With the editor's permission, I am sharing my reviews here with you all (since unless you are a Kiwi lawyer, judge or politician, you're unlikely to have access to the print version of NZLawyer magazine - and the reviews aren't placed online).
International thrills in the Garden City
Craig Sisterson takes a look at the latest books from two of the international stars appearing at the upcoming The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival
In less than a month, dozens of writers of all types, from around New Zealand and various places abroad, will descend on the Garden City for the biennial literary feast that is The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival. Around 80 writers from near and far, acclaimed and award-winning, budding to best-selling, from poets to sports writers, historians to crime writers, children’s authors to songwriters to biographers to travel writers and more, will converge on the Christchurch Town Hall and other venues around the city for a schedule packed with almost 50 events over four fantastic days.
Long-standing doyens of the local literary scene Ruth Todd and Morrin Rout have ensured once again that anyone who loves words will be able to find something fascinating at the Festival. For those wanting a bit of international flavour to supplement the excellent locals on show, there is plenty to choose from, including the likes of British “mistress of sparkling dark comedy” Barbara Trapido (Brother of the More Famous Jack, Sex and Stravinsky), narrative non-fiction bestseller Simon Winchester (The Professor and the Madman, Atlantic: A Biography), and cult “class politics” columnist and author Joe Baegeant (Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir).
Amongst other events, award-winning Australian crime writer Michael Robotham (Shatter, The Night Ferry) and exciting British thriller star Simon Kernick (Relentless, Target) will share the stage, alongside locals Neil Cross and Vanda Symon, at “Setting the Stage for Murder”, the Festival’s marquee Friday evening event where the inaugural winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, recognising the best in Kiwi crime writing, will also be revealed. So in this issue, we take a closer look at the latest releases from Robotham and Kernick.
Bleed for Me
By Michael Robotham (Sphere, 2010)
In his sixth crime thriller, journalist turned celebrity ‘autobiography’ ghostwriter turned crime writer Robotham brings back his Parkinson’s-afflicted protagonist, psychologist Joe O’Loughlin, who starred in three of the Australian’s first five novels (two of which won the Ned Kelly Award for Best Australian Crime Novel). Although Robotham was born and raised in the ‘Lucky Country’, and resides there once more, he sets his dark thrillers back in the UK, where he worked for many years.
Struggling with the break-up of his marriage, O’Loughlin finds himself on a perilous journey trying to help his teenage daughter’s best friend Sienna Hegarty, after she turns up late one night, frozen in shock and covered in blood – the blood of her authoritarian father, a retired policeman, who is found in Sienna’s room with his throat slashed and skull caved in. The 14 year old can’t remember what happened, but doesn’t seem that upset at her father’s brutal death. What begins for O’Loughlin as a court-ordered psychological report on a clearly troubled girl, quickly shifts into an unofficial (and by many people, unwanted) investigation into the Hegarty household, the local school, charismatic teacher Gordon Ellis, and several people’s pasts.
Robotham pens an absorbing, top-quality tale that has a nice balance of characters, plot (including several subplots), dialogue, and setting, while also weaving some intriguing themes throughout the narrative. O’Loughlin is a fascinating protagonist, not your typical crime fiction hero by any stretch. The aging and ailing psychologist is dealing with plenty of issues at work and home, and makes a fair few missteps despite his best intentions. There are a couple of moments that may be a touch much for some (particularly animal lovers), but for me these were gory without being gratuitous, threaded organically into a compelling tale that raises questions and touches on several diverse issues and themes; from fatherhood and family life, to dealing with life’s changes, to notions of crime and justice. It’s easy to see why Robotham is racking up awards and acclaim.
The Last 10 Seconds
By Simon Kernick (Bantam Press, 2010)
While Robotham sucks the reader into his excellent story with something of a slow burn, Simon Kernick, whose earlier novel Relentless was the best-selling thriller in the UK in 2007, is more of the ‘smack you in the face, grab you by the throat, and not let go ’til the end’ type of author. The Last 10 Seconds is a fast and riveting read, centred on undercover cop Sean Egan, a brutally violent serial killer called the Night Creeper, and troubled DI Tina Boyd of Camden’s Murder Investigation Team.
Egan has infiltrated one of London’s most dangerous criminal gangs, cosying up to the very men who gunned his injured brother down years ago – and now must prove himself to the vicious gangsters by taking part in the daring abduction from police custody of Andrew Kent, a man suspected of being the Night Creeper. Suspected of torturing five women to death, Kent claims he has an alibi for one of the murders, and some highly important information that someone may be willing to kill for. When Kent is kidnapped from right under Boyd’s nose, she finds herself in a helter-skelter chase to save a serial killer who may have information about someone even worse.
Kernick sets the unlikely trio on a path to life-and-death collision, and the result is an exciting page-turner that whizzes along at breakneck pace, while still giving readers some insight into the main characters. Despite the rip-roaring plot and action, Kernick also layers in some nice touches in terms of character and setting. The Last 10 Seconds is one of those books that will quickly hook fans of the genre, and be pretty tough to put down. A one-sitting book, or a ‘have to get back to ASAP’ one, depending on your other commitments (or despite them), it’s easy to see why Kernick has quickly garnered quite the reputation in the UK. A fast, fun read – I’ll certainly read more of his work.
You can check out when Robotham and Kernick are appearing, and all the other great events at the upcoming The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival here: http://www.chchwritersfest.co.nz/.
So, what do you think of my reviews? Have you read BLEED FOR ME or THE LAST 10 SECONDS, or other Robotham or Kernick novels? Are you heading to the Christchurch Writers' Festival in September? Thoughts and comments welcome.