider the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the money spent on plans for restoration “as Afghans starved, as the poor suffered in drought and crop failure”. But the punk generation was about creation – Con is in the mountains near Marrakesh, witnessing the completion of an enormous artwork conceived by one of the many peripheral characters, Paloma: on the cliff face, enormous painted reconstructions of the blasted alcoves, “Blackened Buddhas caught in time”.

“‘The teenage versions of us used to be hardcore. Now we’re something else,’ Angel said”, punk rockers trying to make a difference: “I was just kicking my guitar around on the floor, watching it bang and clatter, how the strings were always hunting out harmony and how harmony happens to change its rules at the highest volumes. Feedback and flight: the great gifts of the twentieth century.” The reader can hear the feedback, smell the van, feel the cold of unheated travel, the fug of dingy accommodation, and fear those with “something compelling them to explore the output of violence and stupidity”. And amid the travelling, the band break-ups and the reunions, Con is always trying to find answers.

There are other tragedies besides Con’s in DANCE PRONE, major events and developments that the reader puts together. All the characters are keeping secrets, all carrying burdens for each other. All feeling, as Miriam does, that “There’s no such thing as random, and there’s no determined events, she’d told me, just a kind of nervousness for spectacles we can’t control or account for”. There are those who know what happened in Burstyn in ’85”, and who the actors were, and they are damaged by knowing. The novel is meticulous, all mysteries are solved, all things explained. But the reader is still left with the uncertainty of history and sadness of damaged lives: “I could no longer hear the interior monologues of others, just the ever-shifting shape of my own silence.”

DANCE PRONE is just superb – read it and see if you agree.


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

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Review: THE PERFECT LIE

THE PERFECT LIE by Jo Spain (Quercus Books, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

He jumped to his death in front of witnesses. Now his wife is charged with murder.

Five years ago, Erin Kennedy moved to New York following a family tragedy. She now lives happily with her detective husband in the scenic seaside town of Newport, Long Island. When Erin answers the door to Danny's police colleagues one morning, it's the start of an ordinary day. But behind her, Danny walks to the window of their fourth-floor apartment and jumps to his death.

Eighteen months later, Erin is in court, charged with her husband's murder. Over that year and a half, Erin has learned things about Danny she could never have imagined. She thought he was perfect. She thought their life was perfect.

But it was all built on the perfect lie.

How would you deal with things if the solid footing and nice life you'd scrabbled to find after past tragedy was suddenly torn away from you in an instant, and then to make things even worse you were forced to question everything you thought you knew? Irishwoman abroad Erin Kennedy faces just that dilemma in this compulsive new thriller from bestselling Irish novelist and screenwriter Jo Spain. 

Erin wakes up one Tuesday to sea air and sex with Danny, her police detective husband, in their Long Island apartment. The couple are juggling work stresses, but looking forward to a weekend away together soon. Erin has a day of publishing work ahead, but that all changes when Danny's work partner knocks on the door early that morning, flanked by uniformed officers. Something's wrong. 

Very wrong. Then it gets worse. 

Danny sizes up the situation, and makes an irreversible decision. A window and a drop to the concrete below; a sudden death rather than facing whatever was coming following the door knock. Erin's seemingly perfect life is smashed to pieces. Why would Danny commit suicide? What drove him to it? 

Eighteen months later, Erin is on trial for killing her husband.

Spain keeps readers nicely off-balance throughout an exciting read that flows well while twisting like a corkscrew rollercoaster. She adeptly sets the hook then reels us in through multiple timelines leading up to and through Erin's trial, including events at a college campus years before. 

Struggling after Danny's fatal leap from their balcony, Erin begins looking into what could possibly have led to him making such a seemingly incomprehensible decision, but that just brings more pain and confusion as she finds out lots of horrible things that had been hidden from view. 

Like Erin, our heads spin as we try to make sense of just what the hell is going on. Unsurprisingly cinematic, Spain’s latest is a one-sitting kind of read that is full of twists and red herrings, of fragmented incidents that later mesh in ways not always expected. 

THE PERFECT LIE is perfect weekend reading, whether you're beachside or not.


Craig Sisterson is a lapsed Kiwi lawyer who now lives in London and writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. Craig's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, McIlvanney Prize, is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020.