Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sat 28 Oct - The Great Lit Quiz and Ngaio Marsh Awards

Discover who's won the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards at a fun-filled evening with special cocktail function followed by the first-ever Great Lit Quiz at Scorpio Books next Saturday evening. 

Scorpio Books and WORD Christchurch present The Great Lit Quiz & Ngaio Marsh Awards.

To celebrate NZ Bookshop Day, put together a team of book-enthusiasts for an entertaining quiz of crime novels and other genres! All tickets also gain entry to the invitation-only Ngaio Marsh Awards cocktail party, where the finalists will be celebrated and the winners announced.

Your quizmasters will be the deadly duo of Paul Cleave (3x Ngaios winner) and Vanda Symon (3x Ngaios finalist and 2017 Ngaios judge).

Price: $80 per quiz table (up to 5 players), book by emailing
- Limited tables
- Spot prizes
- Drinks and nibbles provided.

5.30 Ngaio Marsh Awards; 7pm Great Lit Quiz

Click here for information on the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists, across three categories. .

New #yeahnoir: THE EASTER MAKE BELIEVERS (free copy)

Finn Bell made history in this year's Ngaio Marsh Awards (to be presented next Saturday at a special event in Christchurch); the first-ever author to have two books as finalists in one year.

The international judging panels for both the Best First Novel and Best Crime Novel awards were wowed by Bell's writing. They praised his incredibly strong narrative voice and sense of place, blended with page-turning storytelling and great characters.

Remarkably, Bell is a self-published ebook author who has been published for just over a year, and whose tales aren't yet available in print. I wonder how long it might take before he'll be snapped up by a publisher (as happens with top ebook authors abroad).

Local mystery fans have the chance to meet Finn next weekend at Scorpio Books, at the Ngaio Marsh Awards and Literary Pub Quiz. It should be a terrific evening, with most of the finalist authors in attendance, and many taking part in the quiz.

In the meantime, Bell's much-anticipated third crime thriller has now been released.

When an innocent family is taken hostage in their home no one is ready for how fast it all goes terribly wrong. As the close knit community of small town Lawrence reels from the shock, detectives Nick Cooper and Tobe White stand among the dead bodies knowing that it’s not over. Because while grateful that at least the two young daughters survived unscathed, they now know that their father is still missing, somehow impossibly vanishing from a house surrounded by police. 

The mystery deepens as Nick and Tobe realize that they know every gunman lying dead here – because up to last night they were the leaders of the biggest criminal gang in the country. As the desperate search and rescue mission starts it soon collides with their own challenging investigation leading them into the center of a deeper, older tragedy. Where they begin to learn just how far someone will go for those he truly, dearly hates.

I was highly impressed by Bell's first two novels - they're two of my favourite reads of the past couple of years, so I've already downloaded a copy of THE EASTER MAKE BELIEVERS. If you'd like give this super-talented new voice a go, for a limited time you can download a free copy here.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


NOTHING BAD HAPPENS HERE by Nikki Crutchley (Oak House Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Fran Hartley

The body of missing tourist Bethany Haliwell is found in the small Coromandel town of Castle Bay, where nothing bad ever happens. News crews and journalists from all over the country descend on the small seaside town as old secrets are dragged up and gossip is taken as gospel.
Among them is Miller Hatcher, a journalist battling her own demons, who arrives intent on gaining a promotion by covering the grisly murder. 

Following an anonymous tip, Miller begins to unravel the mystery of the small town. And when another woman goes missing, Miller finds herself getting closer to the truth. But at what cost?

Nothing bad happens here – or does it? The main character is a journalist (one of many, much to her dismay) sent to a sleepy little (fictitious) town on the beautiful Coromandel Peninsula, where a decomposing body has been discovered in the bush by some trampers.

The reader quickly becomes familiar with the journalist and the other personalities who gradually weave their way into the story, all with their various complicated and emotional backgrounds.

The hard working, honest policeman of the town suddenly finds himself in the middle of the investigation and then upstaged by a more senior officer sent to head the inquiry who seems to delight in undermining the local cop.

Dark secrets begin to unfold. Why and how did this young girl disappear and end up murdered?

Another unexplained event comes to light. The characters gradually evolve and evoke sympathy, frustration and curiosity in the reader. It’s a mystery, with a twist at the end.

The book is well written with good grammar and punctuation, chapters just long enough for a bedtime read, and would appeal to readers aged from 16 years upwards wanting an easy read. Younger readers may find the emotional and psychological aspect of the characters hard to comprehend. As events unfold and accelerate, it made me want to read on. It has easy to follow plot with good descriptions.

This is Nikki Crutchley's first work of fiction and I would certainly encourage her to write another. An enjoyable holiday read – unless you happen to be relaxing in a Health Retreat where anything can happen!

This review was first published in FlaxFlower reviews, which focuses on in-depth reviews of New Zealand books of all kinds, and is reprinted here with kind permission. 


THE ONLY SECRET LEFT TO KEEP by Katherine Hayton (2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Sometimes a secret is all you have left. Detective Ngaire Blakes is back on the case when a skeletonized murder victim is discovered thirty-six years after his death. While a fierce and glorious fire lights up the Port Hills of Christchurch, Ngaire fights to piece together a crime that took place during the Springbok Tours of 1981. A period that pitted father against son, town against city, and showed the police using batons to beat back protesters on the evening news, night after night.

When the victim is identified as Sam Andie, a young African American man transplanted from the States to NZ by his family, Ngaire must investigate whether racial motives were behind the death. In line with evidence from the forensic pathologist, a police baton could easily have been the murder weapon. Or was his death connected to Sam's girlfriend—a young woman convicted of a savage double homicide in the same week that Sam disappeared? 

With files missing, memories hazy, and a strident false confession muddying the waters, Ngaire must sift through the detritus if she hopes to find the truth hiding deep beneath the lies.

This is the third – and hopefully not last – in the fabulous Detective Ngaire Blakes series. And, as with The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton, Blakes is on a cold case.

A skeleton is discovered by an idiot looting houses that have been evacuated due to the hills of Christchurch being ablaze. The skeleton is in a shallow grave, and from a protest badge close to the remains, appears to date from the time of the 1981 Springbok Tour. An autopsy finds evidence that the young man was killed by a Police baton. Added to this, when the deceased is identified it looks like the investigation into his death was virtually non-existent.

So, was this a cover up of Police brutality? As Blakes investigates, she discovers divisions between families, the racism that is still alive and well in our society, and the sad and complex lives of those whose lives don’t fit “the norm”, like the victim: “A prince of oddities in a community where being the same is a commodity”.

Sam, the victim, had a girlfriend, Shannon, who has served 15 years for brutally killing two teenaged boys. Shannon’s father is wracked with guilt over something. Down in Dunedin a Christian counsellor is helping men stay true to the lifestyle God intended for them.

How does this all fit together? Wonderfully.

The Only Secret Left to Keep is a cleverly plotted and sad satisfying mystery, one you have to think your way through to put all the pieces together. And the unravelling reveals more of Blakes, her traumatic history, and her determination to face her demons.

You could read this as a standalone, but I am glad I read the series from the beginning.

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

Friday, October 20, 2017


TELL ME A LIE by CJ Carver (Bonnier Zaffre, 2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

A family in England is massacred, the father left holding the shotgun. PC Lucy Davies is convinced he's innocent

A sleeper agent in Moscow requests an urgent meeting with Dan Forrester, referencing their shared past. His amnesia means he has no idea who he can trust.

An aging oligarch in Siberia gathers his henchmen to discuss an English accountant. It's Dan's wife

After reading Carver’s Spare Me the Truth, I was really looking forward to the second in her Dan Forrester series. And for brilliant plotting and a full on adrenalin read, Tell Me A Lie didn’t disappoint. There is one coincidence the size of Russia in the plot, one which I found myself trying to rationalise throughout most of the novel. But that aside, it is a great yarn, and the interesting characters from the first installment are all back.

Dan Forrester is still suffering from his patchy amnesia, but he now knows he was a spy, and has remembered some of his craft. He is working for a ‘global political analyst specialist service’, and travels to Russia when a previous espionage contact says they have vital information, but will only speak with him. Meanwhile, the wonderful synesthetic PC Lucy Davies is also back and as irrepressible as ever, as is her slavishly devoted soon to be future boss DI Faris MacDonald. 

Lucy gets called into what appears to be a cut and dried case of familicide – but is not so sure the prime suspect is guilty. Lucy starts to put a few random cases together, and that suggests a much bigger disaster is unfolding. Meanwhile we get to learn more about Dan’s wife Jenny, their young daughter, Aimee, and Poppy the RSPCA re-homed Rottweiler.

All the above become embroiled in a conspiracy that goes back to the horrors of Stalinist Russia, and which has spread across the globe. It involves sadistic Russian oligarchs, beautiful women trying to do the right thing, feisty women trying to save their own lives and the lives of others, and lots and lots of danger. And if you buy into the logic of the conspiracy, there are intriguing future possibilities which emerge at the end of the novel.

So roll on number three in the series!

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


FOX HUNTER by Zoe Sharp (Pegasus Books, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Special forces soldier-turned-bodyguard Charlotte “Charlie” Fox can never forget the men who put a brutal end to her military career, but a long time ago she vowed she would not go looking for them. Now she doesn’t have a choice.

Her boss Sean Meyer is missing in Iraq, where one of those men was working as a private security contractor. When the man’s butchered body is discovered, Charlie fears that Sean may be pursuing a twisted vendetta on her behalf.

Charlie’s “close protection” agency in New York needs this dealt with—fast and quiet—before everything they’ve worked for goes to ruins. They send Charlie to the Middle East with very specific instructions: Find Sean Meyer and stop him—by whatever means necessary.

From the searing heat of the Iraqi desert to the snow-capped mountains of Eastern Europe, Zoe Sharp takes readers on a helter-skelter, action-packed ride with this latest instalment in her exciting series featuring Charlie Fox. It's been four years since the last Charlie Fox adventure, but Sharp brings her back with a vengeance, delivering a real corker of a tale for long-time fans and new readers alike.

FOX HUNTER is the twelfth book in Sharp's long-running series, which began back in 2001, and manages to be a great standalone read as well as progressing various character arcs from throughout the previous books. The spectre of Charlie's ignominious exit from the British Army has hung over her journey as a close-protection specialist, and really comes to the forefront in FOX HUNTER as she's forced to confront her ugly and traumatic past. Face to face, in some cases, at last.

There's a heck of a lot to like about FOX HUNTER. There's action aplenty, and a great sense of place. I could feel the heat shimmering off the pages when Charlie was roaring around Kuwait and Iraq, trying to track down her mentor and former lover Sean Meyer, while dealing with betrayals, ambushes, and various groups scrabbling to gain any advantage in the ongoing war zone.

Charlie Fox is a terrific character; strong, capable, principled, with an ugly past that damaged her before she healed herself. She's often been compared to Jack Reacher by reviewers, and Lee Child himself has even said 'if Jack Reacher was a woman, he'd be Charlie Fox'. I'd certainly recommend the series, and this book, to fans of Reacher who are looking for 'similar but different' books to enjoy, but I do think it's doing Charlie Fox a little bit of a disservice to just think of her as a female spin on Reacher. She is her own woman, a unique and intriguing character on many levels.

Just how healed Charlie Fox may or may not be is put to the acid test in FOX HUNTER, as she's forced to confront the events of the past, and the men who were in control of those events. And her.

There's a great sense of adventure in this book, it's a kind of rollicking chase story that reminds me a little of a James Bond movie or those classic 1960s-1970s British adventure-thrillers, just with a modern feel and spin. Charlie Fox goes careening around Iraq and Kuwait, then further afield, in her hunt for both Sean Meyer, and whatever and whoever Sean may be hunting himself. But does she really know what is going on? Just how much did that head wound change Meyer's personality?

Action-packed, adrenalin-filled, but with plenty of depth and thoughtfulness in among the explosions, gun battles, and hand-to-hand combat too. A very good read.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features and reviews for a wide range of magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 mystery writers, discussed crime writing onstage at festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Saturday, September 30, 2017


THE SCENE OF THE CRIME by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Twelve extraordinary tales of crime and punishment. A court is a chamber of questions. Who, when, why, what happened and exactly how - these are issues of psychology and the soul, they're general to the human condition, with its infinite capacity to cause pain.

A brutal murder of a wife and daughter ... A meth-fuelled Samurai sword attack ... A banker tangled in a hit-and-run scandal ... A top cop accused of rape ... A murder in the Outback ... A beloved entertainer's fall from grace ... 

... these and other extraordinary cases become more than just courtroom dramas and sensational headlines. They become a window onto another world - the one where things go badly wrong, where once invisible lives become horrifyingly visible, where the strangeness just beneath the surface is revealed.

The brutal and the banal mix in this fascinating collection of real-life crime stories from one of New Zealand's finest storytellers. Braunias is an award-hoarding journalist, though really more of a Swiss Army Knife of non-fiction writing, able to adroitly turn his pen and wit to all manner of forms and subjects. From punchy columns to longform features to books, Braunias has focused his keen and oft-sardonic eye on everything from small-town life to a passion for birds to political satire to a Herculean quest to eat his way through 55 food joints on a single stretch of a busy Auckland road.

With THE SCENE OF THE CRIME, Braunias returns to his roots, in a way, as he was assigned court reporting duties as a young scribe for a small-town newspaper on New Zealand's wild West Coast.

In the introduction to this collection of true crime stories, Braunias says that he has been attracted to sitting in a courtroom and witnessing the peculiar power of trials for many years:
"I've loved it and I've hated it, and I could seldom tear myself away. All reporting is the accumulation of minor details, and nothing is too minor in a courtroom devoted to a case of murder. There is such an obsessive quality to trials. There is no such thing as courtroom drama, and the idea that a trial is a kind of theatre is facile. It's far more powerful than that. It's a production of sorrow and paperwork, a clean realism usually conducted in a collegial manner, in dark-panelled rooms with set hours of business. The orderliness is almost a parody of the savage moments it seeks to understand."

In THE SCENE OF THE CRIME, Braunias takes readers behind the scenes, and beyond the media headlines and soundbites, of a dozen different cases he's covered. These include notorious cases and highly publicised trials involving Mark Lundy, Rolf Harris, Tony Dixon, Louise Nicholas, and others (the Lundy murders get four chapters, each offering different insights on a still-puzzling case).

It's a remarkable collection. Whether you're familiar with the cases or not (or have read the original stories Braunias published in various major New Zealand newspapers and magazines, now extensively reworked for this collection), Braunias offers something fresh here as he shows us the people caught up in ghastly deeds: perpetrators, victims, law enforcement, and their families. .

He captures the madness, badness, and oddness swirling about some of our most infamous crimes and non-crimes. He revels in tiny details that bring these true events to vivid life, creates a page-turning narrative drive, and prods readers to (re)consider what these moments say about the national psyche. THE SCENE OF THE CRIME covers brutal acts, but it's not dire or exploitative. There are moments of humour, of lightness and reflection. In his inimitable style, Braunias entertains and informs.

Among taking a deeper, more nuanced look at high-profile cases, I also really enjoyed the chapters covering lesser-known or remembered crimes. There's a fascinating chapter on a 1960s mass shooting that led to the creation of the Armed Offenders Squad (New Zealand's equivalent to SWAT), where Braunias talks to surviving policemen, family members, and the daughter of the 'madman' killer.

This is thoughtful, and thought-provoking, true crime writing.

Delivered in bite-sized chunks that you can devour in linear fashion or haphazard order, Braunias made me a glutton; I swallowed the entire degustation in a single evening.

Highly recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio and popular podcasts. He's been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson


Tuesday, September 26, 2017


MURDER IN MONTEGO BAY by Paula Lennon (Jacaranda, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Privileged Chinese-Jamaican brothers Lester and Carter Chin Ellis have enjoyed a sheltered life as the heirs to the iced desserts empire Chinchillerz. One fateful night, following a fiery encounter with local law enforcement the brothers are taken to Pelican Walk Police Station, where Lester is detained for drunk driving, while Carter is released without charge. When Carter is shot dead within minutes of leaving the station his murder throws the police force into crisis mode.

Discredited Detective Raythan Preddy is put in charge of the murder case and is forced to accept the assistance of Detective Sean Harris, a Scottish lawman seconded to Jamaica. With his superiors watching his every move and the Chin Ellis family interfering with the investigation, Preddy is determined to catch the killer and save his career.

There's a lot to like about this debut crime novel, and overall I enjoyed what was a fast-paced and exciting read. Lennon takes readers to an exotic location, a tropical island 'paradise', and delivers a dark tale with plenty of grit and corruption, belying the 'smiley-faced' Jamaican stereotype. .

Detective Preddy is a proud Jamaican with a stain or two to his name, thanks to a high profile bust that went horribly wrong. He's unsure of his position within the police, but not unsure of his own skills as an investigator. So he struggles when an outsider who's been seconded to his team from overseas, Scottish Detective Sean Harris, seems to be favoured by the local bosses. Is this typical island inferiority, believing that someone from abroad must naturally be better trained or more skilled at their job? Particularly a white man? As far as the ganja-drinking Preddy is concerned, this is his patch and he knows better about catching local criminals than anyone else, whatever the bosses think.

That belief is put to the test with a tricky case, when one of the heirs to the popular Chinchillerz empire is gunned down shortly after being released by the Jamaican police. On the same night Carter Chin Ellis is murdered, his brother Lester is assaulted while in police custody. It's a media nightmare for the local cops, which sees the already tropical temperatures raised several notches. Questions swirl about their competence, even whispers of corruption, as Preddy and his under-funded colleagues try to track down who is responsible. Harris provides an intriguing foil, the foreigner who might be more, or less, than he seems. Is he a political stooge? Or a hard-working investigator who just has different methods to the proud Preddy, and is happy to voice his disagreement at times?

Overall, I enjoyed MURDER IN MONTEGO BAY, and I'd definitely read more from Lennon, if she keeps up with the crime writing. I particularly liked her evocation of the Jamaican setting, which more than just being an 'exotic location', she brought to life in a number of ways, from local customs and lifestyles, to the environment and range of people who populate the Caribbean island. I felt like I was there, alongside Preddy and Harris. At times I thought the local patois might have been a little overdone, pulling me out of the story - but that may have been because I wasn't quite fully drawn into Preddy as the main hero. I was observing (and enjoying) his adventures and efforts, rather than fully empathising or being sucked into the unfolding story without question. I was a little conscious that I was reading a story - an interesting a pretty well-told one, nevertheless - rather than 'living it'.

Having said that, I think that Preddy and Harris could grow into really interesting series characters, if Lennon were to continue their adventures (or Preddy's alone). There's an unusual and interesting dynamic between them, quite believable and multi-layered. Two proud men trying to do their best, with good intentions, but not quite clicking, so grating on each other and providing plenty of drama.

A good debut that shows plenty of promise, a gritty tale set against a vibrant backdrop.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson