Monday, November 30, 2009
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.
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
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, 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
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
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."
HARLAN COBEN (1962-)
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
CONTAINMENT by Vanda Symon
Tuesday 24 November 2009
University Book Shop
378 Great King StreetDunedin
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
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.
You can watch the trailer HERE.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
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
Thursday, November 19, 2009
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
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
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
Friday, November 13, 2009
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
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
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
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
Penguin NZ and the University Book Shop invite you to the launch of -
Please RSVP to Vanda Symon on email@example.com or
Tel: (03) 453 5371
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
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
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.