Monday, January 31, 2011


Now fully caught up in relation to the fantastic Crime Fiction Alphabet series created and run by my fellow Anzac and book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise - I'm raring to go at the start of this 'D' week.

For those who've been rock-sheltering, the Crime Fiction Alphabet is a great series where each week crime fiction 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, all linking to each other.

You can read the 27 posts from my 2010 effort (I did two posts for one letter), here. Last year I included 11 posts relating to New Zealand crime writers or crime novels. Not a bad strike-rate, in terms of highlighting Kiwi crime fiction to the world.

As I said last week, I've now decided that I am going to this year set myself the very challenging task of focusing not only just on New Zealand-themed posts, but just on Kiwi crime fiction books (ie I won't do any author profiles etc this time around), although sometimes it may be the author's name that is relevant to the letter of the week. So you will get a review or profile of more than 26 Kiwi crime/thriller novels over the course of this series (given that some weeks I'll feature multiple books, like the 'B' post which had five Bs over three book titles).

This week, for the letter 'D', I've decided to dig back into the Kiwi crime and thriller fiction past, peeling back the decades to feature a book by a somewhat forgotten author, Elizabeth Messenger, who wrote several New Zealand-set thrillers back in the 1950s and 1960s. Niftily for 'D' week, the book I'm going to focus on is called DIVE DEEP FOR DEATH (3Ds).

DIVE DEEP FOR DEATH (Robert Hale, 1959) was Messenger's third crime thriller novel. "What was the secret of the Takaka Hills which Brendan Burch took to his death? Was that death an accident? Who were the people gathering back at the scene and what were there particular interests? Who was the beautiful girl who kenw so much about Alistair Alleyn, a complete stranger in a strange country? Did the answers to all these queries lie hidden in the heart of a marble mountain from which an icy underground torrent gushed forth?

These were just a few of the riddles Alleyn had to solve almost as soon as he landed in New Zealand, a country he had chosen at random in an attempt to forget his past and the fact that he had ever been a doctor. He was not allowed to escae, however, but was foreced to perform the strangest and most terrible operation of his life, besides risking injury and death himself, before he discovered the answers.

Messenger was a journalist, cookery writer, and crime novelist (you can read a full bio here) born in the Coromandel in 1908. According to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Messenger's thrillers, "which she produced at the rate of one or two a year from 1958, were set in tourist spots such as the Marlborough Sounds (Murder stalks the bay), Lake Taupo (Material witness) and the Bay of Islands (A heap of trouble)."

DIVE DEEP FOR DEATH is set in Takaka, at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. This is also a nice tourist/holiday area - and another thing that drew me to this book, since I grew up 'just down the road' in Nelson. I visited Takaka Hill several times as a youngster - I remember looking forward to the Ngarua Caves on the hill, though dreading the drive over it when we holidayed at lovely beaches in Golden Bay.

Like most Kiwi writers of the time, and many of the 'genre' writers in much more recent times, Messenger was published by an overseas publisher (Robert Hale in London). "Elizabeth Messenger’s novels, once popular enough to be serialised and translated into other languages, are now difficult to obtain," says DNZB.

I've certainly found that - even after trawling through countless online and real-life second-hand bookstores, and regularly searching the Internet and other resources as part of my unofficial research into New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing, I only found out about her fairly recently. I have managed to source several of her books, but it's been a battle.

From what I can gather, Messenger wrote at least nine crime/thriller novels in the 1950s/1960s, in addition to her journalism and cookery writing. They are:
Not a bad output, and it makes it even more remarkable - especially given our purported dearth of crime and thriller writers (other than Dame Ngaio Marsh) pre-1990 - that we seem to have almost completely forgotten about her. Just goes to underline that popular perception (eg New Zealand doesn't have much of a crime fiction history) is not necessarily reality.
What do you think of my 'D' choice? Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Messenger, or read any of her books (crime or otherwise)? Do you like reading crime novels from different eras, eg actually written back in the 1950s, 1960s etc - not just set then? Comments welcome.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Currently reading: BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway

Well, as predicted I raced through the very, very good STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens on Friday night and Saturday, and am now onto another 'new to me' author, and another country for the 2011 edition of Dorte Jakobsen's fantastic Global Reading Challenge (highly recommended - information available and register here).

Scanning my bookshelves again, I decided to go green, so to speak, and head to Ireland with Brian McGilloway's debut BORDERLANDS. I've heard good things about this author, but hadn't yet come across his novels in New Zealand - but while I was in Hanoi at New Years, I picked up a copy of BORDERLANDS from the excellent Bookworm store (a must-visit if you're ever in the Vietnamese capital).

Here's the blurb for the first Devlin book, which was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger:

"The corpse of local teenager Angela Cashell is found on the Tyrone- Donegal border, between the North and South of Ireland, in an area known as the borderlands. Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin heads the investigation: the only clues are a gold ring placed on the girl's finger and an old photograph, left where she died.

Then another teenager is murdered, and things become further complicated when Devlin unearths a link between the recent killings and the disappearance of a prostitute twenty-five years earlier - a case in which he believes one of his own colleagues is implicated.

As a thickening snow storm blurs the border between North and South, Devlin finds the distinction between right and wrong, vengeance and justice, and even police-officer and criminal becoming equally unclear. A dazzling and lyrical debut crime novel, Borderlands marks the beginning of a compelling new series featuring Inspector Benedict Devlin."

Certainly sounds intriguing, and I like the prospect of a crime novel set on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland (seems particularly apt for the 2011 Global Reading Challenge).

You can read more about McGilloway at his website here.

Have you read BORDERLANDS, or any of McGilloway's other Devlin tales? If so, what did you think? Do you like reading 'globally' when it comes to crime fiction? Who are some of your favourite Irish crime writers? Comments welcome.

Crime Fiction on the 'Net: Weekly Round-up

There have been some more great crime fiction stories on the Web this past week - from newspapers, magazines, and fellow bloggers. Hopefully you will all find an interesting article or two linked here, that you enjoy reading.

Just a quick reminder for those readers in the south of the South Island that this coming week Vanda Symon's excellent fourth Sam Shephard novel, BOUND, will be launched at the University Book Shop in Dunedin. All Crime Watch readers are invited to the event, which will be held at 6pm on Wednesday 2 February 2011 at the UBS store, which is located at 378 King Street, Dunedin. RSVP to

Onto the round-up.

Crime Watch Weekly Round-Up: In the News and on the 'Net

  • Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival this past week, Swedish crime writing superstar Henning Mankell discussed the end of Kurt Wallander, that he is inspired by Greek Tragedy, and that Shakespeare's MacBeth is the "best crime story" that he's ever read.
  • Deadline Hollywood reports that ABC has greenlit a pilot for "Poe", a new crime prodcedural that would see author Edgar Allan Poe as a detective using unconventional methods to investigate dark mysteries in 1840s Boston.
  • On the Books South Africa website, acclaimed South African crime writer Margie Orford discusses the desire to write 'a proper book', the flexibility of crime writing, and the trope of feminity and death. In another post Orford discusses the "devilish details" so vital for good crime writing.
  • The Waikato Times interviews local short story writer Stephen Ross, who has been shortlisted for a prestigious Edgar Award, a rare feat for a New Zealand writer.
  • Jeff Pierce, editor of the excellent website The Rap Sheet, is on the lookout for "any authors or critics out there would like to contribute an essay to The Rap Sheet’s regular 'forgotten books' series" - see here for more details.
  • The Parkridge Herald-Advocate takes a look at the upcoming "Love is Murder Mystery Conference," the premiere Midwest gathering of mystery authors, readers, publishers, and agents which returns this year on 4-6 February after a hiatus in 2010 (this is the thirteenth instalment in 14 years).
  • Scott Eyman of the Palm Beach Post grabs a few moments with a very busy Robert Crais, currently touring in support of his latest novel THE SENTRY, for an interesting Q&A.
  • Star News Online reports that wo mystery writers, Judy Nichols and Joyce Lavene, have helped revive the defunct and once-popular Cape Fear Crime Festival, which ran in Wilmington, North Carolina from 2001 to 2007. You can read the news story about the new festival, which will be on Saturday 5 February, here, and check out the festival website here.
  • Ngaio Marsh Award judge and acclaimed book blogger Graham Beattie comments on the latest thrillers from British author Robert Goddard and Norwegian Ann Holt here.
  • The Kansas City Star reviews MR HOOLIGAN, a crime novel by Florida journalist Ian Vasquez set in his native Belize (perhaps a good option for some of the readers undertaking Dorte Jakobsen's excellent 2011 Global Reading Challenge).
What are the roots of crime fiction - do you agree that Greek tragedies and Shakespearean plays are also crime fiction, at least in part? Does the modern focus on 'detective fiction' unnecessarily constrain many critics from realising crime fiction is much wider and longstanding than that? Do you like attending crime fiction festivals and meeting authors? Are you taking part in the 2011 Global Reading Challenge? Comments welcome.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Currently reading: STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens

Having finished THE SENTRY by Robert Crais, I looked up on my creaking bookshelves last night to decide what to read next. So many choices, so many good recommendations, so many new-to-me authors to try...

Having read US (several states/regions), Scottish, Cambodian, Thai, New Zealand and Australian crime fiction in the past few weeks, I thought I should give another country/region a go now - especially as I have signed up once more for the 2011 edition of Dorte Jakobsen's excellent Global Reading Challenge (highly recommended - information available and register here).

For whatever reason, I felt like something Canadian. There are many terrific Canadian crime writers out there - like New Zealand authors they are often overlooked, in favour of lesser but more publicised authors from bigger markets, by many readers and reviewers. I have a few 'new-to-me' ones waiting on my TBR shelves, and after a bit of mulling, decided to give STILL MISSING, a debut thriller by Chevy Stevens, a go. I'd heard very good things about this book, but hadn't yet got around to it. Time to fix that.

It's set on Vancouver Island too, which is a bonus. For those who aren't familiar with Vancouver Island, it's a lovely, rugged setting off the west coast of British Columbia. I really enjoyed spending a couple of days there when I was in Canada in 2008. Several crime writers actually live on Vancouver Island or the Gulf Islands (an array of smaller islands in the area) off the Canadian coast, including the iconic William Deverell, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Vancouver, and Ngaio Marsh Award judge Lou Allin. I can understand why - it's a terrific place.

Here's the blurb for STILL MISSING: "On the day she was abducted, Annie O’Sullivan, a thirty-two year old Realtor, had three goals—sell a house, forget about a recent argument with her mother, and be on time for dinner with her ever- patient boyfriend. The open house is slow, but when her last visitor of the day pulls up in a van as she's about to leave, Annie thinks it just might be her lucky day after all.

Interwoven with the story of the year Annie spent captive of a sadistic psychopath in a remote mountain cabin, which unfolds through sessions with her psychiatrist, is a second narrative recounting events following her escape—her struggle to piece her shattered spirit back together and the ongoing police investigation into the identity of her captor.

The truth doesn’t always set you free."

The book is written as a series of 'shrink' sessions where Annie recounts both what is happening to her now, and what happened to her back then. After starting the book late last night, I'm already well-hooked, and am flying through it. There's a nice 'narrative voice' to Annie's first-person narration - some personality and interesting ways of looking at things. The intrigue and mystery is building nicely too - which is a great effort by Stevens considering it's obvious from the first page that Annie survived the abduction. But there are many other important things to answer... I wouldn't be surprised if I finish this compelling tale sometime later today.

I will share my thoughts in due course, but in the meantime you can read more about Chevy Stevens and her writing at her website here.

Have you read STILL MISSING? If so, what did you think? Do you like reading 'globally' when it comes to crime fiction? Who are some of your favourite Canadian crime writers?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Kiwi author offers free ebook of upcoming novel

Trawling (or 'trolling', for you American readers) around the Internet today, looking for more hitherto-undiscovered-by-me New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller books and authors, historic and contemporary - it's a regular hobby of mine - I stumbled across another Kiwi-based author who has been published primarily online; Steve Malley.

Malley (pictured left) is an expatriate American now living in New Zealand. Describing himself as "Tattooed, pierced and dreadlocked", he is a writer, graphic novelist and professional artist. His debut thriller, CROSSROAD BLUES, was published in Amazon Kindle format last year. It is also available from the Smashwords website, in a variety of e-formats. Here's the blurb:

"An aging country star with a serial killer in his entourage.

A mysterious drifter with the Blues in his heart and the road for his home.

A beautiful Irish girl bent on revenge.

A modern Noir thriller...

Kane is a drifter, a musician with the Blues in his heart and the road for his home. Maeve is tattooed and dreadlocked, a beautiful Irish girl steeling herself for revenge. The night they meet, Kane takes a stand that pulls him into the orbit of wealthy and perverse has-been country star Boogie Jack Terrabonne, the band of thugs Terrabonne calls an entourage and their murderous and terrifying leader, Harlan Winters. Trying to save Maeve from herself may cost she and Kane both their lives...Crossroad Blues is a thriller, a suspense novel, a modern-day Western largely set in the Otago region of New Zealand. It's a story of sex and violence and revenge, a has-been country star with a serial killer in his entourage, backpackers and drifters and living the Blues.

Crossroad Blues is Noir with a dark heart, a story of men whose choices have damned them and a young woman determined to avenge her best friend, even at the cost of her own life. Even at the cost of her soul. It also has all the elements of a classic Western: a wicked landowner, brutal henchmen, a thoroughly modern saloon girl in trouble and a lone stranger every bit as decent as he is tough. Imagine Shane as written by James M. Cain or Joe R. Lansdale. Or one of the novels of Andrew Vachss written by James Lee Burke."

It would have to be pretty damned good to deserve the 'James Lee Burke' comparison, but given that that it's a very affordable US$2.99-US$3.99, depending on the format/website, I thought it was well worth giving CROSSROAD BLUES a go, to see what this young AmeriKiwi has going on, in terms of his thriller writing. So I bought a copy this afternoon - I'll let you know what I think in due course. It could fall very short of James Lee Burke and still be very good, after all.


Malley's second thriller, POISON DOOR, will be released next month. And for the next few days, the author is offering free e-book copies to anyone who emails him. The only catch is that you need to agree to give the book a review - good, bad, or indifferent, he doesn't care (well, he probably does, but at least he's not being pretentious about it) - somewhere on the Internet. Even if you don't have a blog, you could review the book on sites like Amazon or Good Reads, etc. So that's a pretty good deal, I think. Here's the blurb:

"Sarah Crane is one tough cop. In a country where police don't carry guns but criminals do, she has to rely on the strength of her wits and the skill of her bare hands. Faced with a series of brutal murders and the disappearance of young women no one else seems to miss, she'll stop at nothing to get to the truth. In troubled young Michelle, Sarah sees a reflection of her own dark past.

Tommy Knowles is a vicious killer. From a London orphanage to the shores of New Zealand, he has risen from life on the streets to control this small country's heroin trade. Now his own success has led him to the edge of disaster. To secure the weapons he needs in the fight for his life, Tommy will trade as many innocent lives as necessary to secure his survival.

Michelle Swanston is fourteen and in danger. Safer on the Christchurch city streets than she is in her own home, Michelle's night wanderings take her into a hell worse than any she ever imagined. With no way of knowing who she can trust, no one else she can rely on, this terrified young girl is determined not to go down without a fight..."

You can visit Malley's website here, and his blog Full Throttle and F**k It! here.

So, do you think you might take him up on his offer? What do you think of the marketing tactic for a young up-and-coming author? Comments welcome.

Great news: Neil Cross's acclaimed TV series LUTHER is coming to New Zealand TV screens

Last week I shared the news that Wellington-based novelist and TV screenwriter Neil Cross, whose novel BURIAL was one of the three finalists for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, had received two Edgar Award nominations this year - for the writing in his acclaimed six-part BBC TV detective show Luther (see a trailer for the series above).

The show stars Idris Elba (of The Wire fame) as John Luther, a very unorthodox and troubled British cop. Elba received a Golden Globe nomination for his compelling performances in the role.
You can read more about the show (which has been picked up for a second season in the UK, and has also inspired a series of spin-off books, to be written by Cross), at Neil Cross's website here.

Now I can confirm that Luther is finally coming to New Zealand television screens, next month. The series will be shown on the UKTV channel, beginning on Sunday 6 February at 8:30pm.

You can read more about Luther in an article from yesterday's New Zealand Herald, here.

Have you seen Luther, in the US or UK? If so, what do you think? Have you read or watched any of Cross's other storytelling (the TV show Spooks, or books like BURIAL, CAPTURED, the Booker-longlisted ALWAYS THE SUN, and HOLLOWAY FALLS)?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Win a copy of international bestseller THE CLEANER

Last week I had a couple of posts looking at the importance, or not, of cover art. In the second post I published a gallery of ten different covers - including the latest Polish-language version (pictured right) - for Paul Cleave's excellent debut novel THE CLEANER, which has been popular in continental Europe and elsewhere.

As an aside near the bottom of that post I mentioned in passing that I would give away a copy of THE CLEANER, making the draw from anyone who commented on the cover art gallery post. I've just realised that I probably should have highlighted the giveaway a bit more, as most readers don't seem to have picked up on it (unlike previous giveaways).

So, just a reminder that if you'd like to win a copy of Cleave's excellent international bestseller, THE CLEANER, please go leave a comment here, discussing which of the covers you prefer.

I'll leave the giveaway open for a few extra days to ensure you have a fair chance to enter.

Good luck. Go here to enter.

C is for CUT & RUN

I am now playing a bit of catch-up here in relation to the fantastic Crime Fiction Alphabet series created and run by my fellow Anzac and book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise - after belatedly making my 'B' post yesterday, today I am making my official post for this week - the 'C' week of the Crime Fiction Alphabet.

The Crime Fiction Alphabet is a great series where each week crime fiction 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, all linking to each other.

You can read the 27 posts from my 2010 effort (I did two posts for one letter), here. Last year I included 11 posts relating to New Zealand crime writers or crime novels. Not a bad strike-rate, in terms of highlighting Kiwi crime fiction to the world.

As I said recently, I've decided that I am going to do my best to publish a New Zealand crime and thriller fiction-related post for every letter this time around. Quite a challenge, perhaps. I will feature some New Zealand authors that were included last year, but I will create new posts and use them in a different way this time around, I've decided.

I've now also decided to tighten my 'theme' even more - to focusing on Kiwi crime fiction books (ie I won't do any author profiles etc this time around), although sometimes it may be the author's name that is relevant to the letter of the week. So you will get a review or profile of more than 26 Kiwi crime/thriller novels over the course of this series (given that some weeks I'll feature multiple books, like yesterday's post).

So for this week, 'C' week, I've decided that although there are plenty of good and great Kiwi crime novels and authors that I could choose for the 'C' post, that I will focus on the very first book to win the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel - Alix Bosco's debut CUT & RUN.

Cut & Run
by Alix Bosco (Penguin, August 2009)

The thriller-writing debut from a “successful writer in other media” writing under a pseudonym, Cut & Run introduces Auckland based-heroine and legal researcher Anna Markunas, who will apparently spearhead a planned series.
Middle-aged Markunas has been easing herself back into work, and equilibrium, after recovering from a breakdown suffered after years of will-sapping social work in South Auckland, the suicide of her husband, and the problems of her P-addicted son. Now a legal researcher for a defense lawyer friend, she finds herself looking into the circumstances of a celebrity murder.
When rugby star Alex Solona, who began life on the tough streets of South Auckland, is murdered in the arms of beautiful socialite Mikky St Claire, it seems an open-and-shut case of a drug deal gone wrong. A view bolstered by Solona’s former friend and rugby teammate Kamal Fifita confessing to the crime. But as Markunas begins to research Fifita and Solona’s backgrounds, she begins to suspect something far more sinister.

Overall, Cut & Run is a very enjoyable thriller that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages. Bosco sets the scene by name-dropping a lot of real-life central Auckland locations and historic urban footnotes in the early going, before also taking the story to South Auckland and the Coromandel. There’s also a sense that some of the high-profile characters, including celebrities and QCs, may be amalgams of real-life New Zealanders, which can create a fun game of ‘I wonder who that is based on?’

But the bigger question is, ‘does it work as a thriller?’ And the answer to that is a resounding yes; Bosco creates an enjoyable page-turner not only through the ‘did Fifita really do it?’ plotline hook, kicked up a notch when subsequent discoveries put Markunas in danger, but through her creation of characters with some nice depth and complexity.

The more we learn about Markunas, the more we want to follow her (in this book and the ongoing series). The supporting cast could read like a caricature list: lawyers (honorable and not), cynical restaurant reviewers, violent gang members, jaded policeman, troubled youngsters, airhead socialites, but Bosco imbues them all with something more. She does a great job setting us up and then upturning our assumptions about not only the plot, but some of the characters. I look forward to the second in the series.

You can read the first chapter of Cut & Run HERE.


This review was first published in NZLawyer magazine, and is reprinted here with permission.


Have you read CUT & RUN? If so, what did you think? Of the book, of Anna Markunas as a heroine? Are you looking forward to the TV adaptation? Comments welcome.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

B is for BLOOD BOND, BOLD BLOOD, and BLOOD MEN (and belated)

As I noted recently my fellow Anzac and book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has brought back her great series where each week crime fiction 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, all linking to each other.

You can read the 27 posts from my 2010 effort (I did two posts for one letter), here. Last year I included 11 posts relating to New Zealand crime writers or crime novels. Not a bad strike-rate.

As I said recently, I've decided that I am going to do my best (it may be quite tricky) to publish a New Zealand crime and thriller fiction-related post for every letter. Quite a challenge, perhaps. I may feature some New Zealand authors that were included last year, but I will create new posts and use them in a different way this time around, I've decided.

B could be for Belated, in my case, as I'm a few days late on my second week's post. I've been mulling over which of many options to use, and have in the end decided to combine them into a B-extravaganza, a five-B line-up of Kiwi crime: B-ing my reviews of the recent-ish Kiwi crime and thriller novels BLOOD BOND, BOLD BLOOD, and BLOOD MEN. So here we go.

Blood Bond
by Michael Green (Arrow/Random House, September 2009)

The second instalment in computer consultant, professional speaker, and keen yachtsman Michael Green’s ‘Blood Line’ trilogy, BLOOD BOND continues the story of two branches of the Chatfield family (one based in England, the other in New Zealand) who appear to be the only survivors in the aftermath of a fatal global pandemic.

BLOOD BOND begins with some of the New Zealand branch having rescued several British family members from the repressive medieval-style regime established by Nigel, a tyrannical patriarch, at Haver Hall near Kent, England. The fleeing group sails back to the Southern Hemisphere, facing unexpected dangers and fracturing relationships at stopovers in South Africa and Australia as they search for supplies, and other survivors.

Meanwhile the family remaining in England battle to survive Nigel and his sons’ wrath at the escape, before planning a coup – but would a new ‘democratic’ regime be any better than Nigel’s dictatorial one, or would self-interest and retribution lead to political short-cuts, power-plays and eventual savagery?

Although it’s the second in a trilogy, BLOOD BOND is a thrilling and enjoyable read even for those that haven’t read Blood Line (the first in the series, published in 2008). I quickly picked up the ‘back-story’, and increasingly found the pages whirring as Green intercut between the events unfolding at Haver Hall, and those on the yacht Archangel.

One of the best things about the novel, apart from the exciting events, is the way in which Green raises questions, in amongst the twisting plotline, about how humans interact with each other, especially when under tremendous pressure. When everything is stripped away, what would we do when it comes to protecting our family? How interested in the good of the group would even the most community-minded amongst us, really be?

Green, who lives on his yacht Raconteur in Gulf Harbour, has written the series to help raise funds for LifeLine, the telephone counseling charity. Regardless of the great cause, it’s a book many thriller fans would enjoy, and should consider buying.

Bold Blood
by Lindy Kelly (HarperCollins, 2009)
Horse-loving journalist, poet and children’s author Lindy Kelly adopts the old adage, ‘write what you know’, with her crime debut BOLD BLOOD, parlaying her youthful experience as an international eventing rider into a suspense tale set amongst the stables, saddles and sorrels of the New Zealand equestrian world.

Dr Caitlin Summerfield is happily living a hectic Wellington lifestyle, accessorised with overseas travel and a rich boyfriend. Her rural Nelson childhood has been left far behind, along with her emotionally abusive mother.

A fall and a phone call destroy Caitlin’s reverie, and she takes the bunny-hop flight across Cook Strait to return ‘home’. Playing caretaker at her comatose mother’s horse farm, helped by rugged neighbour Dom and multi-pierced teenage groom Kasey, Caitlin scratches beneath the surface of high-tech horse trailers and well-fed thoroughbreds to discover looming financial ruin, and a shot at a million-dollar breeding contract. A contract someone is willing to do anything for. Even kill.

Having published more than 100 short stories, sixteen children’s books, 36 poems, and had her writing feature on National Radio and performed on stage, Kelly told me she had one goal for her first adult thriller. “I wanted to write the sort of book that I like to curl up with for sheer pleasure… something with excitement and adventure, likable strong characters… a few mysteries, a bit of romance, humour, and passion.”

Overall she succeeds, spinning an engaging tale that carries the reader along. She strikes a nice balance - peppering local references, without over-seasoning in any contrived attempt to foist ‘Kiwi-ness’ onto a universal story. Populating a plot of assaults, arsons, horse theft and murder with a diverse cast, Kelly impresses most with her rich portrait of life in the eventing world, along with the way the horses aren’t mere props; but full-blown characters with personalities in their own right.

Although there is the occasional plot misstep, BOLD BLOOD is a good debut – a must read for horse-lovers, and an enjoyable read for anyone.

Blood Men
By Paul Cleave (Random House, 2010)
Christchurch novelist Paul Cleave doesn’t write boring stories, that’s for sure. His taut tales told through the eyes of deeply troubled ‘heroes’ have broken the mould when it comes to local crime and thriller writing, becoming huge international bestsellers in continental Europe. His debut The Cleaner was the biggest-selling crime/thriller novel for Amazon Germany in 2007, and on its release last year the German translation of this third thriller, Cemetery Lake, jumped straight to the number two spot overall, just behind Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, and ahead of the Stieg Larsson trilogy.

Down this way, we’ve been a little slower on the uptake, but with the release of BLOOD MEN, Cleave’s fourth dark thriller, local readers have another chance to find out why the young man from Christchurch is being read and praised by the likes of Lee Child, John Connolly, Tess Gerritsen, Mark Billingham, and other international heavyweights, and why he will soon be launched in the key US market, a rare feat for a New Zealand writer.

In BLOOD MEN, Edward Hunter is a happily married family man with a great life, but a very dark past; he’s the son of a notorious serial killer who’s been in prison for 20 years, and will never be coming out. The son of a man of blood. When tragedy strikes his family, Edward suddenly needs the help of the man he’s spent his entire life distancing himself from, and trying to prove he’s nothing like. But as things spiral out of control, Edward begins to hear his own dark inner voice, and begins to fear he’s destined to become a man of blood, just like his father.

In terms of writing, Cleave’s prose crackles with freshness and energy. Sporadic moments of brutal violence may be too much for some who prefer mysteries of the Christie-esque ‘cosy’ style, but those who can handle grittier crime will uncover a top-notch tale. Cleave masterfully mixes compelling characters, sly humour, a taut plotline with enough tension and twists to keep the pages whirring, and a well-evoked, if somewhat malevolent, version of Christchurch.

With BLOOD MEN, Cleave shows he not only stacks up with, but in fact betters, many of the big-name international crime and thriller bestsellers that Kiwi readers buy in droves. Perhaps it’s time we better recognised the budding star in our own midst.


These three reviews are edited versions of reviews first published in NZLawyer magazine, and are republished here with permission.


What do you think of my B post for the Crime Fiction Alphabet? Of my goal of only having New Zealand-related posts? Have you read any of these three Kiwi crime/thriller novels? Comments welcome.

Advance Australia Fair...

Today our ANZAC cousins 'across the ditch' (how us antipodeans refer to the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand) are celebrating their national day, Australia Day. So in honour of all things Australian, and inspired by my excellent fellow Anzac bloggers Kerrie of Mysteries in Paradise and Bernadette of Reactions to Reading - who have today relaunched their revamped joint Australian crime fiction blog Fair Dinkum Crime (check it out here), I thought that today I would share with you a couple of my most popular Australian-related posts of last year - my review of Leah Giarratano's BLACK ICE, and my 9mm interview with Michael Robotham.

So have a read of my Aussie-tinged review and interview, then pop over to Fair Dinkum Crime and leave a message for Kerrie and Bernadette. Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi.

By Leah Giarratano (Random House, 2009)In BLACK ICE, her third in a series featuring city detective Jill Jackson, Giarratano picks at the scab of Sydney’s murky drugs underbelly; a world where everyone from glamorous A-Listers to addicted streetkids to and vicious gangs, all collide.

The publisher's blurb states: "Living in a run down flat and making unlikely friends Jill sees first hand what devastation the illegal drugs scene can wreak. Jill's sister Cassie has a new boyfriend Christian Worthington. Like her, he is one of the beautiful people of Sydney, rich, good looking, great job, great car and seen in all the right places. He is a high flying lawyer doing pro bono work to keep a drug dealer out of gaol. He is also Cassie's supplier, keeping her supplied with cocaine and ice. When Cassie overdoses and is dumped at the hospital her life begins to spiral out of control. Seren Templeton is just out of Silverwater Women's Correctional Centre. Two years in gaol away from her son for something she didn't do. And now she is ready to get her revenge on the man responsible. Things start to go awry when these worlds collide and Jill and Cassie meet on opposite sides of the law."

I really enjoyed this book, and I found myself enjoying it more and more as it went on. I ended up giving it a 4-star rating for a short review I did for Good Reading magazine (I mark reasonably hard - I've only ever given two five-star reviews out of 40-50 reviews for them).

I must admit that initially I wasn't that enamoured with Jackson as a main character - this may have been because I didn't have the full background on her from the first two books of the series, so some of her behaviour seemed a touch eye-rolling/contrived to me, when it may have seemed more organic and believable if I'd known more about her and her past. But Jackson (and Giarratano's writing) really grew on me throughout, and by the end of the book I was keen to read another tale centred on the (overly?) ambitious, complex, and flawed detective.

I particularly liked Giarratano's mix of setting (the gritty urban Australia underbelly), good dialogue, interesting plot, and some unique and memorable characters. BLACK ICE has a real modern, contemporary feel - not just because of the modern lifestyles and drugs involved, but the punchy way in which Giarratano writes, and her fresh evocation of the different layers of Australian drugs culture. Overall Giarratano pens a taut thriller; she excels in bringing the gritty world and her unique characters to life with realism and freshness.

If I have a quibble, it's that at times at times I could see the psychologist in her coming through a little too much, especially when it came to 'excusing' or mitigating the actions of some characters (particularly any female character - whose flaws always seemed to come down to how badly she'd been treated by some man in her past). The consistency of this pulled me out of the story a little at times, as I was left thinking about the author and her approach, rather than being completely and totally involved with the characters and story - you could 'see the author's hand' a little, which isn't a good thing. However, this was a very minor flaw in an otherwise great read.

The freshness of Giarratano's writing, her wonderful scene-setting, her unique characters, and her good plotting, will all bring me back for more. A good read for anyone looking for some very modern and contemporary city-set Australian crime fiction.

The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Michael Robotham

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Um, Dave Robicheaux - I think James Lee Burke is just one of the most astonishing writers - forget about literary fiction, crime fiction, genre fiction - he’s just amazing, he’s got the soul of a poet. And every book just seems fresh to me, and very few people manage to create a series character where they can do that.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I’ll tell you a story. I fell in love at a very young age, probably about 12 or 13, with Ray Bradbury’s stuff. He did the Twilight Zone type of stuff, and he was an amazing novelist, but mainly did short stories. A limited number of Ray Bradbury titles were available in Australia, so at a very young age, I might have been 13 or 14, I wrote a letter addressed to Ray Bradbury, well it was addressed to sort of ‘Random House, America’ - there was no address other than that, and six months later a package arrived in the post, and it was the five books that weren’t available in Australia, with a letter from Ray Bradbury saying how truly thrilled he was to have a young fan on the other side of the world. And I feel that was one of the reasons I became a writer, I think, just because of the generosity of spirit of that man, and his astonishing act of generosity. And so I always remember Bradbury.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
There was the great Australian unpublished novel, which is still unpublished, but will be published some day. But other than that, there were 16 ghost-written autobiographies for various people, and lots and lots of journalism.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?Ha, ha, hahaha - I don’t have a life other than that. I spend time with my family, with my daughters. When I was a ghost-writer I did quite a bit of reading, but if I’m reading I feel guilty, and that I should actually be writing. I don’t really have any activities, any hobbies. That’s what my wife says, that I don’t have any hobbies.

But writing starts as a passionate hobby, that’s how it has to start. So my passionate hobby became my career, and so it’s all I really want to do.

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?
Probably take the mail ferry from Palm Beach, it’s a two-hour round trip along the upper reaches of the Hawkesbury River. You jump on the ferry, and it stops at all the little communities. It’s this most spectacular natural harbour north of Sydney, but it’s mostly bushland, with these incredible sorts of views, and you can just sit out and look and it costs virtually nothing. At the other end it stops for about half an hour at this little place where you can have a cup of tea or coffee, and you just jump on the ferry and come back again. It’s just a wonderful way to spend the day.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?Dreyfus. Everybody says I look like Richard Dreyfus. It’s funny, but he’s the guy that I most often get mistaken for. I should actually say that Richard Dreyfus most often gets mistaken for me (chuckling).

Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
All writers are told by their publishers, that they have to say the latest one. All writers are told you don’t announce ‘oh no, this isn’t my favourite book, my favourite book is the second one’ (chuckling).

But... The first one, because to sell a half-finished manuscript all around the world, it just changed my life. And when people talk about books that changed their lives - reading a book or writing one - that was the book that changed my life. In the space of a few hours, after being at the London Book Fair, my life just changed, within a couple of hours. And it was just, after having 16 books for other people, that my name never appeared on, to actually see a book appear in a bookstore, with my name on it, was a very special moment.

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?Crime writing publication - well as I say, that sort of happened with getting a phone call at 3 o’clock in the morning, saying there were six American publishers bidding, and two French publishers, and you don’t go to sleep after something like that, so we lay in bed, and at about 7 o’clock in the morning we’d spent the money, and we’d cast the film (chuckling). And that was about it really. I’m sure we had a bottle of wine, we have a bottle of wine most nights, but I don’t know whether we did anything other than that. But it did change my life. I mean, I’d been a ghost-writer so I’d been a published writer for many, many years, but it was still one of those great moments.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Good or bad? Well, the good - doing a signing event in a town in Western Australia which had a population of 125, and 75 people turned people turned up. So that was absolutely mad. And the other side of it is I’ve been to places where three people turn up, and one of them is in a pram.

There was one book signing at a small bookstore in Sydney where there was no room for me to sign in the bookstore, so they put the table outside with a microphone, and they expected me to spruik. That did not go down well.


Who are some of your favourite Australian crime fiction authors? What Australian crime novels do you recommend? Have you read Giarratano or Robotham? Comments welcome.

Historical novelist Lindsey Davis tabbed for Diamond Dagger

HISTORICAL CRIME novelist Lindsey Davis (pictured right, photo: Michael Trevillion) is to be awarded the prestigious CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger Award. The award from the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), which is sponsored by Cartier, honours outstanding achievement in the field of crime writing.

The award, the 26th time the Dagger has been presented, will be presented by Cartier UK’s Executive Chairman Arnaud Bamberger at a date and venue yet to be arranged.

Lindsey Davis was born and brought up in Birmingham, read English at Oxford, then joined the civil service, which she left in 1985. Her first novel, The Silver Pigs, published in 1989, introduced her hero Marcus Didius Falco and his long-suffering partner Helena Justina. Starting as a spoof using a Roman 'informer' as a classic, metropolitan private eye, the series has developed into a set of adventures in various styles which take place throughout the Roman world. 2009 saw the publication of Rebels and Traitors, set in the English Civil War and Commonwealth. Nemesis, the 20th Falco novel, and Falco: The Official Companion were published in June 2010.

The Cartier Diamond Dagger is the latest award for Lindsey. The Silver Pigs won the Authors' Club Best First Novel award in 1989, and she has also won the CWA Dagger in the Library and the inaugural Ellis Peters Historical Dagger. Her hero Falco has won the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective. Her books are published in the UK and US, and translated into many other languages. Audio readings and Large Print versions are made. BBC Radio 4 has produced successful drama serials of the early books, dramatised by Mary Cutler and starring Anton Lesser as Falco and Anna Madeley as Helena.

She has been Chair of the UK Crime Writers' Association and Honorary President of the Classical Association. In 2009 the city of Zaragoza awarded her its International Prize for a career of writing historical novels, the Premio de Honor de Novela Histo rica Ciudad de Zaragoza. In 2010 the city of Rome honoured her with the Premio Colosseo for ‘enhancing the image of Rome’.
Lindsey said: “When I heard about this I had just been awarded the Premio Colosseo, so I was already reeling. The Diamond Dagger is the ultimate accolade for a crime author, because it is given by fellow-writers and is not just for one book but your work as a whole over the years. I am absolutely delighted and honoured to receive the Cartier award."

Tom Harper, Chair of the CWA, said: “This is the highest award the CWA can bestow and Lindsey Davis is a worthy winner. Her novels have long delighted her worldwide band of followers and the Dagger is a fitting recognition of her achievements.“

For more information on the CWA, please visit the website,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Forgotten Fiction: ON THE LIP OF A LION

As regular readers of this blog will know, over the past year or more, I've been gradually building up a collection of out-of-print and hard-to-find New Zealand mystery, crime, thriller and suspense novels from days recent and gone by. While many people seem to think New Zealand historically has little in the way of crime fiction, other than Dame Ngaio Marsh of course, I've stumbled over many interesting books and authors, and even a number of overlooked recurring detectives (eg Steve Arrow of Laurie Mantell's books, Reverend Jabal Jarratt of Freda Bream's books, and Doug Fisher and Liz Gresham of Carol Dawber's books, etc).

While the pace has slowed, I am still quite regularly adding to my Kiwi crime collection, and recently I purchased another book online, ON THE LIP OF A LION by Roy Jenner. Here is the back-cover blurb: "Enjoying a respite between marriages, Kris Neven is reunited with his teenage daughter at the height of the Christmas season. After casually disregarding a threat to separate him from his daughter, and his money from his bank account, Neven is plunged into a month of audacity, intrigue and violence, which rampages from the heart of Auckland to the shores of Lake Taupo as he responds to the demand for a monster ransom. Love, humour, violence and deception spill from the pages of this novel, holding the reader’s attention into the small hours."

ON THE LIP OF A LION was published Gauntlet Paperbacks, an imprint of Hazard Press, in 2004. Unfortunately Hazard Press went under soon after, taking with it the budding careers of several New Zealand popular fiction authors. I haven't been able to find any other books that Roy Jenner may have written since, and his website is now inactive.

Here is some biographical information, from the Hazard website (which is still operational, although the company is not): Roy Jenner was born in London and spent his youth in Kent. After serving in the Army he worked in the retail meat trade before moving to Auckland, New Zealand with his wife and first two sons. A shift to the real estate profession proved to be a wise move for Roy; he enjoys considerable success and features regularly in the top five per cent of sales people in New Zealand.Roy also writes short stories, poems and song lyrics.

It may interest some of you to know that the book's title, ON THE LIP OF A LION, comes from a Shakespeare quote, from Henry V:

"That's a valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast
On the lip of a lion."

From what I can gather online, the book appeared to get some good reviews on release. I am looking forward to reading it, when I get the chance.

Do you like the sound of ON THE LIP OF A LION? Do you like discovering out-of-print or hard-to-find crime and thriller titles? What are some of the lesser-known New Zealand authors or books you have stumbled across? Thoughts and comments appreciated.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Waikato Times highlights local author's Edgar nomination

Further to my blog post last week congratulating Wellington-based novelist and TV screenwriter Neil Cross and Hamilton-based short story writer Stephen Ross for their Edgar nominations, it seems that some of the mainstream New Zealand media have started to pick up on the story.

The Waikato Times (the newspaper for Hamilton and surrounds, and one of the bigger newspapers in New Zealand) has over the weekend included a news story on Ross and his achievements, which is great to see. The news story, which you can read online here, also gives a bit more information about Ross, and his nominated story, "Monsieur Alice is Absent" - a murder mystery story set in France in the 1970s.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Currently reading; THE SENTRY

Just started the latest book from excellent LA crime writer Robert Crais, whose Elvis Cole and Joe Pike tales have been added to my 'must read' list in recent years. THE SENTRY comes out in New Zealand next month, and once again we find the former sidekick Joe Pike at the centre of the action, and longtime protagonist Elvis Cole playing the supporting role.

Here's the blurb: "Dru Rayne and her uncle fled to L.A. after Hurricane Katrina; but now, five years later, they face a different danger. When Joe Pike witnesses Dru's uncle beaten by a protection gang, he offers his help, but neither of them want it-and neither do the federal agents mysteriously watching them. As the level of violence escalates, and Pike himself becomes a target, he and Elvis Cole learn that Dru and her uncle are not who they seem- and that everything he thought he knew about them has been a lie. A vengeful and murderous force from their past is now catching up to them . . . and only Pike and Cole stand in the way."

You can read my Reviewing the Evidence review of Crais's last novel, THE FIRST RULE, which also featured Joe Pike in the lead, here.

All going to plan, I should be interviewing Crais by telephone this coming week for an article in the Weekend Herald - so I'm looking forward to that. He's a great writer, and has an interesting background as well - moving to Hollywood and becoming a TV writer (Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice) before turning his attention (very successfully) to crime novels. I'll make sure to ask him the 9mm questions as well. If there are any other specific questions you'd like me to ask him, please let me know (leave any suggestions in a comment here).

Anticipation building for THE LINCOLN LAWYER film

Well, along with all the books I am looking forward to in 2011, there are a also a few films that I can't wait to see. And perhaps the one I am most excited about is THE LINCOLN LAWYER, based on the superb Michael Connelly book of the same name. And it seems I'm not the only one - film critics are already starting to list it on must-see or most promising movies of 2011 lists.

Although book-to-film adaptations don't always go well, and can fall very flat at times, I am hopeful about this film for a number of reasons, including the trailer, the stellar cast, and the fact that when I interviewed him late last year Connelly himself seemed very happy with the script adaptation, and how it was looking (having been on set). So fingers crossed THE LINCOLN LAWYER delivers.

You can watch the first trailer here, and also read some comments from Connelly to me about the movie. You can read my NZ Herald article on Connelly here, and his 9mm interview here.

Are you looking forward to THE LINCOLN LAWYER? Have you read the book? What crime novels would you most like to see turned into films?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Crime Writers’ Association names Peter James as new Chair

The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) has announced that best-selling crime novelist Peter James (right: photo by Gareth Ransome) will be its new Chair, following in the footsteps of authors who include Ian Rankin, Dick Francis and Lady Antonia Fraser. Peter will take over from current Chair Tom Harper in April at the Association’s annual general meeting in Darlington, County Durham.

Peter James is one of the UK’s most popular crime and thriller novelists. His Roy Grace detective novels have sold more than one and a half million in the UK alone and six million worldwide in total. The series is now translated into 34 languages and his latest novel, ‘Dead Like You’, went straight into the Sunday Times bestseller lists at no 1 in both hardback and paperback. His novella, ‘The Perfect Murder,’ went to No 1 on iBooks and has spent 40 consecutive weeks in the iBooks Top 10. Peter has developed a close working relationship with the Sussex Police over many years, spending an average of one day a week with them, and his writing reveals a unique insight into the reality of modern day police work. He has carried out extensive research with police in Moscow, Munich, Paris, Melbourne, Sweden, New York and Romania, and regularly attends international police conferences to ensure he is at the cutting-edge of investigative police work.

Born and brought up in Brighton, Peter divides his time between his homes in Notting Hill, London and on the South Downs near Lewes in Sussex. An established film producer and script writer, he has produced numerous films, including The Merchant Of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes. A TV adaptation of the Roy Grace series is currently in development, with Peter overseeing all aspects, including the scriptwriting. In 2009 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Brighton in recognition of his services to literature and the community.

Peter James said: “I view it as a tremendous honour to be appointed Chair of such an important organisation. The CWA is both the society and the voice of authors writing in the widest read, most influential and in my view most important sector of literature. Good crime and thriller writing, both modern and historic, reflects the way the world that we live in has been shaped and continues to be shaped. The writings of the CWA members help us both to escape life's dark sides and to confront and understand them.

“With the advent of exciting new digital reading platforms, and undoubtedly further technological advances to come in the way we access literature, I will do all I can in my time in office to promote the whole image of crime and thriller writing as the genre that should be taken seriously and read by all - not just those who love a good mystery, but by everyone who enjoys the pleasures and riches of finding a book that captivates them."

Tom Harper said: “We are thrilled that Peter has agreed to be our Chair for the next year. The CWA represents the best writing in the UK’s favourite branch of fiction. Having someone with Peter’s talent, standing and passion for the genre will be a real boost to the Association and its members.”

Find out more about Peter James at and Peter’s website and follow him on Twitter.

For press enquiries or more information on the CWA, please visit the website,, or contact

Author event: launch of BOUND, Vanda Symon's new Sam Shephard book

Last week I was fortunate enough to get an advance review copy of a terrific new book that comes out in a couple of weeks; BOUND by Vanda Symon. Now, since I stumbled over THE RINGMASTER in the Papatoetoe Library in late 2008, I've been a fan of Symon's Sam Shephard novels. However, that wouldn't stop be saying if I didn't think the latest was up to scratch (eg I liked CONTAINMENT, the third in the series, and thought it was a very good novel that lots of people would enjoy, but for me I didn't think it was quite as good as OVERKILL and THE RINGMASTER, which were excellent).

So, I was curious to see how I would feel about BOUND: would it maintain the high standards of the overall series - the personality-packed characters and narrative, the visual storytelling and nice touches of humour amidst the mystery - or like some other ongoing series that started so well (cough, Patricia Cornwell, Linda Fairstein, Kathy Reichs) would it show signs of beginning to fall into a bit of a ho-hum pattern where what made the series special is worn away over time and some reader start bandying about words like 'formulaic'?

I can't say too much here, as I will be writing a newspaper/magazine review and feature about Symon and BOUND in the very near future (which will of course be shared with you all here on Crime Watch) - but I will say that I read the book in a little over 24 hours, that I was hooked and completely engaged by the characters and the storyline the whole way through, and that in my opinion, as good as I thought OVERKILL and THE RINGMASTER were, BOUND is the best book in the series thusfar.

My advice? Go and buy this book. If you've already tried the Sam Shephard series, I'd be astonished if you didn't love BOUND. If you haven't yet had the pleasure, then now's a great time to start.

And for those of you living in or visiting the lower part of the South Island, Vanda Symon, her publishers Penguin, and the University Book Shop have invited all Crime Watch readers to the official launch party for BOUND, at 6pm on Wednesday 2 February 2011. See the image for further details. RSVP to

Comments welcome.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kiwi flag flies amongst Edgar nominations!

With two writing nominations for Wellington-based crime novelist and screenwriter Neil Cross's excellent TV series Luther, and one for Hamilton-based short story writer Stephen Ross for his story "Monsieur Alice is Absent" (published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine), the New Zealand flag is certainly flying proudly amongst the Edgar Award nominations announced overnight (New Zealand time). Great stuff, terrific to see.

As many of you will know, the Edgars are like the Oscars of crime writing (possibly sharing that status with the Daggers - I'll let the organisers of each battle it out for which one is the Oscars, which the Golden Globes). Regardless of eventual results, it's fantastic to see a couple of New Zealand-based writers getting recognised in this way by the Mystery Writers of America.

You can read a bit more about Stephen Ross here, and at his website here.

You can read more about Neil Cross here, and at his website here.

Hopefully the bigger New Zealand media (TV, radio, newspapers/magazines) will pick up on the story and share it with more New Zealanders, because both Neil Cross and Stephen Ross deserve congratulations and wider acclaim for their achievements.

I will have more to say on the rest of the Edgar nominations (see here for full list), especially the best novel lineup, soon, but for now, go the Kiwis!

Comments welcome.

A tale of ten covers (the importance of cover art, part II)

Further to my post earlier in the week talking about the importance (or otherwise) of good cover art, and sharing the striking cover for the Polish-language version (pictured right) of Paul Cleave's THE CLEANER, due to be released this week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to look at and compare the ten different covers Cleave's fantastic debut novel has had in various countries.

Interestingly, the book, which was a top bestselling crime/thriller title on Amazon Germany in 2007, hasn't yet been released in the United Kingdom or the United States - but hopefully that will be corrected by Cleave's publishers in the near future. I understand it has also been signed up for release in Taiwan in recent times, but I haven't yet seen a cover for that version. Here are the other nine covers thusfar for the various versions of THE CLEANER:

The above nine covers are for the:
  1. New Zealand version (top left);
  2. Australian version (top middle);
  3. German version (top right);
  4. Russian version (middle left);
  5. French Sonatine version (centre);
  6. French version (middle right);
  7. Czech version (bottom left);
  8. Japanese version (bottom middle);
  9. Turkish version (bottom left).
Which version(s) do you prefer? I think the Polish version is probably the most striking, although I'm not entirely sure about having an image of 'Joe' on the cover. I also like the simplicity and starkness of the French Sonatine version, and now having seen all the versions side by side, the New Zealand and Australian versions are probably better than I first gave them credit for - although I think the 'blurry' title font takes away from some of the impact of the images used in those versions, which is a shame. I think the New Zealand one actually could have been the best, if the fonts used were better (the image is actually pretty cool).

I tell you what; if you leave a comment, noting your favourite cover(s) and the reasons why it's your pick, then you will go into the draw to win a copy of Cleave's novel - in the language of your choice (I may have to pull a few strings, but oh well). Might as well run Crime Watch's first giveaway of 2011, eh? Draw will be made the end of next week. Spread the word.
I look forward to reading your opinions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rapace for Best Actress?

Back in August last year I reported on rumours coming out of Hollywood that Noomi Rapace could be in the running for an Oscar nomination for her tremendous portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish-language film adaptation of Stieg Larsson's books. Along with speculation that the makers of the English-language version might try to dampen any such hype, in case it damaged their own film.

I think, if all things were equal (which they never are in the entertainment world), Rapace would be a worthy shoo-in for at least an Oscar nomination. However it remains to be seen whether Hollywood would/will embrace the foreign-language performance. Rapace was overlooked by the Golden Globe Awards (I'm not sure whether her and the film were eligible, depending on their criteria) - Natalie Portman (BLACK SWAN) won Best Actress in a Drama ahead of four other English-language performances - but today comes welcome news that Britain's own film awards, the BAFTAs, have lined up Rapace as a deserved nominee in the Best Actress category.

Joining Rapace and Portman in the Best Actress category for the BAFTAs are Annette Bening and Julianne Moore (THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT), along with Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT). Moore and Bening were both nominated in the Best Actress - Comedy or Musical category at the Golden Globes (Bening won the category), where like Rapace, Steinfield was overlooked by the Hollywood Foreign Press. It's kind of interesting that in fact the BAFTA list only includes three of the ten Best Actress nominees (Drama and Comedy/Musical) from the Golden Globes.

The Academy Award (Oscar) nominations will be announced next week. It would be fantastic (and deserved) to see Rapace on the list, but I'm not that hopeful of the American academy sharing the foresight of their British counterparts, even though there is some overlap between the bodies. A shame. In its latest 'Oscar predictions' rankings, Entertainment Weekly lists Rapace at number 10 for Best Actress, with bigger names (which may be preferred by the often-conservative American academy voters) and previous Oscar nominees and winners such as Hilary Swank, Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman 'above' her (Halle Berry was also rated above her until the BAFTA nominations).

As I said in my review of Män som hatar kvinnor (aka the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) in December 2009: "In terms of acting, I thought Noomi Rapace was brilliant as Lisbeth Salander. She conveyed the computer hacker’s conflict, confusion, anger, and uniqueness (amongst other things) exceptionally well through glances, gestures, and other non-speaking moments – not just scripted dialogue. Like the best performances, I never saw it as someone acting as Lisbeth Salander, rather Rapace was Lisbeth Salander. " Read the full review here.

What do you think of Rapace's performance as Salander (especially in the first film, which is eligible for this year's Oscars etc)? Do you think she deserves to be nominated? How does her performance compare to some of the other strong female acting performances of 2010?

To publicise or not to publicise, that is the question...

There were a couple of interesting, and contrasting (in many ways, polar opposite) articles about writers marketing or publicising their work, in the Huffington Post and the Wall Street Journal the past few days. Together, they raise interesting questions about the role of the author in the modern world of writing. Just how much effort should authors put into publicising and marketing their work? Do they need to be more proactive and hands-on themselves now that the goal posts seem to have shifted in our era of social networking? Or should they solely concentrate on writing what they personally believe is the best book possible, and leave the rest to the Gods?

In a 16 January article entitled "New Rules For Writers: Ignore Publicity, Shun Crowds, Refuse Recognition And More" author Anis Shivani decries "every prescription for writing success you'll hear as a young writer from all quarters: the conformity-driven MFA system, the publishing industry's hype-machine, successful writers who act either like prima donnas or untouchable mystics, the marketing experts who seek to impose advertising rules on the writing product."

Writers need to strike out on their own, embrace the madness and non-conformity, eschew crowds and run screaming from any well-trodden roads to commercial success, he argues. Shivani instead prescribes a "regimen designed to pull you away from the mother-teat of the writing industry", including ten commandments:
  1. Disobey the system
  2. Ignore publicity
  3. Shun crowds
  4. Seek unemployment
  5. Converse only with the Classics
  6. Refuse recognition
  7. Don't pursue a niche
  8. Aim for zero audience
  9. Accept failure
  10. Think small.
Read the full article here, for his paragraph or two of detail on each commandment. Certainly some debate-starting ideas there, for sure. I admit to a few WTF? moments when reading some of what Shivani suggests, but then there are a few 'kernels of truth' and interesting insights or perspectives amongst what can seem a little like cyncial vitriol at times. Read between the lines, as they say. There is also a touch of irony in that Shivani promotes his own books (including a clickable link to the Amazon page of one) at the end of his piece. 'Do as I say', perhaps?

Hat tip to Graham Beattie of Beattie's Book Blog for the heads-up re: the Huffington Post article.
On the flip-side, Joanne Kaufman of the online Wall Street Journal takes a closer look at a variety of creative ways that authors themselves can look to build their audience and book sales, rather than just relying on the publicity department of their publisher, in an article entitled "How Authors Move Their Own Merchandise". Reader raffles for pre-orders, Facebook slideshows of readers or celebrities reading your work, creative or unusually-themed publicity or launch parties, giveaways, buying up copies of another author's work cheaply to offer 2-for-1s with your own, and turning your work into a performance piece are all amongst the ideas and techniques Kaufman surveys.

Here's a paragrpah from the article: "Excruciating it may be. Nonetheless, authors are becoming more and more involved in the nitty-gritty of moving the merch. "It's no longer a top-down media culture," said Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. "There is still value and import in having authors appear in traditional media venues like the 'Today' show or The Wall Street Journal," he continued. "But what's changed is that they no longer need the intermediary to reach the reader."

... According to Penny Sansevieri, an adjunct professor at New York University and CEO of Author Marketing, a publicity firm, there are 1,500 books published daily in the U.S., including self-published titles. "To get noticed," she said, "you have to throw more at people than just your book.""
Read Kaufman's full article (recommended) here.

It's definitely a new world when it comes to publishing and trying to reach readers. Barriers are being broken down between readers and writers, but there is also so much out there that it can be easy for things to get lost in the flood. The world of books is certainly not a pure meritocracy, and while better writers and books might have a better chance of success, things aren't always that simple. In my opinion authors need of course to concentrate on writing the very best stories they can, but then they can and should also look to be a little proactive when it comes to the publicity and marketing of their books. Meeting readers at events, signing books, or keeping up a conversation over blogs, Facebook, websites, message boards etc with those that enjoy your work can only help grow your audience (cementing the fans you have, and helping to encourage others).

Not every idea will work for every author, but in my opinion, it's worth trying at least some of them. With all the hard work that goes into writing, and the months and years it takes to shape a story, it's always such a shame to see good and great books failing to get the audiences they deserve. If a few things can be done to help things along, and widen the net, why not put some effort in (as long as it doesn't detract from writing the next one, which is of course the main priority)...
What do you think?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The importance of cover art?

One of my favourite crime fiction-related websites is the excellent EuroCrime (which I occasionally review for) run by the irrepressible Karen Meek. For the blog part of the website, Karen often features various European crime novel cover art. It's always interesting to see the different ways publishers in various countries try to steer the readers attention towards a book.

Inspired by her efforts, and by the fact that one of New Zealand's best-kept creative secrets (in English language countries at least), crime writer Paul Cleave, is increasingly being published in a variety of European and Asian languages - each edition with its own specific cover - I thought I would share this latest cover art (above) from the Polish edition of Cleave's outstanding debut novel THE CLEANER, which is available this week. Quite striking, in my opinion.

What do you think of the cover? Have you read THE CLEANER or any of Cleave's other stories? How important do you think cover art is, in terms of grabbing a casual readers attention or the book's success? Do we in fact judge a book by its cover, at least somewhat?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: A is for Andrea Jutson

As I noted last week, my fellow Anzac and book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has brought back her great series where each week crime fiction 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, all linking to each other.

You can read the 27 posts from my 2010 effort (I did two posts for one letter), here. Last year I included 11 posts relating to New Zealand crime writers or crime novels. Not a bad strike-rate.

As I said last week, I've decided that for my second crack at the series that there will be no repeat posts, ie using the same post that I used for a letter last year (I imagine most repeat participants will similarly be aiming to do create brand new lists). I've now also decided that I am going to do my best (it may be quite tricky) to publish a New Zealand crime and thriller fiction-related post for every letter. Quite a challenge, perhaps. I may feature some New Zealand authors that were included last year, but I will create new posts and use them in a different way this time around, I've decided.

A bit of a computer snafu over the past few days meant I'm a little late on my 'A' post, but here, belatedly, it is (thankfully Kerrie has left the meme open for me to add it belatedly): A is for Andrea Jutson.

Jutson is a New Zealand author who has written two Auckland-set crime novels featuring reluctant medium (psychic) James Paxton; SENSELESS (2005) and THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK (2008). You could say that words and reading have always been a big part of her life - and as an adult she has worked both as a bookseller and a journalist, switching back and forth at times.

Born and raised in Auckland, Jutson has said in interviews and articles that she has always enjoyed reading, including plenty of crime fiction, amongst many other books. As a teenager she read the Brother Cadfael mysteries of Ellis Peters, and has said she has always wanted to visit Shrewsbury where they were set.

In fact, she revealed in a blog post for New Zealand Book Month in 2008 that she contemplated making Shrewsbury the hometown of her English immigrant hero James Paxton, before picking a nearby smaller town which would have had more chance of "suspicious neighbours". "[Shrewsbury] is still a very medieval town, and I loved the idea that it was on the Welsh marches, a border town. That struck me as perfect for a medium, who also lives between two worlds," she said Jutson.

Jutson worked as a bookseller for several years before becoming a journalist for a local newspaper, The Aucklander. In a New Zealand Book Month blog post in 2008, Jutson described working full-time as a journalist as: "a delightful mix of combing council agendas and school newsletters for something out of the ordinary, meeting some truly inspiring or exasperating people, and serving as agony aunt for (mostly exasperating) callers".

Later Jutson returned to working as a bookseller (in 2009-2010), and then last year she went travelling overseas. You can read a travel article she wrote about Slovenia for the New Zealand Herald here. Over the past couple of years there was talk of a third Paxton novel by her publisher Random House, but unfortunately that seems to have been put on hold at the moment.

Jutson's debut crime novel SENSELESS was published in 2005- a psychic-tinged crime thriller set in Auckland, which introduced reluctant medium and English immigrant James Paxton and policeman Andy Stirling. Paxton finds the body of a man bludgeoned to death, a dead man who then later asks him to track down his killer, for the sake of his daughter. As the backcover blurb states: "Paxton's carefully constructed new world threatens to crumble as he is sucked into the hunt for a predator, while the police snap close at his heels. And the corpses keep on mounting, one by one . . A darkly gripping mystery with an other-worldly twist."

SENSELESS received some good reviews, but like many New Zealand crime and thriller titles of that time, wasn't highly publicised or otherwise noticed by the New Zealand book-buying public (which does of course have a strong appetite for international crime and thriller fiction). Clea Marshall of NZGirl magazine said: "Grisly images aside, I loved how I could visualise every scene from the book and the locations weren’t your average Auckland icons, either... Andrea Jutson writes with authority and compassion ... a strong, thoughtful crime novel that stands out from the crowd."
Major newspaper the Sunday Star-Times compared Jutson to Ruth Rendell and Jeffery Deaver. In an article for Scoop Review of Books in 2008, Jutson revealed the five crime novels that inspired her writing: THE SHAPE OF WATER by Andrea Camilleri (terrific characters, showing non-US/UK locations are fertile ground for crime fiction), SCAREDY CAT by Mark Billingham (demonstrating the skill of mixing light and shade, humour and darkness), LIVE BAIT by PJ Tracy (memorable characters, funny storytelling and dialogue), THE UNQUIET DEATH by Gay Longworth, and the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. You can read her full article here.

In 2008 Jutson released the follow up to SENSELESS, again featuring Paxton and Detective Constable Andy Stirling. In THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK, Paxton and Stirling find themselves knee-deep in another murder mystery after a pizza delivery boy stumbles across a body at a house in the Auckland suburbs. Stirling, stumped by the grisly but seemingly motiveless crime, visits Paxton, hoping for ‘unofficial’ help. When another bashed and stabbed body is found by another delivery-person, the case quickly takes a more sinister twist, especially when it becomes apparent a game-playing serial killer is targeting unfaithful women. Then Paxton’s involvement is leaked to the media and public hysteria ensues – complicating both Paxton’s personal life, and an already difficult investigation for Stirling and his NZ Police colleagues.

You can hear Jutson talking about the writing of THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK in this archived Radio New Zealand interview.

In a review of THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK I wrote for NZLawyer magazine in 2009, I said: "One of the best things ... is Jutson’s depiction and use of Paxton and his psychic abilities. Neither contrived nor clichéd, Paxton is a fascinating and reasonably complex character - not a cardboard cutout of the average “psychic” tabloid columnist or wannabe TV celebrity... I also enjoyed the ‘piss-taking’ and gallows humour atmosphere amongst Stirling and his police colleagues – realistic team dynamics that some authors avoid. Overall, a well-rendered supporting cast of café owners, headline-hunting journalists, and secrets-keeping suburbanites populates an interesting storyline that largely keeps you on the hook. Topped off nicely by moments of humour and domesticity that provide a breather from the dark deeds, it’s an enjoyable local read for crime fiction fans."

Jutson's tales focused on Paxton had the makings of a good series, with an intriguing protagonist, so hopefully at some point in the future she may publish another crime novel. Before I read it, I was a little skeptical about the 'psychic' element being brought into a mystery tale, but Jutson handled it really well, and it wasn't a case of a 'gimmick' being used by an author to get attention or paper over cracks in the overall storytelling etc. I would happily read more of James Paxton (in fact, I've already bought a copy of SENSELESS too).

While I understand that Jutson has only thusfar been published in New Zealand, her two crime novels are available to overseas readers via the Internet. In particular, there is a Kindle edition of THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK available from - see here. So those of you overseas could give her a go. If you are a fan of series like Medium that combine a bit of psychic/supernatural stuff with mystery/crime, I think you would really like Jutson's novels.

Have you read Andrea Jutson? What do you think of her crime novels? What do you think of her recurring hero, medium James Paxton? Do you like a mix of paranormal and crime stories? Please share your thoughts.