Sunday, February 28, 2010


THE PRICE OF LOVE AND OTHER STORIES by Peter Robinson (Hodder, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Although he is best known for his Yorkshire-set Inspector Banks mystery novels, Peter Robinson has been writing acclaimed short stories for twenty years. The Price of Love brings together ten such stories, along with a brand-new 110-page DCI Banks novella.

Many of the short stories have been published in prior ‘themed’ crime anthologies edited by the likes of Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Anne Perry and Otto Penzler, and they veer from the First World War to present day, from police procedural to noir to touches of horror, and from Robinson’s childhood home of Yorkshire to his modern-day abode in Toronto (and several places in between).

In “Cornelius Jubb” a black US soldier is accused of rape while stationed in WWII Yorkshire; in “The Magic of Your Touch” a jazz musician pays a heavy price for unearned success; in “Blue Christmas” Banks investigates a crime other than murder.

Despite the range, and the way in which Robinson ‘experiments’ with different things in some of the stories (as he explains in the afternotes), The Price of Love is a cohesive collection with few weak points. Readers will prefer different stories depending on their own tastes, rather for any glaring quality reasons. An enjoyable read that you can dip into, story by story, at your leisure.


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Interesting article on Paretsky, Obama, and US race relations

Browsing the 'net today, I came across a very interesting article in The Independent (published overnight NZT) about influential modern-day US crime writer Sarah Paretsky, President Barack Obama, and race relations in America.

Written by Arifa Akbar, the article, entitled "Crimes of a century: Sara Paretsky on fiction, power and the open case of race in America" contains a number of interesting issues and insights, including Paretsky's thoughts on Obama (who is from the same suburb), and Martin Luther King Jr, her history of railing against racism, how she has incorporated important issues such as ongoing racial prejudice, and Chicago corruption into her detective novels, and how her iconic detective was spawned from anger at the stereotypical women in (hardboiled) detective fiction.

You can read the entire article (highly recommended) here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The end for Jack Reacher?

Earlier today, Graham "Bookman" Beattie, the doyen of Downunder book bloggers, republished an article from The Bookseller, where Lee Child's publisher Transworld posed a question to make many crime fiction fans go weak at the knees: has Lee Child killed off Jack Reacher?

The latest Child novel, 61 HOURS, includes a cliff-hanger ending, and, unusually, there is a second Child book due out later in 2010 (he usually writes one per year, always published around March).

I will be interviewing Lee Child by phone in the coming weeks, for an article to time with his visit to New Zealand in April, so I will see what I can get out of him (if anything) then. Publicity move, or is he about to pull a Rankin, and 'retire' his main hero so he can move on to something else?

You can follow the conversation about the news on Beattie's blog, HERE. It's a blog well worth visiting regularly, as Beattie is always at the forefront of book-related news and happenings.

Double trouble (in a good way) for Kiwi crime on the latest local bestseller list!

After Paddy Richardson made the New Zealand bestseller list last week, there is even better news for local crime fiction this week, with TWO locally-written, locally-set, crime/thriller novels making this week's NZ Adult Fiction bestseller list.

Richardson's HUNTING BLIND has remained on the list, which is great to see (this week the psychological thriller is at #5), and is joined by Paul Cleave's BLOOD MEN, which debuts at #3. This is great news, in terms of the recognition of our locally-written crime and thriller fiction. Several of the most recent New Zealand crime/thriller books of the past year or so have made the local bestseller list, so perhaps local readers are finally (slowly) beginning to embrace our own crime and thriller fiction writing a little more than in the past.

In terms of Paul Cleave's BLOOD MEN, making #3 on this latest list is particularly impressive, as the book was only released on 19 February, and the current list is for sales to the week ending 20 February. So he technically only had two days of sales, to make this week's list.

Perhaps his high placing is based on some pre-sales, because I have heard anecdotally that some major bookstores haven't been that prompt to stock BLOOD MEN (and still didn't have stock earlier this week), which is a real shame. Given the quality of the book, some good media coverage, and several great reviews in major media publications, it would be nice to see some more support from New Zealand bookstores. While avid crime fiction fans may know what books are due to come out, and request them, and some readers may look for a particular book based on a review or article - I would think many book sales will be tied to browsing readers just 'coming across' a book, liking the look of it, and purchasing it. Therefore the attitude and efforts of bookstores and their staff can be just as important as good reviews or media coverage.

It will be interesting to see whether either or both books can hold (or improve) their places on the local bestseller list in the coming weeks, or even (fingers crossed), have one of them hit the #1 spot. We had one NZ crime/thriller novel hit the #1 spot in 2009 (Lindy Kelly's BOLD BLOOD - which was well stocked and publicised in bookstores), and it would be great to have another do so this early in 2010.

Congratulations to Richardson and Cleave on their success. Long may it continue.

How important do you think bestseller lists are? What part do reviews and articles play in your book choices? What about bookstore browsing? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Screen versions of favourite book-born detectives: good or bad?

Inspired by the recent-ish news that several fan favourite detectives from crime and mystery fiction are being brought to big or small screen life (e.g. David Morrissey to play Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne in a series of telemovies, Grey's Anatomy's Katherine Heigl to play Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum in the first of what could be a series of feature films, Angelina Jolie to play Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta in a feature film not strictly based on any of the books, and Wild at Heart's Stephen Tompkinson to play Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks in a 2-part ITV series), I have been thinking about whether it's a good or bad thing to have our favourite book detectives adapted for film or TV.

While successful films or TV shows can bring fascinating detectives to much-deserved wider attention, and perhaps lead to more people reading good books, they also run the risk of alienating some (or many) fans if they don't potray the lead character in 'the right way' (which of course is incredibly subjective, and will vary from fan to fan, reader to reader).

Film and television history is littered with good and bad adaptations (and of course some people will dislike those generally thought of as good, and some will love those generally thought of as bad). One of the most recent book-to-screen detectives (the latest in a long line, in this particular case) was Robert Downey Jr's much-lauded performance as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Although there is general consensus that Downey Jr was great in Guy Ritchie's 'new take' on the famous Baker Street-dwelling detective, some crime fiction afficianados weren't impressed.

Like Holmes, Agatha Christie's books and characters have received various on-screen treatments. In fact, despite appearing in dozens and dozens of films, TV shows, and theatre productions, over the past few decades, British actor David Suchet is perhaps almost synonymous, in a visual sense, with Christie's eccentric Belgian investigator, Hercule Poirot. British television does of course have a grand tradition of bringing book-born detectives to life on screen, from John Thaw's longstanding portrayal of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse, to Robson Green as Val McDermid's Tony Hill in Wire in the Blood, to Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan teaming up as Reginald Hill's Dalziel and Pascoe.

It is also interesting to see the different perspectives and attitudes many modern-day mystery and crime writers take when it comes to any potential adaptations of the characters they've created. For instance, award-winning LA crime novelist Robert Crais has had standalones made into movies (e.g. Hostage, starring Bruce Willis), but says he will sell the rights to his popular series characters Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. Another famous LA crime writer, Michael Connelly, has had one of his standalones, BLOOD WORK made into a 2002 movie starring (and directed by) Clint Eastwood, but his most famous character, Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch, hasn't yet made it to the big screen (despite several Hollywood studios being interested, and taking initial steps).

Robert B. Parker's famous Boston detective Spenser was adapted for the 1980s TV series Spenser for Hire, while his Jesse Stone books have become a series of quality telemovies starring Tom Selleck in the lead role. Kathy Reich's Tempe Brennan has received a loosely-linked-to-the-books portrayal by Emily Deschanel in the TV series Bones. And Tommy Lee Jones recently stepped into the shows of James Lee Burke's iconic Cajun detective, Dave Robicheaux, in the award-winning but little-seen film In the Electric Mist.

From a New Zealand perspective, in the early 1990s, Dame Ngaio Marsh's books were turned into the BBC TV series, The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, with Patrick Malahide in the lead role (after Simon Williams played Alleyn in the pilot). Paul Thomas's recurring detective, DS Ihaka, was portrayed by Temuera Morrison in a TV movie adaptation.

Recently, it has been announced that Alix Bosco's heroine Anna Markunas, who featured in Bosco's debut CUT & RUN last year, and is tapped to appear in further books, such SLAUGHTER FALLS later this year, will be played by well-known (in Australasia) TV actress Robyn Malcolm in a 2-part miniseries. There have also been murmurs about some of Paul Cleave's books being turned into movies, although nothing has come to fruition yet.

Personally, I don't mind book detectives being portrayed on the big or small screen - I enjoy TV and film murder mysteries and thrillers, whether they are based on books or not - as long as it is done well. It sucks when interesting characters and stories are poorly transferred to the screen (as can happen with some adaptations), because you feel like the film makers/TV producers have wasted a great opportunity.

What are your thoughts on screen adaptations of book detectives? Who are some of your favourites you would like to see onscreen? Do you have some you never want to see onscreen? Which actors can you envisage as your favourite characters? What crime fiction screen adaptations have you loved/hated? Thoughts and comments most welcome.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Best of 2009: the Strand Magazine Critics Awards nominees

As I noted earlier this week, in the past few days the nominees for several mystery fiction awards have been announced, providing crime fiction fans everywhere some insight into the opinions of (some) afficianados as to the best mystery books of 2009. Along with the Agatha Awards nominees, last months' announcement of the the Edgar Award nominees, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, the mystery-focused The Strand magazine has also recently announced the nominees for its annual Critics Awards.

Although its most recent incarnation began in late 1998, the Strand boasts a genealogy and crime writing pedigree that stretches back more than a century. As is stated on the magazine's website, "For sixty years (1891-1950) The Strand Magazine was a popular source for the best in fiction, featuring the works of some of the greatest authors of the 20th century including Graham Greene, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, G.K.Chesterton, Leo Tolstoy, Georges Simenon and, of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle...

...Conan Doyle was to prove one of the Strand's most popular (and prolific) contributors. From mid-1891 until his death in 1930, there was scarcely an issue which did not contain at least one of his stories or articles... Wartime hardships hit the Strand Magazine hard. Paper was rationed, and the size of the magazine had to be decreased. Costs rose, circulation fell, and the magazine never recovered. By 1950, the magazine needed a quarter of a million pounds to put it back on its feet. The owners saw no hope of raising the money, so in March 1950 The Strand was forced to stop publication."

It was resurrected in 1998, and now once again brings great mystery short stories, book reviews, and articles, to its readership.

The winners of the 2009 Strand Magazine Critics Awards will be announced at a cocktail party hosted by The Strand on July 7th, 2010, in New York City. The Strand is also bestowing its Life Achievement Award to Elmore Leonard for his huge body of mystery and crime novels.

The nominees are ...

Best Novel
Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
Life Sentences by Laura Lippman
The Renegades by T. Jefferson Parker
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Best First Novel
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (Little, Brown)
The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (Penguin)
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (Algonquin)
Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley (Touchstone)
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (Harper)

Connelly's NINE DRAGONS is the only one of the ten books above that I read last year, although I have read other books by some of the authors. Connelly is one of my favourite authors over the past ten years, but in all honesty I thought NINE DRAGONS was a very, very, good, but not great, book (in terms of his usual standards). Especially in the early stages, I thought there was some unusual clunkiness, and lack of subtext and depth, to the dialogue and narrative. Still a very enjoyable book, but not one of my absolute faves from him.

Thoughts and comments welcome.

Peter James to visit New Zealand in March

Bestselling British crime writer and film writer/producer Peter James will briefly be in New Zealand in mid March, following a few days spent in Australia. As of now I am only aware of one public appearance he will be making: an informal book signing and discussion from 12-1pm on 13 March at Penny's Bookstore in Hamilton.

James has written over 20 books, the most recent of which often feature Brighton-based Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. His books have been translated into almost 30 languages. He has won and been shortlisted for several awards, for both his crime novels and his film work (as a writer and producer).

His visit to New Zealand (he is visiting both South Africa and Australia earlier in the month of March) roughly coincides with the release of his next novella, THE PERFECT MURDER, which he has written as part of the British Government's "Quick Reads" initiative. On his blog he talks about Quick Reads and his new novella, saying:

"The Quick Reads initiative works like this: every year ten authors from different genres, fiction and non-fiction, are commissioned to write a novella, to be launched on World Book Day (March 4th) for the Literacy Trust, which encourages people who do not normally read books to have a go at one. The brief is that the stories should be typical of the writer's work, in the same genre, but must be easy to read - there are restrictions on long words and the typeface is larger than normal. One of the target groups are prisoners who, in the UK, have a startlingly low reading age of just 9, on average.

"The Perfect Murder" is my contribution to the Quick Reads initiative. But, although I have avoided long words, I think that all my current readers might enjoy it. It has a great quote from the current Chief Constable of Sussex, Martin Richards, at the start: A couple of years ago when I met him for the first time, I asked him what he thought would be the perfect murder. He gave me the wonderful reply: "The perfect murder is the one we never hear about.

This book is "noir" with some dark humour, and whilst a murder story set in Brighton, which I think will appeal to all my Roy Grace fans, it also has some elements of supernatural, which those of you who like my earlier books may also enjoy... a darkly humorous story... about a husband who is planning to murder his wife, and doesn't realise she is planning to murder him..."

Penny's Bookstore is in the Westfield Chartwell mall, on the corner of Hukanui & Comries Roads in Hamilton. You can contact the store on (07) 854 8389.

Somewhat ironically, given James's most recent novella, I will not actually be able to attend the book signing (I would have driven down from Auckland), because I am likely to be attending a course on that same day; a course where I will train to teach adults with learning difficulties how to read and write (the very audience James's latest thriller is aimed at).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Best of 2009: Los Angeles Times Book Prizes (Mystery/Thriller)

As I noted earlier, in the past few dayst the nominees for several mystery fiction awards have been announced, providing crime fiction fans everywhere some insight into the opinions of (some) afficianados as to the best mystery books of 2009. Along with the Agatha Awards nominees, last months' announcement of the the Edgar Award nominees, and the Strand Magazine nominees, the Los Angeles Times has also recently announced the nominees for its prestigious Book Prizes.

Unlike the Agathas, Edgars, and Strand Magazine awards, the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are not confined to mystery, thriller, and crime fiction. The Awards began in 1980, and over the thirty years since they have added several categories to better reflect the broad range of quality writing out there. The Book Prizes now recognise 50 distinguished works in ten categories and the list of finalists in biography, current interest, fiction, first fiction (the Art Seidenbaum Award), graphic novel, history, mystery/thriller, poetry, science and technology, and young adult literature can be found at
This year the addition of the graphic novel category makes the Los Angeles Times the first major book prize in the United States to honor an art form "that has indelibly expanded the literary landscape, both aesthetically and commercially".
In my opinion it's great to see what began as a more general book awards recognise that there can be high quality work in other genres that equally deserve recognition, and may need there own category in order to be fairly judged. Perhaps the local book awards in New Zealand could eventually look to do the same (i.e. although there is only one main 'fiction' category, it seems only a certain type of book is considered for it, and many fictional books of other types, regardless of the quality of their writing and storytelling, will be automatically overlooked by judges etc - in effect it is more of a 'literary fiction' or 'general fiction' award, although it is just touted as "Best fiction").
Finalists and winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes are selected by panels of three judges composed of published authors who specialize in each genre.
The nominees/shortlisted authors for the 2009 Mystery/Thriller category are:
Once again, I have read none of these (although I have read other McDermid books, including her 2009 release FEVER OF THE BONE, and have Neville and Locke in my TBR pile).
It is also interesting for me to see Attica Locke's BLACK WATER RISING receive another nomination - as it seems to be a book that generates some mixed feelings. It has also been nominated for the Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author, however I have read some pretty average reviews of the book as well. In fact, in the upcoming March issue of Good Reading, one of my crime reviewing colleagues gives it only 2 1/2 stars, saying that it lacks tension, is unfocused, and the reader is left with the feeling that nothing much happens. Just goes to show that we all get different things from different books, which isn't a bad thing.
In terms of the past decade (the Mystery/Thriller category was added in 2000), the previous winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for mystery/thriller writing are:
  • 2008: Michael Koryta, Envy the Night
  • 2007: Karin Fossum, The Indian Bride
  • 2006: Michael Connelly, Echo Park
  • 2005: Robert Littell, Legends: A Novel of Dissimulation
  • 2004: Tijuana Straits by Kem Nunn
  • 2003: Soul Circus by George P. Pelecanos
  • 2002: Hell to Pay by George P. Pelecanos
  • 2001: Silent Joe by T. Jefferson Parker
  • 2000: A Place of Execution by Val McDermid
The 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes will be awarded at 8 pm on Friday 23 April 23 2010, in a ceremony at the Los Angeles Times building. The Mystery/Thriller prize will be presented by Los Angeles-based crime writer Mark Haskell Smith.
What do you think of the 2009 nominees? What do you think about more general book awards having specific crime/mystery/thriller categories? Thoughts and comments welcome

Best of 2009: Agatha nominees announced

In the past few days the nominees for both the Agatha Awards (run by Malice Domestic) and the Strand Magazine Critics Awards have been announced, providing crime fiction fans everywhere some insight into the opinions of (some) afficianados as to the best mystery books of 2009.

Last month the Edgar Awards nominees were also announced. Unlike the movie industry, where the Academy Awards (Oscars), Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and various major industry Guild and Critics awards often have a lot of overlap or consistency in terms of nominations (if not winners) for the best movies, actors, directors, and writers for the year, with crime fiction it seems rare for a particular book or author to be nominated, let alone win, several different awards in one year. Perhaps this is because many of the awards have quite different focuses, leanings, or criteria - even if they are all within the wider 'crime, mystery, and thriller' genre.

For instance, the prestigious Agatha Awards, are voted on by the attendees of the annual Malice Domestic convention near Washington DC. Established in 1989, Malice Domestic is described as an annual "fun fan" convention saluting the "traditional mystery", which the organisation says are books best typified by the works of Agatha Christie. This genre is "loosely defined as mysteries which contain no explicit sex or excessive gore or violence."

So the likes of Mo Hayder, Mark Billingham, Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, and Paul Cleave are unlikely to be up for an Agatha Award anytime soon, no matter the quality of their writing.

The recently announced nominees for this year's instalment of the Agatha Awards (which will be voted on at MALICE DOMESTIC 22, held from April 30-May 2 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel, Arlington, Virginia) are as follows:

Best Novel:
Swan for the Money by Donna Andrews
Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett
Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen
A Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
Air Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan

It will be interesting to see if Penny triumphs again, having proved very popular at recent Malice Domestic conventions, winning the past two Best Novel Awards (for A FATAL GRACE and THE CRUELEST MONTH). I am still waiting on my copy of THE BRUTAL TELLING, but am looking forward to it after various recommendations.

Best First Novel:
For Better For Murder by Lisa Bork
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Posed for Murder by Meredith Cole
The Cold Light of Mourning by Elizabeth Duncan
In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

Best Non-fiction:
Duchess of Death by Richard Hack
Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
Blood on the Stage by 1925-1950 by Amnon Kabatchnik
Dame Agatha’s Shorts by Elena Santangelo
The Talented Miss Highsmith by Joan Schenkar

Best Short Story:
“Femme Sole” by Dana Cameron, Boston Noir
“Handbaskets, Drawers and a Killer Cold” by Kaye George, Crooked ezine
“The Worst Noel” by Barb Goffman, The Gift of Murder
“On the House” by Hank Phillippi Ryan, Quarry
“Death Will Trim Your Tree” by Elizabeth Zelvin, The Gift of Murder

Best Children's/Young Adult:
The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford
The Hanging Hill by Chris Grabenstein
The Case of the Poisoned Pig by Lewis B. Montgomery
The Other Side of Blue by Valerie O. Patterson
The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline by Nancy Springer
So what do you think of the Agatha nominees? Have you read any/many of them? Do you like your crime fiction cosy, hardboiled, or dark? Or a little of each, depending on the mood (like me)? Thoughts and comments welcome.
I will address the Strand Magazine nominees in a later post.

Monday, February 22, 2010


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 "S".

Clearly this letter is a little easier than the "Q" of recent times, and the upcoming "V" and "X". For my (first) S post, I decided to revisit one of my favourite 'discoveries' or 'new to me' authors of 2009, Michael Koryta. I read Koryta's most recent Lincoln Perry book, THE SILENT HOUR, late last year, really enjoyed it, and reviewed it for a couple of publications, including Good Reading magazine.

You can read an extract of THE SILENT HOUR here.

THE SILENT HOUR was my first experience of Michael Koryta, who has had a lot of acclaim in his young authorial career. I was impressed, and will be reading more of his novels.Have you read Michael Koryta?
Generally I won't reprint my Good Reading reviews on this blog (they are readable via the Good Reading website for online and print subscribers), but as this is an author I haven't addressed very much on this blog, was one of my favourite reads of last year, and my review was printed several months ago (the November issue of Good Reading), I have decided to make an exception in this case

by Michael Koryta
Young wunderkind Michael Koryta won the PI Writers of America Best First Novel and was nominated for an Edgar for his debut Tonight I Said Goodbye, which he wrote when he was only 20. Four books later, he’s moved from rising star to establishing a solid position amongst the upper echelon of crime writers.

In The Silent Hour Koryta’s recurring hero, private detective Lincoln Perry, is asked by convicted killer and former parolee Parker Harrison to investigate the 12-year old disappearance of Alexandria Sanabria, the founder of a unique program for released offenders. A woman whose brother is a suspected underworld kingpin, and whose husband’s skeletal remains, Perry quickly discovers to his dismay, have recently been unearthed. Perry finds himself scratching at the scab of a sordid family mystery, intertwined with past police, private eye and FBI investigations, and following a trail that leads to more deaths.

Koryta weaves an engrossing tale with unexpected twists, but like the very best in the genre, his storytelling is much more than just page-turning plotlines. Perry is an intriguing and complex protagonist, and the supporting cast is fully of variety and distinct, authentic voices. A nice touch for dialogue, some well-evoked settings, and narration that prods you to think about wider issues, all adds up to an enjoyable and highly recommended read.

4½ Stars Allen & Unwin $32.99
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
Have you read THE SILENT HOUR? Or other Michael Koryta books? What do you think? Do you think other commentators comparisons of him to the likes of Michael Connelly are fair, or overblown? What do you think of my review? Thoughts and comments welcome

Radio New Zealand interview with Paul Cleave

Christchurch-based internationally bestselling thriller writer Paul Cleave was interviewed on Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday show with Lynn Freeman yesterday, as part of the regular "Chapter and Verse" segment.

You can listen to a reading from Cleave's newly released thriller, BLOOD MEN, and the interesting interview HERE (about 14 minutes total).

Cleave (who is quite a softspoken 'nice' guy in real life) talks about a number of topics, including writing dark tales, creating ambiguity in his characters, his dark portrayal of Christchurch and what he really thinks of his home town, international success, his upcoming launch in the US, and what he thinks about the rising media/public interest in real-life crime.

I actually just re-read BLOOD MEN on the weekend, to refresh my memory for some upcoming reviews I am writing (I originally read an earlier version last year). I picked it up yesterday, thinking I'd work my way through it over the week, but in the end (even though I'd already read it once, so knew basically what was going to happen), still found myself so caught up in it that I read the whole thing last night.

I really enjoyed the little comments and asides about life that Cleave weaves into what is a very action-packed tale. Like some of my longtime favourite authors (e.g. Mark Billingham and Michael Connelly), Cleave creates a cracking storyline and interesting characters, but also has a fresh/unique/his own way of looking at, describing, and commenting on things in an around the story. Not just in terms of setting a scene geography/location-wise, but also the people etc. There are subtext and layers to his and his characters' observations and narrative - giving the story more 'depth'. It would be a great romp of a read plotwise anyway, but these 'extras' (like I see from Billingham, Connelly etc) elevate his writing onto another level.

Still, BLOOD MEN won't be for everyone, as there is some pretty stark violence at times. It never feels contrived or gratuitious however - just an organic part of the story. Cosy mystery fans beware, but those that don't mind their thrills a little dark should love it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kiwi crime writer Paddy Richardson makes local bestseller list!

Further to my post of 16 January celebrating Dunedin crime writer Vanda Symon's third Sam Shephard book, CONTAINMENT, debuting on the NZ Adult Fiction Bestseller list, another Kiwi crime writer has now also made the bestseller list; Paddy Richardson with her second thriller, HUNTING BLIND.

As I have said several times, New Zealand readers clearly have a good appetite for international crime fiction, but in the past we have been not-so-great at recognising, encouraging, supporting, or buying locally-written crime and thriller novels. Even books which have got great reviews, or sold many thousands of copies overseas, have been overlooked here at home. Even Dame Ngaio Marsh was more famous here in NZ for her theatre work, rather than as an internationally acclaimed crime writer.

That's why it's so great to see a series of recent New Zealand crime and thriller titles making the local bestseller list (especially as the list is only a Top 5, rather than top 10, making it even tougher to get on given the support of some other books/authors in this country). Seeing Lindy Kelly's BOLD BLOOD hit #1 on the charts last March was fantastic - and even more so the fact it stayed in the Top 5 for several weeks as well. Alix Bosco's CUT & RUN received good publicity and bookseller support, and made the list a couple of times. Vanda Symon's CONTAINMENT climbed to #3 a couple of weeks after my 16 January post.

And now Richardson's second thriller, which well-respected reviewer, book judge, and longtime industry insider Graham "Bookman" Beattie has called "her breakthrough novel", has made the charts, debuting at #3. It's great to see - not only for Richardson and her writing, but for the recognition of New Zealand crime and thriller writing as a whole.

Hopefully the more that New Zealand (and overseas) readers are exposed to locally-written crime and thriller writing, whether through media interviews, reviews, and articles, via booksellers stocking or highlighting such titles a little better in the past, or by word of mouth as readership grows, the more they will enjoy it, overcome any historic 'cultural cringe', and realise that there are some pretty darned good writers here too.

On a related point, I understand there may be a feature on Richardson in today's Dominion Post. So if you are in New Zealand, keep an eye out for that. If it is later placed online (as some Dominion Post articles are), I will post a link for you all as well.

Friday, February 19, 2010

TV Review: The Good Wife

Today my review of TV legal drama The Good Wife was published in the print issue of NZLawyer magazine (issue 130, 19 February 2010).

Just to mix things up a little with the book reviews and discussion etc, I am reprinting my television review here for your information (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).

The Good Wife, which is pretty much a legal/courtroom drama (although it is premised on the hook of a political scandal), began screening in New Zealand three weeks ago. I understand it has been reasonably well-received in the US, where star Julianne Margulies has received some award recognition for her performance in the series.

Shades of grey, in and out of the courtroom
Craig Sisterson
takes a closer look at The Good Wife

Although we are still basking (some of the time) in summer, and crossing our fingers that the blue skies and sunshine continue for as long as possible, for keen TV watchers, the seasons have already changed. The past fortnight has seen the return of plenty of old favourites, but also the launch of some never-seen-before shows.

One new series quickly gaining some much-deserved attention is The Good Wife, starring Juliana Margulies of ER fame. The first episode kicked off with the all-too-realistic scene of a disgraced politician at a lectern, bathed in camera flashes, deflecting questions from the blood-hungry press, his wife standing mutely by his side; an innocent bystander in an escalating sex scandal. This ‘grabbed from the headlines’ hook, and the behind-the-scenes look into the private lives of loved ones coping with all the fallout from such a betrayal, adds some extra layers to what is otherwise, in effect, another US courtroom drama.

Margulies plays Alicia Florrick, the wife of Peter (the always-watchable Chris Noth – “Mr Big” for Sex and the City fans) – a high-flying state’s attorney whose career comes crashing down when his penchant for extramarital dalliances is exposed. When Peter is imprisoned on corruption charges (using state money to pay for hookers), Alicia needs to find a job to support her family, so she returns to her former career. Thanks to an old law school colleague (Sports Night’s Josh Charles), the 40-year-old mother of two scores a role as an entry-level associate at a high-powered Chicago law firm. As she tries to find her feet, Alicia is under pressure from all directions: her surname brings whispers, as well as a mixture of pity and prejudice; her kids get teased at school; her husband thinks clearing his name will solve all their problems; her moved-in mother-in-law provides help and hindrance; and then she finds out her job is only temporary – she’s in a competition with a young, well-connected colleague for the solitary permanent place at the firm.

So, is The Good Wife any good? In short, yes. Two episodes in, it has already showed some pleasing depth, layers, and shades of grey to complement the recognisable leads and the intriguing hook. As interesting as the ‘unseen aftermath of a public scandal’ conceit could be, the series needs to have more than that to be sustainable and successful long-term. And it does. Much of the acting is top-notch (including the scene-stealing Christine Baranski as Alicia’s mentor), and the court cases that form the spine of the weekly storylines are both interesting and well written. In the debut, Alicia defends a woman accused of covering up her husband’s murder by making it look like a carjacking; the next week, she represents a stripper and former prostitute (uncomfortable territory given her husband’s actions) filing a civil suit over an alleged rape. The Good Wife highlights plenty of question marks and moral ambiguity both within the courtroom and in the rest of the characters’ lives, and this should ensure it continues to be a very good watch for a long time to come.

The Good Wife screens on Tuesday nights at 9:30 pm on TV3.

Paul Cleave's BLOOD MEN hits bookshelves today

Today Paul Cleave's fourth Christchurch-set thriller, BLOOD MEN, will be available in New Zealand (it is/was also released in Australia this month) - the second major local crime/thriller fiction release in February.

It will be interesting to see how this book is promoted and received, as Cleave has quickly developed a large audience in continental Europe, and will be launched in the US (with this book) in the middle of this year. He has also received acclaim from international heavyweights like Mark Billingham, Tess Gerritsen, and Stephen King - but remains (as yet) relatively overlooked here at home.

I have been fortunate enough to read an advance version of this book, and in my opinion it is Cleave's best book yet - and I really enjoyed both CEMETERY LAKE and THE CLEANER. It sounds like a cliche, but I just couldn't put it down. I've read a lot of good books in the past year, but this was one of the few that I found myself immediately picking up on every lunch-break, water break (I don't drink coffee), and mini-break during the working day after I started it - and then immediately reading the remaining pages in one go when I got home that night.

Like Cleave's previous work, BLOOD MEN is a standalone novel written from the first-person perspective of a deeply troubled protagonist. There are minor character links with some of Cleave's earlier novels, which although separate, all occur in the same 'world' he's created.

In BLOOD MEN, Edward Hunter is a happily-married family man with a great life but a dark past; he’s the son of a notorious serial killer who has been in prison for 20 years and will never be coming out. The son of a man of blood. When tragedy strikes, Edward suddenly needs the help of the man he’s spent all his life trying to distance himself from, and prove he’s not like – but as things spiral out of control Edward begins to hear his own dark inner voice, and begins to wonder whether he’s destined to become a man of blood, just like his father, too

You can read the first pages of BLOOD MEN, here.

Paul Cleave will also be appearing at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in England later this year (I will post more about this soon), as one of the authors on the "Next Ian Rankin" panel.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Review of Paul Cleave's BLOOD MEN on Radio New Zealand

This morning, as part of its daily book review slot on the Nine to Noon programme, Radio New Zealand addressed Paul Cleave's latest dark thriller, BLOOD MEN, released in New Zealand tomorrow.

One of the great things about the Nine to Noon show, hosted by Kathryn Ryan - who also regularly does interviews with New Zealand and visiting authors - is that they do semi-regularly cover some crime and thriller titles. They're also fascinating reviews to listen to, because rather than being just a print review of a reviewer's thoughts, Ryan 'interviews' the reviewer, and asks them questions about the book, drawing out comments. So it's more of a dialogue, than a monologue - which is a nice change of pace.

And I know a lot of the time I can come across as a bit dissatisfied with the coverage that New Zealand crime fiction is generally given here in its own country, but I must admit that things do seem to be improving lately (coupled with more authors putting out more books), and Radio New Zealand is certainly doing its part in leading the way.

Today the reviewer was fellow blogger Graham "Bookman" Beattie, who is (deservedly) highly-regarded in the New Zealand book industry. He is the former head of Penguin Books, a Book Awards judge, a Books Editor, and is now an acclaimed blogger and consultant to the industry.

Beattie admits during the review that BLOOD MEN is a fair bit darker and more violent than the crime books he generally prefers, but he still thinks its an excellent psychological thriller. "It's a real page-turner," says Beattie. "It's not for the faint-hearted... for people who like these sort of psychological thrillers, this one is about as good as I have read in a long time actually."

You can listen to the Bookman's full review of BLOOD MEN here, or you can read the text of the radio review on his fantastic blog here (once he places it online, which he usually does quite promptly). His blog is well-worth visiting on a regular basis.

Hopefully positive reviews like this one (from someone well-known and respected in the NZ Books industry) will help more Kiwis, and others, realise that with writers like Paul Cleave, there are plenty of reasons to read NZ 'popular fiction', as well as our literary stuff.

Have you read Paul Cleave's earlier books? What do you think? What do you think of the Bookman's review? Does BLOOD MEN sound like something you might enjoy?

Scorcese's take on Lehane's SHUTTER ISLAND

As I noted late last year, there were four major book-to-film adaptations coming out over the New Zealand summer, that fell (at least somewhat) into the crime or thriller category; Alice Sebold's THE LOVELY BONES, Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Arthur Conan Doyle's SHERLOCK HOLMES, and Dennis Lehane's SHUTTER ISLAND.

Today, the last of the four opens in New Zealand cinemas. From Oscar®-winning director Martin Scorsese, Shutter Island is the story of two U.S. marshals, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), who in 1954 are summoned to a remote and barren island off the coast of Massachusetts to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a murderess from the island's fortress-like hospital for the criminally insane.

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. From the trailer, the film looks worth seeing.

The first local reviews were on the two early-morning TV shows here today; TVONE's Breakfast and TV3's Sunrise. TVONE reviewer Joanna Hunkin gave the film a glowing review, although she said it would not be for everyone. She thought Scorcese showed a great touch for detail, period accuracy, and tension - although there was a fair bit more 'horror' than she expected. "Almost a homage to Hitchcock... quite brilliant," she says. She did note however that one of her companions thought the ending was too obvious, while the other thought it was too unclear and complicated (whereas she, like Goldilocks (my words, not hers), thought it was just right). So you can't please everyone. Hunkin gave Shutter Island (the film) 5 stars. You can watch the clip of her review here. Interestingly, she didn't once mention that it was based on a book. Oh well.

I haven't seen the TV3 review by Film3 reviewer Kate Rodger yet (I've been trying to watch it online this morning, but I am having troubles with their website). If you have Flash 10.0 however, you should be able to view her review, here.

The reviewer Darren Bevan has also posted his review of the film (I guess all the media reviewers were there at their screening last night), giving it 8 out of 10. He says: "Shutter Island is a moody, enigmatic return from Scorsese - and it's great to see him tackle something slightly different - and he brings to it echoes of the Shining and pulp B movies. It's quite a thrilling ride and while there are a few lulls and the film feels a little long at the end, Shutter Island is a film with a compelling mystery wrapped up in it which will keep you onboard until the credits roll." You can read Bevan's full review here.

Have you seen Scorcese's Shutter Island? Or read Lehane's book? If so, what did you think? If not, are you intending to head along and see it?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Neil Cross in Wellington next Monday

Wellington-based crime novelist and TV screenwriter Neil Cross will be appearing at a New Zealand Society of Authors event, open to the public, in Wellington next Monday evening.

Cross is most famous for his dark and slightly twisted novels (Booker longlisted ALWAYS THE SUN, BURIAL, etc), riveting memoir HEARTLAND, and being the lead writer on top crime/thriller-related TV shows (the award-winning Spooks, the upcoming Luther).

Cross’s latest novel, CAPTURED, is not available downunder until 1 May 2010, but it has already been released in the United Kingdom. Once again Cross delves into grey areas of the human psyche. As the publisher’s blurb states: “Even though he is still young, Kenny has just weeks to live. Before he dies, he wants to find his childhood best friend Callie Barton and thank her for the kindness she showed him when they were at school together. But when Kenny begins his search, he discovers that Callie Barton has gone missing. Although cleared of any involvement, her husband Jonathan seems to be hiding something. Kenny has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. And knowing that time is running out on him, he's prepared to do whatever it takes ...”

You can read crime fiction afficianado Maxine Clarke’s review of CAPTURED here, and one from James Urquhart in The Independent here.

Cross is currently working on a new British crime TV series (apparently to be called Luther), along with his next novel, from his Wellington home. The six-part drama Luther is described in The Guardian as "a new BBC1 crime drama about a detective who is 'simmering with anger and rage'." You can read a little more in this Guardian article.

Having interviewed Cross last year, I would advise any crime fiction fans (TV or book form) to get along to the NZSA (Wellington Branch) event next Monday night. It should be a lot of fun.

Location: Thistle Inn, (Mulgrave Street, near the Railway Station), Thorndon, Wellington
Time: 7:30pm
Cost: $2 to NZSA members, $3 to non-members

Detectives do battle: Who is the World's favourite fictional detective?

Fellow book blogger (and Crime watch competition winner) Jen from Jen's Book Thoughts is running a "Detectives Around the World" theme week from 11-17 April this year.

As part of that theme, Jen is creating a tournament for the "World's Favorite Detective." This tournament will consist of weekly contests similar to the college basketball tournaments that will be going on (ie "March Madness" as it is affectionately known in the States). It will start with 64 nominated detectives, and there will be ongoing competitions (votes perhaps?) until a winner is declared. Detectives must be law enforcement or licensed PIs (e.g. no amateur sleuths in this particular competition).

Nominations are now open for the 64 slots in the tournament (nominations close on February 28th). So for the rest of this month you can visit Jen's excellent blog and nominate your favorite detectives. Jen says that if more than 64 different detectives are nominated, those with more nominations will be selected for the tournament.

This sounds like a fantastic way to highlight a variety of detectives from around the world. It will be interesting to see not only who 'wins' or makes it through quite far, but also what 64 detectives originally 'qualify' for the tournament. I hope that it will help many people get a little more acquainted with some lesser-known, or forgotten, detectives.

I have put some of my 2 cents in, making a few nominations. I was a little worried that with all the reading I do and have done in the past, I would have way too many - combining classics from the Golden Age and before, old favourites from when I was growing up, and all the new ones I have been more recently 'introduced' too.

But it was interesting that when I thought of my favourite new-to-me authors of the past 18mths or so, several (e.g. Linwood Barclay, Gregg Hurwitz, Paul Cleave etc) do not have recurring detectives as such. I had decided to only include series/recurring detectives in my nominations, rather than one-off detectives that I thought were engagaing, fascinating, and really enjoyed (e.g. Theo Tate from Paul Cleave's CEMETERY LAKE), so that made things a little easier.

My nominations thusfar may seem something of an eclectic mix - I've tried to include some old, some new, and some lesser-known but very interesting. I went with how interesting the detective was, rather than how good the book was overall (so I may include detectives who shine amongst books that are good, rather than just detectives from 'great' books).

So here are some of mine (in no particular order).

My 'top 3' read-everything-they-put-out authors and their detectives from my pre-reviewing days (over the past decade):
  • Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne
  • Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch
  • James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux
Old favourites from when I was growing up:
  • Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot (personally always preferred him to Marple)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes
  • Franklin W. Dixon's Joe and Frank Hardy (the "Hardy Boys" - first mysteries I was hooked on growing up)*
* I haven't entered these two in Jen's tournament yet, because I'm not sure whether they come within her qualifying rules.
The New Zealand contingent:
  • Vanda Symon's Sam Shephard (very interesting and well-written main character)
  • Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn (important in the overall canon of classic crime fiction)
Other interesting internationals (that I've more recently been introduced to as a reader):
  • Michael Stanley's Detective "Kubu" Bengu (Botswana)
  • John Burdett's Sonchai Jitpleecheep (Thailand)
  • Jack Kerley's Carson Ryder (Alabama)
  • Robert Crais's Elvis Cole and Joe Pike (LA)
  • Tony Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee (Navajo Reservation, southwest USA)
I know there are plenty more I've left off, and I will add some more later. But these few are all pretty interesting and readable in their own unique ways.
So who are your favourite detectives? Do you like any/many off my list? What do you think of Jen's tournament? Do you like regularly finding new detectives to add to the old favourites you read? Thoughts and comments welcome

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RNZ interview Paddy Richardson

As I foreshadowed last week, Dunedin-based thriller writer Paddy Richardson was interviewed on Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday show with Lynn Freeman over the weekend, as part of the regular "Chapter and Verse" segment.

You can listen to a reading from Richardson's newly released thriller, HUNTING BLIND, and the interesting interview HERE (about 8 minutes total). You will need to fast-forward through to 7:05mins of the segment (which starts with a 7-minute interview with the organiser of an upcoming literary festival).

Richardson talks about a number of topics, including the theme and writing of HUNTING BLIND, creating characters, and more. At the very end she talks about the novel she is currently working on, which sounds like another thriller. So it's great to see New Zealand authors looking to put out multiple and regular crime and thriller titles now (as opposed to the many authors over the past couple of decades who just released one or two, then stopped).

Great article on Paddy Richardson

There was more good media coverage of Dunedin thriller writer Paddy Richardson's recent release HUNTING BLIND in the Herald on Sunday over the weekend. Herald on Sunday Books editor Nicky Pellegrino (an acclaimed author herself) interviewed Richardson for a feature that included Pellegrino's own thoughts on HUNTING BLIND.

The Herald on Sunday is one of the biggest newspapers in New Zealand (along with the NZ Herald, Weekend Herald, and Sunday Star-Times), and is the most popular Sunday newspaper in the Auckland region (the Sunday Star-Times outsells it nationwide). So it is great to see local crime and thriller writers (especially those from the other end of the country) getting some good coverage within its book pages.

In the article Pellegrino refers to how Richardson and fellow Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon have lived close to each other Dunedin, noting how the southern city is "becoming a mini-literary enclave for a certain sort of writer – nice, middle-class women with a fascination for the darker side of human nature".

Richardson also shares some of her inspiration for HUNTING BLIND, particularly how she was affected (like many New Zealanders) by the real-life disappearance of Teresa McCormack. “Like everyone else in New Zealand, when a child goes missing I watch TV and get drawn into the parent’s horror and anxiety," says Richardson. "But then inevitably it stops being news and the public moves away from it. I’ve always wondered how it is for the family and what happens later on.”

Pellegrino calls HUNTING BLIND "a compelling and involving read" and says Richardson "masterfully ... builds tension towards an all-action ending". I am partway through HUNTING BLIND myself at the moment, and am really enjoying it.

Although the Herald has not yet put Pellegrino's feature on Richardson online, you can read the entire feature (recommended - it's a well-written article with plenty of insight, and is a good read) at fellow book blogger Graham "Bookman" Beattie's blog, here.

Pellegrino is an Auckland-based journalist and author, half Italian, and a former editor of the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. In 2001 she published her first book, an autobiography of iconic broadcaster Angela D’Audney, ANGELA: A WONDERFUL LIFE. Pellegrino's own first novel DELICIOUS (2003) was published in New Zealand and the UK, and translated into five languages. THE GYPSY TEAROOM followed in 2007, and her most recent novel is AN ITALIAN WEDDING (2009). He next novel, RECIPE FOR LIFE, is scheduled for release in April 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

R is for THE RINGMASTER by Vanda Symon

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 “R”.

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 including a post on THE RINGMASTER, the second Sam Shephard novel from Kiwi crime writer Vanda Symon.

NB - this Crime Fiction Alphabet post is a reprint of part of an NZLawyer article from late 2008, which looked at some then-recent New Zealand crime fiction.

by Vanda Symon (Penguin, 2008)
Dunedin writer Vanda Symon’s follow-up to her excellent debut OVERKILL (Penguin, 2007) finds heroine Sam Shepherd having moved to Dunedin from Mataura; bridges burnt. Undertaking detective training, Shepherd’s on the bottom rung of the ladder, battling her grudge-holding boss for any involvement.

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

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

Symon shows a talent for creating rounded characters throughout, from Shepherd’s friend Maggie, the ‘voice of reason’, to nemesis characters such as DI Johns and circus owner Terry Bennett. Symon ensures that even the antagonists ring true; they have good points as well as bad, and have understandable motives for their objectionable behaviour. Another impressive facet is her use of the Dunedin setting. From the opening murder beside the Leith, to Highlanders games, and student life, Symon brings alive this southern city. When interviewed, Symon has said, “a town will have a feel, a social background. I like using Dunedin. It has a vibrancy and an edge with the students and all that brings with it.”

THE RINGMASTER is a great read. Symon populates a good story with great characters, and unique touches in a distinctly Kiwi setting. It comes together a little quickly at the end, but leaves you wanting more of Sam Shepherd. And, taking a leaf out from her international contemporaries, Symon provides just that; the first chapter of the next Sam Shepherd adventure, CONTAINMENT is included. I can’t wait.

RIP Dick Francis

By now, many of you will be aware of the sad news overnight (NZT) of the passing of bestselling British thriller writer Dick Francis. The man who made his authorial name with exciting tales set in his beloved ‘horse world’ was 89, and died at his home in the Cayman Islands. It’s the second recent passing of a giant of the crime and thriller genre, after we suffered the loss of Robert B. Parker earlier this year. At least, as they say in cricket-referencing Commonwealth countries, both Parker and Francis had “a good innings” (ie a long and full life).

Newspaper stories and tributes in response to jockey-turned-novelist Francis’s death are starting to flow freely around the world, including here in New Zealand.

Richard (Dick) Francis was born October 31, 1920, as the younger son of a horse breeder in Tenby, South Wales. During World War II he joined the Royal Air Force in 1940 and was stationed in the Egyptian desert before being commissioned as a bomber pilot in 1943, flying Spitfires, Wellingtons, and Lancasters.

A few years later he returned to his father's stables and became a steeplechase trainer's assistant. Later, as a professional jockey, he won 345 of the more than 2300 races he rode in between 1948 and 1957, taking the title of Champion Jockey for the 1953-54 season. Francis' first book, published in 1957, was his autobiography, titled THE SPORT OF QUEENS. His first novel, DEAD CERT, came out in 1962 and he has been prolific (almost a book a year) ever since.

He penned 42 novels, many of which featured horse racing as a theme. His books were translated into more than 20 languages, and in 2000 Queen Elizabeth II - whose mother was among his many avid readers - honoured Francis by making him a Commander of the British Empire (CBE). Francis also won three prestigious Edgar awards from the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), for his novels FORFEIT (1968), WHIP HAND (1979), and COME TO GRIEF (1995).

He also was awarded a Cartier Diamond Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association (CWA) for his outstanding contribution to the genre. He was made a Grand Master in 1996 for lifetime achievement.

In recent years Francis wrote novels jointly with son Felix, including SILKS (2008) and EVEN MONEY (2009). A new novel by the two, CROSSFIRE, will be published later this year. Just recently it was announced that one of Francis’s bestsellers were tipped to be adapted for film by a big new player in the British film market.

I must confess, embarrassingly, to having not yet read any of Dick Francis’s work, although I have heard some good things from several people who enjoy his writing. He was one of a number of longstanding authors, important within the genre, that I have been meaning to get around to at some point (including the likes of Tony Hillerman, Joseph Wambaugh, Sarah Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, Ed McBain, Ross Macdonald, etc). His was a remarkable life; excelling in two such divergent careers, and bringing joy to many.

I am providing some links to various tributes to, and other related articles on, Dick Francis and his career, below.

Racing Post article
Telegraph article
Have you read Dick Francis? If so, what is your favourite of his books? Did you ever meet him at a literary festival? Please feel to share any thoughts or comments.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review of ACCESS ROAD in WildTomato

One of the magazines I write for is WildTomato, the magazine of Nelson and Marlborough. It's a fantastic, glossy lifestyle magazine full of interesting interviews, feature articles, and columns. I'm actually responsible for the monthly sports/outdoors column and the Books Page, amongst other things (features, the odd travel article etc). I started helping out with the books page last year, contributing the odd review here and there, but have now taken over the page. Each month I review two books (including, as you can imagine given my proclivities, a reasonable percentage of crime/thriller titles); usually one fiction and one non-fiction, with at least one somewhat tied to the Nelson/Marlborough regions of New Zealand.

Although generally I won't reprint reviews I've written for other publications here on this blog (preferring to link where possible), as WildTomato doesn't yet have its archived book reviews available online, and I haven't written any online-available reviews of Maurice Gee's most recent (and perhaps final) adult fiction work, I am including that review here for your information.


Widely considered ‘New Zealand’s greatest living author’, Nelson-based Maurice Gee has penned dozens of beloved tales, ranging from children’s to adult, fantasy to realism. The near-octogenarian’s latest (and reportedly, perhaps last) adult novel, Access Road, may be slim in size (200 pages), but it’s still a very good read, packed with trademark Gee themes, style, and moments.

Elderly Rowan Pinker narrates a brooding tale of family relationships and dark secrets, shifting back and forth in time as she searches her memory for reasons behind her bedridden brother Lionel’s silence. Rowan lives a somewhat-contented life with her “silly old git” of a husband Dickie, a cheerful drunk, in “upper crusty” Takapuna - but regularly visits her siblings Roly and Lionel, who’ve moved back to the old family home in Access Road, Loomis (a fictionalised West Auckland). Visits that spark a flood of memories, not all of them pleasant; particularly those involving sinister childhood friend Clyde Buckley. Is he the key to Lionel’s troubles?

Gee writes with spare elegance, ably evoking the landscape (natural and human) of small-town Loomis. He is a maestro at creating layered characters full of ambiguity, depth and conflict; shades of grey rather than black and white. Rowan is a geriatric everywoman, but has she compromised her morality in the past, allowing darkness to flourish? Once again Gee scratches below the surface, finding the menace behind the mundane, the evil behind the everyday. A solid addition to a remarkable writing career.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

New Zealand thriller to become TV mini-series

I apologise on being a little late in sharing this news with you, but just prior to the Xmas break it was announced that Alix Bosco's debut novel, CUT & RUN, is to be turned into a two-part TV mini-series.

In a press release from the book's publisher, Penguin Group (NZ), it was said that an option on the film and television rights to the thriller, which was only released in August 2009, had been secured by Auckland production company ScreenWorks. Screenworks is pretty well-regarded in the local industry, and has produced several award-winning and good-quality TV dramas - several of which have a legal, police, or political/thriller theme. I used to enjoy Street Legal back in the day, and Orange Roughies and Doves of War were also both pretty good TV shows.

In CUT & RUN, middle-aged legal researcher Anna Markunas, who has been getting back on her feet after dealing with a number of workplaces stresses (she is a former social worker) and family tragedies/challenges (her husband committed suicide and her son is a methamphetamine addict), finds there may be far more to the murder of a celebrated athlete in the arms of a celebrity socialite than the drugs-deal-gone-wrong killing most assume it was. As she investigates, she puts herself in the firing line of some very, very bad people. Although Markunas is a legal researcher, and several of the characters are tied to the legal system, this isn't a courtroom thriller - rather an out-and-out secret and sinister bad guys thriller.

I really enjoyed CUT & RUN last year. You can read the first chapter of here.

According to the press release, CUT & RUN will be turned into a mini-series (two 75mins episodes) with the support of TV3 (one of the two major television networks in New Zealand) and NZ On Air (the funding body for local content in New Zealand).

So there has been (very, very quickly) a lot of support from major players to create a screen version of this pseudonym-written debut novel, which received good reviews, a decent amount of publicity (especially for a NZ crime novel), was well-stocked in most bookstores (unlike a lot of other Kiwi crime fiction), but didn't make much of a dent in the bestseller list, very surprisingly.

CUT & RUN did hit #5 on the NZ Adult Fiction bestseller list for two weeks in August, but it would have been nice to see it do even better, especially given the good reviews and better-than-usual bookseller and media support for a Kiwi crime novel. However, Penguin do call CUT & RUN "this year's biggest New Zealand crime fiction debut" in the press release, so perhaps it did sell really well overall, despite not hitting #1 on the bestseller list like another local debut thriller, BOLD BLOOD by Lindy Kelly (which stayed in the top 5 for several weeks), did earlier in the year.

You can read acclaimed crime writer and columnist Paul Thomas's Weekend Herald review of CUT & RUN here, Kerre Woodham (Paper Plus celebrity reviewer's) review here, Jo Taylor (Latitude magazine Editor's) review here, and my Nelson Mail review here.

The other major part of the announcement was that award-winning local actress Robyn Malcolm will play the lead role of legal researcher Anna Markunas in the mini-series. Malcolm is best-known lately for playing the matriarch of a West Auckland crime family, trying (somewhat) to go (relatively) straight, in the hugely popular TV series Outrageous Fortune.

For me, Malcolm would seem a perfect fit for the role of the middle-aged, initially somewhat beaten-down legal researcher. As an interesting aside, her involvement (following the fact that CUT & RUN had a quote from her on the cover on its release, rather than from reviewers or crime writers), and the rapid interest of the local TV/film community in terms of adapting the book, lends a little more fuel to my personal theory on the identity of Alix Bosco - a "writer well known in other media".

When the announcement was made, Chris Hampson, CEO of ScreenWorks, said: "CUT & RUN is a terrific international thriller - but I was attracted to its clear sense of place, its strong local identity and, best, the clarity of its strong central characters." I think that is a pretty fair assessment of the debut novel. Penguin Group (NZ) Publishing Director Geoff Walker said CUT & RUN will make a great mini-series. "The novel features a strong, engaging female character, colourful Auckland and Coromandel settings and a cutting edge plot."

I think it's great to see such support for New Zealand crime fiction, both in book form and in terms of adapting our locally-written stories for TV or film. There are several other local crime novels, such as those by Paul Cleave and Vanda Symon, which I also think would lend themselves well to screen adaptation, given their strong visual style.

In other good news from the announcement, a second Anna Markunas novel by Alix Bosco, SLAUGHTER FALLS, will be published by Penguin Group (NZ) in late 2010. So it looks like it could be another good year for the growing canon of New Zealand crime fiction.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Richardson on the Radio

Dunedin-based thriller writer Paddy Richardson is starting to get some media attention for her latest novel, HUNTING BLIND (released in Australasia last week), with several radio appearances and reviews this week.

My copy of the book, Richardson’s second thriller after two short story collections and a multi-generational saga novel, finally arrived yesterday, and I am looking forward to reading it (I made a start this morning).

To be honest I thought Richardson’s first thriller, A YEAR TO LEARN A WOMAN (2008), was more “okay” than good/great, but early indications are that she is really starting to hit her thriller-writing straps with HUNTING BLIND. Early reviews have been very good, and from my own perspective, a couple of chapters in, it already seems significantly better than her earlier work, and I am quickly becoming hooked by the intriguing story.

Fellow book blogger Graham “Bookman” Beattie (who has been a judge for some of the most prestigious book awards in New Zealand, as well as a publisher, reviewer, and consultant to the book industry), gave a short review of the book on Jim Mora’s Afternoons show on Radio New Zealand yesterday. During the “Critical Mass” segment, which takes a look at recent books, entertainment, and other matters, Beattie described HUNTING BLIND as perhaps Richardson’s “breakthrough novel”.

“You just have to keep reading it… a real page-turner, terrific stuff,” said Beattie. “I think you’re going to hear more about Paddy Richardson… she has really delivered on her [earlier] promise.” You can listen to Beattie’s full comments here. (fast-forward through to the 6:55mins mark).

Then earlier today, Richardson was interviewed on Toroa Radio by fellow Dunedin-based crime writer Vanda Symon. I understood they discussed HUNTING BLIND, the allure of writing crime fiction, and the perception of crime fiction in the writing world. I was really hoping to hear the live-cast of this interview, because it sounds fascinating, but unfortunately I was stuck in a work meeting. Hopefully it will be placed online as a podcast by Toroa Radio in future, or perhaps Vanda will provide us with extracts from the transcript on her blog.

Then on this coming Sunday, Richardson will be interviewed by Lynn Freeman on the Arts on Sunday programme on Radio New Zealand Freeman is also a very good interviewer, and such Radio New Zealand author interviews are usually archived on its website, so I will post a link to this interview next week.

Have any of you read HUNTING BLIND, or Richardson’s earlier work? Do you have authors who have ‘grown’ on you as their crime writing has evolved? Do such psychological thrillers appeal to you? Do you like listening to the audio links I post on this blog, or do you just prefer text interviews? Thoughts and comments welcome.