Monday, May 31, 2010

Murder They Wrote (guest post)

In a first for Crime Watch, today we have a guest post, from a fellow crime fiction enthusiast who attended the recent Book Council event with three great modern-day local crime and thriller writers, in Wellington late last week.

As this blog/website grows as a resource, I may look to use guest bloggers more often, to provide you all with a greater range of content, voices, and opinions. Just one of the things I'm looking to do to make Crime Watch the best resouce possible, and provide even more information and insight to those interested in crime and thriller fiction. So please leave some feedback in the comments section both about the concept in general, and the very first guest post.


MURDER THEY WROTE
by Rosemary Brooks (a Commissioning Editor in Wellington)

I have a confession to make. I am a huge crime fiction fan and yet I have read very little New Zealand crime fiction. That itself is a crime as there are some phenomenally talented people writing world-class books right here in New Zealand. I had the pleasure of attending an evening with three such people in Wellington on Thursday 27 May 2010.

Organised by the New Zealand Book Council, Murder They Wrote brought together Vanda Symon, Paul Cleave, and Neil Cross in a question and answer panel session hosted by the New Zealand Book Council’s Chief Executive, Noel Murphy.

With the full force of the “weather bomb” being felt outside, it was fantastic to see around 50 dedicated readers brave the inhospitable elements and venture to Cafe L’Affare to hear these three authors speak on a number of topics related to their writing. The discussion ranged from their thoughts on subjects such as genre classification and character development through to more private aspects of their craft like researching, plotting, and the actual how and when they write.

It was an interesting coincidence to find that none of the three sit down and plot their entire story before they begin writing. Vanda has a beginning and an end and some pivotal scenes in mind when she begins and then sees how she gets there. Paul, on the other hand, has none of it plotted when he begins. While Neil believes that if it still excites the author then it will excite the reader.

Another similarity between the three is how they feel about the genre classification applied to books. Vanda stated that she writes what she would like to read and the fact that this has to be classified into a certain genre “does [her] head in”. Paul, on the other hand, didn’t set out to become a crime writer; he wanted to write horror novels. On top of that, he thought THE CLEANER was more of a thriller/action story. Finally, Neil has been perceived as a literary novelist which was never his intention. He wanted his stories to excite, frighten, and keep readers awake at night which is “not the purview of the literary novelist”.

Following on from this discussion, Neil made the point that genres exist and there is no getting around that fact and that what infuriates him is that the various genres are not seen as morally equivalent – and that crime novels are taken less seriously than novels which fit within other genres.

This is a point that resonated quite strongly with me. A lot of my friends are big readers yet show very little interest in crime fiction. To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they don’t like to read about the dark side of humanity; maybe they find books which hinge on crime being committed unpleasant rather than interesting and simply can’t get past the subject matter. But equally maybe they (and many others who have not ever read a crime fiction novel) fail to realise that a good crime novel can be as well plotted and as full of strong characters as any literary novel (or any novel of any genre). A good crime novel will also have you unable to turn the light out at night as you can’t possibly go to sleep until you have read just one more chapter . . .

Those of you who also attended this evening will know that I have only scratched the surface of what was discussed. What I have written about here are the points that I found myself nodding in agreement with or reflecting on in the days since the talk. But they are by no means the only things I found interesting or thought-provoking. In the interests of space, I will leave my thoughts at that but I would love to hear from anyone who attended. Is there anything that I have missed out that particularly spoke to you? Anything you think deserves more attention than I have paid to it? Or any general impressions of the evening that you would like to share?


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Rosemary also said this morning that "I am now about three-quarters of the way through THE RINGMASTER and really enjoying it. Interestingly enough, having met Vanya (albeit very briefly) I can see a bit of her in Sam Shephard."

So what do you think of Rosemary's report? Do you like the idea of guest posts on Crime Watch? Have you read any of these three great Kiwi authors? Or seen them at events? Thoughts and comments very welcome.

9mm: An interview with Martin Edwards

Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of quickfire author interviews; 9mm - 9 MurderMystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors.

For the 15th in this regular series of quickfire author interviews, I put the 9mm questions to award-winning British crime writer (and critic) Martin Edwards, a renowned 'Mastermind' of the crime fiction genre (as evidenced yet again by his recent performances at CrimeFest). Edwards is the author of two mystery series (the Liverpool-set Harry Devlin series, and the Lake District series) as well as several standalone novels, short stories, and non-fiction works. He has also edited more than a dozen crime fiction anthologies, and is the creator of the great crime writing blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name? It's well worth checking out. But for now, Martin Edwards sits in the 9mm hotseat

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Martin Edwards

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Impossible to pick just one! Apart from the usual suspects (Holmes, Poirot, Marple and so on) and the great modern characters (Dalziel, Matt Scudder etc) I'd like to put in a word for Christopher Fowler's duo Bryant and May, who are very appealing. I've never met Chris Fowler, but I'm thrilled that he's contributing a new Bryant and May story to the next CWA anthology that I shall be editing, ORIGINAL SINS.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
THE ISLAND OF ADVENTURE by Enid Blyton. I was very keen on Blyton as a small child, and above all the stories that included a mystery element, including the Famous Five books. Blyton, like Christie, has her detractors, but there are powerful reasons why her books are still popular.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I always wanted to be a crime novelist, but before I managed to achieve this, I published several legal books and many articles. My first published book rejoiced in the title of UNDERSTANDING COMPUTER CONTRACTS. I also wrote a thriller about football called DEAD SHOT that I never submitted for publication - just as well, it has to be said.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I'm very keen on soccer, cricket, films, music and travel. The challenge is to find time to fit them all in!

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
They should walk round Lymm Dam, a lake that my house overlooks, which is fascinating and lovely at any time of year.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I'm tempted to say Woody Allen, but I'm neither bespectacled nor Jewish. I'd be very happy with Robert Lindsay or Trevor Eve, two terrific British actors, but sadly I don't resemble either of them that closely, either.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Not easy to choose. I'm very happy with the latest, THE SERPENT POOL, a Lake District Mystery with a complicated plot that I think fits in well with an atmospheric setting and in-depth character portrayals, while DANCING FOR THE HANGMAN, which I loved writing, was an exercise in creating a novel based closely on fact but fictionalising the aspects of the Crippen case that remain unclear, and which have baffled people for a century. Among the Harry Devlins, WATERLOO SUNSET was fun to write - the closest to a thriller that I have come, so far.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
The news that ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE had been accepted for publication was a dream come true. It was a very happy time as my wife was expecting our first child. I celebrated with champagne, but unfortunately she had to miss out for a few months!

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I once had to fight my way through a British National Party demonstraton outside a library in Yorkshire, but I also had the uncanny experience at the recent Crimefest of having two different people come up to me and say how much they enjoyed my books. In each case, sadly, it became clear that they had mistaken me for Andrew Taylor. Perhaps, if he's very unlucky, I should play Andrew in a movie....

Thank you Martin Edwards. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.
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So what do you think of Martin Edwards' answers? Have you read any of his crime novels? The crime fiction anthologies he's edited? Or his blog? What do you think? Have you met him at one of the various festivals he attends? With the upcoming World Cup skyrocketing interest in football, is it time for DEAD SHOT to be revised and released? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

VOTE NOW to help an unpublished Kiwi (crime) author realise their dream and get published!

I've just realised that the deadline for voting on the inaugural NZSA Pindar Publishing Prize is just about upon us, and I hadn't posted about the shortlisted entries yet. Eek! May has just flown past. There is also a little confusion about the voting deadline -some press releases say 30 May (today NZT) is the last day of voting, while others have said 31 May. So perhaps we all better vote today, just to be safe!

A quick re-cap. In December last year, The New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.), in association with Pindar NZ, Whitcoulls, Astra Print Group, the New Zealand Herald and Creative New Zealand proudly announced the launch of the 'NZSA Pindar Publishing Prize'.

This competition offers budding New Zealand authors the opportunity to be professionally edited, produced, marketed and distributed throughout New Zealand. The total package is worth around $35,000 to a talented new author. It clearly got all the unpublished Kiwi authors going, because the inaugural prize, which closed for entries on 30 March, received an astonishing 508 entries.

The poor judges had to read all of them, and come up with a shortlist of just five, which would have synopsis and extracts put online for public voting (which would count for 40% of the final decision). The three judges are Mary Egan, Managing Director of Pindar Publishing, Linda Herrick, Arts and Books Editor of the New Zealand Herald, and Graeme Lay, Auckland National Council Delegate, the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc.).

Tony Simpson, President of the NZSA, remarked “The number of entries is amazing and obviously identifies a need for alternative publishing options in New Zealand. We are delighted to have been able to instigate such a prize and hope that we will be able to offer it again in the future.”

The five finalists are now online, and I'm very, very pleased to say there are a couple of unpublished Kiwi crime/thriller writers amongst them. It's great to see the judges recognising local exponents of this genre, as well as other types of writing.

You can read the synopses, extracts, and vote for your favourite, here.

Please take the time to go and vote. There are five budding authors whose dreams are in your hands - each has something to offer readers, so please take a few minutes to go and pick your favourite - crime/thriller fiction or not. VOTE HERE!

Michael Koryta, who I interviewed last week, was discovered via a similar unpublished author competition, and as I noted with my posts about the CWA Debut Dagger, writers who come through such contests can end up having great careers and providing readers around the world with a lot of reading pleasure. So please read the entries, pick a favourite, and VOTE!

The winner of the award will be chosen through 40 per cent online voting and 60 per cent input from the judges, and the result will be announced on June 15. The manuscript will be professionally edited, designed by Pindar and printed by AstraPrint, and the winning book will be launched in August, marketed through the Herald and sold nationally through Whitcoulls.

Feel free to leave a comment here about which stories you liked and why. Thoughts and comments welcome. I'm off to read and vote myself now.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Good article on visiting author John Connolly in the Canvas magazine in today's Weekend Herald

One of the publications I occasionally write for, the Canvas magazine in the Weekend Herald (New Zealand's biggest-circulation newspaper), today has a great interview-based feature article on Irish crime writer John Connolly, who is touring New Zealand in the coming week.

The article, by regular Weekend Herald writer Stephen Jewell (who is based in the UK and writes some great articles), looks at Connolly's latest Charlie Parker novel THE WHISPERERS, the author's growing inclusion of supernatural or paranormal elements in his crime thrillers, why Connolly doesn't write about Ireland, his fascination with history, why he thinks he's a 'mystery' writer rather than a 'crime' writer, and his thoughts on his upcoming tour of New Zealand.

"Irish writers are supposed to write about Ireland, not just the country, but also our history, culture, and the dreadful problems we've had... It's been said that to be an Irish writer is to engage with Irishness, but there's nothing I wanted to engage with less," says Connolly at one point, discussing why he sets his novels in the USA.

It's a great interview, and I recommend anyone who can, gives it a read. If you are in New Zealand, you can read the review in this weekend's issue of the Weekend Herald. It's on page 22 of the Canvas magazine insert (the lifestyle/features mag in the weekend edition of the newspaper). Unfortunately, Canvas magazine articles aren't yet available online.

Incidentally, I am partway through THE WHISPERERS at the moment, hoping to finish it this weekend before I meet Connolly at his Auckland City event on Tuesday evening.

So, are you a Connolly fan? Do you like his Charlie Parker tales? What do you think of his comments re: Irish-focused Irish writing? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Kiwi thriller CUT & RUN now available on Amazon.com

Over the past few months, it's been fantastic to hear from many people who are now more interested in trying some New Zealand crime and thriller writing. Unfortunately, one of the biggest hurdles to increasing the awareness and appreciation of well-written Kiwi crime, is that the latest books of many of our authors, regardless of quality, are generally a little hard-ish to get your hands on if you're anywhere other than Australia or New Zealand.

Things are slowly improving, with Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, and Paddy Richardson all now being published in Germany (and Cleave in several other continental European countries), and Cleave being published for the first time in the UK late last year, and in the US mid this year. And now, thanks to Penguin Global, there are some recent Kiwi crime and thriller novels more readily available via Amazon.com.

I mentioned earlier this month that Vanda Symon's CONTAINMENT is now available brand new (and at a reasonable price) on Amazon.com. I've since noticed that later this month Alix Bosco's debut thriller CUT & RUN has now also similarly been made available brand new on Amazon.com - see here. Great news for those of you in the USA, with free shipping etc.

You can read the first chapter of CUT & RUN here, a Weekend Herald review here, a Latitude magazine review here, and my NZLawyer review here.

For those of us downunder, there is some good news on the Alix Bosco front as well. The second in her series starring middle-aged legal researcher Anna Markunas, SLAUGHTER FALLS, will be released in Australia and New Zealand in August. The second book is actually set in Australia - here is the blurb: "When Anna Markunas comes to Brisbane to watch a rugby test, two members of her tour party die sudden, violent deaths. Anna tries to track down the elusive family of one man, but each discovery about his past leads her further into the dark world of Queensland's corrupt underbelly. Soon Anna is running for her life – she has discovered the secrets of those who will stop at nothing to silence her."

I am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of SLAUGHTER FALLS, and seeing how Bosco handles her sophmore crime thriller.

Have you read CUT & RUN? If so, what did you think? If not, does it sound like the type of book you might like to try? Are you looking forward to SLAUGHTER FALLS? Do you have any theories on who 'Alix Bosco' really is?

Thoughts and comments welcome.

Reminder: John Connolly in New Zealand next week

Just a quick reminder that popular Irish crime writer John Connolly (the Charlie Parker series) is touring New Zealand next week, and making a few public appearances. I went and picked up my ticket to his Auckland City event today - they have a few tickets left, but not that many - so get in quick.

Unfortunately the tour hasn't been publicised that much yet (other than here on Crime Watch, and with a few library notices etc) - I had stopped at Unity Books on the way to the library, and was chatting to someone browsing the crime fiction section. They said their favourite crime writer was John Connolly. I asked if they were going along to the event on Tuesday, and they didn't even know he was coming. Sigh.

He's a bigger name (and probably a bigger draw, potentially) than pretty much anyone who appeared at the recent Auckland Writers Festival, but he's managing to slip into the country largely unnoticed (although I imagine that there will be a fair few TV, radio, or print appearances and articles while he is here). Needless to say, the book-buying Connolly fan popped along to the library and grabbed a ticket as well, so I've done my 'good deed for the day'.

Connolly is here to promote his latest Charlie Parker novel, THE WHISPERERS, which was released in the UK recently, and in the USA on 13 July. You can read the prologue to this upcoming book, here.

The tour will also time with the paperback release of THE GATES, his first novel for younger readers. The New Zealand events are as follows:

Tuesday 1st June - Auckland
Auckland City Libraries presents an evening with John Connolly
6:00 PM (Light refreshments (includes glass of wine) at 5:30 PM
Whare Wananga, Central Library, Level 2, 44-46 Lorne Street, Auckland
Tickets: (on sale from Friday May 14th) $15 each, includes glass of wine
Tickets can be purchased online at http://www.aucklandcitylibraries.com/whisperers or in person at Central City Library, ground floor
For further information call 377 0209

Wednesday 2nd June - Christchurch
An Evening with Irish crime writer John Connolly
7.30pm
Our City O-Tautahi, cnr Oxford Tce & Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch
Tickets: $12 from Ruth Todd, ph 384 4721

Thursday 3rd June – Taupo and Rotorua
Taupo Library Is Proud To Bring You Award-winning Thriller Writer John Connolly
1.00pm
Taupo Library

Rotorua District Library Is Proud To Bring You Award-winning Thriller Writer John Connolly
5.30pm
Rotorua District Library, 1127 Haupapa St, Rotorua

Have you read John Connolly's books? Are you a fan of Charlie Parker? Would you be keen to see him at an author event? For those overseas readers - have you seen him at an event before? Please share your thoughts, comments, and experiences.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Schrier's HIGH CHICAGO scoops Arthur Ellis Award!

A few hours ago (Thursday night in Canada), the annual Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Awards, which honour the best in mystery writing in Canada, were held. The 'top prize' of Best Novel went to Howard Shrier, for his second crime novel, HIGH CHICAGO.

The publisher's blurb for HIGH CHICAGO, the second book in Shrier's Jonah Geller series, states, "Toronto investigator Jonah Geller has opened his own agency, World Repairs, and he and his partner, Jenn Raudsepp, are immediately drawn into investigating the apparent suicide of a young girl — and the high-stakes world of construction and development on a long-neglected parcel of Toronto’s waterfront. Clues lead them to suspect that fabled real estate tycoon Simon Birk — the partner of the dead girl’s father — is killing people who get in the way of the project, but the evidence isn’t rock solid. And Jonah has to craft an audacious plan to take down one of Chicago’s most powerful men."

The award confirms a very promising start to Toronto-based Schrier's writing career - and makes him two from two - the ex-journalist's first mystery novel, BUFFALO JUMP (2008), which introduced readers to Geller (a Toronto investigator), won the Crime Writers of Canada's Arthur Ellis Award for best first novel.

You can read more about HIGH CHICAGO, including excerpts from some very positive reviews, here. Other winners of the prizes handed out a ceremony Thursday night were:
  • Short story: Dennis Richard Murphy, Prisoner in Paradise, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
  • Best non-fiction: Terry Gould, MURDER WITHOUT BORDERS.
  • Best juvenile: Barbara Haworth-Attard, HAUNTED
  • Best crime writing in French: Jean Lemieux , LE MORT DU CHEMIN DES ARSENE
  • Best unpublished first crime novel: Gloria Ferris, THE CORPSE FLOWER
  • Best first novel: Alan Bradley, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE

The Crime Writers of Canada also handed the Derrick Murdoch Award, which honours outstanding contributions to crime writing, to veteran author Peter Robinson.

Japanese whalers vs eco-warriors: reality and thriller fiction

Some of you following the news may be aware that currently a New Zealand whaling activist, Peter Bethune (pictured right), is on trial in Japan for a variety of crimes.

Staying away from the rights and wrongs, credit and blame, the basic outline of the facts of the situation is that Bethune and others from the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd group were in the Southern Ocean to disrupt Japanese whalers (who environmental groups like Sea Shepherd claim are breaking international law with their 'scientific whaling').

There was a collision between a large Japanese whaling vessel, the Shonan Maru 2, and Bethune's much smaller boat, the Ady Gil (formerly the record-breaking Earth Race), shearing off part of the hull and sinking Bethune's boat. Unsurprisingly, each party blamed the other.

Later, Bethune climbed aboard the Japanese whaling vessel, attempting to make a 'citizen's arrest' of the Japanese whaling captain, who the Sea Shepherd group blamed for the collision, for attempted murder of the Ady Gil crew. Bethune was detained by the Japanese, and taken back to Japan with them - where he has been labelled a 'terrorist' and put on trial for several crimes, including trespassing, property destruction, violation of the weapons control law for carrying a knife with a longer-than-legal blade (he had a seaman's knife with him for cutting rope), and assault. The latter charge is the most serious, and if convicted he could face up to 15 years in prison.

As you can imagine, the whole thing has got very political (Japanese protestors have turned up outside the court wanting their government to 'hang the terrorist' etc). I'll leave that type of commentary to others - although it is interesting that no action has been taken, or charges laid, one way or the other, for the collision (which you would think is a far more serious event) - just largely Bethune's actions in boarding the Shonan Maru 2, and pelting the vessel and sailors with flour-bomb type projectiles earlier. You can read a variety of news stories about the whole situation here.


Anyway, from a crime/thriller fiction perspective, it is also an interesting situation because the whaling protestors vs Japanese whalers conflict somewhat mirrors a fairly recent New Zealand thriller novel (from 2007) I came across in the past few weeks, ECHOES IN THE BLUE by C. George Muller (a wildlife biologist).

The blurb for ECHOES IN THE BLUE, which I haven't read yet but am looking forward to, says, "Ignoring a 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan sends its whaling fleet deep into the Antarctic to kill whales under the guise of 'scientific research'. Thrust into this volatile situation is Richard Major, an unlikely hero accompanying a whale research expedition. On the High Seas he must confront a terrifying adversary -- a ruthless fishing industrialist who would wipe out entire species to satisfy an insatiable lust for money and power. From the windswept Southern Ocean to the opulence of corporate Japan, the battle has many fronts. Mirroring a real-life tragedy looming in our own lifetime, this is a haunting exploration of mankind's continual conflict with nature, and the heroism of those who would risk everything to defend a future threatened forever."

It certainly sounds like an intriguing premise for a thriller, and given recent events, quite a 'newsy' one too. ECHOES IN THE BLUE hasn't been widely published (it's from a small publisher), but there are still copies available brand new from online bookstores like Amazon.com, Fishpond, Wheeler's Books, and Trade Me, amongst others. It was a finalist (Silver Medal) in the 2007 Nautilus Book Awards, and was criticised as "terrorism" by the Japan Institute of Cetacean Research, the organisation responsible for Japan's whaling programme.

Muller reportedly wrote ECHOES IN THE BLUE to raise awareness and speak out against what he calls, “The illegal slaughter happening just out of sight over the horizon.” His campaign includes a donation to 'Save the Whales' causes for every book sold. He has also set up his website to highlight the issue of illegal whaling and publicise the fight against it.

ECHOES IN THE BLUE received high praise from a Scientific Advisor to New Zealand’s IWC Commissioner, who described it as, “Very well researched including some extremely insightful observations about the nature of international politicking in the ongoing fight to protect whales.”

C. George Muller reportedly gave up a well-paying career in the corporate world to "follow his heart and become a professional wildlife biologist". He has a Masters degree in biology, and has been involved in marine mammal research for the past 8 years – with findings published in several scientific papers. He has worked on projects for the US National Park Service, the New Zealand Department of Conservation, and more than one university. Echoes in the Blue was inspired by his experiences on the frontlines of wildlife research and conservation and was written while living and working in Kaikoura, the whale watching capital of New Zealand.

Muller’s first novel won the 2005 Richard Webster Popular Fiction Award.

So, do you like environmental thrillers? Crime/thriller novels set amongst real-life 'big issues'? Can crime fiction play a part in highlighting issues that may be overlooked or swept under the carpet by the general populace - whether it be domestic violence, child abuse, or whaling? What do you think of political thrillers, or books with a clear political stance? Does ECHOES IN THE BLUE sound like a novel you'd like to read?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments on this (even political ones).

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another Kiwi crime debut: LETHAL DELIVERIES by Ken Benn

In 2009 the burgeoning New Zealand crime and thriller writing ranks were swelled by the welcome addition of several new faces, including Alix Bosco (CUT & RUN), Lindy Kelly (#1 bestselling BOLD BLOOD), Dorothy Fowler (WHAT REMAINS BEHIND), and Roy Vaughn (THE MERELEIGH RECORD CLUB TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND) - although the latter's first novel was launched here in early 2010, after being published overseas late last year.

I understand there will be at least a couple more 'new faces' released onto the market in 2010, so it's fantastic to see that, slowly but surely, locally-written crime and thrillers are getting more attention from readers, the media, and publishers.

And now, Palmerston North Boys' High physics teacher Ken Benn has joined the Kiwi crime ranks, with the recent launch of his debut novel, LETHAL DELIVERIES (which is intended to be the first in a trilogy). The publisher's blurb states: "Rochelle has her hopes set on one day playing in the National Women's Inline Hockey team. Her goal seems to slip from her reach as she gets sucked into her brother, Jack's world of gangs and drug dealing. But is the gang life what Rochelle's brother really wants or is it a choice his father has made for him? Rochelle finds herself in a dangerous world supported by the most unlikely companions and soon learns there's a price to be paid for these friendships – an ultimate price."

You can read more about Benn, the book (which seems to be 'young adult' crime fiction), and the interesting backstory - including Benn 'sleeping rough' and hanging with local criminals for research, in a nice article in the Manawatu Standard here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

9mm Quickfire Author Interviews: The Story So Far

Well, my not-quite-so-new 9mm series (quickfire interviews with crime/thriller writers featuring the same 9 questions) has been running for just over two months now, so I thought it was time to take stock, and do a little review of how things are going.

In the two months thusfar, I've published 9mm interviews with 14 authors, from six different countries (five, if you count Lee Child as American). My goal to mix up international and Kiwi authors has gone pretty well, with five Kiwis and nine internationals thusfar. My other goal to mix up a few big names with some lesser-known authors that deserve more attention, both from New Zealand and overseas, has also gone pretty well, I would say. The 14 published 9mm interviews thusfar are:
  1. Lee Child
  2. Paddy Richardson
  3. Jack Kerley
  4. Paul Cleave
  5. Margot Kinberg
  6. Vanda Symon
  7. Dennis Palumbo
  8. Andrew Grant
  9. Rob Kitchin
  10. Linwood Barclay
  11. Lou Allin
  12. Declan Burke
  13. Craig Russell
  14. Joan Druett

I'm pretty pleased with that line-up - especially in just two months - I hope you've all been enjoying the interviews thusfar. I already have some more great 9mm interviews 'in the can' ready for publication - including with Michael Koryta and even PD James (somehow I managed to weave the 9 questions into my hour-long interview with the Baronness - wasn't sure if I'd be able to, given a couple are kind of blunt or 'on the nose').

There should also be upcoming 9mm interviews with the likes of Mark Billingham (the Tom Thorne series) - pictured right, the 'bearded write-ist Stuart MacBride (the Logan Macrae series), and Thailand-based John Burdett (the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series). Please let me know if there are other authors you'd particularly like to see 'stare down the 9mm', paraphrasing Declan Burke - and I'll do my very best to arrange it.

Some perhaps-interesting observations for you - the Lee Child 9mm interview created the most 'visits' to Crime Watch (in fact the day I posted that was the most visitors I've ever had to this blog) - so I guess that link got passed around a bit. The Declan Burke and Margot Kinberg interviews got the most comments (five each) on Crime Watch itself.

Hopefully in future I can create more of an atmosphere for commentary and discussion here on Crime Watch - I'd like that to be something that this blog evolves towards.

So, what do you think of the 9mm series thusfar? Who has been your favourite interviewee? Which crime/thriller authors would you like to see interviewed? Have you enjoyed the mix of authors, Kiwi and international, big names and lesser-known? How could the series be improved?

I'd love to hear what you think. Thoughts and comments welcome.

Nice little story on Neil Cross on TVNZ.co.nz

It's good to see local media giving some columns and paragraphs to local crime and thriller writers. It may just be that I'm noticing more nowadays, but it does overall seem to be improving. Hopefully it's a sign that the unwarranted cultural cringe about New Zealand 'popular fiction' is easing, just as it has with New Zealand music and movies over the past decade.

Today there is a story on TVNZ.co.nz (the website of the state broadcaster here in New Zealand) about Wellington-based crime writer Neil Cross. It's a short feature, but worth a read. He talks about new BBC detective show Luther, his latest thriller CAPTURED, and how he is drawn to the dark side, fictionally.

I'm not sure whether Cross is being tongue-in-cheek or serious when he says his latest project is "a top-secret film script for The Hobbit's director Guillermo del Toro". Given they're both based in Wellington, it could very well be true. And if so, it has me curious.

If you're in Wellington, you can ask Cross himself at tomorrow night's Murder They Wrote evening. I am unable to attend, but I am sending someone along who will do a 'guest post' for Crime Watch in the coming days. So if there are any questions you would like to ask Neil Cross, Paul Cleave, or Vanda Symon, let me know, and I'll pass them on.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Scene of the Crime: real life settings with links to literary crime, mysteries, and thrillers

There was a short but interesting article by Travel Editor Jim Eagles in the New Zealand Herald today (NZ's largest-circulation daily newspaper) talking about Hotel.com recently putting together a list of hotels which have become famous for their literary connections.

Eagles says, "I have to confess I've never heard of some of the authors and books on its list. But I was fascinated to learn that The Dukes Hotel [pictured left] in London is where Ian Fleming got the idea of having his James Bond character insist on a vodka martini 'Shaken, not stirred'."

Some of the other hotels Eagles highlights from the list have crime, thriller, or horror fiction connotations as well: the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul which gave Agatha Christie the idea for MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS; The Stanley Hotel at Estes Park, Colorado, where Stephen King evidently had the nightmare which gave him the idea for THE SHINING. You can read Eagles' full article here.

I haven't specifically or intentionally done any such 'literary travel', although I have visited a couple of author-related places on various trips, e.g. the Floridita Bar and the Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana, Cuba (Hemingway) - see photo to the right of a shaggy world-travelling me with the lifesize statue of Hemingway in the Floridita Bar in April 2008.

I imagine that with all the cool places I've been, I've also visited plenty of other 'literary locations', even if I didn't go there for specific books-related reasons (e.g. I have cruised the Nile - I really should have had a copy of Christie's DEATH ON THE NILE to read, methinks).

It got me thinking - what are some other specific real-life places around the world which have strong connections to crime, mystery and thriller fiction - not just cities and places, but specific hotels, businesses, or other such locations? Could we create a list of 'must sees' for crime fiction fans? What would be on your list? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Reminder: Cleave, Cross, and Symon at Café L’Affare in Wellington this Thursday evening


As I noted last week, this Thursday evening in Wellington there is a great event being held featuring three of New Zealand's most prominent modern-day crime writers: Paul Cleave, Neil Cross, and Vanda Symon. It's fantastic to see some growing support for local crime/thriller writing. Hopefully plenty of people will head along.

While it is great that Kiwi audiences pack out events for the overseas crime writers that do visit, traditionally we haven't been that good at having events with New Zealand writers (outside of the occasional festival event or book launch). So it's great the Book Council organising this Murder They Wrote evening, and giving readers a chance to meet and listen to some of our own top quality crime writers - who in all honesty more than hold their own against many of the big name international bestsellers we buy in droves. Hopefully this event can lead the way for more local crime writing-centric events, large or small, over the coming months and years.

Murder They Wrote will be held at Café L’Affare, College Street, Wellington at 6 pm on Thursday 27th May. Tickets are $16 ($14 for NZ Book Council members) and can be purchased at the Information Desk, Wellington Central Library.


Hopefully lots of people head along, and show some support for our great local crime writers. Having interviewed all three, I can promise you it will be an entertaining and fascinating evening - they are all very interesting people that aren't short of an opinion or two. So if you are in the Wellington area, make sure you head along!

You can read my 9mm interviews with Paul Cleave here, and with Vanda Symon here. You can my review of Neil Cross's latest psychological thriller CAPTURED, and Paul Cleave's latest BLOOD MEN here.

Have you read any of Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, or Neil Cross's books? What do you think? What questions would you want to ask them at such an event?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Are e-books really more environmentally friendly?

I haven't quite caught on to the e-book revolution, yet. I have read a couple of e-books on my computer (sometimes printing out the pages to take home with me), but haven't succumbed into buying a Kindle or iPad etc yet. Part of this may be that I think I spend too much time in front of a screen as it is.

One thing that has always amused me, both in terms of when some marketers talk about e-books, and when PR people for print newspapers/magazines etc explain that they've gone totally online - is the 'we're going green' or 'being more environmentally friendly'. And many people seem to completely buy into this, without question. Perhaps forgetting that anything with a screen takes power to run, power to upload the information, and plenty of not-very-environmentally-friendly components to use. Amongst other things. I can understand the costs reasons for newspapers to go online, but when they try to justify it by saying they're 'doing it for the environment', well, that's just marketing bullsh!t. Paper isn't the enemy (and in fact is good for the environment as it is often grown from renewable and recyclable material - purpose-grown pine plantations etc - which during their lifespan actually suck up a fair bit of carbon too, incidentally).

Not that I'm against e-books - because one of the annoying things about publishing is that it can be hard to acccess some great books and authors, depending on where you are based - so something that allows a wider range of people to access a wider range of books, and perhaps encourage more people to read, well, that can't be a bad thing.

But I don't think I'll ever completely give up on paper - either for books, or magazines etc.

There was an interesting article in Business Day here in New Zealand this morning about the 'environmentally friendly e-books' debate, sparked by giant bookstore Whitcoulls' move to make up to 2 million e-books available later this week (the first big e-book move of its kind down this way). You can read the full article here.

Interestingly, as is often the case in such 'scientific' debates where you can have 'experts' on either side, people need to use a bit of critical thinking, and look at the wider, big picture - rather than just the narrow question a particular study focused on. The whole 'lies, damned lies, and statistics' thing really boils down to the fact it matters just as much what question was asked, than what result was given. Early in the Business Day article, it is noted that: "A study by United States research and media firm Cleantech Group found carbon emissions from electronic books were far lower than from traditional book publishing."

Well of course, most people would say. And it is 'of course', if you're just thinking about the environmental impact of transporting hard copy books around the planet, as opposed to transporting them over the Internet etc, perhaps. But what about the production of the (e)book? What about the energy people use when they are actually reading either option? What about the energy and components used for the Internet transfer?

A few paragraphs down, is the comment, "A New York Times "life-cycle assessment" of books and e-readers found traditional books were by far the greener option. One e-reader required the extraction of 15kg of minerals and 265 litres of water to produce its batteries and printed circuit boards, it said, while a book used 0.3kg of minerals and only 7.5 litres of water. Manufacturing an e-reader consumed 100 kilowatt hours of electricity and generated 30kg of carbon dioxide, while a book consumed two kilowatt hours and produced 100 times fewer greenhouse gases."

Hmmm....

Lately it seems that 'going green' can sometimes be used more as marketing hype than reality - not just in terms of books, but with several other things. It's something that always fascinates me - the (mis)perceptions we can hold as a wider society. The things we assume are true, and don't question. We live in an information age, but I don't necessarily think the average person is more informed. There is more information out there (with the Internet etc), but often it is just repetitive, or press-release based. Doing research now (compared to say 10 or 15 years ago) less involved finding information, as finding good information (sifting through all the information for insights, gems, and nuggets, amidst the dross).
Critical thinking is key - being able to analyse, sift, weigh, etc.

Thoughts? Comments?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

New Kiwi crime writer on CWA Debut Dagger shortlist!

As part of CrimeFest 2010, which is currently being held in Bristol, the shortlists for several of the 2010 CWA Dagger Awards have been announced - including the shortlists for International Dagger, Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction, Dagger in the Library, Short Story Dagger, and Debut Dagger. And in amongst the final category its great to see a hitherto-unpublished Kiwi crime writing name in the mix; Bob Marriott, for his story In the Lion's Throat.

As I noted in a blog post last November, 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 (e.g. Louise Penny, Alan Bradley, Allan Guthrie, Joolz Denby, Ed Wright, and Barbara Cleverly).

So it's fantastic to see another Kiwi crime writer coming through, and getting their name known via an award that has certainly sparked some fantastic crime writing careers over the past decade or so. Earlier this month, prior Debut Dagger shortlistees Louise Penny and Alan Bradley both scooped Agatha Awards at Malice Domestic.

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."

Hopefully Kiwi writer Marriott, who I understand may have worked as a journalist (freelance at least) for the likes of NZ Listener and The Press in the past, can similarly be noticed then published. It's great to see more Kiwi crime writers coming through, joining the growing ranks we have in this country. I understand HarperCollins NZ also has another debutant crime writer being launched later this year - so there's definitely a burgeoning crime wave down this way.

The winners of the various Dagger shortlists announced this weekend at CrimeFest, will be announced at an event staged on Friday, 23 July 2010, 6 – 7.30pm, at the The Crown Hotel, Harrogate during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. The shortlists for the John Creasey (New Blood), Ian Fleming Steel and Gold Daggers will be announced later in the year and these Daggers will be awarded at a televised ceremony in the Autumn, as part of the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards.

I will talk more about the other Dagger categories in due course, and share more information with you about Kiwi crime writer Bob Marriott and his story In the Lion's Throat,
as it comes to hand. If you have any information, please feel free to share it.

Thoughts and comments welcome.

Your chance to vote for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year shortlist

With 'Harrogate' on the horizon, it's that time of the year again. Unlike many other literary awards, with the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year it’s what readers think that really counts. Voting is now open (up until 11 June) to "determine which books from a longlist of 20 of the best crime novels of the last year will make the shortlist for this year's award" - which will be announced at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, to be held in Harrogate from 22-25 July.

Anyone around the world (with an Internet connection) can go here, to vote for their favourite from the 20 great crime novels that are on the longlist. Only 8 books can go through to battle it out for the big prize and readers get to say which ones. As they say, "The outcome is in your hands and this time there’s no chance of a hung result. What are you waiting for? It’s not just your right, it’s your duty!"

There are plenty of familiar faces in the longlist, including multiple winner and 'defending champion' from last year, Mark Billingham. There are plenty of great books and authors to choose from, and it's a bit of a shame that readers can only vote for one, rather than several, to make the 20 down to 8 longlist to shortlist cut. The full longlist is:


  1. In The Dark – Mark Billingham
  2. If It Bleeds – Duncan Campbell
  3. The Surrogate – Tania Carver
  4. The Business – Martina Cole
  5. A Simple Act Of Violence – RJ Ellory
  6. Until It’s Over – Nicci French
  7. The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
  8. Cold In Hand – John Harvey
  9. Skin – Mo Hayder
  10. The Vows Of Silence – Susan Hill
  11. The Dying Breed – Declan Hughes
  12. Dead Tomorrow – Peter James
  13. Target – Simon Kernick
  14. A Darker Domain – Val McDermid
  15. Gallows Lane – Brian McGilloway
  16. Geezer Girls – Dreda Say Mitchell
  17. Singing To The Dead – Caro Ramsay
  18. Doors Open – Ian Rankin
  19. All The Colours of Darkness – Peter Robinson
  20. Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
So who are your favourites? How many of the above books have you read? Which are on your TBR pile (several are in mine already)? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Friday, May 21, 2010

9mm: An interview with Joan Druett

Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of quickfire author interviews; 9mm - 9 MurderMystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. We’ve had some great authors featured thusfar, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series continues to grow in the coming months. If you have suggestions of authors you’d like to see interviewed, please let me know, and I’ll do what I can.

For the 14th in this regular series of quickfire author interviews, I put the 9mm questions to New Zealand author Joan Druett, who is renowned as both a maritime historian and historic mystery writer; from a crime/thriller perspective she is acclaimed for her ‘Wiki Coffin’ mysteries set on colonial-era sailing ships, in particular the United States Exploring Expedition (the exploration, survey, and travel around the Pacific 'South Seas' by the United States Navy in 1838-1842). Wiki Coffin is a translator for the Expedition, and has been described as "a Maori detective with the physical attributes of a Hurricanes rugby player" (for you US readers, just imagine one of the Pacific Islands-descent linebackers in the NFL, and you'll get the drift).

Since first falling in love with maritime history, Druett has written 18 fiction and non-fiction books. You can read the first chapter of DEADLY SHOALS, Druett's most recent Wiki Coffin mystery novel, HERE. The Wiki Coffin series includes four novels, and at least three short stories that have been published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
But for now, I'll leave you with Joan Druett.

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Joan Druett

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Do I sound hopelessly old-hat if I say Hercule Poirot? He's cute, he doesn't inflict personal angst on the reader, I don't have to put up with his sex life, he somehow avoids being a comic book hero, and he gets the job done. I get half my inspiration from Agatha Christie, the rest from logbooks and salty memoirs.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. The Banksia monster was the first villain to terrify me, and yet it was so cozy. Believe it or not, it is still in print!

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Crime came late, simply because it was a response to an editor who approached my agent asking if I would think of writing a maritime historical mystery. Before that, I had established a solid track record in maritime historical novels (Abigail, A Promise of God), and maritime historical nonfiction (Petticoat Whalers, Hen Frigates, She Captains, Rough Medicine). And, before that, there were a few books and many stories. And a number of academic papers.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Walk, take train and boat rides, socialize with family and friends, eat good food, drink Belgian beer (the influence of Poirot?). A big favourite is catching the little ferry to Matiu Island, in the middle of Wellington Harbour, walking around it to see the birdlife, and have a picnic before heading back. But it has to be a nice day.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
See the above. Another great excursion is to take the train to Paekakariki, and take the coastal walk. Great views of Kapiti Island, and the Fisherman's Table puts on a great lunch. With overseas visitors, we usually end up at the Museum of Wellington, which is a huge hit, and then walk around the waterfront to Te Papa.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Billie Piper, because she is so exuberant and radiant. But she is not at all like me.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
My favourite is Run Afoul, and my favourite scene is when Wiki is reunited with his father -- in the company of Forsythe, who is drunk. Not only does Wiki decide to have a bit of fun by being deliberately vague about a situation his father has misunderstood, but then Forsythe, wobbly but very serious, decides to defend Wiki's reputation in the most embarrassing way possible, much to Wiki's astonishment and my amusement. I really enjoyed writing that chapter. And I liked the rats and snakes, too.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When I sold my first short story, I bought a bottle of sherry and gave it to my mother; I think I was really celebrating being old enough to buy alcohol. Selling the story gave me enough money to do it.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Which one do I choose? One of the most memorable was the time I personalized a book for an elderly lady who dictated a long message to "Bill." Just as I finished, her daughter arrived at the desk, and gasped, "You can't do that -- Bill's dead!"
Thank you Joan Druett. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.

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So what do you think of Joan Druett's answers? Have you read any of her Wiki Coffin books? If so, what did you think? Do you like historic crime? Maritime novels? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Ahoy Sydneysiders: triple-serving of Cross on today's menu

This week books have taken over Australia's biggest city, with the Sydney Writers Festival 2010 in full swing. And today our Aussie cousins have the chance for three bites at the Neil Cross cherry - knowing Cross, he'd hope to be a cherry of some darker and less sweet variety, like the French Black Morello cherry...

Getting back to the point; the acclaimed thriller novelist and TV scriptwriter is part of three fantastic events (which are in fact all free and open to the public) today. At 10:30am he is joined by Australian's Michael Robotham and Lenny Bartulin (who are both longlisted for this year's Ned Kelly Award) for "Not Everyone’s a Cop" (none of the trio's heroes are policeman or licensed PIs). That event is at the Studio 1 of the Sydney Dance Company venue, at Pier 4/5 on Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

At 2:30pm Cross commands the neighbouring Studio 2/3 stage solo for "Neil Cross: Spooks", and then in the evening he heads out to the Ashfield Library for one of the 'Suburban and Regional' events, "Neil Cross: Captured".

Cross has been pretty busy and in the public eye lately, appearing at the International Arts Festival in Wellington, having his new BBC TV series, Luther, launch to good reviews in the UK, and having his latest psychological thriller, CAPTURED, released downunder.

You can read my review of CAPTURED here, and my review of last year's BURIAL, here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Starting my day with Koryta... and finishing it with PD James

I have a pretty big day of crime fiction-related interviews tomorrow (Thursday NZT). Before work in the morning I'm interviewing Michael Koryta, the award-winning author of the Lincoln Perry series of novels, as well as the standalones ENVY THE NIGHT and the soon-to-be-released SO COLD THE RIVER. I'm looking forward to this interview, as I've heard great things about Koryta, and I really rated his novel THE SILENT HOUR last year (see my review of the book for the Nelson Mail here).

It should be an interesting interview, as Koryta is one of the 'young lions' of crime fiction, so to speak. Michael's first novel, TONIGHT I SAID GOODBYE an Edgar finalist, was published when he was just 21 and an undergraduate at Indiana University (I feel so old). He has also been a private investigator and award-winning newspaper reporter. He now divides his time between Bloomington, Indiana, where he teaches at the Indiana University School of Journalism, and St. Petersburg, Florida. You can see a cool little YouTube video of him talking about his upcoming book SO COLD THE RIVER, below.





The Koryta interview is for a feature in an upcoming issue of Good Reading, the Australian books magazine, but I will also make sure I weave in the 9mm questions etc, and share other parts of the interview with you here.

Oh, and I've just been informed that tomorrow night after work, I have a phone interview with PD James, the 89-year old peer of the realm and crime fiction legend. Gulp. I've interviewed people who've sold tens of millions of books, high-profile sports stars, leading politicians, and key businesspeople, amongst others over the past couple of years - but I must say I'm a touch nervous about interviewing Baroness James. So yeah, tomorrow is a pretty big day. More on the interviews later.

So, are there any questions you'd like me to ask either Michael Koryta or PD James? Anything you'd like to know about them? I'll check the blog early tomorrow morning before the Koryta interview - so get your questions in as a comment below, and I'll try to weave the good ones in.

Have you read their books? Are you a Lincoln Perry fan? An Adam Dalgliesh fan? Both? Thoughts and comments welcome.

9mm: An interview with Craig Russell

Welcome to the latest instalment in Crime Watch's ongoing series of quickfire author interviews; 9mm - 9 MurderMystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. We’ve had some great authors featured thusfar, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the series continues to grow in the coming months. If you have suggestions of authors you’d like to see interviewed, please let me know, and I’ll do what I can.

For the 13th in this regular series of quickfire author interviews, I put the 9mm questions to Scottish crime writer Craig Russell, the author of the best-selling and critically-acclaimed Jan Fabel thrillers set in Hamburg, Germany and the Lennox thrillers set in 1950s Glasgow. His evocation of Hamburg in the Fabel series is so good that early in his career some media thought he was a German writing under a British name, rather than a Scotsman writing stories set in Germany. In 2007 Russell was awarded the highly prestigious Polizeistern (Police Star) by the Polizei Hamburg, the only non-German ever to receive this award. He has also won the CWA Dagger in the Library, and been shortlisted for the CWA Duncan Lawrie Gold Dagger.

I first came across Russell when I picked up a copy of BROTHER GRIMM from the airport bookshop when I was headed from Auckland to LA in 2007. I read the book at summer camp (I was a counselor), and really enjoyed the mix of modern crime entwined with myth and history. Last year I was fortunate enough to interview Russell for a feature article in The Weekend Herald, looking at his Hamburg-set Jan Fabel thrillers, and his then-recent foray 'back home' to Scotland with the start of his 1950s Glasgow-set Lennox series (you can read my EuroCrime review of LENNOX here). I found him to be very intelligent, humble, and interesting to interview. So it is with great pleasure that I share this new, recently-completed 9mm interview with Russell, with all of you here.

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Craig Russell

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
In print – and film, for that matter - Philip Marlowe. Undisputed noir hero number one. I think Marlowe defined for me what a noir hero should be: someone who uses a veneer of tough-guy cynicism to disguise a basic and unshakeable morality and sense of right. When I was a kid growing up in the sixties, I was hooked on American TV series like The Fugitive, with David Janssen as Richard Kimble. I think I’ve always identified with outsider protagonists.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I can’t remember the title, but it was about cars in a garage who came to life at night. Their headlights became eyes, their grilles smiles, etc.. It was in a sort of Thomas the Tank Engine style but was a bit darker. It was mainly in pictures with a few words on each page and I remember reading it over and over at seven o’clock, my regular bedtime. Which is quite sad, because I was 23 at the time. No, seriously, it was just before I was old enough to go to school (I could read before I went to school which, of course, led to all kinds of problems). I really wish I could remember what that book was called: it left me with a cosy feeling about the dark and night, which may explain a lot. I think the next book to really capture my imagination was Kidnapped by R.L. Stevenson.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything;) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I worked as a freelance writer for 12 years before becoming a novelist. Mainly ‘corporate communications’ and marketing. I wrote scripts for TV and radio commercials, speeches for CEOs, direct mail, all of that kind of stuff. I came up with campaign ideas for political parties, universities, even the government. I also wrote short stories, mainly literary, pretentious stuff that I would blush at now.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I read and write (I’d do it for a hobby if I didn’t have to do it for a profession). I also paint and cook, but not simultaneously. I go for long walks with my dog. I embarrass my children to a world-class standard.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I’d like to answer that on behalf of my literary hometown. When people think of Hamburg, they think of the Reeperbahn red-light district, the Beatles, etc. That either puts them off visiting or they head off to the one-square mile area of St Pauli. My tip is to stay away from the Reeperbahn and visit the real Hamburg - one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities I know. It has a truly cool, sophisticated and elegant feel about it and is loaded with brilliant music and cultural venues and you can do some serious shopping. Sorry, when I talk about Hamburg I sound like I work for the tourist board. But it is that great. And the people are incredibly friendly and have a unique sense of humour. Yes, Germans do have a sense of humour...


If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I have to say, that’s a bit of a stupid question, I mean it’s obvious, isn’t it? And if Pitt wasn’t available, then Depp would do if they gave him really good lighting. According to my kids, I look like a Bond villain but, to quote them: “not one of the cool new ones, one of the naff seventies ones’. I kicked that into touch by pretending I was flattered and trying to find safari-suit suppliers on the internet.


Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Gosh, that’s a tough one. I’d say it’s between Brother Grimm and Lennox. But I’m really pleased with The Carnival Master and The Valkyrie Song. I’d say Lennox was the most fun to write.


What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
There was no single moment, as such. There was a multi-publisher auction, both for the English-language and German editions of the Blood Eagle. Both went on during the Frankfurt Book Fair and I had a new mobile phone, for which only Carole, my agent had the number. So every time it rang, I knew there was another bid on the table! When the deals were finalized, I relaxed with some champagne. Very relaxed. I think my biggest reaction to seeing the book on display was getting off a plane and seeing a big display in a German airport bookshop. There was a photograph of me in the window. Weird.


What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
The most annoying thing was when I was doing a reading in Germany. I was doing the reading from my book in German which, as you can imagine, demanded a lot of concentration. A journalist and a photographer in the front row, immediately in front of me, carried on a full conversation in whispers, laughing at each other’s witticisms. It was very distracting and I was getting angrier and angrier. Eventually the journalist yawned loudly and I stopped the reading and asked him if I was boring him and if he wanted me to wait until he had finished his conversation. He apologized profusely and I continued, but it spoiled the event for the rest of the audience. Oh, and I was accosted by a religious cult before an event. But there again, that’s the sort of thing that tends to happen to me on a weekly basis in normal life.

Thank you Craig Russell. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.

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So what do you think of Russell's answers? Have you read any of his Jan Fabel series? Or LENNOX? If so, what did you think? Do you like Scottish crime? German crime? Thrillers that mix in myth or history? Thoughts and comments welcome.

The Mereleigh Record Club Tour of New Zealand: another overlooked 2009 Kiwi thriller

Further to my post of 26 March about Andrew Grant's SINGAPORE SLING SHOT and Colin D. Peel's THE RYBINSK DECEPTION - thriller novels by Kiwi writers that were published by smaller overseas publishers in 2009, so got little to no attention here (as they aren't readily available, if at all, on our shores), I have found several other such crime/thriller/mystery titles written by Kiwis that were published last year. Including one I just came across today.

It's both troubling, and kind of cool, when this happens. Troubling, because I'm a crime fiction commentator and fan, and even with lots of specific digging over the past few months, I still only accidentally stumbled over these books (so how is a wider crime fiction readership here or overseas meant to find out about them?), but cool because now it seems there were as many as 15 crime/mystery/thriller novels published by New Zealand citizens or residents, here or overseas, in 2009 - which is way, way more than people realise. We do have a diverse range of current crime/thriller writers, it's just that no one knows much if anything about many of them.

So, I have plenty to work with, at least. Much more than people think.

Anyway, the 'overlooked' Kiwi crime/thriller release of 2009 that I just came across today sounds like an interesting read.


The Mereleigh Record Club Tour of New Zealand
By Roy Vaughan
This is the first in a planned series of thrillers starring the Mereliegh Record Club. Rick Foster is a middle-aged guy who enjoys his life and his profession as tour guide and owner of a New Zealand travel company. A craving to bring back the good old days, Foster contacts a group of friends from his heyday in the 60s. Known as the Mereleigh Record Club, these interesting and very active 60-somethings agree to meet and take a tour together.

But things go drastically wrong when they become unwilling targets of an international, dangerous drug smuggling gang. A young New Zealand customs agent fast tracked for promotion persuades the group to become part of a sting operation, but things get out of hand when lives are threatened. Friendships within the group are put to the test and Foster’s put in the precarious position of cooperating with the authorities and protecting his friends. Weird relationships between the good guys and bad guys begin to develop and each is left to wonder just who their true friends are.

THE MERELEIGH RECORD CLUB TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND was published by a small New York publisher, and is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and Book Depository. The auhtor, Roy Vaughan, is a writer and like his main character, owns his own travel company. Apparently Vaughan is currently working on a series of books based on the Mereleigh Record Club’s travels, so it looks like we may have more thrillers to come, starring the rag-tag bunch of senior citizens. Vaughan lives in New Zealand. I'll bring you further details as they come to hand.


Edit: I've just come across a couple of small news stories that suggest the book was launched in New Zealand in early 2010. In a Northern Matters article, Vaughn is noted as having already completed the second Mereleigh book, which he hopes to release at the end of this year, and has started on the third and final book in the trilogy.“A recent visit to Britain and a surprise reunion with some old adolescent era friends prompted me write a novel,” Roy says. “We were all members of a very informal record club at Marlow. The friends wanted me to organise a tour of New Zealand but the recession killed any chance of it happening so I simply invented a tour and the events in the book.It was a pure labour of love and I hope it will help promote New Zealand as a tourist destination. Primarily I hope the books are a good read."

Roy Vaughan worked as a deck officer in the British and New Zealand Merchant Navies, and it was a job with the Union Steam Ship Company that brought him to NZ. He worked as a journalist for the NZ Herald, started an Expo Association and did a stint in Fiji setting up a PR and information section for the South Pacific Forum.

So, how does a road-trip thriller starring a bunch of middle-aged/elderly guys sound? Wrap in some drug dealings gone wrong, and plenty of adventures; I'm intrigued. Would such a book interest you? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CrimeFest 2010 about to kick off: are you going?

In less than two days, CrimeFest 2010 kicks off. The International Crime Fiction Convention, with the tagline "where the pen is bloodier than the sword", is being held in Bristol, England from Thursday through Sunday (20 to 23 May 2010).

There are dozens of great events over the four days, and many, many crime, mystery, and thriller writers in attendance; a real mix of big names, acclaimed newbies, and lesser-knowns. The featured guests are French novelist and award-winning screenwriter Tonino Benacquista and Inspector Morse creator Colin Dexter, who won the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement in 1997.

Skimming through the full programme, which you can browse here, several other interesting names leap out, such as 'Inspector Kubu' creators Michael Stanley, CrimeTime editor Barry Forshaw, Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Big Best from Badsville's Donna Moore, Zoe Sharp, Ann Cleeves, Matt Hilton, and Martin Edwards, amongst many, many others.

On the Friday night at 5:30pm, CrimeFest hosts the CWA Dagger Shortlist Announcement Party, and I understand the eDunnit, Last Laugh, and Sounds of Crime Awards will also be presented during CrimeFest, at the big Gala Dinner on the Saturday. You can read the shortlists for those awards here.

CrimeFest is touted as a convention for people who like to read an occasional crime novel as well as for die-hard fanatics. Following the hugely successful one-off visit to Bristol in 2006 of the American convention Left Coast Crime, the hosts were encouraged to continue with a similar annual event and created CrimeFest (the first convention being held in June 2008). CrimeFest is quickly becoming one of the most popular dates in the crime fiction calendar, drawing top crime novelists, readers, editors, publishers and reviewers from around the world and gives delegates the opportunity to celebrate the genre in an informal atmosphere.

Sounds like a great few days. So, who's going to CrimeFest? Have any of you been to any such crime writing festivals (Harrogate, CrimeFest, Left Coast Crime, Bouchercon, Malice Domestic etc)? If so, what do you think? What do you like/dislike about such festivals? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Currently reading: THE RULE BOOK by Rob Kitchin

Yesterday I started reading THE RULE BOOK, the debut novel from Irish crime writer Rob Kitchin. I am about 1/3 to 1/2 the way through, and really enjoying it thusfar. This doesn't surprise me, as I had recommendations about the book from several book bloggers whose opinions I value.

I understand Kitchin's second police procedural is coming out next month - THE WHITE GALLOWS. The sequel looks equally interesting, so hopefully Kitchin's audience continues to grow.

In THE RULE BOOK, it is April in the Wicklow mountains and a young woman is found dead, seemingly sacrificed. Accompanying her body is Chapter One of "The Rule Book" - a self-help guide for serial killers. The case is assigned to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and headed by Detective Superintendent Colm McEvoy. Since the recent death of his wife, McEvoy is a shadow of his former self - two stones lighter with a wardrobe of ill-fitting suits, struggling to quite the cigarettes that killed his wife, and still getting used to being a single parent. Less than twenty-four hours later a second murder is committed. Self-claiming the title 'The Raven', the killer starts to taunt the police and the media. When the third body is discovered it is clear that The Raven intends to slaughter one victim each day until "The Rule Book" is published in full. With the pressure from his superiors, the press, and politicians rising, McEvoy goes after a killer that is seemingly several steps ahead. Is the "Rule Book" as definitive as The Raven claims?


Kitchin is a director of a National University research institute in Ireland. He is also the author or editor of 17 academic books, and edits an academic journal, two book series and has edited a 12 volume encyclopaedia. He blogs on reading and writing at The View from the Blue House.

You can read my 9mm interview with Rob Kitchin here.

I will write a review after I've finished the book (it's looking pretty positive at this point). In the meantime, you can check out some other commentary on Kitchin and his writing here:

Have you read THE RULE BOOK? What did you think? Do you like the sound of Irish police procedurals, or a new take on the serial killer sub-genre? Please share your thoughts.