Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is Zirk van den Berg the best thriller writer in New Zealand?

That was the question the New Zealand Listener asked, several years ago, in a review of van den Berg's debut thriller NOBODY DIES. It was before the likes of Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, Paddy Richardson, Ben Sanders, and others amongst the recent wave of New Zealand crime and thriller writing had been published - so the Listener was comparing Van Den Berg to the likes of Ned Kelly Award-winning Paul Thomas, acclaimed noir writer Chad Taylor, Simon Snow, Michael Laws, Nigel Latta, Michael Wall (who I discovered earlier this year was a heck of a good thriller writer - see my review of the sadly-out-of-print FRIENDLY FIRE here) and others of the late 1990s to early-mid 2000s era.

The reason I revisit the question now, is that van den Berg's acclaimed novel NOBODY DIES (which was also rated one of the top 5 thrillers of 2004, globally, by the New Zealand Herald), is now readily available to international readers for the first time; you can now download NOBODY DIES for the 'why the hell wouldn't you?' price of US$1.99 from Smashwords (click here).

I understand that van den Berg will publishing a second novel in the near future, also in e-book format, which is great news. Just last year Stephen Stratford, the head of judges for the literary-fiction focused NZ Post Book Awards (our Kiwi equivalent of the Booker Prize or Australia's Miles Franklin Award), said in an article by Mark Broatch in the Sunday Star-Times that he was "still waiting for a new novel from Zirk van den Berg whose outstanding Nobody Dies came out in 2004".

Originally published by Black Swan Crime (a division of Random House), NOBODY DIES is a gripping thriller that opens with a bang; a renegade female detective executes a man in her custody.

Here’s the backcover blurb:

“Erica van der Linde has found the perfect way to make sure the witnesses in her police protection programme in Cape Town stay hidden. She kills them. As the criminals turned state witnesses have exited one life and not yet started another, there’s nobody to look for them.

But she hasn’t encountered anyone like Daniel Enslin before.

You’d hardly call him a criminal. An apathetic loner in a nothing job, Daniel gets his kicks by associating with Frank Redelinghuys, a dealer in all kinds of merchandise, unfettered by the normal rules of morality. But when Daniel witnesses Frank commit a murder, he feels compelled to do something about it.

He betrays Frank to his arch enemy, policeman Nic Acker, even though this puts his own life in danger. When the case against Frank collapses, Acker has no option but to put Daniel into the witness protection programme. With Erica to set up a new life for him, Daniel will be safe, at least...”

Until recently, the book was unavailable other than from libraries and secondhand stores (you might have stumbled across a copy or two squirrelled away in a bookstore somewhere, if you were incredibly lucky). However, van den Berg has now made the book available online, at Smashwords. Complete with a new cover image (see right).

So now we can all find out what the reviewers were raving about seven years ago. I'm certainly looking forward to reading NOBODY DIES, and seeing whether I agree with Herald reviewer Michele Hewitson, who back in 2004 called the book "Edgy and truly frightening" and van den Berg's writing "superb".

Have you read NOBODY DIES? Who do you think is New Zealand's best thriller writer - back then, or now? Do you like crime fiction set in South Africa? Comments welcome.


  1. Great book. Was a very good read.

  2. Glad to hear you enjoyed it Stephen. Just out of curiousity, did you read it back in the print copy days, or have you just recently read the e-book version?

  3. I read Nobody Dies when it first came out and am pleased to see he has another book due out. I thought it was an excellent read. We have so many more NZ thriller/crime writers now, and it would be hard to say who is the best as they all have their own unique style.