Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Paul Cleave interviewed on Radio New Zealand

Christchurch-based crime writer Paul Cleave is going to be interviewed on Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon show with Kathryn Ryan tomorrow. I understand the interview is scheduled for around 11:20am, for those able to tune in.

For everybody else, I will post a link to the audio file of the interview later this week. Although Cleave hasn't had a new book released in New Zealand since CEMETERY LAKE in May last year, and his upcoming book BLOOD MEN isn't released until February 2010, it has still been a pretty big week for the young Kiwi author (which may have led to the radio interview).

A few days ago, CEMETERY LAKE became Cleave's first book to be published in the United Kingdom, and then earlier this week the German translation hit #2 overall on the Amazon Germany bestseller list. An interview with Cleave was also recently published in Barry Forshaw's excellent crime fiction (e)magazine, Crime Time - read here.

So Cleave is certainly starting to get more and more international attention. It will be interesting to see the UK response to his novels over the coming weeks and months, especially as I understand his earlier books (THE CLEANER and THE KILLING HOUR) are also slated to be released over there by Random House.

While checking out the Radio New Zealand website, I also stumbled across a past interview with Cleave, from when CEMETERY LAKE was released in New Zealand last year. You can listen to that interview (which includes a reading from the book), here.

On a related point, I also found some interviews with other Kiwi crime/thriller writers from the past few months, that have been added to the sidebar on Radio/TV interviews. You can listen to interviews with:
What do you guys think of the radio interviews? Do you think they're something I should continue linking on this blog? Do you enjoy them (as opposed to links to just print reviews and interview). Does listening to any of these Kiwi authors affect whether or not you want to read their books? Comments welcome...

Have you read Michael Green?

For the ninth in this blog's regular series of author introductions on Kiwi crime, mystery, and thriller writers, we now take a look at the work of Michael Green, whose second book, BLOOD BOND, in his thriller trilogy about the Chatfield family's quest for survival following a global pandemic, was released in New Zealand earlier this month (and is scheduled to be released in Australia in November).

Born in Sevenoaks, England, 65 years ago, Green grew up as a naturally 'mouthy kid' who was never afraid of expressing his opinions. In his NZ Book Month blog in 2008, he recalled how growing up in a tough part of town, he learned to hold his own with his mouth, since he couldn' t with his fists. That growing comfort with speaking out led to speaking roles at the Boy Scouts, and some school plays when he was sent to serve as a cadet at the 'Training Ship Mercury' from the age of 13 to 17.

Along with that lifelong ability to speak well in public, Green developed a love of sailing and the sea from an early age. He now lives on his yacht, the 40' John Lidgard designed motor sailer Raconteur, in Gulf Harbour, north of Auckland. Although he has lived in New Zealand for decades, having transferred here as the IT Manager of a large British multinational, he still visits Europe regularly, and has recently spent time in France, working on the third book in the trilogy. He often spend the New Zealand winter in the northern hemisphere, and still has family in England.

Before becoming a full-time writer in recent years, Green worked as a successful international IT recruitment consultant, and as a professional public speaker. His love of sailing led to his first book, the humourous novel BIG AGGIE SALES THE GULF in 1986. He says this was based on his own "misadventures sailing around the Hauraki Gulf in a Davidson M20".

Green had also become involved in Toastmasters (a public speaking organisation) while living in New Zealand, and after seeing one of his presentations publishers approached him to write a book on giving great speeches - which resulted in SUCCESSFUL SPEECHMAKING. For many years Green has been an advocate of the importance of communicating well, both in business and other areas of life. In his NZ Book Month blog in 2008, he says: "It was while working as a recruitment consultant that I discovered one of the great truths of life. It isn’t the academically cleverest people who make the biggest salaries. It’s the people who can present and sell their ideas (or, as in the case of Bill Gates, present and sell other people’s ideas.)"

When Green retired from his IT consultancy business in 2003, he found he had more time to write, and notes in his blog that "like many who retire, I also felt it was time to ‘put something back’. " Combining his goals of writing a novel, and raising money for charity, he began work on a thriller, inspired by the SARS outbreak, looking at how the few survivors of a global pandemic that got out of control might act, and interact, when everything was stripped away from them.

"What would I do, how would protect myself and my family?" asked Green. "The answers to those questions became the basis of my novel The Crucial Gene. (The sequel to Big Aggie is on the back burner yet again!)" Green aimed to raise $10,000 for the telephone counselling charity Lifeline - a cause close to his heart due to New Zealand's high youth suicide rate, and the fact that years ago he'd lost his son, and an aunt back in England, in that way.

Green self-published THE CRUCIAL GENE, intending to raise $10,000 by selling 1,000 books, using his toastmaster skills to market the book - he sold out the print run (and more) by talking to Lions, Rotary, and Probus Clubs, and was able to exceed his planned donation to LifeLine. The book was then picked up by Randon House, and republished in late 2008 as BLOOD LINE (with some minor edits to make it a 'tighter' novel).
In BLOOD LINE, when a devastating global pandemic strikes, members of the Chatfield family seem to be the only survivors in New Zealand; a unique genetic twist allowing them to survive the virus. Guessing their relatives in England may have similarly survived, two of the NZ branch of the family embark on a perilous journey to the other side of the world in the small yacht Archangel. When they arrive in England they find their relatives living in a medieval style 'lor and master' community based on the rule of fear - not only may the Kiwi Chatfields not be able to take any relatives back home, they may not be able to escape themselves.

Earlier this month, the second book in the series, BLOOD BOND, was released. Again, many of the proceeds will go to LifeLine. BLOOD BOND picks up right where the first book left off. As the blurb states: "Now escaping the repressive regime at Haver Hall in the UK, a group sails back to the southern hemisphere. Stopping in South Africa and then Australia, they are faced by unexpected dangers but also the hope that there might be other survivors. What awaits them in New Zealand, though, is even more challenging. And can those left in the UK survive each other?"

I finished BLOOD BOND last week, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Post-apocalyptic thrillers aren't really my thing, usually, but Green has crafted a page-turning story that keeps you well interested, while also raising a number of interesting philosophical questions about how people interact, especially under pressure. I enjoyed the book more and more as it went on.

My review of BLOOD BOND in NZLawyer is being published on Friday, and I will republish it on this blog. As good as it is to buy a book that is raising money for charity, it is even better when the book is very much worth buying and reading, regardless - as in this case. BLOOD LINE has also been picked up by German publisher Verlagsgruppe Lubbe (who publish translations of authors such as Dan Brown and Ken Follett in Germany)

You can read a press release Q&A with Michael Green here, and an extract from BLOOD BOND here. You can learn more about Lifeline here.

Have you read Michael Green? What do you think of his thrillers? How do you think people would act towards each other in a survival-first environment after a massive pandemic? Would society break down and regress? Please share your thoughts...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Kiwi crime writer Paul Cleave hits #2 on Amazon Germany's bestseller list

Kiwi crime writer Paul Cleave has had the German translation of his third novel, CEMETERY LAKE, match the success of his debut THE CLEANER by hitting #2 overall on Amazon Germany's fiction bestseller list. It's been a good few days for Cleave, with the same book also being released in the United Kingdom by Arrow Books last week (the first of his novels to be published in the UK).

The Germans seem to love Cleave's darkly twisted tales - THE CLEANER spent several months at #2 overall on Amazon Germany in 2007, only being pipped by the then-latest Harry Potter novel. It was the #1 overall bestselling crime/thriller book for Amazon in Germany for 2007, and received hundreds of glowing reviews. Around half a million copies of Cleave's books have sold in Germany, and they have been translated into several European languages.

Now DIE TOTEN SCHWEIGEN NICHT, the German translation of CEMETERY LAKE, also sits at #2, once again stuck behind a publishing phenomenon (this time Dan Brown's THE LOST SYMBOL). The Germans are clearly crime/thriller fans, as along with Cleave and Brown, all three of Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium Trilogy' are also high up on the overall bestseller list.

With all ten German reviews glowing thusfar, and with the reputation Cleave has built in Germany, it will be interesting to see whether CEMETERY LAKE/DIE TOTEN SCHWEIGEN NICHT will have similar ongoing success to THE CLEANER (aka DER SIEBTE TOD), in the coming weeks and months there. After being at #2 for months, the CLEANER has stayed in the Top 100 for 720 days in counting. As Cleave said earlier today: "Once again I'm selling more in one day [in Germany] than I've sold in total in New Zealand".

And like the Germans discovered Linwood Barclay (NO TIME FOR GOODBYE) and many of the Swedish crime writers before UK and US readers eventually 'caught on', perhaps this could be the start of Cleave being read, recognised, and embraced on a far larger scale (especially with Random House UK (Arrow) looking to release more of Cleave's books in the United Kingdom). His fourth novel, BLOOD MEN, is being released in New Zealand and Australia in February, and having read an advance copy, I have no problem saying that in my opinion it is his best book yet - so things could continue to get bigger and better for Cleave.

Sixty years ago, a New Zealander (Dame Ngaio Marsh) was one of the biggest names in international crime fiction, sitting comfortably alongside the greats of that era (Christie, Sayers, Allingham). If the stories are good enough, maybe another New Zealander could someday soon push to the recognised forefront of international crime writing. There are writers from other 'small' countries that are viewed in such a way.

Perhaps Paul Cleave, with his success in Europe and slowly growing recognition in the English-speaking world, could be that modern-day trailblazer. More importantly, perhaps he could be our answer to Ian Rankin (Scotland) or Henning Mankell (Sweden) - a writer that makes readers worldwide eventually realise that there may be several other good and great crime and thriller writers from this small country, hitherto largely overlooked...

Thoughts? Comments? Do you readers in the UK and the USA like authors from other countries, as much as those from your own? Could you see someone like Cleave, or other modern-day Kiwi literary descendants of Dame Ngaio Marsh, becoming a 'big star' on the international crime and thriller writing scene?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Review of Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN in Latitude

The current (Spring) issue of Latitude magazine has included a short review of debutant Kiwi crime writer Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN on its books pages.

Latitude is the lifestyle magazine of the Canterbury region of New Zealand; a 120-page glossy quarterly packed with great large features on interesting people, places, and issues - as well as travel articles, book reviews, and several other interesting columns. I have started writing for the magazine (and have an eight-page feature on multisport pioneer and Coast to Coast founder Robin Judkins in the Spring issue), but haven't as yet contributed to their book reviews pages. It's a very cool magazine, and I'm glad to be able to write for them.

Joanne Taylor (the editor of Latitude and the book reviewer) has kindly allowed me to reprint the CUT & RUN review on the Crime Watch blog, as Latitude is not available online.

Alix BoscoIt is great to see a NZ author producing an edgy and fastpaced thriller. CUT & RUN is the first novel for Auckland based Alix Bosco. With a legal researcher as the key character, the plot has unexpected twists and turns for those who enjoy reading in this genre. I look forward to more from Bosco.
Reviewed by Joanne Taylor

As I mentioned several weeks ago, you can read the first chapter of CUT & RUN here. I am writing reviews of the book (which I thoroughly enjoyed) for a couple of publications in NZ and overseas, and will post links to those reviews as they are published.

My review of Craig Russell's LENNOX now on EuroCrime

A review I wrote of LENNOX, Scottish crime writer Craig Russell's first novel in his new 1950s Glasgow-set series about a Canadian ex-soldier operating as a private eye and fixer in post-war Scotland, has now been published on EuroCrime.

In LENNOX, the titular private investigator is hired by one of the Glasgow's biggest and most unforgiving crime lords to find out who slaughtered gangster-on-the-rise Tam McGahern and his twin brother. Operating in the gaps between cops and criminals, Lennox's life gets even more complicated when it becomes clear he's being shadowed by even more dangerous men.

I was impressed by LENNOX, and will be reading more in the series.

Russell is an award-winning crime writer, previously famous for his Hamburg-set series of 'Jan Fabel' tales. He plans on continuing to write both series, moving forward. You can read extracts from my interview with Craig Russell for an article in the Weekend Herald (NZ's biggest newspaper) here.
Have you read Craig Russell? What do you think of Jan Fabel and/or Lennox as protagonists? What do you think of my review?Comments welcome.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bookstore Review: Whitcoulls Downtown, Auckland

In the sixth of an irregular series on this blog, I take a look at how well (or not) the Whitcoulls store in the Downtown Shopping Mall in Auckland displays, publicises and otherwise supports New Zealand crime and thriller writing instore.

This Whitcoulls is the only bookstore in that mall. Along with magazines, cards, stationery, and non-fiction books, the medium-sized Whitcoulls in the has one decent-sized wall of fiction - divided into an "A to Z", "New" and "Whitcoulls Top 100". It also has a few small aisles of bookshelves, for categories such as "NZ fiction", "NZ non-fiction and biography", "Science Fiction & Fantasy", "Business" and others. There is no specific crime/thriller fiction like in their flagship Queen Street store, but a big percentage of the "New" and "A to Z" books are crime/thriller fiction. The store seems fairly well stocked, given its medium size, for that genre.

However, here are my findings in relation to NZ crime/mystery/thriller fiction:
  • There were a couple of copies of recent New Zealand crime title, Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN, on the top eye-level shelf of the 'New Zealand fiction' section (front-facing) (GOOD/GREAT);
  • There were a couple of copies of Dorothy Fowler's WHAT REMAINS BEHIND in the New Zealand fiction section, with a nice front facing (GOOD/GREAT);
  • There were a few copies of Lindy Kelly's #1 NZ Adult Fiction bestseller BOLD BLOOD, spine-facing in the A-Z section (GOOD);
  • There was one copy of Vanda Symon's 2nd book, THE RINGMASTER, spine-facing in the A to Z section (OKAY/GOOD);
  • There was one copy of Andrea Jutson's debut SENSELESS, spine-facing in the A to Z section (OKAY/GOOD); and
  • There were no copies of any Joan Druett, Paul Cleave, Neil Cross, Paddy Richardson or Michael Green title (all of whom have released at least one crime/thriller title in the past year or two) (POOR).
So overall, the smaller dowtown Whitcoulls store is arguably supporting NZ crime/thriller fiction better than the much larger flagship store a few blocks up Queen Street (especially given its size). Although the downtown store did not have any Joan Druett titles, it did have Lindy Kelly and Andrea Jutson, which its larger counterpart didn't.

Still, it would have been nice to see some other Kiwi crime/thriller authors in stock, or more copies/titles from, and/or better highlighting of, some of the authors they did have (Jutson and Symon). Especially as the store had a lot of older titles from many international crime/thriller authors.

So, overall, I give Whitcoulls Dowtown (Auckland) 2.75 out of 5. Better than the other Auckland Whitcoulls stores thusfar, but could do more. Thoughts? Comments? Am I being fair? Or am I expecting too much from NZ bookstores, especially large chain stores?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Interview with PD James in today's Telegraph

In today's Telegraph, Jake Kerridge has a good interview with PD James, in which the 89-year old Baroness (pictured left) talks about the place of crime fiction.

The interview was conducted to time with the publication of Baroness James of Holland Park's TALKING ABOUT DETECTIVE FICTION (£12.99). Kerridge notes that the book is "an idiosyncratic and entertaining primer written at the suggestion of the Bodleian Library, which is publishing the book and to which James is donating hardback royalties. It is not a comprehensive history – she does not read much contemporary crime fiction apart from books by Ian Rankin and her old friend Ruth Rendell – but an imaginative response to some of her favourite authors."

Also, on 2 October there will be a ‘Crime Day’ at the Bodleian Library with talks by P D James, Val McDermid, Ruth Rendell and Kate Summerscale. Not a bad line-up for any UK readers in the vicinity.

CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award shortlist announced overnight (NZT)

Overnight, the Crime Writers’ Association announced the shortlist for the 2008/2009 Ellis Peters Historical Award (the last remaining shortlist to be announced for their various awards this year). The Ellis Peters Historical Awards was established for the best historical crime novel (set in any period up to 35 years prior to the year in which the award will be made) by an author of any nationality. The award commemorates the life and work of Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) (1913-1995), a prolific author perhaps best known as the creator of Brother Cadfael.

I was a bit slow on the uptake on this, as the shortlist wasn't officially announced by the time I went to bed last night (although it had been leaked early on some blogs), and by the time I got in to blog today, some other great bloggers had already covered it. Thanks to Karen Meek at EuroCrime and Graham Beattie at Beattie's Book Blog for the heads-up. I've linked the shortlisted titles to reviews on EuroCrime (where available), for those (like myself), who haven't read all the titles.

The shortlist is as follows:
Laura Wilson, AN EMPTY DEATH

You can read more about the shortlisted winners, and the judge's comments, HERE.

CWA chair Margaret Murphy said: “The Ellis Peters judges have again identified a terrifically strong list for the Historical Award. Each historical period, from the sixteenth century to World War II, is wonderfully evoked by these talented writers.”

It's been quite a month for Philip Kerr, who on 3 September won the world's most lucrative prize in crime fiction, the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing for IF THE DEAD RISE NOT. Kerr's book beat more than 160 others to land the €125,000 (£109,000) prize. The book is the last in his series of "Berlin noir" novels featuring detective Bernie Gunther, and covering a period that includes Hitler's rise to power and postwar Germany's struggle to come to terms with its past. After the announcement, Kerr said he was surprised at the size of the prize: "I recently got a prize in France which was a few bottles of wine."

The winner of the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Award will be announced in the evening of Thursday 29th October at a reception in London.

Thoughts? Have any of you read any of the shortlisted titles? Do you like historical crime fiction?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Bookstore Review: Whitcoulls, Auckland Domestic Airport

In the fifth of a regular series on this blog, I take a look at how well (or not) the Whitcoulls store in the Auckland Airport domestic terminal displays, publicises and otherwise supports New Zealand crime and thriller writing instore.

Along with magazines, cards, stationery, and non-fiction books, the medium-sized Whitcoulls in the airport terminal has one decent-sized wall of fiction - divided into an "A to Z", "New", "Bestsellers", "Young Adult" and "Whitcoulls Top 100". There is also a NZ Fiction end, and another end highlighting some instore bestsellers.

There probably isn't really much room for a specific 'crime/thriller' section, but a large percentage of the books in the 'A to Z', 'New' and 'Bestsellers' are crime/thriller fiction. There was of course also a big table full of THE LOST SYMBOL, the latest thriller from Dan Brown.

Here are my findings in relation to NZ crime/mystery/thriller fiction:

So overall, it was a pretty poor result (again) for Whitcoulls, especially considering the dominance of international crime/thriller titles in the 'New', 'Bestseller' and 'A to Z' sections. And I would have thought an airport would have been a perfect place to promote and sell NZ crime/thriller fiction (after all, many such books are referred to as 'airport thrillers' - enjoyable and great reads for people who are travelling places).
It's a shame that one of our largest bookstore chains is doing so poorly thusfar in supporting, publicising, and selling NZ crime/thriller fiction. The store at the airport, even taking into consideration its smaller size in a relative sense, was even more of a disappointment than the flagship store on Queen Street (which at least had Druett and Symon in stock as well).
So, overall, I give Whitcoulls Auckland Airport (Domestic Terminal) 1.75 out of 5. Could do a lot, lot better. Thoughts? Comments? Am I being fair? Or am I expecting too much from NZ bookstores, especially large chain stores?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Paul Cleave's CEMETERY LAKE released in the UK today

When readers in the UK wake up today, New Zealand crime writer Paul Cleave's novel CEMETERY LAKE will have officially hit the British shelves. I understand that Random House UK are also planning to release Cleave's two earlier crime novels, THE CLEANER (which was a smash-hit in Germany, #2 overall on Amazon for several weeks during 2007, behind only the then-latest Harry Potter book, and received hundreds of positive reviews there), and THE KILLING HOUR in future as well.

It's great to see a Kiwi crime writer 'break into' the British market, providing an opportunity for a much wider readership to experience what our writers have to offer. It will be interesting to see how CEMETERY LAKE does in the UK, given the prior (deserved) acclaim for Cleave's three books, and the very positive way in which they have been received in Germany.

Hopefully crime fiction fans in the United Kingdom will give Paul Cleave a go, and discover for themselves why people like British crime-writing heavyweight Mark Billingham rate Cleave so highly.

Billingham has said: "Most people come back from New Zealand talking about the the breathtaking scenery and the amazing experiences. I came back raving about Paul Cleave. These are stories that you won’t forget in a while: relentlessly gripping, deliciously twisted and shot through with a vein of humour that’s as dark as hell. Cleave creates fictional monsters as chilling and as charming as any I’ve ever come across. Anyone who likes their crime fiction on the black and bloody side should move Paul Cleave straight to the top of their must-read list."

So UK readers, I hope you and many of your fellow countrymen will give CEMETERY LAKE a try. Let me know what you think...

Brad Pitt in Sherlock Holmes sequel?

Further to my blog post of 18 August, which noted that it seemed Brad Pitt had come on board as Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, in re-shoots/additional scenes/script changes for the upcoming Guy Ritchie-directed, Robert Downey Jr-starring big screen adaptation of Conan Doyle's famous detective (the screenplay apparently didn't include Moriarty initially), it now seems that Pitt may have come on board for the sequel, rather than the first, upcoming, film.

Reuters are reporting today that Pitt is in discussions to appear in a sequel, if the first film (as the producers hope) becomes a 'franchise', and that despite earlier rumours to the contrary, Moriarty will only appear "in shadow" in the first film.

Radio New Zealand review of FEVER OF THE BONE

As promised earlier in the week, you can find the link to the audio file of yesterday's Radio New Zealand review of Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE here.

The reviewer was Catriona Ferguson, who said McDermid is "great at creating this brilliantly horrible stuff". Amongst the 5 minute review, another comment that I thought was interesting was:

"What a lot of good crime fiction does is that it's very good at reflecting back the horrors of society, and it does it in a very dramatic way to make a good book."

As we've discussed here previously, I believe crime fiction can be great entertainment, but also at its best can offer insights into the world around us (society, people etc). Thoughts?

Review: CEMETERY LAKE by Paul Cleave

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Blue fingernails. Cleave begins his third novel with two simple, evocative words. Two words that bring Theo Tate to an exhumation; two words that send the world-weary private investigator on an unpredictable journey intersecting a present-day serial killer with well-kept suburbanite secrets, and Tate’s own troubled past.

Tate is only present at the exhumation because his former police colleagues are too busy trying to catch the Christchurch Carver, the grisly serial killer from Cleave’s debut novel, The Cleaner (Random House, 2006). Tate’s simple assignment becomes anything but when three bodies bubble up from the cemetery lake. When the coffin reveals the wrong body, two unpalatable possibilities emerge; the Carver has struck again, or there’s a second psychopath on the loose.

Though sidelined by the police, Tate finds himself sucked into the vortex, attempting to atone for sins of his past. As the case advances, and stolen evidence, the police, the media, priests, his own personal demons, murder and suicide all roadblock Tate, he finds himself compounding bad choices and devolving into a man he’d always despised.

Cemetery Lake is an impressive novel from a talented writer. Cleave creates compelling characters that ring true. Even when events become outlandish, Cleave doesn’t lose the reader, because he’s spun wholly-formed characters and lets us gaze a little into their worldview. He avoids the poor writers’ mistake of substituting quirks for characterisation; instead his characters do things for their own reasons, not just to serve the plot. We can understand the worst acts, because we see we might consider the same choice, in the same circumstance.

A feature of Cemetery Lake is the character-like shadow of Christchurch itself. Cleave weaves a strong sense of place, although his is a darker version: “Christchurch is broken”. Mirroring the real-life dichotomy of international renown for friendliness alongside ‘murder capital’ status, Cleave’s Christchurch is full of gardens and glue-sniffers; long-held secrets and closeted debauchery hidden behind suburban doors and old English architecture.

Cleave makes you want to turn the page, and when you get to the end, you want to go out and immediately find another of his books.

This review originally appeared in the 14 November 2008 print edition of NZLawyer magazine

My review of THE SILENT HOUR in the Nelson Mail

A review I wrote of young American crime writer Michael Koryta's latest in his award-winning Lincoln Perry series, THE SILENT HOUR, was published in yesterday's issue of the Nelson Mail newspaper. You can read the review HERE.

In THE SILENT HOUR, private investigator Perry is asked by Parker Harrison - a convicted killer and former parolee at the serene and now-defunct Whisper Ridge centre - to find centre owner Alexandra, who disappeared with her husband after the failure of the parolee program. When Perry discovers that skeletal remains of Alexandra's husband were found at the same time Harrison asked Perry to try and locate her, the police investigation becomes active again, and a decade-old threats starts circling...

You can read an extract of THE SILENT HOUR here.

THE SILENT HOUR was my first experience of Michael Koryta, who has had a lot of acclaim in his young authorial career. I was impressed, and will be reading more of his novels.

Have you read Michael Koryta? What do you think of Lincoln Perry as a protagonist? Are the comparisons to Lehane and Connelly accurate? What do you think of my review?

Comments welcome.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nice article on Gregg Hurwitz in NZ Herald

While LA-based thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz was in New Zealand earlier this month, he met with several local media, including TV interviews (see sidebar). I was fortunate enough to interview him over lunch following his public event at the Takapuna Library.

Earlier this week, a nice little article on his visit was also published in the NZ Herald, the largest-circulation newspaper in New Zealand. It's great to see crime writers, whether visiting or local, getting some coverage in such key mainstream media outlets.

I am currently reading Hurwitz's latest thriller, OR SHE DIES, and am enjoying it greatly thusfar. It was very hard to put down before I headed to work this morning, and it's burning a whole in my bag right now...

Invite to launch of ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN

Further to my blog posts of 8 September and 27 August, the book launch of Liam McIlvanney's debut crime thriller ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN will now be held at 5.15pm on Tuesday 29 September at the University of Otago Staff Club at 80 Union Place West (beside the Leith River).

When the public event was moved from the University Book Shop on 22 September to the University Staff Club on 29 September, it also became by invitation only. However, Abba Renshaw of Allen & Unwin has kindly extended an invitation to any interested readers of the Crime Watch blog

McIlvanney is the University of Otago Stuart Professor of Scottish Studies, having recently immigrated to New Zealand. He returns to his roots with his debut, described as "a compelling thriller set amid the murky politics of Scotland and Northern Ireland".

The publicity blurb states that in ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN: "When Glasgow journalist Gerry Conway receives a phone call promising unsavoury information about Scottish Justice Minister Peter Lyons, his instinct is that this apparent scoop won't warrant space in The Tribune. But as Conway's curiosity grows and his leads proliferate, his investigation takes him from Scotland to Belfast. Shocked by the sectarian violence of the past, and by the prejudice and hatred he encounters even now, Conway soon grows obsessed with the story of Lyons and all he represents. And as he digs deeper, he comes to understand that there is indeed a story to be uncovered; and that there are people who will go to great lengths to ensure that it remains hidden.

Compelling, vividly written and shocking, ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN is not only the story of an individual and his community - it is also a complex and thrilling inquiry into loyalty, betrayal and duty."

"An authentic, atmospheric and ambitious debut. Liam McIlvanney nails it." - Val McDermid

"Liam McIlvanney holds all the aces of a really vital young novelist … a brilliant study in the harsh, pawky affinity between those two majestic cities, Glasgow and Belfast."- Richard T Kelly, author of CRUSADERS.

"I read it almost at a sitting… smart, generous and compelling’ - Gordon Burn

"With a bravura nod at classic north of Carlisle crime writing, All The Colours of the Town swaggers onto the Larne-Stranraer ferry and brings noir home. Razor-sharp prose and laser-sharp observation makes this a brilliant fiction debut." - Eoin McNamee

As I noted on 11 August, you can read more about McIlvanney and his crime thriller debut in a reasonably substantial review in The Scotsman, and in a short interview on the Crime Squad website.

Allen & Unwin Book Publishers invite readers of Crime Watch to the launch of Faber & Faber's ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN.

Where & When:
5.15pm Tuesday 29 September
University of Otago Staff Club,
80 Union Place West (beside the Leith).

Please RSVP to Kathy Young at
or ph 03 479 5999.
Drinks and nibbles will be provided.

Hopefully some of you (Vanda etc) in the southern part of New Zealand will be able to attend. Let us know how it goes. Have any of our UK readers already read ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN? What did you think?

Review: THE RINGMASTER by Vanda Symon

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Dunedin writer Vanda Symon’s follow-up to her excellent debut Overkill (Penguin, 2007) finds heroine Sam Shepherd having moved to Dunedin from Mataura; bridges burnt. Undertaking detective training, Shepherd’s on the bottom rung of the ladder, battling her grudge-holding boss for any involvement.

The Ringmaster opens with a murder in the Botanic Gardens, before switching to stroppy Sam’s first-person narration. Marginalised, she struggles to participate in the investigation, working in her own time and feeding off the scraps her partner Smithy smuggles her way. She eventually uncovers a link between the visiting circus, and a series of deaths throughout the lower South Island.

Of the many admirable aspects of Symon’s storytelling, chief is her creation of Sam Shephard, a protagonist you want to follow; headstrong, passionate, and flawed. A talented detective, but not infallible. Shephard puts herself out there, cares, makes mistakes, and has real emotions; fear, jealousy, anger, sadness. She’s human, real, and well-rounded.

Symon shows a talent for creating rounded characters throughout, from Shephard’s friend Maggie, the ‘voice of reason’, to nemesis characters such as DI Johns and circus owner Terry Bennett. Symon ensures that even the antagonists ring true; they have good points as well as bad, and have understandable motives for their objectionable behaviour.

Another impressive facet is her use of the Dunedin setting. From the opening murder beside the Leith, to Highlanders games, and student life, Symon brings alive this southern city. When interviewed, Symon has said, “a town will have a feel, a social background. I like using Dunedin. It has a vibrancy and an edge with the students and all that brings with it.”

The Ringmaster is a great read. Symon populates a good story with great characters, and unique touches in a distinctly Kiwi setting. It comes together a little quickly at the end, but leaves you wanting more of Sam Shephard.

This review was originally published in the 14 November 2008 issue of NZLawyer magazine

Have you read Lindy Kelly?

For the eighth in this blog's regular series of author introductions on Kiwi crime, mystery, and thriller writers, we now take a look at the work of former equestrian Lindy Kelly, whose debut adult thriller BOLD BLOOD hit #1 on the NZ Adult Fiction charts earlier this year.

Although BOLD BLOOD was Kelly's first adult novel, it certainly wasn't her first foray into writing. She had previously published more than 100 short stories, sixteen children’s books, dozens of feature articles, 36 poems, and had her writing feature on National Radio and be performed on stage. When I interviewed her for a feature article in NZ Horse & Pony earlier this year, she said she had one goal for her first adult thriller: “I wanted to write the sort of book that I like to curl up with for sheer pleasure... you know, something with excitement and adventure, a bit of danger, likable strong characters, animals, good plot, a few mysteries, a bit of romance, humour, and passion.”

Kelly was born in 1952 and grew up on a farm just outside of Hamilton (in the North Island of New Zealand). She was an animal-lover from birth. “I was a horse-mad little girl,” she said, noting she collected horse books “ad nauseum”, drew ponies all over her school books, and “lived and breathed” horses.

Kelly still recalls her very first pony, Titch, and riding a horse named Trigger at Matangi Pony Club fifty years ago. Her childhood and teenage years were horse-centric; pony club, attending holiday camps at the NZ Equestrian Centre, and riding alongside now-legendary equestrian Mark Todd (double Olympic Gold medallist, 3-times Badminton winner, 5-times Burghley winner, double World Champion, voted IEF Rider of the 20th Century) in the Waikato.

Kelly became a championship-calibre rider on her white-stockinged, black thoroughbred Passport. “You could just travel across country with him, jumping hedges and ditches, fences and logs – nothing would stop him. And it was just this most amazing feeling of freedom; you were flying, flying through the air on this most magnificent creature… fantastic.”

Kelly and Passport were on the cusp of heading overseas with Mark Todd and others to train and compete in the United States, when tragedy struck at the 1971 New Zealand Horse Trials. Torrential rain, a dangerous course, a slip after a big drop jump, a broken leg; Lindy was faced with every rider’s worst nightmare - Passport had to be destroyed. She eventually went overseas anyway, to work in the horse industry, including in Hawaii and Canada, and studying as an instructor under champion European trainers.

On her return to New Zealand, she “taught riding for some time, then married a farmer and settled down”. They moved to Nelson, the sunshine capital of New Zealand (at the Top of the South Island) and later bought a 400-acre farm. Over the years Kelly combined having a family with a variety of jobs, including breeding “stud sheep, angora goats, thoroughbred horses and Jack Russell dogs all at different times”.

Kelly's children inspired her writing career, as she began penning stories they would enjoy, often peppering animals throughout the tales. Her first collection of short stories for adults, WEKA'S TREASURE, was published in 1995. Her writing for younger readers has appeared in a wide range of New Zealand and Australasian journals and educational publications, winning awards including the Australasian Free Xpression Literary 2000 short story award and the Southern Scribe children's short story award. Her plays for children have been performed extensively throughout New Zealand.

In a NZ Book Council interview with schoolchildren, Kelly said her favourite authors are: "Roald Dahl because I love his mischievous, black humour... [and the] other is Dick Francis because his novels are always set in a racing scene. I too love horses and have been involved with riding and racing them so I really enjoy his books and can’t wait for his new one to come out each year."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when Kelly turned her writing hand to adult thrillers, horses naturally came to the fore. “There’s a shortage of books written in the rural setting, and I’ve never read a book that’s been written in the eventing world, so I thought there was a real gap there,” said Kelly in our interview earlier this year.

In BOLD BLOOD, a suspicious fall, a coma and a phone call destroy Dr Caitlin Summerfield’s city-living, rich boyfriend, overseas-travel filled life and reverie. She reluctantly returns ‘home’ to rural Nelson and ends up playing caretaker for her estranged but now-stricken mother’s horse farm. Helped by rugged event rider Dom and purple-headed teenage groom Kasey, she scratches beneath the surface of high-tech horse-trailers and well-fed thoroughbreds to discover looming financial ruin, and a shot at a million-dollar breeding contract. A contract someone is willing to do anything for, even kill. You can read an extract of BOLD BLOOD here.

BOLD BLOOD did well for a NZ crime/thriller title following its release this February. It hit #1 on the NZ Adult Fiction bestseller list, and stayed in the top 5 for several weeks. Kelly is currently working on her second adult thriller, as well as some other writing. She has also recently been awarded an AMP Scholarship to help her compete at the 2010 World Masters swimming championships in Sweden.

You can read more about Lindy Kelly and BOLD BLOOD in a good article by writer Nicky Pellegrino in the NZ Herald HERE and also on the NZ Book Council website HERE.

Alternatively, if you can find a hard copy of the May 2009 NZ Horse & Pony, you can also read more about Lindy Kelly in my large feature article "Horses in the Blood" in that magazine. Unfortunately that issue has not yet been archived online.

Have you read any of Lindy Kelly's work? What do you think of BOLD BLOOD (or her other writing)? Would thrillers set in the eventing and equestrian world interest you? Please share your thoughts...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: BOLD BLOOD by Lindy Kelly

BOLD BLOOD by Lindy Kelly (HarperCollins, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Horse-loving journalist, poet and children’s author Lindy Kelly adopts the old adage, ‘write what you know’, with her crime debut Bold Blood, parlaying her youthful experience as an international eventing rider into a suspense tale set amongst the stables, saddles and sorrels of the New Zealand equestrian world.

Dr Caitlin Summerfield is happily living a hectic Wellington lifestyle, accessorised with overseas travel and a rich boyfriend. Her rural Nelson childhood has been left far behind, along with her emotionally abusive mother.

A fall and a phone call destroy Caitlin’s reverie, and she takes the bunny-hop flight across Cook Strait to return ‘home’. Playing caretaker at her comatose mother’s horse farm, helped by rugged neighbour Dom and multi-pierced teenage groom Kasey, Caitlin scratches beneath the surface of high-tech horse trailers and well-fed thoroughbreds to discover looming financial ruin, and a shot at a million-dollar breeding contract. A contract someone is willing to do anything for. Even kill.

Having published more than 100 short stories, sixteen children’s books, 36 poems, and had her writing feature on National Radio and performed on stage, Kelly told me she had one goal for her first adult thriller. “I wanted to write the sort of book that I like to curl up with for sheer pleasure… something with excitement and adventure, likable strong characters… a few mysteries, a bit of romance, humour, and passion.”

Overall she succeeds, spinning an engaging tale that carries the reader along. She strikes a nice balance - peppering local references, without over-seasoning in any contrived attempt to foist ‘Kiwi-ness’ onto a universal story. Populating a plot of assaults, arsons, horse theft and murder with a diverse cast, Kelly impresses most with her rich portrait of life in the eventing world, along with the way the horses aren’t mere props; but full-blown characters with personalities in their own right.

Although there is the occasional plot misstep, Bold Blood is a good debut – a must read for horse-lovers, and an enjoyable read for anyone.


This review was first published in the 3 April 2009 issue of print magazine NZLawyer

McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE to be reviewed on Radio New Zealand tomorrow

Every weekday morning at 10:30am, as part of the Nine to Noon show on Radio New Zealand National, a "Book of the Day" is reviewed. Occasionally this is a crime or thriller title. This Wednesday (tomorrow NZT) the book being reviewed is FEVER OF THE BONE by Val McDermid, the latest from the multi-award winning Scottish crime queen.

McDermid has written dozens of bestsellers, sold more than 10 million books, won and been shortlisted for many prestigious awards (including winning the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger for THE MERMAIDS SINGING), and had her stories adapted into acclaimed TV shows like Place of Execution and Wire in the Blood.

FEVER OF THE BONE is McDermid's sixth novel featuring dysfunctional profiler Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan (of Wire in the Blood fame), a pair who’ve intrigued readers with their undefined/unresolved relationship as colleagues and housemates. I have reviewed it for Good Reading magazine in Australia, so will be interested to hear what the Radio NZ reviewer thinks.

Fellow blogger, reviewer, and crime fiction afficionado Maxine Clarke has also written a good review of FEVER OF THE BONE at EuroCrime. You can see a full schedule of upcoming Nine to Noon book reviews (some of which are crime) at: I will post a link to the audio file of the review later this week.

Have you read FEVER OF THE BONE? Have you read Val McDermid? Have you been at any literary events where you've seen her in person? Please share your stories...

Bookstore Review: Paper Plus, Richmond Mall in Nelson

In the fourth of an irregular series on this blog, I take a look at how well (or not) the Paper Plus store in the Richmond Mall in Nelson (the largest mall in the top of the South Island) displays, publicises and otherwise supports New Zealand crime and thriller writing instore.

The Paper Plus store (which was formerly an NZ Post-associated Books'n'More store until Paper Plus bought that chain a couple of years ago) is one of two books-related nationwide chainstores in the Richmond Mall (along with a Whitcoulls). Neither bookstore is particularly large in size.

Along with magazines, cards, stationery, and post supplies, the Paper Plus has one wall of fiction - divided into an "A to Z", a small NZ fiction section, a small NZ non-fiction section, and a small "Nelson" section. They seem to have a good selection of books overall, especially given the space constraints. There isn't really any room for a specific 'crime/thriller' section, but a large percentage of the books in the A to Z are crime/thriller fiction.

Here are my findings in relation to NZ crime/mystery/thriller fiction:

  • There were a couple of copies of the latest New Zealand crime title, Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN, spine-facing in the A to Z section (GOOD);
  • There were also a couple of copies of Michael Green's BLOOD BOND in the A to Z section, the first time I have seen this book in any bookstore yet (GOOD/GREAT);
  • There were a few copies of Dorothy Fowler's WHAT REMAINS BEHIND in the New Zealand fiction section, with a nice front facing (GOOD/GREAT);
  • There were a few copies of Lindy Kelly's BOLD BLOOD in the New Zealand fiction section, with a nice front facing - the first time I have seen copies of this #1 NZ Adult fiction bestseller (from March) still (re)stocked in any bookstore in the past few weeks (GOOD/GREAT);
  • There were no copies of any Joan Druett, Vanda Symon, Paul Cleave, Neil Cross, or Andrea Jutson title, although I have seen copies of Symon's THE RINGMASTER in the A to Z section of that same store earlier this year (POOR); and
  • There were also front-facings of two Loren Teague books in the NZ fiction section - Teague categorises herself as a romance novelist, but her latest TRUE DECEPTION (one of the books that was available in the Paper Plus) centres on a policeman, and has a lot of crime/thriller elements - she calls it a "romantic thriller", and it seems equivalent to early Sandra Brown or Tami Hoag, when they were making the shift from romance to crime. However you categorise the latest Teague book (ie whether you think it comes within the fringes of the crime/thriller/suspense category, or falls just outside), it is good to see this Paper Plus store supporting NZ popular fiction by stocking it (GOOD/GREAT).

So overall, it was a pretty good result for Paper Plus, especially considering the size of the store (it wasn't really a large 'flagship' store which you would expect to have all titles). This store stocked four of the latest NZ crime/thriller titles (and was the only store thusfar to stock BLOOD BOND and BOLD BLOOD), as well as a recent romance suspense title. They've also previously stocked Vanda Symon as well.
One point however - although Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN is listed as one of celebrity reviewer Kerre Woodham's 'Recommended Reads', it wasn't one of the books displayed as such (in the special colourful cardboard end boxes) in this store, although international crime/thriller fiction titles were.
If the stores were all equivalent sizes with equivalent resources, i would probably mark this Paper Plus store a little bit above Whitcoulls Queen Street, but falling far short of Borders Queen Street (given the lack of Druett, Cleave, Jutson and Symon).

However, I should take into account the size and location of the store somewhat (and the fact they stocked 2-3 recent crime/thriller/suspense titles thusfar unseen elsewhere), so I give Paper Plus Richmond Mall 3.25 out of 5. Good work overall, and could be even better with a few extra touches (and titles).

Thoughts? Comments? Am I being fair?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Q&A with Kiwi thriller writer Michael Green

Earlier this month Gulf Harbour-based thriller writer Michael Green's BLOOD BOND was released, the second book in his 'Blood Line' trilogy about a family seeking to survive in NZ and the UK after a SARs-like global pandemic. You can read an extract HERE.

I'm about halfway through BLOOD BOND at the moment, as I'm reviewing it for a couple of magazines. I'm enjoying it thusfar. Courtesy of Random House, here is a Q&A with author Michael Green, who donates his proceeds to the charity Lifeline:

Q: What prompted you to write about a pandemic?
A: In 2003 my wife and I were about to travel to the UK when the SARS outbreak occurred. Like many others we postponed our trip. I began to ask myself, 'What's going to happen if this pandemic really gets out of control? What are the repercussions going to be? How am I going to protect my family?' The answers to those questions became the basis for the Blood Line trilogy.

Q: Do you really think people would become as savage as you depict after such a pandemic?
A: Absolutely! Throughout history we have seen how savage mankind can be for reasons such as racial prejudice, religious fanaticism, etc. In the pandemic conditions I have described, personal survival would be at stake. I personally would do whatever it took to protect or feed my family. Everyone else would do the same.

Q: You're originally from the UK - did you base the Chatfield family on your own?
A: The trilogy is based on my own family structure (my grandparents were also called Claude and Cora). Similarly, as in the trilogy, my own family suffers from a lackof males in recent generations. My own cousins are all very nice people, so the villains in the story necessitated the adding of an additional branch (Nigel and his sons).

Q: Is Haver Hall based on a real place?
A: Yes, it is based on Knole House, which is located on the outskirts of Sevenoaks in Kent in England. The house has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, and 7 courtyards (it is known as The Calendar House). It is owned by the National Trust.

Q: You capture the various different settings vividly (NZ, UK, Australia, South Africa, etc) vividly - have you visited all your settings?
A: I believe it is very important to have first-hand knowledge of where you write about. I have been to all the places in my novel (and of course, I grew up in Sevenoaks, and now live in Gulf Harbour, the main settings for the trilogy). In research for BLOOD BOND I sailed from Auckland to Brisbane and visited Stradbroke Ilsand. The final part of the trilogy is partly set in San Diego, and I visited that city earlier this year en route to Europe.

Q: Sailing plays a pivotal role in your novels - how important is it in your own life? A: From the age of 13 through to 17 I served as a cadet at 'Training Ship Mercury' in England. I learned to sail then and have sailed ever since. I wrote the humorous novel BIG AGGIE SALES THE GULF in 1986 (based upon my own misadventures sailing around the Hauraki Gulf in a Davidson M20). I currently live on board the 40' John Lidgard designed motor sailer Raconteur (which features in BLOOD BOND).

Q: Are you surprised that Germany was interested in your novel?
A: In retrospect, no. Before becoming a full-time writer I was an international IT recruitment consultant, and helped a number of Germans immigrate to New Zealand. I found Germans were always very concerned about issues such as health threats, nuclear war, environmental issues, etc.

Q: The Chatfields are split between living in NZ and the UK - is this an issue in your life?
A: It is. My own family is split between New Zealand and the United Kingdom, which causes difficulties for my wife and me. Fortunately, as a writer, I can work anywhere and usually manage to spend the New Zealand winter in Europe.

Q: What is the fundraising you do with LifeLine? Why is that particular charity important to you?
A: Unfortunately, I lost my own son to suicide. Suicide is a huge problem in New Zealand (more people lose their life through suicide each year than are killed in traffic accidents). Despite this appalling statistic, the contribution the government makes to organisations such as LifeLine in direct funding is pitiful. I speak at service clubs, such as Rotary and Lions, and donate royalties of all books that I sell at these presentations to LifeLine.

So there's a few words from author Michael Green, who lives on his boat in Gulf Harbour, sails around the world each year, and donates his authorial proceeds to a telephone counselling charity. Thoughts? Comments welcome.

Reviewing books that just don't grab you...

I am fortunate enough to review crime and thriller fiction for a number of fantastic publications (newspapers, magazines, and websites) in several countries (see sidebar). It's a pretty cool gig - and it allows me to keep up with the recent and upcoming books and authors in the 'genre', discovering new voices as well as the latest instalments from old favourites. It's also been a door into meeting and interviewing some fascinating authors.

One of the toughest things, for me, in being a reviewer is how to deal with books that just don't stack up in some way. Should I only review books I like, and just not publish a review of ones I don't think are very good? How honest/blunt/harsh should I be in any criticism?

Personally, I dislike reviewers who seem to have a thick veneer of ego and pretentiousness in their reviews - where it is more about them, and what type of 'creative' scathing (what they probably consider 'clever') comments they can come up with to smash something - you see this in book reviews, film reviews, restaurant reviews etc. Where it's more about the reviewer, than what's being reviewed.

I do think reviewers play an important part in the overall 'worlds' of any of these things (in my case books, though I do occasionally review other things), in terms of informing the potential audience of what is out there, offering some comparative comment, and bringing to light quality that may otherwise be overlooked. So that's why I sometimes struggle with how to address books I feel fall a little short.

One of my recent reviews was posted by Karen Meek of Eurocrime today - it's a review of Chris Carter's debut THE CRUCIFIX KILLER, and this book provided me with some of those problems and challenges - there were some good things, but plenty that bothered me about the book as well.

Please read the review, and let me know what you think. Was I fair? Have you read the book - what do you think? Should reviewers only bother publishing reviews of the good books, the books they like? How scathing should a reviewer be of (what they see as) flaws?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Crime fiction is not literary fiction's poor cousin! But some countries treat it as such

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I'm firmly of the belief that crime and thriller fiction can be just as well (if not better) written than most literary fiction, and that literary fiction is just a specific style/type of writing (i.e. genre) in of itself; not a superior genre.

You'll also be aware that I think New Zealand is as yet even less supportive of our own crime/thriller writing than many overseas countries are of theirs - countries who seem to have no problem supporting, encouraging, praising and enjoying many different genres (e.g. in England there are the literary-focused Booker Prizes, but then the CWA Daggers are also held in fairly high-regard, publicised well, and seem to be considered prestigious awards too).

In a great article in the National Post as part of a weeklong series on the state of Canadian literature, the doyen of Canadian crime writing, William Deverell, lifted the lid on the pretentiousness found amongst much of the Canadian 'literary establishment'.

I highly recommend reading the whole article, but for the theme of this blog post I'm going to just include a couple of extracts here, because in many ways the books scene in New Zealand is similar to the books scene in Canada.
Because our local literary scene is much smaller (than our English-language overseas counterparts), certain decision-makers, gate-keepers, and commentators, seem happy to eschew embracing local popular fiction - perhaps thinking that our smaller resources should be focused on 'the great New Zealand novel' or what has been deemed 'literary fiction'... as if popular fiction couldn't also tell us something about ourselves, as well as providing entertainment and enjoyment for readers both here and overseas.

I think this comment from Deverell on the Canadian scene is equally applicable to New Zealand:

"This priggish attitude toward popular fiction is deeply imbedded within our cultural establishment. By establishment, I mean the literature departments of our universities, the book pages of our journals, institutions such as the Canada Council and provincial arts bodies, the CBC and the big publishing houses...The infection may have begun in our libraries, and it found a host in our historic inferiority complex, a belief that our culture was little, provincial, unknown. To cover up our shame, that condition has morphed into a national snobbery disorder."

I think that is a large part of the problem here in New Zealand - we too seem to have some strong 'cultural cringe' towards locally-written popular fiction. To be fair, we aren't a whole lot better at supporting any NZ fiction, but we are especially harsh on our own popular fiction. At the Auckland Writers Festival earlier this year (the major NZ literary event of the year), there was not one crime fiction session (apart from Ngaio Marsh biographer Dr Joanne Drayton), not one crime or thriller writer speaking, even though there were dozens and dozens of events held over four days.

It reminds me of what our film scene used to be like, pre-Peter Jackson - every NZ film had to be some quirky, dark little 'man alone' or other 'emotional' tale - we would never think of having a NZ thriller, heist movie, or Adam Sandler/Jim Carrey-esque comedy (even though we have some amazing and international award-winning local stand-up comedians who I'm sure could star in one).

Another great comment from Deverell, who I was fortunate enough to meet in person at a Crime Writers of Canada event in Vancouver last April, is that:

"'Popular fiction' has become a term of vulgar connotation, but it reeks of ironic paradox: obviously we sobersided Canadians ought to be reading unpopular fiction."

There's certainly some of that sentiment that seems to be widely-held in New Zealand, amongst the creative writing courses at universities, short story contests, national book awards, and the main writers festival. Which is a real shame, because I believe a mature books scene needs to embrace all types of writing. It's sad to see that every week the International Adult Fiction bestseller list here in New Zealand is dominated by crime and thriller fiction titles, but few if any local ones ever make the equivalent NZ Adult Fiction bestseller list. There's clearly a strong appetite for crime and thriller fiction amongst the book readers of New Zealand, but we aren't buying our own versions, even when they stand up very well against imported titles.

Part of that, I believe, is because here in New Zealand the focus on local literary fiction and lack of support for local popular writing has filtered through to many of our readers, who (even if they enjoy crime and thriller fiction from overseas) seem to have some 'cultural cringe' about local popular writing. Which is ironic, considering in many other realms, NZers punch far above their weight on the world stage, and we are all proud to accept, support, and even trumpet those successes (eg many sports) - but for some reason we don't seem to believe our popular fiction can be as good as stuff from overseas. News flash - I read dozens and dozens and dozens of crime novels from around the world every year, and New Zealand crime and thriller fiction can be just as good as much of the international stuff.

If we were to provide more support and encouragement (e.g. from publishers, booksellers, media, libraries, readers), perhaps we could grow our crime and thriller writing industry just like places like Scotland, which incidentally has a population of not much more than ours here in New Zealand. They just support their popular writing (misguided people like James Kelman excepted), and are proud to buy it, read it, and enjoy review

The two Canadian crime novels I bought while there last year (Deverell's APRIL FOOL and Mark Zuehlke's HANDS LIKE CLOUDS) were both enjoyable, and had some unique touches and a nice sense of setting in terms of life on the gulf islands in British Columbia. I sympathise with Mr Deverell and his Canadian cohorts in terms of their somewhat second (or third) class status in their local literary scene, but at least I guess they have their own Crime Writers association, and crime writing awards (New Zealand, as yet, doesn't even have that).

I'll leave you with another comment from Deverell, that unfortunately seems to apply just as equally to New Zealand as Canada: "Meanwhile, the Brits knight their genre writers, the Yanks lionize them, but the Canucks (or at least our persons of letters) continue to treat them like unwashed in-laws tracking mud into the parlour. So sad."

Thoughts? Comments? Am I off-base?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dame Agatha Christie's Top 10 mysteries

Continuing the theme of Agatha Christie Week, in the Guardian newspaper yesterday, longtime Christie expert John Curran (author of the recently released work AGATHA CHRISTIE'S SECRET NOTEBOOKS) gave his list of the "top 10 mysteries" from Dame Agatha Christie's prolific writing career. You can read his descriptions and reasoning in the article itself, but for starters, here is Curran's Top 10:

1. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
2. Peril at End House (1932)
3. Murder on the Orient Express (1934)
4. The ABC Murders (1935)
5. And Then There Were None (1939)
6. Five Little Pigs (1943)
7. Crooked House (1949)
8. A Murder is Announced (1950)
9. Endless Night (1967)
10. Curtain: Poirot's Last Case (1975, but written during the second world war)

What do you think of that list? Are your favourites on there? Which Christie books do you think deserve to be in her "top 10"?

And speaking of the great Dame, and the recently discovered notebooks that have shed more light on her plotting, writing, and more - the Guardian also had another great article earlier in the week by Scottish crime queen Val McDermid, who has done fairly well in the genre herself (22 bestsellers, 10 million copies plus sold, awards such as the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger). Although McDermid's crime novels are a lot darker and more gruesome than Christie's, she was surprised to find her writing had a lot in common with Christie.
Thoughts and comments welcome...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Forgotten Kiwi crime and thriller books...

Kia Ora everyone. I've been doing a fair bit of research recently about New Zealand crime and thriller writers, past and present - and discovering to my pleasant surprise that there have actually been far more over the years than I first imagined.

Although at times it can seem like there was Ngaio Marsh, and then basically no-one until a bit of a mini-surge in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s (with Paul Thomas, Chad Taylor, and a couple of one-off books from others), and then a hiatus until recent years when Joan Druett, Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, Andrea Jutson, and Michael Green have all put out multiple crime/thriller titles, in fact there are many more hidden Kiwi crime and thriller gems out there.

As you'll notice from the increasing size of the sidebar on Kiwi crime/thriller writers, I've been discovering more and more all the time - and somewhat embarassingly for a booklover like me, there are even some who put out several crime fiction titles, published in NZ and overseas, that I'd never heard of, until now. If a fan like me never really heard about them, I guess that just underlines some of the problems Kiwi writers have faced (and still do) in terms of publicity and larger numbers of potential readers, both local and international, hearing about their work (and choosing to give it a go).

So, intrigued by some of the gems I have uncovered, moving forward I will be adding a new semi-regular series on reviews of out of print and hard to find Kiwi crime and thriller books, looking at some of the works these somewhat-forgotten writers published (that can be found in online second hand stores and libraries, for those interested).

I have managed to get my hands on five such books so far, and have more on the way (ordered from online second-hand dealers) - four of those first out of print or hard to find books that I will eventually review on this blog are set out below...

Freda Bream is a classic example of a forgotten or overlooked Kiwi crime writer - during her retirement this ex-schoolteacher wrote 13 mystery novels set in New Zealand (over a 15 year period in the 1980s and 1990s, starting with her first at age 64). Her mysteries were even published in the UK (by Robert Hale Books), and yet I doubt many readers nowadays would know about her, which seems a real shame.

I have recently got my hands on a nice copy of ISLAND OF FEAR (1982), her debut mystery novel set on Waiheke Island, one of Auckland's gulf islands. New island arrival, Judy Marling, has been lent a cottage there in the hope that the leisurely atmosphere will help her convalescence from an unexplained illness. She lives in fear that she'll be pursued to the island by her drug-smuggling ex. Then another woman, Helen Stokes, unexpectedly arrives to share the cottage with her. Nevertheless at first all is peaceful and relaxing. The neighbours are friendly, the sun shines, and the eccentric vicar drops in for a chat and a sherry. But Judy has a strange feeling that she has met him before. Then things begin to go dreadfully wrong: mysterious deaths and attacks occur, and before long Judy is fearing for her life.The islanders realise there must be a killer in their midst.

A 1991 political thriller by Michael Wall, MUSEUM STREET received some good reviews on its release. Bryce Courtney (THE POWER OF ONE, APRIL FOOL'S DAY) said: "dirty tricks writing at it's best, Wall is as explosive and spontaneous as a Molotov cocktail".

The blurb on the back says: "The sudden death of New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk triggers a series of extraordinary events in the life of Wellington journalist Erin Page. Secret assignations and mysterious phone calls coincide with the expulsion of Russian diplomats, a bizarre spy trial involving economist Dr Bill Sutch, and allegations of homosexual activity levelled at senior politicans. Erin's relentless search for the truth drags her into a labyrinth of intrigue, reaching back to the most brutal episodes of World War II and forward into a complex web of international espionage..."

Could be an exciting read.

Carol Dawber is a Dunedin-based writer, and the owner of a small publishing company, River Press. For many years she lived in the Top of the South Island of New Zealand (where I am from), so I am even more miffed that I'd never really heard of her - especially as the trilogy of mystery novels she wrote in quick succession in the early-mid 1990s (while I was devouring Agatha Christie at high school) are set in the national parks and surrounding areas near where I grew up.

The first novel in the mystery trilogy is BACKTRACK (1992), which involves a death in the forest that "turns strangers into suspects". Bad weather isolates both the police and groups of trampers (hikers, for you overseas readers) in the lush native bush of the Heaphy Track, before the story takes the reader from some of NZ's finest scenery into its cities and small towns. The blurb says: "The sounds and smells of the bush and its closely observed inhabitants are almost as strongly drawn as the characters in this lively novel of suspense".

I'm looking forward to finding out... I understand you may still possibly be able to get copies of this trilogy from River Press (who have a few remaining).

Lifelong medical practitioner Selwyn Carson turned his hand to a couple of local thrillers, and I've managed to get my hands on PRESCRIPTION FOR DANGER (1995), his debut. This book involves a hard-working GP and family man in Christchurch stumbling into a dark, dangerous world of drug trafficking and gang war, and must fight for his life.

Unfortunately, it seems his authorial career was kiboshed by his wife after the second thriller - after some local Christchurch readers claimed to recognise themselves as characters in his books, Carson's wife vetoed a third on the grounds that she had to live in Christchurch.

So there you go. What do you think - is it worth reviewing books that are now longer readily for sale new? What are some of your favourite crime, mysteries and thrillers that are now out of print and hard to find - the forgotten gems of the modern publishing world? Are some out of print or hard to find books as good (or better) than many still readily-available titles?

Thoughts and comments very welcome.