Monday, November 30, 2009

Vanda Symon's CONTAINMENT - radio reading and interview

As I noted recently, modern-day Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon's third Sam Shephard novel, CONTAINMENT, was launched in Dunedin last week. I understand fellow southern crime writers Liam McIlvanney and Paddy Richardson were in attendance amongst a good crowd at the University Book Shop.

Dunedin-based Symon was interviewed on Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday show by host Lynn Freeman yesterday. The interesting ten-minute interview, in which Symon discusses the new book, and what goes into her intriguing protagonist, amongst many other things, also includes a short reading from CONTAINMENT. You can listen to an audio file of the interview here.

In CONTAINMENT, Sam is training as a detective at Dunedin Central when she’s assigned to investigate what seems to be a routine diving accident off the Otago coast. But the forensics reveal that the man didn’t die from drowning; and that the body was stuffed in its wetsuit after death. Perhaps there is a connection with another case Sam is involved with – citizens of Dunedin pillaging the wreckage of a container ship at the entrance to Otago Harbour?

Those in Australia or New Zealand can read my feature "The Stroppy Crime Fighter", based upon my interview with Vanda Symon, in the November issue of Good Reading magazine. Vanda spoke with me about a number of things, including creating a memorable heroine, juggling motherhood and storytelling, and life imitating art. Online subscribers worldwide can also read that feature via the Good Reading website.

Have you read CONTAINMENT? Any of Symon's earlier books? What do you think? Is she a writer you enjoy, or if you haven't yet read her, a writer you want to try?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bookstore Review: NewsTravels, Auckland Domestic Airport

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

I was flying to and from Nelson for a short visit earlier this week (hence the gap in blog posts), so I thought I'd pop into the NewsTravels store in the domestic terminal, to see how it fared with promoting and supporting local crime fiction - especially in comparison to the Whitcoulls store down the other end of the domestic terminal.

Despite being around half the size (or less) of the Whitcoulls, the NewsTravels store seems to have much, much more than half the number of fiction books (ie a bigger proportion of its store is novels- it concentrates less on magazines and non-fiction). It is also very good at supporting crime fiction in general - there are 8 wall 'bays' of shelves; two are crime fiction, two fiction, and the other four recommended/new releases/bestsellers/what's hot. Although 25% of its wall space is dedicated to crime fiction, crime fiction actually still dominates the other 6 bays as well. James Patterson's I, ALEX CROSS was the #1 book on their instore charts. There were also a couple of 'promo' tables highlighting various books (a large chunk of them being crime/thriller novels too) near the entry of the small store.

Conservatively I'd estimate the crime fiction content of the shelves and tables being in the 60-65% range, if not much higher. So that's a big positive for crime fiction fans. NesTravels seemed to have most of the big-name latest titles, as well as plenty of others.

But how did NewsTravels fare when it came to Kiwi crime fiction? Here are my findings:
  • There were multiple copies of Maurice Gee's latest novel ACCESS ROAD in the crime section, as well as several copies on a display table at the front of the store (GOOD/GREAT);
  • There were a couple of copies of Michael Green's latest, BLOOD BOND, in the fiction section (GOOD/GREAT);
  • Surprisingly there didn't seem to be any copies of Dorothy Fowler's WHAT REMAINS BEHIND - the only store I haven't found that book in lately (the Random House team seem to be doing really well overall getting it well-stocked in a variety of stores overall) (POOR);
  • There weren't any copies of any other recent titles, such as Liam McIlvanney's ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN, Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN, Lindy Kelly's BOLD BLOOD, or Neil Cross' BURIAL. There also weren't any copies of Vanda Symon's CONTAINMENT (although that was only officially launched a couple of days beforehand) (POOR);
So overall, it wasn't a great result for NewsTravels in terms of Kiwi crime and thriller writing, especially given how well they promote, stock and support crime writing in general. Again, 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 - and the store clearly backs this up when it comes to non-New Zealand crime and thrillers).

So, overall, I give NewsTravels Auckland Airport (Domestic Terminal) 2 out of 5. Slightly better than the nearby Whitcoulls, as it had more copies of the two local books it had in stock even though it was much smaller in size, but could still do a lot better. Given its size I wouldn't expect lots of Kiwi back catalogue, but it would have been nice to see some of the other recent Kiwi crime and thriller titles also instore. At least you could get 4 different recent Kiwi crime titles at the domestic airport I guess (since the two stores stocked different titles).

Thoughts? Comments? Am I being fair? Or am I expecting too much from NZ bookstores?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Crime Watch Giveaway #1 - Winners' thoughts on Kiwi crime

You may remember the first-ever Crime Watch competition that I ran back in September, where blog readers could win a copy of a Kiwi crime or thriller novel, signed by the author, shipped to them anywhere around the world. It was great to get entries from so many different places.

As I announced on 9 September, the 3 winners were Fred from Arizona (USA), Richard from Cork (Ireland) and Jen from Ohio (USA). Now that some time has passed, I thought I'd share some of their feedback about the Kiwi crime novels they won, with you.

Fred won a signed copy of Vanda Symon's THE RINGMASTER, having said in his entry that he had little experience with Kiwi crime writing (other than Dame Ngaio Marsh's UK-set cosy mysterys), but would prefer a police procedural set in New Zealand.

THE RINGMASTER is the second instalment in Vanda Symon's Sam Shephard series, and is a little more of a police procedural than Symon's debut, as Sam has 'graduated' to working as a probationary detective as opposed to being a sole charge rural cop in OVERKILL.

In THE RINGMASTER, our heroine has moved to biggish-city Dunedin from small-town Mataura; bridges burnt. On the bottom rung of the detective training ladder, Sam is sidelined from a Botanic Gardens murder investigation by her grudge-holding boss. Assigned to peacemaking duties between the visiting circus and animal rights protestors, Sam uncovers a link between the circus and deaths spread throughout the South Island, sparking serial killer fears.

You can read my 14 November 2008 review of THE RINGMASTER here.

Last month our winner Fred, who is a fellow book blogger (Fred's Place), shared his thoughts on his first experience of Vanda Symon's writing. He says: "I think Vanda Symon is the first crime writer from New Zealand that I've read, or at least the first one who has set her novels in New Zealand. I read many of Ngaio Marsh's mysteries years ago, but most were set in England."

Fred goes on to say: "Detective Constable Sam Shepherd makes the novel work, and I definitely intend to read the first one in the series, and the third when it appears in December." You can read Fred's full review here.

Symon's third Sam Shephard novel, CONTAINMENT, has just been released. I thought CONTAINMENT was another great read - I will post reviews (my own and links to other peoples') in due course.

Richard won a signed copy of Paul Cleave's debut THE CLEANER, having said in his entry that "I expect Paul Cleave would be the sort I would enjoy. In fact, he is on my list of authors to start collecting."

Richard had come across the competition via the reader forums on the Mark Billingham website. Billingham of course is a big fan of Cleave's writing, having 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."

Despite Cleave's writing not yet getting the attention he deserves in the English-speaking markets, Germany (which 'discovered' Linwood Barclay and Stieg Larsson, amongst others, before those authors became popular or noticed in the UK and the US) has embraced his tales filled with dark crime and dark humour. THE CLEANER was the #1 crime thriller title on Amazon in Germany for 2007, and in the top 10 for all books. In reasonably short order more than 250,000 copies had been sold (international sales of Cleave's books are now approximately half a million), making THE CLEANER one of the biggest and fastest-selling fiction books to ever come out of New Zealand (even though it hasn't yet been released in the UK or the USA).

THE CLEANER centres on Joe, a serial killer who works as a janitor at the Christchurch Police Department. When a killing he didn't perform is linked to him, Joe uses his inside access to try and find and punish the copycat.

After reading his prize, Richard shared his thoughts on the Billingham forums, saying:

"All I can say is wow!. I heartily recommend this book to other forum members. I understand it is to be published in the UK, hopefully in the not too distant future. Not sure about the US. I don't think I am including any real spoilers here, as the back cover blurb and reviews on the internet reveal even more. I would compare it with Mark's SLEEPYHEAD, not because there is any similarity in the plot but because it is, in my view, such a unique premise for a first crime novel...

While not a writer myself, I alway assume that writing in the first person is more difficult than in the third. To do so and relate the narrative from the perspective of the serial killer must have called for extensive research and a brilliant, (and maybe warped ) imagination. There is one male lead and IMHO three female characters who are vital to the story. The way Paul slips parts of their backstory seamlessly into the tale is very well done... Paul's explanation of the thought processes of the insane Joe are enlightening and frighteningly logical. There is a dark humour throughout and one scene in particular had me wincing. Male readers will easily work out which one. All in all, a very entertaining read and I look forward to reading more by this author."

So, two happy prize-winners, who have now been introduced to some modern Kiwi crime writing. Hopefully more readers will give Symon, Cleave, and other Kiwi crime writers a go at some stage. Have any of you read THE RINGMASTER or THE CLEANER? Do you agree or disagree with Fred and Richard's comments? Do they sound like the kind of crime novels you'd want to try? What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crime Fiction Alphabet: H is for Harlan Coben

Continuing the fun series started by fellow Anzac book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, where each week bloggers from around the world write about a notable crime fiction novel or author (first name or surname) starting with a particular letter of the alphabet, this week is the turn of "H".

I was mulling over a few different authors and books that would make good "H" posts, and decided, in honour of his recent success winning the public vote for the the first-ever Bestseller Dagger at the 2009 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards, I would focus on bestselling American thriller writer Harlan Coben. In response to his Dagger win, Coben was reported as saying: "I try to write books which are really compelling – that you'd take on vacation and rather than going out, you'd read in your hotel room because you had to find out what happened. Hopefully that's what readers are responding to."

New Jersey native Harlan Coben is in fact no stranger to winning awards - since he published his third book DEAL BREAKER (the first Myron Bolitar novel) in 1995, he has racked up an impressive trophy cabinet. He is reportedly the first writer to have won an Edgar Award, a Shamus Award, and an Anthony Award (which some consider the top three US crime writing awards). He has also won France's Le Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle for fiction award (for his standalone TELL NO ONE), amongst other award wins, nominations, and accolades.

Born and raised in New Jersey (he still lives in the state today, with his wife and four children), it was while Coben was studying political science at college that he realised he wanted to be a writer. Interestingly, at that time he was a member of the Psi Upsilon fraternity at Amherst College, and amongst his fraternity brothers was another young man who would also go on (many years later) to become a well-known thriller; Dan Brown.

After college, Coben worked in the travel industry while writing his first novels: PLAY DEAD (1990), a romantic suspense novel, and MIRACLE CURE (1991), a medical thriller. Although he became a published author in his late 20s, it wasn't until this third novel, DEALBREAKER, several years later that Coben really started getting some traction.

DEALBREAKER introduced Coben's popular recurring hero, sports agent and sometimes private investigator Myron Bolitar. In the novel, Bolitar is poised on the edge of the big time, and so is his prized client, rookie quarterback Christian Steele. But when Steele gets a phone call from a former girlfriend, a woman who everyone, including the police, believes is dead, the deal starts to go sour. Bolitar is plunged into a baffling mystery of sex and blackmail. Trying to unravel the truth about a family's tragedy, a woman's secret and a man's lies, he is up against the dark side of his business - 'where image and talent make you rich, but the truth can get you killed.'

DEALBREAKER was the 'breakthrough' novel for Coben, garnering him an Edgar Award nomination and an Anthony Award win. It is has recently been annouced that it is in the process of being made into a film (with a 2011 release date).

From there, Coben hit his writing stride, and has since published a new novel every year (with two Bolitar novels in 1996). Between 1995-2000 he wrote seven consecutive novels starring the sports agent-cum-part-time PI, the third of which, FADE AWAY, won an Edgar Award and a Shamus Award. In FADE AWAY, Bolitar is approached to find Greg Downing. He shares a history with Downing; they were rivals both in sport and for the affection of one woman. Bolitar finds blood in Downing's basement, and then the body of a woman - and suddenly he is on a path unravelling the strange violent world of a national hero gone wrong, as well as his own past.

The popular character of Bolitar is a former star college basketball player whose knee injury prevented him from turning pro, so he turned to Harvard Law School and a second career as a big shot sports agent. Unfortunately, his clients seem to habitually get into peculiar jams. These early Bolitar novels all take place in the sports world, offering something of a behind-the-scenes look at some of the seedier aspects of that world. The characters popularity can be seen in the fact that Florida sports journalist Gary Shelton even wrote an 'inteview' with Bolitar for the St Petersburg Times in 2000. You can read that interview here.

Coben's Bolitar novels also often entwined the (well-hidden) past and the present - a trait that has become something of a characteristic of Coben's thriller writing (along with his penchant for twisting plots), perhaps even moreso with his later standalones.

In 2001 Coben released his first stand-alone thriller, TELL NO ONE, which took Coben to another level, sales and notoriety-wise, becoming an international bestseller. It becme the most-decorated thriller of that year, nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, a Macavity, a Nero, and a Barry; winner of the Audie Award for Best Audio Mystery/Suspense Book (read by Steven Weber); and a #1 hardcover book on the Book Sense 76 list. In France, TELL NO ONE (NE LE DIS A PERSONE) won Le Grand Prix des Lectrices de Elle for fiction. You can read more about TELL NO ONE, including an extract, here. French film director Guillaume Canet adapted the book into an award-winning French thriller, Ne le dis à personne in 2006.

Since the turn of the millennium, Coben has largely concentrated on standalone thrillers, although he briefly returned to Bolitar with PROMISE ME (2006) and this year's LONG LOST (2009). You can read my review of LONG LOST here.

Harlan Coben has more than 47 millions books in print worldwide - his novels have been published in 39 languages, and have been number one bestsellers in over a dozen countries. His most recent releases, LONG LOST and HOLD TIGHT, both debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and lists around the world. And of course he recently won the inaugural Bestseller Dagger.

Without a doubt, Harlan Coben is now one of the biggest names in modern thriller writing. His next book, the standalone CAUGHT, is scheduled for publication in March 2010.

What do you think of Harlan Coben? Have you read any of his books, either the Bolitar series or his acclaimed standalones? Do you like the mix of past and present, plot twist and fast-paced action? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Reminder: Launch of Vanda Symon's CONTAINMENT

Further to my post of 6 November, just a reminder that Kiwi crime writer Vanda Symon's third Sam Shephard book, CONTAINMENT, will be launched tomorrow night in Dunedin.

In CONTAINMENT, Sam is training as a detective at Dunedin Central when she’s assigned to investigate what seems to be a routine diving accident off the Otago coast. But the forensics reveal that the man didn’t die from drowning; and that the body was stuffed in its wetsuit after death. Perhaps there is a connection with another case Sam is involved with – citizens of Dunedin pillaging the wreckage of a container ship at the entrance to Otago Harbour?

Those who are readers of Australian books magazine Good Reading can peruse my feature article "The Stroppy Crime Fighter" on Vanda and her sassy heroine Sam Shephard in the November issue, see here.

The official information re: the book launch :
Penguin NZ and the University Book Shop invite you to the launch of -
CONTAINMENT by Vanda Symon
Tuesday 24 November 2009
University Book Shop
378 Great King StreetDunedin
RSVP to Vanda Symon on or
Tel: (03) 453 5371

Hopefully plenty of people in the southern part of New Zealand will head along, and help support some great local crime writing! For those of us not in Dunedin, hopefully Vanda will be doing some other events elsewhere sometime soon too. In the meantime, I recommend any crime fiction fans who like well-written stories with interesting and sassy protagonists, to go out and get themselves a copy of CONTAINMENT.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

POLL: Films of the book?

There are several films coming out into wide release (in the USA/UK/NZ/Australia etc) in the coming weeks, which are based upon books which fall (at least somewhat) into the crime or thriller category. Pleasingly, there are some great filmmakers and actors involved in these films adaptations, which should give readers and filmgoers cause for some anticipation.

So I thought I would run a poll (see sidebar to the right) about which film adaptation readers are most looking forward to. Here is some more information about the four choices (I advise you to watch the linked trailers, as they'll give you a much better idea of each film than my small blurbs):

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Stieg Larsson)The smash-hit first volume of the worldwide phenomenon ‘Millennium Trilogy’ introduced one of crime fiction’s most unique protagonists, disturbing punk heroine Lisbeth Salander, who along with crusading liberal journalist Mikael Blomkvist, investigates a forty-year old disappearance linked to a series of gruesome murders.

The film adaptation of Larsson's masterpiece stars Michael Nyquist as Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as the irrepressible Salander, and has already grossed over $100 million at the box office in Europe. It is the most successful local film of all time at the Nordic box office.
You can watch the English-subtitled trailer HERE.

The highly-anticipated film version of Alice Sebold’s beloved novel; the heart-wrenching story of teenager Susie Salmon who, after being brutally raped and murdered, comes to terms with her own death as she watches from a personal heaven as her family, friends, and killer try to go on with their lives. An 'emotional thriller' where the chase for the killer isn't the main thrust of the book.

For a time this was thought an 'unfilmable' book; that is until it was placed in the hands of multiple Academy Award-winner Peter Jackson (who has already made film history with a superb adaptation of another beloved literary work long believed unfilmable - The Lord of the Rings trilogy). The film has a stellar cast - it stars Saoirse Ronan as Susie, alongside Oscar/Emmy/Golden Globe award-winners and nominees Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Imperioli and Stanley Tucci. Unsurprisingly, it is already getting Oscar buzz.

You can watch the trailer HERE.

SHUTTER ISLAND (Dennis Lehane)
A 1954-set suspense tale where up-and-coming U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels (to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is assigned to investigate the disappearance of a patient from Boston's Shutter Island Ashecliffe Hospital.

Martin Scorcese is in the director's chair, and the rest of the cast is sprinkled with 'names' and solid actors aplenty; Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo, and Emily Mortimer amongst them

SHUTTER ISLAND is the third Lehane novel to be brought to the big screen, following acclaimed adaptations of MYSTIC RIVER and GONE BABY GONE.

You can watch the trailer HERE.

SHERLOCK HOLMES (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Unlike the other three films, this isn't based on a particular book, rather one of the most famous characters in English literature - the drug-taking, violin-playing, Baker Street-dwelling detective that popularised crime fiction more than a century ago.

Starring Robert Downer Jr as Sherlock Holmes and Jude Law as dependable sidekick Watson, the Guy Ritchie-directed film certainly looks like quite a new take on the legendary detective, though in some ways you could argue its going back more to the original books, and focusing on things about Holmes that later adaptations overlooked (e.g. his fighting skills etc).

You can watch the trailer HERE.

Personally, I'm looking forward to all four. It's exciting to see great directors like Jackson and Scorcese involved with the adaptations, as well as some pretty stellar actors.

I would love to read your thoughts on the four above films (or other crime/thriller fiction adaptations past or future) and the books/characters they are based on. Do you have a favourite? Do you think your favourite book may not end up being your favourite film?
What do you think about the filmmakers involved? Do you like watching films adapted from books? Even if you usually don't, do some of the films above pique your interest, giving the quality cast and crew? What other crime/thriller novels or characters would you like to see brought to the big screen?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Charity preview screening of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

The film of Stieg Larsson's groundbreaking crime novel THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO opens in New Zealand cinemas on Boxing Day. However, for those of you that just can't wait, The Village Bookshop in Matakana, in the beautiful Rodney District north of Auckland, has arranged for a charity preview screening on Sunday 6 December.

Tickets are $20, and proceeds are going to Warkworth Christian Food Link, an interdenominational food bank that provides food to the needy, and to other organisations (such as the Women's Refuge). A very worthy cause.

The film adaptation of Larsson's award-winning masterpiece about a journalist and a young female hacker stars Michael Nyquist as Mikael Blomkvist and Noomi Rapace as the irrepressible Lisbeth Salander, and has already grossed over $100 million at the box office in Europe. It is the most successful local film of all time at the Nordic box office.

The charity screening is at 6pm on Sunday 6 December at the 110-seat Tivoli Theatre, Matakana Cinemas.

Tracey at The Village Bookshop says about half of the tickets have already been sold by word of mouth, so my advice is for those in Auckland and further north to get in quick. Matakana is a beautiful area; perfect for spending a lazy Sunday - make a day of it and visit some vineyards, head to The Village Bookshop at 4pm for pre-screening bubbles and refreshments (and discounts on books), and then see the movie in comfort in an boutique luxury theatre (lush, wide seats - and Tracey informs me you're allowed to take in wine etc) while supporting a very worthy cause.

You can book your tickets from the Village Bookshop - call (09) 423 0315. For those (like me) planning to head up, you can read more about the gorgeous Matakana area here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More out of print and hard to find Kiwi crime and thriller books...

Continuing on from my posts of 5 October and 16 September, I've incrementally been building up something of a personal library of second-hand copies of out-of-print and hard-to-find Kiwi crime, mystery and thriller titles, to complement the newer books I have from more recent authors still in print like Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, Dorothy Fowler, Michael Green, Neil Cross, Lindy Kelly etc etc.

It's been eye-opening to see how many largely forgotten Kiwi authors have put out a crime or thriller novel or two, let alone some I have come across (like Freda Bream) who have put out multiple titles in a series. As you can see from the seemingly ever-growing sidebar to the right,

I have been 'discovering' more and more Kiwi authors who've written crime or thriller books ... If any of you readers can think of others that I haven't yet included, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line. I'd appreciate any help building my ad-hoc list...

As I've been stumbling over more and more Kiwi authors and titles, I have also been digging through the online second-hand stores, particularly the TradeMe and Sella websites, to see if I can get my hands on copies of any of their out-of-print and hard-to-find books. I've purchased several more recently, which I will be reviewing on this site at some stage in future (including those mentioned in my earlier posts).

Then on the weekend, I stopped off and browsed the bookshelves of Jason's Books in Lorne Street, Auckland - quite a cool upstairs second-hand bookstore. Looking through the New Zealand fiction section I found a few books, including some I'd never heard of, that could fall into the crime, mystery or thriller category. Despite my 60+ book TBR pile, I couldn't resist buying four of them. Here are two of those recent purchases:

RESPONSIBILITY by Nigel Cox (VUP, 2005)
A darkly comic thriller set in contemporary Berlin. Martin Rumsfield, an international museums expert from New Zealand, is feeling hemmed in by the pressures of work and the demands of family. When a shady character from his past turns up with a sure-fire plan to scam the scammers, Martin is seduced by the glamour of a walk on the wild side. Then, in a shattering moment, he realises that he has put what he values most at deadly risk.

You can read more about Nigel Cox, who passed away in 2006, and the variety of novels he has written and his museum-related work, here.

GRIEVOUS BODILY by Craig Harrison
(Penguin, 1991)
A saga of infidelity, deceit, thwarted lust and mad dogs, not to speak of grievous bodily harm with a cricket bat. A sedate university community goes to pieces when two of its members make off with a cache of stolen money belonging to a gang of ruthless idiots. The most unlikely people are thrown together in a spectacular fashion, the highlight of which is the amazing case of the exploding pudding.

I'm guessing this is something of a comic novel that happens to have some crime interwoven into the plot - should be a bit of a nice breather from all the serial killers, murder, and darkness I'm usually reading.
Craig Harrison has written several novels, plays, short stories, satirical works and television comedies. His plays have won various awards, and his novel, THE QUIET EARTH, shortlisted for NZ Book of the Year in 1982, was adapted into a feature film. You can read more about him here.

Thoughts on the two books above? Do you like browsing second-hand bookstores to find older books that aren't available on booksellers' shelves? If so, what are some gems you have discovered?

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I was in Devonport (a nice little 'village' on the North Shore of Auckland) on the weekend, visiting a good friend who'd recently returned from several years living in the UK. While waiting for the ferry back to the CBD, we were browsing the nice second-hand bookstore in the ferry terminal. Turns out she's a crime fiction fan, and she picked a Peter James book.

Now, I shouldn't really be buying too many (cough, any) books, because I have a gigantic TBR pile already, to review etc. But when I came across CRIME BEAT: TRUE STORIES OF COPS AND KILLERS by Michael Connelly, I couldn't resist.

As a crime fiction writer, Michael Connelly has been one of my favourites since I stumbled over THE POET in a bookstore several years ago. But as many of you may know, before he was Connelly the crime writer, he was Connelly the crime reporter. He was an award-winning journalist before he became one of the leading crime writers of his generation.

CRIME BEAT includes several of his 'true crime' stories from his days as a reporter in Florida and Los Angeles. As the blurb says, "These true stories help to chart the development of his work as a novelist - guaranteed to make fascinating reading for any serious fan of crime writing."

As Connelly himself says in the introduction, "One morning an editor called me and told me to swing by a murder scene on my way to the office. Just like that, I was picking upa coffee on the way to work. The murder was on Woodrow Wilson Drive in the Hollywood Hills. I went as instructed and got the story. I also got the place where I would put the home of the fictional detective [Harry Bosch] I had secretly been writing about ..."

I don't read a whole lot of true crime, but this was a book I just couldn't resist.

What about you, dear readers? Are you Connelly fans? Have you read CRIME BEAT? Do you like true crime as well as fictional mysteries? Do you read non-fiction from your crime fiction favourites (e.g. THE INNOCENT MAN by John Grisham, PORTRAIT OF A KILLER by Patricia Cornwell (if that could be called non-fiction))?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Have you read Dorothy Fowler?

For the eleventh in this blog's regular series of author introductions on Kiwi crime, mystery, and thriller writers, we now take a look at recent debutant Dorothy Fowler, whose archaeological mystery WHAT REMAINS BEHIND was published in both New Zealand and Australia earlier this year.

Fowler lives on beautiful Waiheke Island, a laidback and somewhat rural gulf island in the Auckland harbour, about half an hour by ferry from the main CBD. She has worked in a variety of jobs over the years, including renovating houses and boat building. Eventually she decided to return to university as an adult student, to indulge her passion by studying archaeology and ancient history.

In an interview in July to celebrate her debut novel, she told her hometown newspaper, the Gulf News, that “I had been buying houses, doing them up and selling them. I had a bit of money as a result and woke up one morning and decided I wanted to take a few years out of my life to go back to university and study.”

It was while she was completing those studies for her Bachelor's degree, that Fowler decided to take a creative writing course. Her tutor happened to be iconic New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera, whose award-winning works have included the book that became acclaimed film Whale Rider, and Ihimaera suggested she apply for a place in the small but diverse class in his very selective yearlong Masters programme. From 32 applicants for the course, six were accepted; all women, ranging in age from 23 to 56.

It was during the yearlong Masters course, in which students were asked to write a 70-90,000 word novel to second draft stage between March and October, that Fowler worked on WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, mentored by both Ihimaera and award-winning New Zealand author Emily Perkins. She was thrilled when it was picked up for publication by Random House New Zealand soon after - the only manuscript from a new writer they are publishing this year (from the 600 or so they receive from hopeful new/unpublished writers annually). Random House Fiction publisher Harriet Allan said Fowler's novel stood out from amongst the hundreds they are sent because, most importantly, "I simply wanted to keep reading".

Fowler’s debut combines her twin passions, centering as it does on a dig near a small rural town in the Kaipara. In WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, Chloe Davis is a contract archaeologist who has returned to her family-owned farm to excavate, before the farm is subdivided for lifestyle blocks, the ruins of a religious community that burned to the ground in the 1880s, killing several people. Already under time and budget pressure, Chloe and her team soon encounter local resistance, ranging from bar fights to sabotage and vandalism. Is someone worried that uncovering the past could upset the present?

Chloe’s life and work is further complicated by the unknown motives of old acquaintances and interfering relatives. The story switches regularly between Chloe’s present-day narration, and journal entries made by Charity, a young girl living in the isolated religious community in the lead-up to the tragedy.

You can read an extract from WHAT REMAINS BEHIND here, and my review of it here. You can also read a review by the Otago Daily Times (from the opposite end of New Zealand) here.

The novel has a slow build, and pulls you in gradually, unfolding leisurely rather than having an early or graphic hook, so in some ways it is paced like a traditional amateur detective novel. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, when speaking to the Gulf News, Fowler described her taste in fiction as ‘classic whodunnits’; Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh. Fowler is currently working on the second draft of the next Chloe Davis novel, which will be set on Waiheke Island.

You can listen to an extract from WHAT REMAINS BEHIND and a good interview with Fowler from Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday programme with Lynn Freeman, here. The interview covers the plot and writing of the book, Fowler's interest in archaeology, her next book, and some other fascinating topics.

Have you read Dorothy Fowler? What do you think of historic mysteries? Do you like books with a slow burn, rather than an early hook and fast-paced thrills? Please share your thoughts...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fifty years after the murder that inspired a literary masterpiece

Sunday was a morbid anniversary for the small rural town of Holcomb, Kansas. A half-century ago, on 15 November 1959, a ghastly crime was committed; the slaughter of the Clutter family in their farmhouse.

Human history is filled with crime, with violence, with horrific and unthinkable acts. Some are remembered, many are forgotten, at least by the 'public at large'. But this brutal crime, in a peaceful farming region in what is (correctly or not) thought of as a 'simpler time', has resonated through the decades, remaining in society's wider consciousness.

The main reason for that was an unusual New York writer, Truman Capote, who spied a short newspaper account of the killings, and decided to make the 1000-mile journey from his home to Holcomb to chronicle the impact of terrible violence on a small community. The result was IN COLD BLOOD, considered one of the greatest works in 20th century American literature, and a book that changed journalism, especially the way true-life tales were told in longer (full-length book) forms. It was one of the first, and the most influential, of what became known as 'non-fiction novels', and is a pioneering work of both true crime writing, and also 'New Journalism' in general.

Capote begins his story a couple of days before the murders. Using extensive interviews with the townsfolk, he puts together the last day of the family in astonishing detail. He had brought his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) along with him to Holcomb, and together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested not long after the murders, later executed, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book (including spending time with the murderers right up to and then witnessing their state-sanctioned hangings). As he says in the book, "Four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives."

The story has been retold on television and film (multiple times), including a black and white 1967 movie (the year after the book came out, and two after the killers were executed) which was nominated for four Academy Awards, and then recently the Academy Award-winning Capote, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as well as Infamous, starring Toby Jones as Truman Capote. It has stayed in public consciousness, and seems to be one of those stories that many people are aware of.

Like many reviewers, I've even found myself giving nod's to Capote in reviews of crime novels such as DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn (which has a similar farmhouse family slaughter, although it brings in Satanism and many other things) and THE MURDER FARM by Andrea Maria Schenkel (which is actually inspired by a real-life 1920s farmhouse murder in Germany, pre-dating the events of IN COLD BLOOD).

Ed Pilkington in The Guardian has written a wonderful piece on the 50-year anniversary, including visiting the town, talking to locals, and looking back over the murders, the book, and the aftermath. I highly recommend reading his article, which was posted online overnight NZT (Monday 16 November UK time) - you can read it HERE.

I'd love to read your thoughts and comments about Capote, the book, the crime, the movies, Pilkington's article, non-fiction novels, or any other related thoughts.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crime Fiction Alphabet: G is for Green, Michael

Continuing the fun series started by fellow Anzac book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, where each week bloggers from around the world write about a notable crime fiction novel or author (first name or surname) starting with a particular letter of the alphabet, this week is the turn of "G".

Given that in my "A" post I said I would regularly sprinkle my contributions with a New Zealand-related post or two, this week I am planning on doing a couple of contributions, starting with a post on Kiwi thriller writer Michael Green, whose second book in his thriller trilogy about the Chatfield family's quest for survival following a global pandemic, was released in New Zealand in September (and is scheduled to be released in Australia this month).

NB - this Crime Fiction Alphabet post is an edited reproduction of a profile post I did on Green earlier this year.

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.

In September, 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?"

My review of BLOOD BOND in NZLawyer was published in early October - you can read it HERE. 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.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Reading award-winning crime fiction

Over the years I've read a fair few crime novels that have won prestigious awards (CWA Daggers, Edgars, Agathas, Anthonys, Macavitys, Arthur Ellis Awards, etc), but I've never actually purposely picked up and read one because it won such an award.

However, that kind of changed a couple of weeks ago, when I saw John Hart's THE LAST CHILD recently win the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller. When I was looking at the Dagger results, I recognised this title as one of the dozens sitting slightly neglected in my far-too-big TBR pile.

Before the win, it was just one of many books from authors new to me, that I'd not yet read. Because of the win, I paid a little more attention to it, found out a bit about Hart and his writing, was intrigued by the North Carolina attorney-turned-author and his storylines, and decided to jump THE LAST CHILD to the top of the TBR pile.

So although I'd still perhaps argue I didn't read it just because it won (rather I read it because of information I found out about it, that I admittedly only paid more attention to because of the publicity around it winning), its win did lead to me reading it sooner than I otherwise might have.

I really enjoyed THE LAST CHILD, and will be contributing some very positive reviews of it to a couple of publications I write for in various countries. So I am very glad my attention got turned its way.

I have friends who constantly scour the awards shortlists (not just in crime) to decide what books they will buy/read (even restricting themselves solely to 'awards winners' or 'shortlistees'). I've never been like that, but my experience certainly adds to the thought that often there are many, many quality writers out there that readers will enjoy - it's just a matter of some publicity turning a reader's attention towards that particular (hitherto unknown to them) author and their work.

What about you? Do you consciously read (or avoid) award-winning crime novels. How have you 'discovered' a new author that you've ended up really enjoying? What are your thoughts on crime-writing (and other literary) awards?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bookstore Review: Whitcoulls Courtenay Place (Wellington)

In the eighth of an irregular series on this blog, I take a look at how well (or not) the Whitcoulls bookstore on Wellington’s popular thoroughfare Courtenay Place, publicises and otherwise supports New Zealand crime and thriller writing in-store.
As I said in the first bookstore review on 25 August, there are many many things, other than the quality of a book, that can play a big part in how successful it, or its author, may be in terms of sales, readership, mainstream media coverage, and potentially interested readers even becoming aware of it/them. There are so many books out there, and so many good and great authors and titles amongst them, that many haven't received the success or attention they deserve.

While many things can't be controlled, some can - so with this series, I will be 'mystery shopper-ing' some New Zealand bookstores, examining how well (if at all) they highlight, display, or otherwise offer NZ crime fiction to their customers. After all, if our own bookstores don't support local crime writing, how can we expect overseas ones to?

So far the Whitcoulls chain has been disappointing, ranging from basically no support (Whitcoulls Wellington airport) to okay-ish but needs big improvement (Whitcoulls Queen Street)So it was with some trepidation and low hopes that I walked into Whitcoulls Courtenay Place on a fine Sunday afternoon last weekend. Here are some of my findings:

  • This Whitcoulls store didn’t have a dedicated crime section (although a very large percentage of the fiction A-Z was crime/thriller), but did have a dedicated New Zealand fiction section.
  • Alix Bosco’s CUT & RUN, Dorothy Fowler's debut, WHAT REMAINS BEHIND, Paul Cleave's CEMETERY LAKE (1 copy), and Vanda Symon’s THE RINGMASTER were all available in the NZ section (GOOD/GREAT)
  • Andrea Jutson’s SENSELESS (1 copy) and Liam McIlvanney’s ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN were available in the A-Z section
  • The NZ section was very good overall, with a great selection of NZ writers often not seen elsewhere. In terms of crime/thrillers, this was also the first store in which I’d noticed MIRAMAR MORNING by Denis Edwards, and ROCKING HORSE ROAD by Carl Nixon (GOOD GREAT), although the Nixon book is no longer in stock, since I bought the one copy. There were multiple copies of Edwards’ book, so there are still some left after my visit. (GOOD/GREAT)
  • There were also plenty of books from authors like Charlotte Grimshaw and Maurice Gee, who have written some crime/thriller-type books, amongst their others (OKAY/GOOD)
  • There were no copies of Joan Druett, Paddy Richardson, Michael Green, or Neil Cross books – the latter being particularly egregious considering he’s a Wellington-based author with a strong backlist, including a Booker-long-listed novel, and has received some decent media coverage this year (POOR);
  • However, Michael Green’s latest, BLOOD BOND, was showing in their computer as arriving in-store 15 November (OKAY); and
  • There were no copies of Lindy Kelly’s BOLD BLOOD, even though it was a #1 bestseller earlier this year, and stayed in the top 5 for several weeks (POOR).

So overall, Whitcoulls Courtenay Place was by far the best of the Whitcoulls stores thusfar, having 1-2 copies of at least one book in stock from several Kiwi crime writers. And they had books from a couple of writers I hadn't seen available elsewhere. Could they improve? Yes - there was no stock of some recent crime thrillers, including from an acclaimed local writer. They only had one copy of one Paul Cleave book (rather than Borders who had multiple copies of all three), and only one of Andrea Jutson and Vanda Symon's books, rather than both. There were also some glaring omissions (Joan Druett, Lindy Kelly) which have been well-stocked elsewhere. They could also do a bit better with highlighting some of the New Zealand books, which are kind of tucked away.
Whitcoulls Courteney Place is already doing well in a relative sense, but by doing a few more little things, they could really make a difference and help out the reading public in terms of exposing them to great crime writing, that just happens to be written by locals.
So overall for Whitcoulls Courtenay Place, I give them 3.5 out of 5. Good work, but has the potential to do even better. Thoughts?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

221b online game launched

Warner has launched an impressive new online adventure game, 221B, in the lead-up to the film release of the eagerly-awaited Robert Downey Jr-starring Sherlock Holmes movie.

221B, which you can play HERE, allows you to take on the role of Holmes or his trusty sidekick Watson to solve crime and mystery in a dark, gritty London brought to life by director Guy Ritchie.

Named after Sherlock Holmes’ famous house on Baker St, London, the online game uses Facebook integration to allow lots of showing off to your friends as you become a super-sleuth detective. Action-loving players will also be able to chase thugs, pick locks and follow trails in a range of Flash mini-challenges designed to test their dexterity and puzzle-solving skills.

Speaking about the game, Sue Kroll, President, Warner Bros. Pictures Worldwide Marketing, said “Due to the iconic stature of Sherlock Holmes across the globe, we wanted to offer moviegoers the opportunity to enter Holmes’ world. In addition to seeing the movie’s trailers and other content, fans can actually interact as one of the main characters and test the same skills that Holmes and Watson need in the movie, using the most stunning new technology available.”

You can also see a recently-released trailer for the upcoming film HERE.

So, what are your thoughts on the game, the trailer, and the upcoming movie? Are you excited, disinterested, unimpressed? Personally I was a little ambivalent when I initially heard about the film, but the more I see of the production in the lead-up to release, the more I am getting interested. I quite like Robert Downey Jr as an actor as well, which probably helps. It certainly looks worth seeing, anyway. Hopefully it is good. Thoughts? Comments?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My new reviews on Reviewing the Evidence

Because I receive so many crime titles to review now (even though I try to be very selective and keep the TBR pile manageable), I've been adding more publications (magazines, newspapers, websites) that I review crime and thriller fiction for - not only in order to give me more opportunities to publish reviews of the books I am sent, but also in order to find publications allowing me to write some longer, more in-depth reviews of some books (ie it's nice to be able to write more than 300wds on some books).

As I said on 12 October, I have recently started contributing to Reviewing the Evidence, a website set up by Barbara Franchi in 2001 to help fill the growing void of mystery review websites. It now boasts thousands of reviews of mysteries and thrillers of all categories, and has more than 30 reviewers from the US, the UK, and Australia. The site is edited by Sharon Wheeler, a UK-based journalist, and by writer and translator Yvonne Klein. I am their first NZ-based reviewer, and I will be looking to contribute regular reviews to their site in the coming weeks and months.

Each fortnight or so they publish about twenty (20) new reviews. Their most recent release on the weekend included two reviews I wrote for them; DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn, and OR SHE DIES by Gregg Hurwitz.

Flynn's DARK PLACES was one of the books shortlisted for the recently-announced 2009 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger (won by John Hart for THE LAST CHILD). In it, the main character Libby Day survived the 'Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas' as a seven-year old, when her mother and two sisters were brutally killed. A quarter century on she is pretty destitute, scarred physically and emotionally, while her brother rots in prison for the crime. Desperate for money, she meets a group of true-crime obsessives who are convinced her childhood evidence put an innocent man in prison. As she searches for the truth, the novel bounces back and forth between Libby's present-day narration, and the stories of those that were there on the day. It's a bleak, troubling novel filled with unlikeable characters, but I found it compelling.
You can read my review of DARK PLACES HERE. I'd reviewed the book earlier in the year for the Nelson Mail newspaper in New Zealand, but it was nice to be able to write a longer review, and explore a few more things about the book.

OR SHE DIES is the latest novel from LA-based thriller writer, screenwriter, graphic novellist and Shakespearian scholar Gregg Hurwitz, who I met and interviewed while he was in New Zealand recently - see HERE.

In OR SHE DIES, failed screenwriter Patrick receives DVDs in the post. They show footage of him and his wife washing, dressing, going to work - all taken by cameras hidden in his house. Someone is out to get him. And then the emails start arriving: Tell No One. Go Alone. OR SHE DIES. Patrick's life is turned upside down. Suddenly, this is a matter of life and death. He must follow the instructions on the email if he is to survive...

You can read my OR SHE DIES review HERE.

Thoughts and comments on my reviews, the books reviewed, the authors, and the Reviewing the Evidence website, all most welcome...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Crime Fiction Alphabet: F is for FAT TUESDAY

Continuing the fun series started by fellow Anzac book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, where each week bloggers from around the world write about a notable crime fiction novel or author (first name or surname) starting with a particular letter of the alphabet, this week is the turn of "F".

This week I've decided to utilised a review I did a few months ago on FAT TUESDAY by Sandra Brown, a New York Times #1 bestseller from many years ago that was published for the first time in New Zealand and Australia earlier this year.

by Sandra Brown (Hodder & Stoughton, 2009)

More than a decade after it was first released in the United States, former model and TV weather presenter turned prolific bestselling author Sandra Brown’s tale of a New Orleans narcotics cop’s vengeful battle with a corrupt defence attorney, has been published in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom for the first time.

Brown, a native Texan, began her award-winning writing career in 1981, and has since penned seventy novels, including fifty-six New York Times bestsellers and several #1 bestsellers, including FAT TUESDAY. Over the years her writing has shifted from romance fiction under a variety of pseudonyms to suspense thrillers.

FAT TUESDAY opens with the acquittal of the man NOPD detective Burke Basile blames for the shooting death of his partner, before following Basile’s increasingly wild attempts to seek revenge on powerful defence attorney Pinkie Duvall. Basile targets Duvall not only because of the acquittal, but because he suspects Duvall of being an underground drug kingpin and well-connected, protected crime lord.

Feeling betrayed by friends, co-workers and an adulterous wife, Basile eventually kidnaps Duvall’s beautiful wife Remy in the lead-up to Mardi Gras, hiding her at an isolated fishing camp.

Brown takes the reader on an often violent rollercoaster ride from sumptuous garden parties to crack-infested backstreets, bordellos to alligator-filled Louisiana swamps, as Basile tries to dodge corruption both outside and inside the NOPD as he aims for Duvall’s jugular. His plan becomes further complicated by his increasing attraction to Remy, an attraction that seems reciprocated.

FAT TUESDAY is an enjoyable read. Although it has moments veering towards Brown’s pulp romance past, an exciting story and interesting characters carry the reader along on a fun journey filled with fake priests, shot-gun toting hillbillies, corrupt cops, and betrayal at every turn. It’s the type of book many readers could curl up with for sheer pleasure.

Bookstore Review: Whitcoulls, Wellington Airport

Apologies for the lack of posts over the past few days - it's been a crazy time here with various deadlines and commitments, and I was also away in Wellington for a few days, sans Internet access. The good news is while I was away in Wellington I visited a couple of bookstores (so look out for some new bookstore reviews in the coming days), picked up a couple of lesser-known (and still available/in-print) NZ crime fiction titles, and discovered some other crime fiction-related news etc I will be sharing in the coming days.

To belatedly kick things off for the week, for the seventh in my irregular series on this blog, I took a look at how well (or not) the Whitcoulls store in the Wellington airport 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 a couple of decent-sized walls of fiction. There was also a NZ Fiction section, and others highlighting new and bestselling books etc. There probably isn't really much room for a specific 'crime/thriller' section (although there were other genre-specific sections) but a very large percentage of the books in the 'A to Z', 'New' and 'Bestsellers' are crime/thriller fiction. In comparison to the Auckland Domestic Airport Whitcoulls store (see 1.75 out of 5 rated review), the Wellington version is actually larger, so my hopes were a little higher.

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

  • There were no copies of recent New Zealand crime title, Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN, which had been one of the few books actually available and well-supported by all previous Whitcoulls stores (VERY POOR);
  • There were a few copies of Dorothy Fowler's WHAT REMAINS BEHIND in the New Zealand fiction section, with a nice front facing (GOOD);
  • There were no copies of any Joan Druett, Vanda Symon, Paul Cleave, Andrea Jutson, Lindy Kelly, Paddy Richardson, Liam McIlvanney, or Michael Green title (all of whom have released at least one crime/thriller title in the past 12-18mths) (VERYPOOR).
  • There were no copies of any Neil Cross title - particularly galling considering Cross is a local Wellington-based thriller writer who has been Booker-longlisted, has got good newspaper coverage this year for both his crime writing and his TV writing (eg award-winning BBC show Spooks), and also received good reviews for his latest novel BURIAL (VERY POOR).
So overall, it was a very poor result (again) for Whitcoulls, especially considering the dominance of international crime/thriller titles in the 'New', 'Bestseller' and 'A to Z' sections at their airport store. 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 continues to do so poorly overall in supporting, publicising, and selling NZ crime/thriller fiction. The store at the Wellington airport was even more of a disappointment than the equivalent store in Auckland (which at least had Bosco's debut in stock as well), especially as the Wellington store had more room and a huge, huge amount of international crime fiction titles (new and backlisted).

So, overall, I give Whitcoulls Auckland Airport (Domestic Terminal) 0.75 out of 5. Almost non-existent support. Quite terrible - and heaps and heaps of room for improvement. Thoughts? Comments? Am I being fair? Or am I expecting too much from NZ bookstores, especially large chain stores?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Launch for CONTAINMENT

Dunedin gets another crime fiction event this month, with the official launch of talented local crime writer Vanda Symon's third Sam Shephard novel, CONTAINMENT, at the University Book Shop on 24 November 2009.

Vanda Symon's third novel features the feisty young policewoman Sam Shephard who was the central character in her two previous books OVERKILL and THE RINGMASTER (click on the titles for my review of these earlier books).

In CONTAINMENT, Sam is training as a detective at Dunedin Central when she’s assigned to investigate what seems to be a routine diving accident off the Otago coast. But the forensics reveal that the man didn’t die from drowning; and that the body was stuffed in its wetsuit after death. Perhaps there is a connection with another case Sam is involved with – citizens of Dunedin pillaging the wreckage of a container ship at the entrance to Otago Harbour?

I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of CONTAINMENT, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I will be writing a review of it for a few publications, and will post links here as and when they are published. It's a very good crime novel, that I happily recommend to my friends, especially those who like female crime fiction heroines with a fair bit of personality.

The official information re: the book launch is included below:

Penguin NZ and the University Book Shop invite you to the launch of -
CONTAINMENT by Vanda Symon
Tuesday 24 November 2009
University Book Shop
378 Great King StreetDunedin
Please RSVP to Vanda Symon on or
Tel: (03) 453 5371

Hopefully plenty of Southerners will head along, and help support some great local crime writing! For those of us not in Dunedin, hopefully Vanda will be doing some other events elsewhere too. In the meantime, I recommend going out and buying the book, as soon as it becomes available.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review of Ian Rankin's THE COMPLAINTS in today's Nelson Mail newspaper

As many of you will know, one of the publications I review crime fiction for on an ad-hoc basis is the Nelson Mail, the newspaper for the region in which I grew up (the Nelson region at the Top of the South Island of New Zealand).

I didn't have any crime fiction reviews in today's Nelson Mail (they publish book reviews each Wednesday), but one of my fellow reviewers, former Features Editor David Manning, has reviewed Ian Rankin's new non-Rebus novel, THE COMPLAINTS.

You can read Dave's review HERE.

Have you read THE COMPLAINTS? What do you think of it? Of Rankin's new protagonist Malcolm Fox? Would you want to see more Fox books?

Monday, November 2, 2009

So you want to be a crime writer? Debut Dagger open for entries!

A fortnight after all the excitement of the CWA Dagger announcements at the 2009 Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards (which were also televised on ITV3 last week), where William Brodrick's A WHISPERED NAME won the CWA Gold Dagger, John Hart's THE LAST CHILD won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller, and Harlan Coben won the inaugural Bestseller Dagger - amongst many other prestigious awards given on the evening - the time is already upon us to start looking ahead to the 2010 Daggers.

Sarah Forster of the New Zealand Book Council has kindly forwarded on to me the information about the 2010 CWA Debut Dagger competition, to share with any and all who are interested in crime and mystery fiction.

Entries for the 2010 Debut Dagger will be accepted by the CWA between 31 October 2009 and 6 February 2010. So if you're a budding writer who hasn't yet published a full-length novel, you have basically three months to throw your hat in the ring.

The CWA Debut Dagger Award was established in 1998 and is open to all writers who have not had a novel published commercially. Since its inception, 18 winners and short-listed authors have obtained publishing contracts on the strength of their entries. Several have gone on to much continued success, including winning other major awards.

As noted on the CWA website, inaugural winner Joolz Denby was short-listed in 2005 for the Orange Prize for Fiction, 2001 winner Ed Wright was awarded the 2005 Shamus award for best P.I. novel by the Private Eye Writers of America, and Allan Guthrie won the 2007 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for Two Way Split, developed from his entry shortlisted in 2001.

Barbara Cleverly, shortlisted in 1999, won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger award in 2004. Louise Penny, highly commended by the judges of the 2004 Debut Dagger, was awarded the 2006 New Blood Dagger. And 2007 winner Alan Bradley has just seen Orion publish THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, the first in a three-book deal.

In 2009, first prize was £500 plus two free tickets to the prestigious CWA Dagger Awards and night’s stay for two in a top London hotel. All shortlisted entrants receive a generous selection of crime novels and professional assessments of their entries, and will also be invited to the Dagger Awards.

The 2009 winner was Canadian Catherine O'Keefe (the award was made in July, one of the earlier Daggers to be announced) for the start and synopsis of her unpublished novel THE PATHOLOGIST. The judges described it as "an uncomfortable, sophisticated, read that also manages to be suspenseful."

Nessa Malkin blames her pathologist for everything bad that ever happened to her, including the fact that she murdered him. You can read the prologue and opening chapter of Catherine's winning entry HERE.

In terms of comparing entry into the CWA Debut Dagger vs taking your chances in the slush piles of literary agents and publishers, 2007 short-listee and now published author Dorothy McIntosh has previously recounted the following story about fellow entrant and now Anthony and Agatha Award-winning published author Lousie Penny.

"Louise’s first manuscript endured many rejections before she entered the Debut Dagger competition. Her entry achieved achieved the ‘highly commended’ category and, as a direct result, she found an agent. Today, Louise is a much loved and widely read author who has won many awards for her work. Her latest novel A BRUTAL TELLING just debuted on the New York Times best seller list."

So come on all you budding mystery writers - get to work on your opening chapter(s) (up to 3,000wds) and synopsis, and give the 2010 CWA Debut Dagger a whirl... and maybe it'll be your name we're using as an example of great success in a few years time...

The competition is open to internationals, as well as UK residents. You can find out more on how to enter HERE. There are some FAQs about the competition and award HERE, and there's some helpful information on 'what to write', including tips on the synopsis, HERE.

Has anyone entered this before? Thinking of entering the 2010 competition? What do you think of the CWA Debut Dagger? Have you read any of the previous winners/finalists published work? Thoughts and comments most welcome.