For the sixth in this blog's regular series (which was going to be every Wednesday, but I'm speeding up a little because I'm finding more and more Kiwi authors) of author introductions on Kiwi crime, mystery, and thriller writers, we now take a look at the work of Andrea Jutson, who has written two Auckland-set crime thrillers featuring reluctant medium James Paxton, and is working on a third.
Born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Jutson has spent most of her life around books and writing. She has always enjoyed reading, including plenty of crime fiction, amongst many other books. As a teenager she read the Brother Cadfael mysteries of Ellis Peters, and has said she has always wanted to visit Shrewsbury where they were set.
In fact, she contemplated making Shrewsbury the hometown of her English immigrant hero James Paxton, before picking a nearby smaller town which would have had more chance of "suspicious neighbours". "[Shrewsbury] is still a very medieval town, and I loved the idea that it was on the Welsh marches, a border town. That struck me as perfect for a medium, who also lives between two worlds," said Jutson in a 2008 blog post.
Jutson worked as a bookseller for several years before becoming a journalist for a newspaper, The Aucklander. In a NZ Book Month blog post in 2008, Jutson described working full-time as a journalist as: "a delightful mix of combing council agendas and school newsletters for something out of the ordinary, meeting some truly inspiring or exasperating people, and serving as agony aunt for (mostly exasperating) callers".
Recently, Jutson has been working as a bookseller again, while she works on her third novel.
In 2005, her debut novel SENSELESS was published - a psychic-tinged crime thriller set in Auckland, which introduced reluctant medium and English immigrant James Paxton. Paxton finds the body of a man bludgeoned to death, a dead man who then later asks him to track down his killer, for the sake of his daughter. As the backcover blurb states: "Paxton's carefully constructed new world threatens to crumble as he is sucked into the hunt for a predator, while the police snap close at his heels. And the corpses keep on mounting, one by one . . A darkly gripping mystery with an other-worldly twist."
SENSELESS received some good reviews, but like many New Zealand crime and thriller titles, wasn't highly publicised or otherwise noticed by the New Zealand book-buying public (which does have a strong appetite for crime and thriller fiction). Clea Marshall of NZGirl magazine said: "Grisly images aside, I loved how I could visualise every scene from the book and the locations weren’t your average Auckland icons, either... Andrea Jutson writes with authority and compassion ... a strong, thoughtful crime novel that stands out from the crowd."
Major newspaper the Sunday Star-Times compared Jutson to Ruth Rendell and Jeffery Deaver.
In 2008 Juston released the follow up to SENSELESS, again featuring Paxton and Detective Constable Andy Stirling. In THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK, Paxton and Stirling find themselves knee-deep in another murder mystery after a pizza delivery boy stumbles across a body at a house in the Auckland suburbs. Stirling, stumped by the grisly but seemingly motiveless crime, visits Paxton, hoping for ‘unofficial’ help. When another bashed and stabbed body is found by another delivery-person, the case quickly takes a more sinister twist, especially when it becomes apparent a game-playing serial killer is targeting unfaithful women. Then Paxton’s involvement is leaked to the media and public hysteria ensues – complicating both Paxton’s personal life, and an already difficult investigation for Stirling and his NZ Police colleagues.
You can hear Jutson talking about the writing of THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK in this archived Radio New Zealand interview.
In a review of THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK I wrote for NZLawyer magazine earlier this year, I said: "One of the best things ... is Jutson’s depiction and use of Paxton and his psychic abilities. Neither contrived nor clichéd, Paxton is a fascinating and reasonably complex character - not a cardboard cutout of the average “psychic” tabloid columnist or wannabe TV celebrity... I also enjoyed the ‘piss-taking’ and gallows humour atmosphere amongst Stirling and his police colleagues – realistic team dynamics that some authors avoid. Overall, a well-rendered supporting cast of café owners, headline-hunting journalists, and secrets-keeping suburbanites populates an interesting storyline that largely keeps you on the hook. Topped off nicely by moments of humour and domesticity that provide a breather from the dark deeds, it’s an enjoyable local read for crime fiction fans."
Like many Kiwi crime authors, Jutson has struggled to get much if any attention in her own country, let alone overseas. Her books are so far only published in New Zealand (although overseas readers may be able to order them online). In fact, I understand she may be putting her third Paxton book on hold, in order to write something other than crime, in the hope it gains more attention locally, which is a real shame.
New Zealanders clearly have a strong appetite for crime fiction (over the past 3-4 weeks, a majority of the Top 10 bestselling international adult fiction books in New Zealand each week have been crime, mystery, or thriller titles - e.g. Kathy Reichs, Lee Child, Karin Slaughter, Clive Cussler, Daniel Silva etc). We just need to start noticing, reading, and appreciating our own crime and thriller writers a hell of a lot more.
Have you read Andrea Jutson? What do you think of her crime novels? What do you think of her recurring hero, medium James Paxton? Do you like a mix of paranormal and crime stories? Please share your thoughts.