Monday, August 15, 2011

Five Favourite Kiwi Thrillers - a brand new Crime Watch series

Now that we've passed the two year blogosphere anniversary of Crime Watch, I thought it might be a good time to introduce a new recurring series - Five Favourite Kiwi thrillers - inspired by New Zealand writer David McGill, who I interviewed for the 9mm series last month.

Unlike 9mm (which will continue, don't worry - we have to get to at least 100 interviews before that series is retired), this brand new series won't just focus on crime and thriller writers, but instead will involve crime and thriller fiction readers - a much wider group. So over the next few months you'll see a variety of faces here on Crime Watch, from celebrities in and out of the books world to everyday readers, talking about their favourite Kiwi thriller novels (could be crime thrillers, spy thrillers, adventure thrillers, whatever).

The series arose from an email conversation I was having with McGill (pictured  above right), who has written 45 books on a very wide range of subjects, including several that fall within the thriller category (for example, IN XTREMIS). He shared with me his all-time five favourite Kiwi thrillers, caveated by the comment that his selection probably "dated" him somewhat. You can read more about McGill, his career, and his wide variety of acclaimed books, at his website here.

To kick-off the new series, here is a run-down of David McGill's Five Favourite Kiwi Thrillers (as far as I'm aware, in no particular order):

Summary: In the near future, when danger is in the mind and violence lurks behind every smile, a rural community foster a terrorist group called The Little Red Hen to defend themselves against the right-wing state. At the centre of the confrontation is the beautiful Rosa with the mentality of a child.

Note: Currently out-of-print, but you may be able to find copies in second-hand bookstores and/or libraries (I did, and have seen it a few times).

McGill's take: "international class and really thrilling in paranoid tradition".

Summary: When Smith is left by his wife and goes to hide away in the bush in the Coromandel he never imagines he will become the most wanted man in the country. In a right-wing coup one man, Volkner, has seized power in New Zealand and is using army and special police to maintain his government. Smith's Dream forces us to imagine such a situation and to ask ourselves: Where would you stand? How far would you go?

Note: Recently reprinted as part of the 'Popular Penguin' series. Was adapted into a film, Sleeping Dogs, starring Sam Neill, which was the first New Zealand film released in the United States.

McGill's take: "I prefer the Sleeping Dogs title, and indeed the movie is as good B-grade as they get, and also the paranoia in the Big Brother tradition".

THE SCARECROW by Ronald Hugh Morrieson
Summary: A hilarious Gothic melodrama of a sex killer in a small town. Klynham is a sleepy little New Zealand town in which not a lot happens. But then one moonlit night the Scarecrow arrives, swilling brandies and looking for victims. Something sordid and even macrabre lies ahead.

Note: Widely renowned for having 'the greatest opening line in New Zealand literature': "The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut." Also adapted into a film in 1982. Recently re-released as part of the 'Popular Penguin' series of classic novels.

McGill's take: "Truly scary. Only Maurice Shadbolt patronage persuaded publication, which says much about our publishers (I know the chap who turned down THE BONE PEOPLE twice as publisher with different houses!)"

OLD SCHOOL TIE by Paul Thomas
Summary: Involves the unlocking of a dark 25-year-old secret relating to a teenage girl's mysterious suicide at a private school ball. Freelance journalist Reggie Sparks' investigation spills over into an underworld turf war involving the Sydney mafia and a ferocious Maori gang, the Blood Drinkers.

Note: Also known as 'Dirty Laundry'. Recently re-released as part of THE IHAKA TRILOGY, along with the Ned Kelly Award winning INSIDE DOPE and GUERILLA SEASON.

McGill's take: "Fresh and genuine crime talent".

BROKEN OCTOBER by Craig Harrison
Summary: The Treaty of Waitangi is stolen by Maori Guerillas. A weak Prime Minister resigns, and his power-hungry successor can't cope with the internal and international problems which rapidly follow. Industrial unrest flares overnight into violent racial conflict. New Zealand splits into two colours; And then the dominoes begin to fall. In one sense this novel is a straightforward narrative of violent revolt and savage repression - a 20th century Maorit Land War fought with all the weaponry and psychological techniques so grimly familiar to the 1970's. Fantastic ? Or eerily credible......

Note: This novel is out of print, but can be found in second-hand bookstores and online, and in libraries. I picked up a copy from a second-hand bookstore a few months ago, and have seen it elsewhere too.

McGill's take: "At time a breakthrough, I thought. More paranoia – must be Kiwi schtik".


What do you think about the new series? About McGill's picks of some lesser-known thrillers from days gone by? Have you read any of these novels? What do you think of McGill's penchant for dystopian tales of a New Zealand gone bad or mad at the highest, governmental level? Is that something New Zealand writers do well? Who else would you like to see be part of the new 'Five Fantastic Kiwi Thrillers' series? Comments, critiques and suggestions appreciated.


  1. Craig - What an interesting idea for a series! I like it! I will look forward to seeing who's featured and what they read.

  2. Craig,

    This looks to be an interesting series. I will probably find it hard to locate in the US any titles which look interesting, but I hope any film tie-ins will continue to be mentioned.

    _Sleeping Dogs_ sounded interesting, so I went looking and found it on _Netflix_.