Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crime Fiction Alphabet: 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.

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

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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.

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