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 Amazon.com - 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.