Saturday, February 13, 2016

Book Launch: THE ICE SHROUD by Gordon Ell

Acclaimed heritage photographer, publisher, and author Gordon Ell will join the ranks of New Zealand's crime writing fraternity when his debut is launched at Takapuna Library on 2 March.

Ell's passion for the outdoors shines through in his first crime tale, which is set in the majestic Southern Lakes region of New Zealand. I'm looking forward to reading THE ICE SHROUD as I've met Ell several times at books events over the past few years. He's had such a terrific career publishing numerous books about our country's natural and historic heritage, it was quite delightful to see how enthusiastic he was about making a move into crime fiction, something else he loved.

Here's the blurb:
Edie is dead, frozen in an alpine torrent, murdered. A crime of passion, or is something darker troubling her former lovers? Detective Sergeant Buchan keeps his own secret while probing the private lives of others among the mountains of New Zealand's spectacular Southern Lakes. Something, it seems, is rotten in the alpine paradise.

Book Launch: 
The Friends of Takapuna Library and Bush Press invite booklovers to a free event to celebrate the release of Gordon Ell's first crime novel, THE ICE SHROUD, on the evening of Wednesday 2 March 2016.

Level 1, Takapuna Library, The Strand, Takapuna.

Light refreshments will be served from 6pm. The official launch will be at 6.30pm. Copies of THE ICE SHROUD will be available for purchase and signing.

Please RSVP to Helen Woodhouse, helen.woodhouse@aucklandcouncil.govt.nz or (09) 890 4903

Monday, February 8, 2016

Review: TWISTER

TWISTER by Jane Woodham

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Dunedin, in the grip of an unseasonal flu, is a city under siege. Then, after five damaging days of rain, a twister rips through, exposing the body of a missing schoolgirl in Ross Creek. Detective Senior Sergeant Leo Judd is the only one who can lead the investigation despite unresolved sorrow over the disappearance of his own daughter nine years earlier.

Set in Dunedin, New Zealand, local writer Jane Woodham obviously loves the place that she lives in. Incorporating a lot of local landmarks, geographical elements and a strong sense of place, TWISTER is her debut novel featuring DSS Leo Judd and a series of investigations into everything from animal torture to gay bashings, and the death of a young schoolgirl.

Starting out in an apocalyptic style, Dunedin is gripped initially by a flu epidemic, and then, after five days of biblical rain, an unusual twister rips through the place, causing havoc, and exposing the body of a missing schoolgirl in a local creek. DSS Judd is the lead investigator on the case, a difficult position for him to be in after the unsolved disappearance of his own daughter nine years earlier. He also isn't overly aware that his marriage is teetering on the edge, with his wife Kate contemplating leaving him to move in with her lover Rea.

TWISTER is extremely heavy on the personal elements, particularly the will she/won't she moving out of Kate. Rea is an old family friend, neighbour and somebody with who Kate shares a very big personal secret. She's much more forthright than Kate and applying hefty pressure for a decision to be made, and them both to be able to move on. This thread inserts itself into the investigative aspects of the book in such a hefty manner that it does frequently take over, although for those that are more interested in inter-personal relationships, and the pressures of coming out after many years of heterosexual relationships that might well be an interesting aspect. It could also result in an enormous amount of flicking, searching constantly for the crime threads, in what felt at times more like a romance novel.

Whilst the character of Kate is definitely a little on the wishy-washy side, that of DSS Leo Judd is stronger. They are both obviously still deeply affected by the disappearance of their daughter, but for Judd there's that professional disappointment as well as the personal loss. The fact that he's never been able to resolve what happened to his daughter gives this current investigation a little more of an edge, although again, that can sometimes be a little washed out by the real-estate conversations and the gardening, and the swimming and everything else.

Because of the byways, side-alleys and distractions liberally inserted into the action in TWISTER, this is definitely not a novel for those for whom plot and resolution are everything in their crime fiction reading. For anyone who is looking for something with all of those complications, with the emphasis on personal elements, and with such a strong sense of place, it would be well worth a look.

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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

9mm interview: Jake Woodhouse

Earlier this week I had the privilege to attend Penguin's Crime Drinks in Soho, London. It was a great night talking books, storytelling, and life with a terrific group of of people - authors, reviewers, publishers, and others. I'd also been to this event last year, where I met a number of new-to-me authors, including Jake Woodhouse, who randomly often comes up when I do searches about New Zealand crime, as he's a bestselling crime writer, who happens to have travelled and worked (at a winery) in New Zealand. He is British though, and sets his excellent books in Amsterdam.

Last year I read Jake's second Inspector Jaap Rykel book, INTO THE NIGHT, and really enjoyed it. I called it "a very fine European police thriller, with a twisting storyline, fascinating cast of characters, and tremendous denouement" (read full review here).

It was great to see Jake and the other Penguin authors on Tuesday night. I'm very much looking forward to his third Inspector Rykel book, which I understand will be released in the coming months.

Jake himself is a really interesting guy who had an interesting path to thriller writing. A skateboarding and snowboarding teen who fell in love with the oboe and classical music (even though he looked more like a metal-head), he studied at the Royal College of Music in London, then went on to postgraduate music studies in Amsterdam and touring as a professional musician around Europe.

Then - and this is something I can personally identify with, given my own far-less-than-linear life track through my 20s and early 30s - Jake felt compelled to drop music and try something else: winemaking. He went to New Zealand to learn the craft, then worked several vintages as a winemaker in Italy, before working in a shop and starting a wine business back home in the UK. It was during this time he eventually sat down to do something he'd always wanted to - but had been putting off for many years - write a book. He set his thriller series in a fascinating city he knew well: Amsterdam.

Jake has certainly taken a circuitous route to where he is now, filled with adventures and side-steps. A life of exploration, well lived. And today, this bestselling thriller writer who knows plenty about winemaking, snowboarding, and classical music, becomes the 138th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

Jake Woodhouse and myself at the Penguin
Crime Drinks in Soho in March, 2015
9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH JAKE WOODHOUSE

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I’ve not read much series crime fiction so this is a tough one, but my favorite series characters have to be Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix. I grew up reading those books, and they’ll always stay with me, even though I’ve not read one for years.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
There have been so many books… I’m not sure about the first, maybe something like SIDDARTHA by Herman Hesse, or WATERMUSIC by T.C. Boyle. I think the reason why is simple, they both, as any good book does, open up another world, whether that be serious or comic doesn’t really matter, the main thing is that you are someplace else, that words are firing something in your mind which can translate into emotion, in whatever form that is.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Nothing, I’d been putting off writing for years and years, there seemed to be this massive fear of doing it, even though I had in the back of my mind that I’d be a writer. Crazy really, but then I think if you start too young you might waste your youth writing instead of living. Then you’d have nothing to write about.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Mostly hanging out with my wife and two dogs. I love to surf and snowboard, but I don’t get to do that as much as I’d like. I find when I’m writing a book switching off is kind of difficult, there’s always this sort of undertow, pulling your mind back into the world you are creating and I have to fight that a bit, it’s not good to be too immersed.

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 in South East London, not sure people really visit here for fun?

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I’d probably ask for the one whose name I’ve forgotten, but whodelivers the best lines in recent movie history, from The Departed. This character, when asked a question, says ‘Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe fuck yourself.’ I’d want to be played by that guy, and the film would consist of him wandering through my life, saying that phrase in answer to any question posed to me by anyone. It probably wouldn’t make for a compelling bit of drama, but I think after the 100th or so repetition you’d either want to kill yourself or you’d give in and find it ridiculously funny.


7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I guess I’ll always have a soft spot for my first, AFTER THE SILENCE – I lived with it for years, writing it and rewriting it, and that kind of sticks.

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 got a call from my agent saying he had some good news, the manuscript had been sent out to Germany and a publisher had stayed up all night reading it and called first thing in the morning with a pre-empt. I was stunned really,and I was also in the middle of trying to stop a puppy from throwing up on the floor so I probably sounded a bit distracted. I don’t think it really sank in for about six months or so. I do remember when the UK deal came in I was in the mountains snowboarding, so that was a sort of celebration.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I was doing a signing at an independent bookshop when a lady shuffled up and asked me if I’d sign for her. I said sure, though she didn’t have a book. She did however have a bag plastic shopping bag, and she dipped her hand in and pulled out a dead crow, which she plonked on the table. She didn’t say anything after that, she just stood there looking at me. It was a bit unnerving really.

Okay, I’m kidding. They’ve all been pretty normal so far.


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

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Find out more about Jake Woodhouse, his books, and his dogs at his website here. Follow him on Twitter here

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Review: KILLING TRAIL

KILLING TRAIL by Margaret Mizushima (Crooked Lane, December 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

An intriguing police partnership and the rugged beauty of rural Colorado provides refreshing texture in this debut mystery, which shows real potential for an engaging, ongoing series. 

Officer Mattie Cobb is a newly-certified dog handler still looking to prove herself to her colleagues in Timber Creek, the town she grew up in as a foster kid. When she and her canine partner, a large German Shepherd called "Robo", uncover the part-buried body of a local girl near an old cabin in the mountains, ripples are created throughout the small settlement. Drug crime has been on the rise locally - hence the addition of Robo to the team - and baggies of drugs found in the dead girl's dog make it clear this scourge somehow ties into the murder.

While this is Mattie and Robo's first case together, Mattie is an experienced young officer with an interesting relationship with her hometown. Thanks to her upbringing, she has plenty of trust issues and insecurities, and a mixture of familiarity and guardedness when it comes to the people in Timber Creek. From her colleagues and superiors to former teachers and local vet and single father Cole Walker, Mattie's often unsure of how to connect with or act around others, let alone who and how to trust. Being forced to let go of control a little and start to trust Robo and his superior instincts makes for an interesting character arc for Mattie.

Other pluses are that Mizushima has a nice tough for evoking the small-town rural Colorado setting and crafting a pretty interesting cast of characters. Although the plot is a little straightforward, occasionally stumbles and skews genteel, and some dialogue can be 'on the nose' or overly expository, THE KILLING TRAIL is a good solid mystery and one that has plenty to recommend it. I particularly enjoyed the way Mizushima adroitly wove aspects of dog handling and animal care into the storyline; it always felt natural and not tacked on, yet the reader learns plenty about the special relationship between police dogs and handlers.

Overall, a very solid debut that shows plenty of promise. I would read more Mattie and Robo tales.

3.5 stars for anyone, 4+ if you love animals and the outdoors.

Craig Sisterson is a features writer from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 140 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Saturday, January 30, 2016

9mm Interview: RM Cartmel

One of the most fun things about being involved in the crime fiction community (other than getting to read a diverse array of fantastic stories), is getting to meet some amazing people, authors and readers both, at writing festivals and other events. Wherever you are in the world, if you're a keen booklover, I'd recommend heading along to an author event when you get the chance, whether it's at your local library, bookstore, or a larger writing festival.

Last May I caught up with some authors, reviewers, and publishers I already knew, and met many others, at the fantastic Crimefest in Bristol. An annual event that started as a spin-off from Left Coast Crime in the United States, Crimefest has become a highlight of the British literary calendar, with a whole host of authors from many countries in attendance. I'd highly recommend heading along if you get the chance.

One of the new-to-me authors I had the pleasure of meeting at Crimefest last year was Dr Richard Michael Cartmel, a wine-loving former general practitioner from Peterborough who in his retirement has began a trilogy of crime novels set in the Burgundy wine region in France. Richard, who writes under the name RM Cartmel, is an avuncular man, a delight to chat to, very generous with his time. I'm looking forward to catching up with him again on the crime fiction circuit, and following his series of wine-soaked mysteries.

His debut, THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR, sees Commandant Truchaud of the Paris police return to his hometown on his brother's death, and get caught up in all sorts of local villainy in the small village of Nuit-Saints-George. It's been called "a well-crafted treasure of unforgettable characters, eloquent yet whimsical language, intrigues burrowed into the ways of classic French wine making, and vintage murder mystery writing," by #1 bestselling author and Bouchercon Chair Jeffrey Siger. Cartmel has published a second in the series, THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION, and is currently working on the third in his trilogy.

But for now, he becomes the 137th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH RM CARTMEL

1. Who is your Favourite Recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I think this changes from time to time depending on what I’ve just read, but currently I have to put Flavia Albia pretty high up the list. She is Lindsey Davis’s second generation detective in 1st century Rome. I was seriously lucky to catch her father in his first book, THE SILVER PIGS, and have followed them ever since. Quite early in the Falco series, the slightly stroppy disagreeable teenaged adopted daughter looked a great creation, and now she’s her own person in her late 20s and a private eye during the very strange Emperor Domitian’s reign, she has really flowered in the way I had hoped.

Currently I am also seriously into Amy Lane and her sidekick Jason, by Rosie Claverton. Yes I know that’s two people, but Amy can’t go out of her flat, as she’s seriously agoraphobic, so Jason is her pair of legs when she has to find something out. In both series, the location itself is a major character in the novels, being they Ancient Rome, or modern day Cardiff, maybe that is why I am into both so much as a sense of place is very important in what I write too.

2. What was your very first book you remember reading and really loving and why?
You have to remember that it was a very, very long time ago, and it was probably my first ‘grown up’ book. Certainly it is one of the very earliest I remember reading. It was Nevil Shute’s ON THE BEACH. It certainly filled me with the paranoia of a small boy sent away to boarding school ‘to keep me out of harm’s way.’ My father was a station commander in the RAF at the time, and the “Four minute nuclear warning” was so that he had enough time to get his bombers up to retaliate against an incoming Russian attack. [Of course in those days, we had no idea that all those missiles we saw on Moscow Mayday parades were just empty tubes of cardboard!] ON THE BEACH explained to me why I was at that strange place that wasn’t home, and solved any constipation problems I might have had at the time.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written, if anything; unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Lots! The dedication in THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR is to a lady yclept ‘Papi’. Let me tell you the story, you can always cut it out. Before the 1939-45 escalation of the unpleasantness that was the 20th century, my late teenaged mother did an exchange with a girl from Dijon, and they became lifelong friends. Fast forward to the early 1960s, we went on holiday to see Michele’s family in a caravan. [We were only allowed to take £50 pounds per adult out of the country per year in those days, and while fifty quid bought a lot more then than it does now, it would soon disappear mixing two adults, two kids, and a hotel!]

Perhaps thinking I could do a Nevil Shute, I don’t know, but at the time I was doodling a story, and my hero was chasing ‘The International Gang’, an invention of my Aunt’s, around France and Germany, not in a Wolseley towing a caravan, but in his sports car. At one point Papi, my mum’s friend’s mother asked my mum, ‘What’s he doing,’ to which my mum replied, ‘Oh he’s writing a detective story, [un roman policier]. Papi turned to me and asked me to write one for her too. So half a century later, when my first book THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR, is finally in front of the public, long after all the other people in this story are all far from here, I dedicated that to her. From that little book, which is long since been stolen by the International Gang, I have been writing in one way or another ever since for practice/amusement.

Whether it was short stories, and a couple of novels - one I know you’ll never see, the other who knows? - I wrote sketches for revue, a couple of libretti for stage and radio. In the eighties I wrote a couple of still unfinished sci-fi and fantasy novels, in the nineties I was the editor of a regional medical newspaper, and then when I retired from medicine in early 2012, I knew that I should have to try and do some justice to this fun little hobby, I had played with all my life, and set off to Burgundy to do some proper research and earn a really top quality hangover!

4. Outside of writing, and touring, and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity wise?
I am a music-aholic. I have listened to music all my life, and I wonder what might have happened if I had ever discovered within me any talent whatever as a musician. Certainly I discovered I could write a lyric, which I did often while I was part of the revue groups in the late 70s and early 80s, which I really only pulled out of, as I had to show some commitment to my day job (I was a doctor). My musical tastes were intensely catholic, being an enormous fan of Beethoven, The Who, the Grateful Dead, and Charles-Valentin Alkan, to pull four off the top of my head. None of which I can listen to while I am writing, as if their music is on, I have to stop and listen to it. If I put on ‘lesser’ music while I am writing, then it just irritates me (lesser music for example being Mozart, the Beatles, Shostakovich … sorry being flippant guys).

Of course I like wine, and part of my enjoyment is to taste really good wine, so I cannot afford to become an alcoholic! I consume about two bottles a week. I read books, I travel with a Kindle, but prefer reading physical books, best of all American made books which stay open without bending the backs to damage the spines, unlike the English pressings. And I watch TV too, and I’m rather disappointed that they’re currently not making any new ‘Space Opera’ TV like Star Trek or Babylon 5. Those were the days!

5. What is the one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in any of the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn't initially consider?
Aha! We now hit the tricky questions! I came to my home town, Peterborough, to do a six month secondment in 1981. For reasons I have no idea the Peterborough Effect, which was the new-town buzz phrase then got me, and I did three more secondments, and then became a GP here, probably because I had got fed up with moving. A little known fact is that junior doctors have to move every 6 months to go to the next training post, and when you reach your late twenties, you get fed up with that.

Peterborough has precisely two things that I am into, it’s local Blues Club, ShakeDown where the organisers bring a bluesman or –woman over from the States and a good time is had by all. The other festival, usually just before August Bank Holiday, is the CAMRA Beer Festival, which I understand is the second biggest in the land after Earl’s Court. I never seem to remember those, but I always seem to have one of the bespoke glasses so I was obviously there! What else is there about Peterborough? Well you’ll have to read the book from CSB called 50 MILES FROM ANYWHERE.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I think the immediate figure that leaped out of the screen was Sydney Greenstreet. Maybe that was because of his girth which is similar to my own, but in those Bogart films of the 1940s, Casablanca, which I still think is my favourite movie of all time, oh I know, boring! Everybody knows Casablanca. Okay hold the thought about Sydney Greenstreet, and ask me what film I would like to remake and why? The superb ‘Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself With Tea’! A surreal Czech masterpiece about identical twin time travellers delivering a nuclear weapon to Hitler in 1944 to alter the results of the war, only the wrong twin flies the time ship and it lands in 1941. If you can find a copy do and I’m not going to spoil it for you.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite and why? 
Well there’s only the two out there at the moment. At the moment I will say THE RICHEBOURG AFFAIR as it was the first and I haven’t heard a bad word said about it. Its sequel, THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION, has been out there for less time, and I am far too close to it to comment. I suspect that if you asked me the same question at the same time every year over the next five years I will have a different answer for you every time. I seriously hope that I have still to write ‘My Masterpiece’ [Cf Bob Dylan’s “When I Write My Masterpiece” Yes he’s up there among the greats, how could you put ‘Desolation Row’ on and not concentrate on it?]

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 don’t think I quite believed it until a carton full of Richebourgs was delivered to my front door. I opened the carton and took out a book, and there it was! That first book is still on the shelf in the room where I write. My son and I then powered up the barbecue and I opened a bottle of very fine Burgundy, and we quietly sat outside and watched the sun go down.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
You have to remember I am fairly new at this game so I haven’t been at many of those about me and mine yet.  Probably at Monterey in 2013. Certainly it was the first time I ever saw the Pacific. We certainly still talk about this to this day. I hadn’t yet got RICHEBOURG out yet, but I had heard of Left Coast Crime at Crimefest the previous year, and having finished my first book and it was being abused by the editorial team, I went off to California, and met all sorts of people whose faces I had seen on the back covers of books.

For a newbie writer you can only imagine meeting the likes of Sue Grafton for the first time. Anyway, as you can see I’m drifting off the point again - this has been longer than many of the short stories I wrote in the sixties! At the Gala Dinner, one of the waiters wandered up to me, and asked me if I had lost anything? He then waved my passport at me, and explained that it had been found at the bar where I had been sitting that lunchtime having some squid and a small beer! That passport was doomed. Less than six months later, and RICHEBOURG was out, I was planning to go to Killer Nashville to be sort of public about it, and no passport. I never got to that conference. I did get a replacement just in time to get to France to spend some time in Nuits-Saint-Georges in time for the Vintage, which is the plot line for the book I am writing now, "The Romanée Vintage". Can you imagine missing doing the research for your next book? That would have been a year’s delay. Sorry about that one, I will have a lot more weirdness and mayhem in a couple of years when I have more experience of these games.


Thank you Richard, we appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch. 

You can read more about RM Cartmel and his wine-soaked mysteries here

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

9mm interview: Mike Ponder

Wine-making, forestry, cattle-breeding, painting, olive groves, thriller writing: you could say that New Zealand's Mike Ponder is a modern renaissance man.

Internationally known in a variety of fields, Ponder became a professional artist in his 30s, famous for his distinctive and bold works. He also cultivated grapes, olives, and forestry on his land, and broke into publishing with three books on his artworks, then one about the burgeoning New Zealand olive oil industry, before turning his hand to penning international thrillers while living in Australia (where he was part-owner of the famous Driza-Bone outdoors coat company).

Phew. Talk about packing things in, and passionately following all your interests. Now back in New Zealand, living on his new farm in Marlborough, Ponder is two books into an exciting thriller trilogy involving the Royal Family. The first, THE WINDSOR CONSPIRACY, was published in 2007.

The severed finger of a kidnapped man is mailed to a newspaper journalist, with a note claiming the victim is Prince Charles, who'd just appeared on live television. What seems on the surface like a hoax is complicated by Secret Service interest, Royal Air Force action, and the sudden murder of the journalist ...

In among everything else he does, Ponder published FOUR KINGS in 2012, and is planning on soon releasing the finale. But for now, Mike Ponder becomes the 137th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH MIKE PONDER

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I don't have a favourite fiction hero. This is probably explained by the fact that I made a conscious decision not to read novels when I'm writing because I don't want to be influenced by other authors.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Without a doubt the book would be REACH FOR THE SKY. I must have read it at least five times when I was young. I think it was Douglas Bader's obstinacy, tenacity, and complete disregard for authority that appealed.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
In 1990 I produced the first book on my art, TEXTURED COLOUR. In 2000 I produced my second art book which was called MY WAY – A TOUCH OF RED. In 2004 the third book in the series was released. It was called OIL ON CANVAS. All three were bestsellers. In 1988 I wrote THE GOOD OIL, a book about growing olives and making olive oil in New Zealand. It became an immediate best seller and in 2001 an updated second edition was published. All the above books were published by Wenlock House.

As far back as I can remember I have had a yearn to write. In the 1970's I wrote my first novel 'Strike'. In was picked up by an international publisher but on the basis they would only go ahead if a deal could be struck for paperback distribution. However the paperback publishers were unhappy with the New Zealand content, claiming it would lack appeal to an international audience. That was the catalyst for me to write a novel that was not only truly international but also universally appealing. I achieved this by developing the plot around the British Royal Family, and a secret, which if exposed, would spell disaster for the Monarchy and the British Government. The Novel is called  THE WINDSOR CONSPIRACY and was published by Random House in 2007. It enjoyed international success. The sequel FOUR KINGS followed in 2012. My third novel which I have titled FOR QUEEN AND EMPIRE will complete the trilogy.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Even though I'm old enough to be retired I find myself busier than ever. Besides writing and all the commitments that come with it, I still paint and exhibit my work. I live on a farm on the outskirts of Blenheim where we have a large vineyard and a Shorthorn cattle stud. Forestry also still plays a role in my life. Over the past few years we have established significant plantings of pine, larch , black poplar and oaks, and we still have forestry interests in the Marlborough Sounds. Olives are also still an interest and we have established two groves adjacent to the vineyard. Somehow I manage to get to golf once week, I play the bag pipes and I like to spend time with my Granddaughters.

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?
The quality of the trout and salmon fishing in the Wairau River is often overlooked. As also is the diversity of Marlborough's six golf courses. What could be better than a golfing holiday and playing on a different course each day? Another unheralded but none the less interesting destination is the Nut Ranch in Tyntesfield Road where they sell an amazing range of products made from hazel nuts.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
This question has caused a great deal of debate around the dinner table. The problem is I'm so bloody tall. About two metres, and so many actors are so bloody short. Because of my many hair-brained schemes my wife thinks it would have to be John Cleese [providing he doesn’t mention the war]. I'm more for the suave, successful, image of Michael Douglas.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
My favourite work is possibly FOUR KINGS because I used historical and true life events to create the framework for the plot. It was a very moving story to write. Four Kings is set in Zimbabwe at the time Mugabe was turning a blind eye to the killing and forced displacement of the white farmers whose land was to be used for re-settlement. Why did the British not intervene? And what role did the Monarchy play in that fatal decision?

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 guess I wasn't too surprised when my first novel was snapped up for publication because I really believed it ticked all the boxes. However I still felt very humbled and proud whenever I saw the book displayed as a 'best seller' in New Zealand and Australian bookshops.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
At a book signing a middle aged woman said. "I think you are so much cleverer than your namesake the artist. I saw him once. He was nothing like you. Have you ever met him?"


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

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You can read more about Mike Ponder at his website here

Thursday, January 14, 2016

9mm: An interview with SJI Holliday

If you go down to the woods today...

From when we're the littlest kids, we know 'the woods' is a place of intrigue, of magic, mystery, and sometimes sinister danger. Whether filled by wolves and witches, or Teddy Bears' Picnics, 'the woods' can inspire a range of visceral, gut-level feelings beyond our normal everyday lives. Mythological, yet real.

Debutant British crime novelist Susi Holliday ably tapped into that sense of danger and intrigue last year with her acclaimed BLACK WOOD, which has been called “A deeply unsettling story of bad deeds, complex loyalties and secrets better left buried ... a thrilling debut which grips from the very first page and doesn't let go.”

In BLACK WOOD, something happens to Claire and Jo, two young girls in the woods; Claire is left paralysed with memory loss, Jo deep mental scars and a story no-one believes. More than twenty years later, a visitor dredges up painful memories and ignites Jo's desire for revenge, while at the same time the local copper is hunting a masked man attacking women out by a disused railway.

You can read an excerpt of BLACK WOOD here.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome SJI Holliday (Susi's pen-name) to Crime Watch as the first interviewee for 2016 in our popular 9mm series. Over the years we've been fortunate to have more than 130 fantastic crime writers share their thoughts as we fired our nine not-at-all-usual questions their way.

And now it's SJI Holliday's turn to stare down the barrel...

Craig and SJI Holliday at Bloody Scotland
(photo: Steph Broadribb/CrimeThrillerGirl)
9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH SJI HOLLIDAY

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Hmm. I think it has to be Jack Caffrey. I love Mo Hayder’s writing, and she’s managed to create a believable yet unpredictable character who remains an enigma throughout. I loved WOLF, because it gave Caffrey centre stage to break a ridiculous amount of rules after he was sidelined a bit in previous books for Flea Marley (also a great recurring character, by the way). I’m still hoping for a proper Caffrey-Flea romance, even if it’s likely to be doomed from the start because of the weight of their combined secrets.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I can’t remember a lot of the detail of books I read when I was a kid, because I read thousands of the things and I read them fast. I was a big fan of Enid Blyton. I think one of the first books that blew me away as a teen was THE TALISMAN by King and Straub. I read a lot of horror then, but this was my first foray into something that was more fantasy. I loved it, the feeling of being in a very different world, yet somehow it still made sense. Saying that, I don’t think I’ve read anything like that since, although BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman is the most recent ‘fantasy’ I’ve read, but it’s a dystopian horror, rather than having any weird and wonderful quests. You should check that one out by the way. Incredible book.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’d written loads of short stories and flash fiction. I wrote my first flash fiction at a creative writing evening class, about a man called Mr Parker, who kept his embalmed wife propped up in bed. Everyone else was writing pretty descriptive prose about summer gardens and unrequited love, so it got a few gasps when I read it out. That’s when I knew I was on the right track with the dark stuff.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Outside of those things and trying to fit in the day job (I’m a clinical trials statistician), I don’t have time for anything too mad or exciting. I love to travel, and it’s great that I can combine that with book related activities too. I have less time to read now (I used to devour several books a week before I started writing) but when I do, I love to read something gripping in one sitting, with a nice bar of chocolate to hand. I like watching horror films, walking, exploring, seeing friends and family. Mainly I like to relax!

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 in London, where of course there are a ridiculous amount of things to do. One of the nicest ways to see different parts of the city is to walk along the river… away from the crowds by the London Eye, head east or west and you’ll find plenty of stuff to do. Near Kew Gardens, Strand-on-the-Green is the perfect place to hang out with a cold cider on a summer’s day. Or if you’re intent on staying central, head to the Hunterian Museum to see pickled body parts, or Pollock’s Toy Museum to see some very creepy dolls. I know that’s not one thing, but I don’t think it’s possible to pick just one thing in London.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
People used to say I looked like Martine McCutcheon, most famously known for playing the ill-fated Tiffany Mitchell in Eastenders and starring in a series of Activia Yoghurt adverts. I can’t imagine anyone who could play me better. I’m sure she’d jump at the chance, but I wonder if she can do a Scottish accent?

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
That’s tough, as I’ve only got one published and one on its way in spring 2016. It would be like choosing my favourite child! Saying that though, as much as I love BLACK WOOD (my debut novel), I think it’s impossible not to improve as you write more and more – so I think the second one (WILLOW WALK) shows my progression, as a writer. I felt like I knew what I was doing a bit more, and I’m tackling some taboo subjects, which is always exciting.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When I got the email from my agent to say that a publisher wanted to buy my book, I was in the café in the gym, ready to go for a swim and a healthy dinner. Instead, I called my husband and we went out for burgers and champagne. It had to be done!

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Without a doubt, it was sitting on the bar of the Curly Coo pub in Stirling as part of Bloody Scotland. There were five of us, and we were dressed up to the nines, belting out our rendition of "Cellblock Tango" from Chicago. It was terrifying to do, but also the best thing I have ever done. Stepping out of your comfort zone is good. It got a lot of praise and I’m pretty sure it’s not the last you’re going to hear of ‘The Slice Girls.’


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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Review: THE WIDOW

THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton (Bantam Press, 2016)

Reviewed by Linda Lee

About two years ago I was given a book proof of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.  After I had read it I emailed the publisher and said this is going to be huge, and I was right.  My one claim to know what I am talking about!  I am going to stick my hand up again and say I think THE WIDOW by Fiona Barton could be the next big thing. Although a completely different plot, it has the same feel about it. Fantastic debut, clever plotting, intriguing characters and a real sense of puzzlement as to what is the truth and what are lies.

Fiona Barton has all the right credentials to be an author, having been a journalist and then a chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday where she won Reporter of the Year.  Since 2008 she has trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world.  An interesting woman in her own right.

THE WIDOW is told in different time frames over a period of four years and from four points of view.  DI Bob Sparkes  is heading an investigation into the disappearance of a 2 year old girl from her front garden. Dogged police work leads him to Glen Taylor, a happily married man, but Bob is sure Glen took Bella. Kate Waters is the reporter trying to get the scoop on it all. In the past she and Bob have shared information and helped each other with cases, now she is working the case as hard as he is, and uncovers some horrible facts. Dawn Elliott is the mother of Bella, the missing girl, and as time goes on she becomes more used to the media circuit and the money it attracts. Finally we have Jean, Glen's wife, the widow of the story as the opening chapters start with his death.

Sparkes thinks that now Glen is dead his wife can finally tell them what happened to Bella, but it isn't as simple as that. As the story weaves its narrative from present day to the weeks following the abduction, it is almost impossible to decide if Glen is guilty or not, there are other persons of interest and Jean's story doesn't  sway the reader one way or another.

It is a compelling read, and the alternating time frames and perspectives give  it a real edge. It's also a look into how journalists work and the lengths they will go to to get a story,  of how hours and hours of police work are needed to get a break, how a lot of media attention can be a welcome thing for a mother mourning her child, and lastly how the  wife of an accused can stand by the man she thinks he is and how the accusations and finger pointing can turn their lives upside down.

Linda Lee is an avid crime fiction reader who works for Penny's Bookstore in Hamilton, New Zealand