For those who've been rock-sheltering, the Crime Fiction Alphabet is a 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, in terms of highlighting Kiwi crime fiction to the world.
As I said last week, I've now decided that I am going to this year set myself the very challenging task of focusing not only just on New Zealand-themed posts, but just on Kiwi crime fiction books (ie I won't do any author profiles etc this time around), although sometimes it may be the author's name that is relevant to the letter of the week. So you will get a review or profile of more than 26 Kiwi crime/thriller novels over the course of this series (given that some weeks I'll feature multiple books, like the 'B' post which had five Bs over three book titles).
This week, for the letter 'D', I've decided to dig back into the Kiwi crime and thriller fiction past, peeling back the decades to feature a book by a somewhat forgotten author, Elizabeth Messenger, who wrote several New Zealand-set thrillers back in the 1950s and 1960s. Niftily for 'D' week, the book I'm going to focus on is called DIVE DEEP FOR DEATH (3Ds).
DIVE DEEP FOR DEATH (Robert Hale, 1959) was Messenger's third crime thriller novel. "What was the secret of the Takaka Hills which Brendan Burch took to his death? Was that death an accident? Who were the people gathering back at the scene and what were there particular interests? Who was the beautiful girl who kenw so much about Alistair Alleyn, a complete stranger in a strange country? Did the answers to all these queries lie hidden in the heart of a marble mountain from which an icy underground torrent gushed forth?
These were just a few of the riddles Alleyn had to solve almost as soon as he landed in New Zealand, a country he had chosen at random in an attempt to forget his past and the fact that he had ever been a doctor. He was not allowed to escae, however, but was foreced to perform the strangest and most terrible operation of his life, besides risking injury and death himself, before he discovered the answers.
Messenger was a journalist, cookery writer, and crime novelist (you can read a full bio here) born in the Coromandel in 1908. According to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Messenger's thrillers, "which she produced at the rate of one or two a year from 1958, were set in tourist spots such as the Marlborough Sounds (Murder stalks the bay), Lake Taupo (Material witness) and the Bay of Islands (A heap of trouble)."
DIVE DEEP FOR DEATH is set in Takaka, at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. This is also a nice tourist/holiday area - and another thing that drew me to this book, since I grew up 'just down the road' in Nelson. I visited Takaka Hill several times as a youngster - I remember looking forward to the Ngarua Caves on the hill, though dreading the drive over it when we holidayed at lovely beaches in Golden Bay.
Like most Kiwi writers of the time, and many of the 'genre' writers in much more recent times, Messenger was published by an overseas publisher (Robert Hale in London). "Elizabeth Messenger’s novels, once popular enough to be serialised and translated into other languages, are now difficult to obtain," says DNZB.
I've certainly found that - even after trawling through countless online and real-life second-hand bookstores, and regularly searching the Internet and other resources as part of my unofficial research into New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing, I only found out about her fairly recently. I have managed to source several of her books, but it's been a battle.
From what I can gather, Messenger wrote at least nine crime/thriller novels in the 1950s/1960s, in addition to her journalism and cookery writing. They are:
- MURDER STALKS THE BAY
- MATERIAL WITNESS
- DIVE DEEP FOR DEATH
- LIGHT ON MURDER
- THE WRONG WAY TO DIE
- A HEAP OF TROUBLE
- YOU WON'T NEED A COAT
- PUBLICITY FOR MURDER; and
- GOLDEN DAWNS THE SUN.
Not a bad output, and it makes it even more remarkable - especially given our purported dearth of crime and thriller writers (other than Dame Ngaio Marsh) pre-1990 - that we seem to have almost completely forgotten about her. Just goes to underline that popular perception (eg New Zealand doesn't have much of a crime fiction history) is not necessarily reality.
What do you think of my 'D' choice? Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Messenger, or read any of her books (crime or otherwise)? Do you like reading crime novels from different eras, eg actually written back in the 1950s, 1960s etc - not just set then? Comments welcome.