Today is the birthday of Kiwi crime writer Andrea Jutson, who has written two Auckland-set crime novels in recent years; SENSELESS and THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK. I recently met Jutson at a Writers Lounge event focused on crime fiction - she was on a panel with fellow Auckland crime writer Ben Sanders.
I enjoyed THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK when I read it a couple of years ago, and I'm looking forward to reading SENSELESS, which I've also heard good things about. SENSELESS (2005) is a psychic-tinged crime thriller, which introduced reluctant medium and English immigrant James Paxton. 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."
After its release in 2005, 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 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 2008 Juston 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."
Hopefully we will see Jutson writing some more crime fiction in future. To celebrate her birthday today, I might go home later and start reading SENSELESS.
Have you read any of Andrea Jutson's crime tales? What do you think of crime that blends in psychics or the supernatural? Of Auckland-set crime fiction? Comments welcome.