Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kiwi crime: FINAL RETRIBUTION by Nettie Cox

FINAL RETRIBUTION by Nettie Cox (Goldstein, Goosen, Friedlander Trust, 2014)

It's 1987. After dealing with a surfeit of murders in Auckland, Detective Inspector Clyde Landen is commanded to take two weeks leave in some quiet haven, far away from big city villains and their senseless villainies. A tall order, perhaps, in these times, but Clyde does know such a place. 

In Northern Buller, on the West Coast of the South Island, his widowed sister still lives in the family home in the small township of Eniram Hills. A visit is well overdue. Clyde looks forward to seeing his sister again and catching up with his old schoolmates. Saturday night at the pub? Just what the doctor ordered. What could go wrong? Clyde's arrival coincides with a body being washed up on the beach. When it becomes evident the young man has been murdered, Clyde's idyllic dreams shatter and the nightmares begin.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Six Scandinavian Superstars: Petrona Award 2015 shortlist announced!

Overnight New Zealand time, the shortlist for the 2015 Petrona Award was announced. The Petrona Award celebrates the very best in translated Scandinavian crime fiction, as well as remembering prolific British book reviewer and keen blogger Maxine Clarke, who sadly lost her battle with cancer. I had the pleasure of getting to know Maxine in an online sense - we shared opinions about crime fiction (not always agreeing) and both reviewed for some of the same outlets. She was a real force in the world of online reviewing, and it is terrific that this award, celebrating the Scandinavian novels she had a particular affection for, continues her remarkable legacy every year. Here's the outstanding 2015 shortlist:

  • THE HUMMINGBIRD by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Arcadia Books; Finland)
  • THE HUNTING DOGS by Jørn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway)
  • REYKJAVIK NIGHTS by Arnaldur Indriðason tr. Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker; Iceland)
  • THE HUMAN FLIES by Hans Olav Lahlum tr. Kari Dickson (Mantle; Norway)
  • FALLING FREELY, AS IF IN A DREAM by Leif G W Persson tr. Paul Norlen (Doubleday; Sweden)
  • THE SILENCE OF THE SEA by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir tr. Victoria Cribb (Hodder & Stoughton; Iceland)

  • I have three of those six books on my shelf, but may have to acquire the others. Some great reads there!

    The winning title will be announced at the annual international crime fiction event CrimeFest, held in Bristol from 14 to 17 May 2015. In another terrific announcement, the award will be presented by the Godmother of modern Scandinavian crime fiction, Maj Sjöwall, co-author with Per Wahlöö of the Martin Beck series.

    The three judges of this year's award are Barry Forshaw (recently referred to by several authors and editors as "God" when it came to crime fiction commentary in Britain), and top crime fiction bloggers Sarah Ward (Crimepieces, IN BITTER CHILL), and Dr Katharina Hall (Mrs Peabody Investigates, Associate Professor at Swansea University). Here are their comments on the six shortlisted books: 

    THE HUMMINGBIRD: Kati Hiekkapelto’s accomplished debut introduces young police investigator Anna Fekete, whose family fled to Finland during the Yugoslavian wars. Paired with an intolerant colleague, she must solve a complex set of murders and the suspicious disappearance of a young Kurdish girl. Engrossing and confidently written, THE HUMMINGBIRD is a police procedural that explores contemporary themes in a nuanced and thought-provoking way.

    THE HUNTING DOGS: The third of the William Wisting series to appear in English sees Chief Inspector Wisting suspended from duty when evidence from an old murder case is found to have been falsified. Hounded by the media, Wisting must now work under cover to solve the case and clear his name, with the help of journalist daughter Line. Expertly constructed and beautifully written, this police procedural showcases the talents of one of the most accomplished authors of contemporary Nordic Noir.

    REYKJAVIK NIGHTS: A prequel to the series featuring detective Erlendur Sveinsson, REYKJAVIK NIGHTS gives a snapshot of 1970s Iceland, with traditional culture making way for American influences. Young police officer Erlendur takes on the ‘cold’ case of a dead vagrant, identifying with a man’s traumatic past. Indriðason’s legion of fans will be delighted to see the gestation of the mature Erlendur; the novel is also the perfect starting point for new readers of the series.

    THE HUMAN FLIES: Hans Olav Lahlum successfully uses elements from Golden Age detective stories to provide a 1960s locked-room mystery that avoids feeling like a pastiche of the genre. The writing is crisp and the story intricately plotted. With a small cast of suspects, the reader delights in following the investigations of Lahlum’s ambitious detective Kolbjørn Kristiansen, who relies on the intellectual rigour of infirm teenager Patricia Borchmann.

    FALLING FREELY, AS IF IN A DREAM: It’s 2007 and the chair of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Lars Martin Johansson, has reopened the investigation into the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme. But can he and his dedicated team really solve this baffling case? The final part of Persson’s ‘The Story of a Crime’ trilogy presents the broadest national perspective using a variety of different techniques – from detailed, gritty police narrative to cool documentary perspective – to create a novel that is both idiosyncratic and highly compelling.

    THE SILENCE OF THE SEA: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir has said ‘I really love making people’s flesh creep!’, and she is the supreme practitioner when it comes to drawing on the heritage of Icelandic literature, and channelling ancient folk tales and ghost stories into a vision of modern Icelandic society. In SILENCE OF THE SEA, an empty yacht crashes into Reykjavik’s harbour wall: its Icelandic crew and passengers have vanished. Thóra Gudmundsdóttir investigates this puzzling and deeply unsettling case, in a narrative that skilfully orchestrates fear and tension in the reader.

     Congratulations to the six shortlisted authors, and everyone involved in the Petrona Award. 

    Thursday, March 26, 2015

    Review: POISON BAY by Belinda Pollard

    POISON BAY by Belinda Pollard (Small Blue Dog, 2014)

    Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

    "The Maori call this place Ata Whenua-Shadow Land." Television reporter Callie Brown likes safe places with good coffee. But she joins friends from the past on a trek into New Zealand's most brutal wilderness, in the hope of healing a broken heart. What she doesn't know is that someone wants them all dead. Lost in every sense of the word, the hikers' primal instincts erupt. Surrounded by people who have harboured secrets for a decade, Callie must choose the right ally if she doesn't want to be the next to die... 

    I was very intrigued by the idea behind Brisbane journalist Belinda Pollard's debut novel - a 'who's the unknown killer in the group' adventure thriller set in one of New Zealand's most ruggedly gorgeous national parks: Fiordland. A sort of And Then There Were None in the heart of majestic Lord of the Rings locations. So there was a lot of promise behind the premise, and setting.

    Unfortunately, for me, the book only semi-delivered, falling short of what it could have been. At the beginning, I couldn't quite pick what was bothering me. The story starts with a historic day in Queensland, a group of high school friends witnessing a tragedy. Then it kicks forward to Callie Brown, one of those high schoolers but now a successful television journalist, contemplating a long-planned reunion of sorts with those same friends, many of whom she hasn't spoken to in years, in the wilds of southern New Zealand. She's not sure if she, and some of the others, can hack such an arduous adventure trip. Or if she wants to confront some of the longheld mixed feelings she has about some of the others in the party.

    It's a good set-up for what could be a great thriller. As the story unfolded however, I found myself regularly pulled out of the tale by bouts of unnatural and over-expository dialogue. Things were laid out for the reader - and not in subtle or subtextual ways - in the characters' conversations. At other times long-simmering misunderstandings were neatly resolved with a few 'confess all' statements that just didn't seem to ring true. The author's hand was evident a lot, rather than things seeming to naturally unfold from the set-up and characters and storylines. Things felt a little 'on the nose' and forced - and subsequently a little 'thin'.

    Despite being irritated by this, and other faults, I was intrigued by the story set-up, and Pollard created enough of a 'I want to know what happens' effect, a bit of narrative drive, that I found myself persevering and continuing to turn the pages. I was rewarded as the action picked up, and death(s) were visited upon our intrepid adventurers. There were also some nice descriptions of Fiordland, and ideas of how the wilderness, for all it's phenomenal beauty, can be a very tough and unforgiving place. As those left behind begin to worry about the missing hikers, and we cut between those in town and those in the bush, Pollard did a great job of keeping me hooked on what was happening. I wanted to know how it would turn out.

    There are also some interesting themes that arise throughout the story, such as the nexus between media coverage and tragedies, the complications of childhood friendships and secrets withheld, and how we can be quick to (mis)judge those around us. Overall, POISON BAY was a pretty good read that I imagine many readers would enjoy, but for me I was left with a feeling that the pieces were there for something more, and another edit or partial rewrite could have polished it to something really great.

    2.5 STARS

    Review: CRIMINAL VOL 1: COWARD by Ed Brubaker

    CRIMINAL VOLUME 1: COWARD by Ed Brubaker, illustrations by Sean Phillips (Image Comics, 2015)

    Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

    Forget superheroes, mutant powers, and fantastical settings - this graphic novel is down and dirty all-too-realistic noir of the highest calibre. Brubaker and Phillips have created a world and story that evokes Chandler, Hammett, and MacDonald rather than Stan Lee's wizardry.

    Leo Patterson is a fascinating criminal - brilliant at planning heists but with a cowardly reputation for running when things go wrong. Descended from a long line of thieves, he abhors unnecessary violence yet finds himself caught up in the maelstrom.

    After his father died in prison Leo formulated his own rules to keep him out of there, including no junkies, no crooked cops, and no guns. Of course, all three rules end up broken when Leo finds himself forced into a heist of an armoured police evidence van carrying stolen blood diamonds. Double-crosses abound as Leo hits the highway and tries to survive on the run as some very nasty people, on both sides of the law, hunt for him and the stolen evidence.

    I'm not a connoisseur of graphic novels, but I was very impressed by this tale from Brubaker, who has also written for iconic series as Batman, Captain America, and X-Men. It is a page-turning crime tale told by a great blend of pithy narrative and dialogue and stark imagery. The illustrations pop off the page.

    Brubaker's words and Phillips's images create a seamy, abrasive atmosphere. We're plunked right in the middle of all the dirty chaos of Leo's life, and have to hold on for dear life as we witness his story unfolding. There are all the noir tropes - anti-heroes, mean streets, femme fatales, secrets and conspiracies, larger-than-life villains who operate in the shadows. But CRIMINAL is in no way cliched.

    Instead, Brubaker stands on the shoulders of what has gone before in the noir genre, and brings it vividly to life in a fresh tale shared through the  graphic novel form. Suspenseful and exciting, with plenty of plot twists to keep readers engaged and entertained, and a central 'hero' who makes us care, CRIMINAL is just a very good tale, very well told.

    Originally published in 2007, CRIMINAL ushered in a new era of gritty crime-based comic books, which had been absent from the genre for a long while. It's great to see it republished in this way now, hopefully reaching a new and even wider audience. Terrific storytelling.

    4 STARS

    GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee: cover revealed

    Back in February we all found out that Harper Lee, long considered perhaps the best one-book author of all time, would in fact, decades after the brilliant courtroom thriller TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, publish a second novel. Given that many of the crime writers I've interviewed over the past few years point to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD as a seminal book in their reading and writing development, this was huge news for anyone who loves the genre.

    Today, the UK and Commonwealth cover for the new book, GO SET A WATCHMAN, has been revealed. Lee's sophomore novel (doesn't that seem like a ridiculous term in this completely unique situation?) will be published by William Heinemann, the original publishers of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in the UK back in 1960 (Harper were the US publishers). Here's the blurb for the rediscovered book:
    Go Set a Watchman is set during the mid-1950s and features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Scout (Jean Louise Finch) has returned to Maycomb from New York to visit her father Atticus. She is forced to grapple with issues both personal and political as she tries to understand both her father’s attitude toward society, and her own feelings about the place where she was born and spent her childhood.

    Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama. She is the author of To Kill a Mockingbird and has been awarded numerous literary awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

    GO SET A WATCHMAN will be published in hardback and ebook on 14 July 2015.