Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It’s already been a pretty good year for New Zealand crime writing, in terms of the number of books that have been released (see sidebar), and the fact there have been a few debutant authors hit the scene (eg Alix Bosco with CUT & RUN, Dorothy Fowler with WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, Liam McIlvanney with ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN etc).

Looking back on the recent-ish history of New Zealand crime and thriller writing, we do have something of a tradition of authors putting out one or two books, and then stopping, for any number of reasons (eg see sidebar list of a larger-than-expected number of Kiwi crime/thriller writers historically, many of whom put out only one or two books). Since Dame Ngaio Marsh we have had very, very few authors put out multiple crime/thriller titles – which is why it is so heartening to see modern-day local authors like Paul Cleave and Vanda Symon becoming ‘new book per year’ (or so) contributors to the crime genre. Even more pleasing; considering the quality of such books. It can only be hoped that some of the newer additions to the Kiwi crime/thriller family follow in Cleave and Symon’s recent footsteps, and similarly become regulars on our booksellers’ shelves. I understand Bosco, Fowler, and McIlvanney are all working on further crime/thriller/mystery novels – and that experienced writer Lindy Kelly (author of #1 New Zealand bestseller BOLD BLOOD, her first adult thriller) is also intending to pen further thrillers.

Now I have just received word (and a copy) of a further 2009 local release – BENEATH THE CHERRY TREE by David Bates – adding one more to the pleasing number of Kiwi crime/mystery/thriller titles in 2009. The back cover blurb for the book reads: “Julian Paul is a Wellington barrister with a gambling problem. Anthony Samuels is a remand prisoner and Julian’s client. He faces serious drug charges and is desperate for bail. Julian undertakes to arrange this – for an exorbitant fee - by blackmailing a Judge who had a homosexual relationship many years previously.”

The author, Bates, is a practising barrister in Tauranga, and a former police officer – so it will be interesting to see how (and how well) he weaves his personal experience of crime and the law into his tale. The 62-year old Bates enlisted as a Seaman boy in the Royal New Zealand Navy in the early 1960s, before joining the New Zealand Police as a 19-year old. Over his 17-year police career he rose through the ranks to Inspector, before completing a law degree and becoming a barrister in 1982. He specialises in criminal defence work. You can see his legal website here.

Unlike the titles mentioned above, BENEATH THE CHERRY TREE is published by a small publisher, Polygraphia – so it’s also good to see a variety of publishers of varying sizes supporting local crime-related fiction writing. You can read a little more about the book and publisher here.

BENEATH THE CHERRY TREE opens with: “Death could be so bloody inconvenient. Mind you, Julian couldn’t recall anyone ever acknowledging it usually came knocking at just the right time. It was just one of those things. Death chose its own time and circumstance…” I will be interested to see where this story goes – I think I’ll take this book with me to Europe when I fly out on the weekend (it’s relatively slimline at 240pages, so good for backpacks).

So, it seems that things may be looking up for Kiwi crime, especially as there are signs that this year’s pleasing number of releases should be followed up with several new Kiwi crime/thriller/mystery titles in 2010 as well. For instance, both Paul Cleave and Paddy Richardson (each of whom’s previous book was released in mid/late 2008) have books coming out in the New Year. Wellington-based Neil Cross I understand may also have a new thriller, and Vanda Symon’s fourth, BOUND, should be released later in the year. Michael Green is also currently completing the third instalment in his 'Blood Line' trilogy.

If Bosco, Kelly, McIlvanney or Fowler can get their second books out in 2010, or if we see a welcome return from Druett, Jutson, or even Paul Thomas – along with perhaps a couple more debutants – 2010 could perhaps be an even bigger year for Kiwi crime.

Several years ago Austria had a mere handful of crime writers, now it has dozens producing hundreds of books. Or look at the growth in, and recognition of, Scottish crime writing since Ian Rankin. Or Sweden since Henning Mankell. I’m not saying New Zealand will follow in those footsteps, or to those extents, but there is no reason we couldn’t produce more crime and thriller fiction than we have been, and there is definitely no reason why we can’t do more to encourage, support, and celebrate those local crime/thriller/mystery books and authors that deserve it.

Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Craig - Thanks for announcing this debut novel and your other updates. It's always so interesting to me to see what new stories are coming out, and who's coming on the scene. Your summary is really helpful!

  2. I think its fantastic to see so many crime titles coming out, because lets face it, people love to read crime fiction. It can only be a good thing for New Zealand that the publishers are debuting new writers and supporting serial efforts. Lets just hope the New Zealand public get out there and buy the local fiction!