Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lis for LETHAL DELIVERIES by Ken Benn

For my second go around at the Crime Fiction Alphabet (read my 2010 posts here), I've set myself the 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.

This week I'm featuring LETHAL DELIVERIES, a young adult murder mystery by Palmerston North-based physics teacher Ken Benn that was published by Penguin early last year (I believe it may have been released earlier by a smaller publisher, achieved bestseller status, and then was picked up by Penguin as the first in a trilogy). I understand the books TRAPPED OUTSIDE THE CAGE and GUTTED also on the way in future.

In LETHAL DELIVERIES, "Rochelle has her hopes set on one day playing in the National Women's Inline Hockey team. Her goal seems to slip from her reach as she gets sucked into her brother, Jack's world of gangs and drug dealing. But is the gang life what Rochelle's brother really wants or is it a choice his father has made for him? Rochelle finds herself in a dangerous world supported by the most unlikely companions and soon learns there's a price to be paid for these friendships – an ultimate price." I understand Benn's next book should be out at some stage this year. Teenage readers who've commented online about LETHAL DELIVERIES have said things like:

  • "Exciting, well written and full of dialogue. It has highly realistic characters ... Best of all, it has that rare thing in a book that makes you not want to put it down... the writer has taken the time to get into the minds of the characters while writing it... It doesn’t try to be like those goody-goody books where no one gets hurt or killed in case the readers get sad; it is realistic. In my opinion it is just as desirable to read as the Harry Potter books, just not as famous."

  • "What I loved about this book is it’s not what everyone wants to hear. It opens our eyes to what is really happening in our communities. It has suspense, excitement, twists, turns and characters that, in many ways, were very real to me. The book made me feel many emotions—happy, sad, angry, scared."

  • "I think that it’s a very good book because it relates to the problems that some of us have today for both teenagers and adults. I thought the book was great because it shows what homeless people have to go through ... and how some of them are not as bad as people think they are."

So that's some pretty great praise from the target audience. Penguin also created high school study notes and reader questions for LETHAL DELIVERIES, getting students to think and talk about narrative, and themes such as family relationships and loyalty.


In a newspaper interview last year it was reported that schoolteacher Benn had spent five years researching tbe book, including time talking to both the victims of and perpetrators of youth crime, visiting the Palmerston North youth justice facility and talking to social workers. Also, in Wellington, he slept under a bridge with a group of streetkids "who had decided to opt out of society," to try to understand what their life was like.

Did you like reading crime fiction as a teenager? Do you think it's good for adolescent and teenage readers to read books with 'serious' content like murder, homelessness, drugs, etc? Have you read LETHAL DELIVERIES? Comments welcome.

Monday, March 28, 2011

My Herald on Sunday Reviews: A WATERY GRAVE, DEATH IN THE KINGDOM, and THE CRIME OF HUEY DUNSTAN

This year I've been asked to provide a monthly crime fiction round-up for the Herald on Sunday, one of New Zealand's most well-read newspapers. It's terrific to see some of New Zealand's larger media (big newspapers, magazines, TV shows etc) starting to include a little bit more crime fiction in their review pages. I'm very pleased to be able to contribute in my small way as well.

My third 'column' was published yesterday, Sunday 27 March 2011, in the 'Detours' lifestyle supplement to the newspaper (see right), and now I can share it here with you. Each month I pick 2-3 books that I have read recently (usually new or recent releases, but not always), and talk a little about them. Due to space constraints I don't have a lot of words to play with, but I'll be doing my best to highlight some good and great crime fiction, that could be enjoyable for some of the Herald on Sunday readers to try, as best I can. So here is yesterday's column:

Crime Picks
Book blogger Craig Sisterson reveals his top picks from his recent reading
Since it's New Zealand Book Month edition, I'm looking at crime-centred novels from three terrific local authors that are well worth a read.

A Watery Grave By Joan Druett (Allen & Unwin, $30.99)
It’s 1838 and part-Maori Wiki Coffin is scheduled to embark with the US Exploring Expedition from Virginia when he’s mistakenly arrested for murder before being tasked with surreptitiously investigating the expedition, on the high seas, to find the real killer. Druett marvellously combines mystery and history in a unique crime novel setting. Wiki is a terrific and engaging lead, the book is drenched in maritime colour and detail, and the murder mystery itself twists to a satisfying end.

Death in the Kingdom
By Andrew Grant (Monsoon, $32.95)
A British secret agent is back in Thailand for the first time since he killed a top underworld boss’s son, ordered by his government to recover a small black box from the bottom of the ocean. But as his friends are beheaded one by one and he’s pursued by the CIA, he realises maybe he can’t trust his own handlers either, forcing him to turn go underground. Canterbury author Grant creates a terrific narrative drive, a nice sense of Southeast Asian setting, and memorable characters; a world-class spy thriller with layers and depth.

The Crime of Huey Dunstan
By James McNeish (Vintage, $36.99)
Blind psychologist Professor ‘Ches’ Chesney recounts a court case from years past where he was called in as an expert witness by the defence counsel of a young man accused of murder. There’s no doubt Huey battered an older man to death, but why? Did he really lose control, flashback to a suppressed, disturbing event from his childhood? Should he be guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, in the circumstances? McNeish takes readers on an intriguing ride, touching on thought-provoking issues of law and justice and humanity, as we discover what really happened to Huey.

Craig Sisterson was one of the judges of the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel last year. He blogs about crime and thriller fiction at http://kiwicrime.blogspot.com

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This column was first published in the Sunday 27 March 2011 issue of the Herald on Sunday, and is reprinted here with permission.

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What do you think of my mini-reviews? Of having such a regular column in one of New Zealand's major newspapers? Have you read (or do you intend to) any of these titles? What are some of the upcoming titles I should definitely include in future columns? Comments welcome.

9mm: An interview with CJ Box

Welcome to the fifth instalment of Crime Watch's exclusive 9mm author interview series for this year, and the 49th instalment overall. You can check out some of the previous author interviews by clicking on an author's name on the sidebar to the right, on '9mm' on the header bar above, or you can see the first 44 instaments here.

But for now it is time to once again polish off the gun and point it towards a creator of tales mysterious and thrilling. Thanks to everyone for their comments and feedback on the series so far - I really appreciate it, as I know many of the participating authors do as well.

For those new to this rodeo, 9mm consists of the same 9 Murder Mystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. It’s been fun seeing the variety of answers the authors give to the questions - both in terms of great personal anecdotes and insights, and comparing the influences etc that many authors share. I hope you have all been enjoying the series as much as I (and the authors) have been. Suggestions are always welcome as to who else you'd like to see interviewed. Upcoming interviews include the likes of Kathy Reichs and Robert Crais, amongst others.

But today I am very pleased to share the thoughts and answers of Edgar Award-winning author CJ Box, creator of the terrific Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett series, along with some outstanding standalones, such as BLUE HEAVEN, which won the Edgar Award in 2009 and was one of my 'crime picks of 2010' for the Herald on Sunday (the book was released in New Zealand last year). For that article I described BLUE HEAVEN as: "An absorbing tale of frightened children on the run after witnessing four corrupt policemen gun down a man in rural North Idaho. Something of a crime fiction and classic Western love-child, this is a gripping, intelligent thriller with complex characters, a beautifully-evoked setting, and a ferocious conclusion."

In January I read my first Joe Pickett novel, IN PLAIN SIGHT, and enjoyed it greatly. You can read more about CJ Box at his website here. For those in the UK, you have an opportunity to meet him later this year when he is a guest at the terrific Harrogate Festival (yet another reason to make that event a must-attend). His newest Joe Pickett novel, COLD WIND, isc scheduled for release in the US later this month, and a standalone thriller called BACK OF BEYOND will be released in August 2011. But for now, CJ Box stares down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH CJ BOX

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I'm a fan of John Sandford's Lucas Davenport, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, and Denise Mina's Paddy Meehan -- although I think she's discontinued that series.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller was the book that turned me all around. I'd read plenty up to that point, but Catch-22 made me realize for the first time that a book could rattle the reader to the core and make him think differently about... everything. I've since re-read it four times and get something new out of it every time.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I was a newspaper journalist prior to writing fiction. The newspaper I worked for was a very small Wyoming weekly, meaning I did everything -- features, sports, investigative, outdoor, a column, etc. It was the best training ground I can think of for what I do now because it exposed me to every level of small-town life from billionaire ranchers to low-rent survivalists.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love to fly-fish. And hunt. And ski. Outdoor stuff. But I'm passionate about fishing and I've been able to fish some of the best trout waters in the U.S. and blue-water ocean fishing outside the U.S.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn't initially consider?
We live outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, home of the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo which is the largest outdoor rodeo in the world. I'd encourage visitors to go to the rodeo grounds even then the event isn't taking place to soak in the magnitude, culture, and unique nature of the place.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you? Ha! Any answer I could come up with would be ridiculous.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Very tough question, so I'll duck it. I'm very proud of OPEN SEASON because it launched my career. BLUE HEAVEN is a favorite because of it's structure and depth. It's a big story that is told in 60 hours of real time. NOWHERE TO RUN elicited some strong feelings from readers, and that's a good thing.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller's shelf?
I had three goals. One was to see my book in a library. The other was see it in a bookstore. The third was to see someone reading my book in an airplane. I'm happy to say all those goals have been achieved. I was thrilled...

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Every year, I sign books in the lobby of Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park. It's a humbling experience. Many people come to my table simply to get directions to the toilets or to ask when the geyser will erupt. A few years ago, though, a woman stood in line glaring at me. When she reached the table, she leaned over and spat, "I knew your first wife Linda, you bastard!" and stomped away. The thing is, I'm still married to my ONLY wife, Laurie. I have no idea who Linda is, or was.


Thank you CJ Box. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.

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Have you read BLUE HEAVEN? Any of the Joe Pickett novels? What do you think of CJ Box's writing? Do you like crime fiction set in rural or wilderness areas?

Friday, March 25, 2011

NZBM Review: DIED IN THE WOOL by Ngaio Marsh

Died in the Wool
By Ngaio Marsh (HarperCollins, 1945)


Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

To close out NZLawyer’s celebration of New Zealand Book Month, it seems only fitting to look at a book from one of our all-time greatest authors, perhaps our most popular ever on the global stage, whose books are still in print more than 75 years after she was first published – our Grande Dame of mystery writing, Ngaio Marsh.

Christchurch born-and-raised Marsh penned 32 murder mysteries starring her English gentleman detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn between 1934 and her death in 1982, and is world-recognised as one of the ‘Queens of Crime’ of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (alongside Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham), with international critics even calling her “the finest writer in the English language of the pure, classical, puzzle whodunit”.

Died in the Wool is one of four Alleyn tales Marsh set here, and is made even more interesting as it was actually published during the Second World War, and incorporates aspects, issues, and perspectives on the war climate into the murder mystery plotline. Being written before Marsh would have even known when or how the war would end, some of the settings and characterisations can give insights into New Zealand at that time that no recently written historical novel, no matter how well researched, can match.

One summer evening in 1942, formidable Member of Parliament Florence “Flossie” Rubrick goes to the wool shed on her high country property to rehearse a patriotic speech, and disappears. Three weeks later, she’s found – dead inside a bale of wool at an auction. Inspector Alleyn, in New Zealand on war security matters, comes to the high country sheep station more than a year later, after Rubrick’s husband has also passed away from illness, and tries to piece together what really happened to the polarising MP, based on the testimonies of several acquaintances. At the same time, concerns are raised about the top-secret security work being carried out by two young men – have the blueprints for the new anti-aircraft device been leaked?

In effect, Marsh has transported the classic British ‘country house’ murder mystery, with its closed environment and small amount of characters – all of whom have a motive for killing the victim, into a rural New Zealand setting during the war. But she also does a few things differently that help Died in the Wool stand out. Alleyn arrives months after the murder, so can’t rely on the crime scene clues and observations usually available to detectives – instead he has to weigh the differing recollections of the residents (each has its own chapter, eg “According to Terence Lynne”). This device gave Marsh not only a different structure and investigative method, but the opportunity to ‘voice’ varying views and concerns about what was going on during the war, through her different characters.

In general, Marsh’s plots weren’t quite as intricate as Christie’s puzzles, but she was the superior writer when it came to setting, description, and giving her characters more depth and layers. Compared to today’s crime novels, the pace is somewhat languid, and at times, the language used dates the book, but decades after it was published, Died in the Wool remains an absorbing, enjoyable read.

Reprinted many times over the decades, Died in the Wool is now available as Volume 5 (in trio with Final Curtain and Swing, Brother, Swing) of the Ngaio Marsh Collection set of omnibus editions, published by HarperCollins UK to commemorate Marsh’s Diamond Anniversary.

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This article was published in today's (25 March 2011) issue of NZLawyer, and is republished here with permission.

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Have you read DIED IN THE WOOL? Any of Ngaio Marsh's murder mysteries? Do you still enjoy 'old style' cosy mystery novels? What makes them so re-readable decades later?

Nancy Drew KOs Jack Reacher!

Okay, so that's an unexpected headline. But it's not some cross-over mystery from Lee Child and Carolyn Keene, no it's courtesy of the online poll to find the world's favourite amateur sleuth.

As I said earlier this month, following her popular 'World's Favourite Detective' online vote last year (won in the end by Michael Connelly's terrific creation Harry Bosch, over Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe in the final), award-winning crime fiction reviewer and book blogger Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts has now launched another worldwide vote - this time to find the favourite amateur sleuth.

Like last year, the vote is in the form of a knockout tournament bracket, similar to the FA Cup or Wimbledon etc (for those in Europe) or the NCAA basketball tournament (for those in North America). It started with 64 sleuths, who were put into 32 pairings. Voters chose their favourite from each pair, the winner goes through, the loser is out.

Due to the vagaries of a random rather than seeded draw, and some interesting voting, there have already been some terrific sleuths (eg Wiki Coffin) knocked out far too early (in my opinion), and there have been some early head-to-head battles between sleuths that perhaps both should have been making it further through, while others of lesser quality, influence, or importance have sailed through 'easier brackets'.

The results of the second round (32 sleuths cut down to 16) were announced earlier this week, with perhaps being the biggest headline the one above - Jack Reacher (an early favourite to win it all) is gone! Certainly Nancy Drew would have been a pre-tourney favourite to make it at least as far as the Sweet 16, if not the Elite Eight/Final Four (to continue the NCAA vernacular), but at Reacher's expense? Wow. I was feeling bad for Nancy being up against Jack, and undeservedly being gone too soon, but with this voting group, it seems it was vice versa.

Amelia Peabody was likewise knocked out by another favourite, Jane Marple (harsh draw there for Peabody), while in another shocker, Harlan Coben's immensely popular Myron Bolitar also fell by the wayside in the second round, being pipped 51% to 49% by Gordy Schultz.

So it's a topsy turvy poll this time around - with plenty of fireworks left to come, as Round Three (you can vote now, here) is underway. And again, two all-time-classic sleuths that could deserve to be in the semifinals or final are head to head; The Hardy Boys and Jane Marple.

Here's the line-up for this week's vote:
  • Ellie Foreman vs Goldy Schultz
  • James Qwilleran vs Nancy Drew
  • Lord Peter Wimsey vs Stephanie Plum
  • The Hardy Boys vs Jane Marple
  • Carter Ross vs Amanda Pepper
  • Benni Harper vs Flavia de Luce
  • Lisbeth Salander vs Annie Darling
  • Brett Kavanaugh vs Amlingmeyer Brothers

Wow - that's a tough top half of the draw still, even with Reacher and Bolitar already knocked out! Nancy Drew, Wimsey, Stephanie Plum, the Hardy Boys and Marple all on one side of the draw, talk about lop-sided. The path seems pretty clear for someone like Salander or Flavia de Luce to whip through the bottom half to the latter rounds.

Happy voting!

Who do you think should be named world's favourite amateur sleuth? What do you think of the voting and results thusfar? Of the upcoming battles?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Biography on John le Carré planned for 2014

Recently I was lucky enough to be granted the only New Zealand interview with superstar Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, whose 10th and final Wallander tale, THE TROUBLED MAN (written a decade after the ninth book) is about to be released downunder. I had a very enjoyable 40mins or so discussion with Mankell, who is a very interesting guy, passionate about many things. My feature article based on the interview will be coming out in an upcoming issue of the New Zealand Listener - I will let you know when it's available.

One of the things that was clear from our interview was that Mankell really, really rates thriller writer John le Carré (pictured) as a shining example of terrific writing, regardless of genre. As someone whom the 'literary establishment' should have far greater affection for when it comes to recognising the best in literature. Not just one of the 'greatest spy novelists of our time', as he's been described, but one of the greatest novelists.

As such, I'm pleased to note the news (hat tip to Graham Beattie for the heads-up) that a biography on le Carré will be written to mark the fiftieth anniversary of THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD. Here's the press release:

Adam Sisman is to write the definitive life of John le Carré. Bloomsbury plan to publish in 2014, half a century after the worldwide success of The Spy who came in from the Cold, which Graham Greene dubbed "the best spy story I have ever read."Le Carré will provide Sisman with information and introductions, as well as access to his hitherto unseen private archive but he will have no control over the biography. Sisman will have a free hand, which is at the wish of both the biographer and his subject.

Sisman approached le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, last summer. Sisman says: "David Cornwell is a rich subject for a biographer. His writing is intensely personal, and permeated by strongly-held values. From the moment when his identity became public, readers around the world have speculated about the degree to which he has drawn on his own experiences in his fiction, in particular on his career with the intelligence services. His semi-autobiographical novel A Perfect Spy provided tantalising clues to his extraordinary childhood."

The book will deal openly with these subjects, and with Cornwell's personal life, including the difficulties that led to the breakdown of his first marriage, depicted in his novel The Naive and Sentimental Lover."I have admired and enjoyed David's work since I discovered him in my teens," Sisman continues, "and believe that his enormous commercial success has hindered recognition that he is writer of the highest quality, who will eventually be acknowledged as one of the finest British post-War novelists. Philip Roth rated le Carré's A Perfect Spy as "the best English novel since the war".

Le Carré's twenty-second novel, Our Kind of Traitor, was published in September 2010 by Penguin. Le Carré's agent is Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown.

Sisman has written four previous biographies, including Boswell's Presumptuous Task, which received a National Books Critics Circle award. His most recent book, a life of the historian and intelligence officer Hugh Trevor-Roper, was published in the UK in July 2010, and will be published in the US later this year. He is represented by Andrew Wylie.

You can read some of Le Carre's own thoughts on himself and his work at his website here.

Have you read any of John Le Carre's work? Is THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD an all-time classic, of any type of literature? Should thriller and crime novelists be more recognised by the 'mainstream' literary awards like the Booker Prize or Nobel Prize?

Vanda Symon tours the West Coast next week

As part of the New Zealand Book Month celebrations, acclaimed Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon (whose latest Sam Shephard tale, BOUND, debuted at the #1 spot earlier this year, and has remained on the NZ bestseller list since) will be touring the West Coast next week.

Symon will be giving a series of author talks at local libraries.

It's great to see our local crime writers getting out and talking directly with readers, and I'm sure that those who head along to any of Symon's events will have a terrific time - as all of us who attended last year's Whodunnit and Whowunnit event in Christchurch (where Symon, along with Paul Cleave and Neil Cross, spoke) did.

Here are the event details for Symon's West Coast tour:

VENUE: Westland District Library, Hokitika.
DATE: 28th March
TIME: 5.45pm - 6.45pm

VENUE: Grey District Library, Greymouth
DATE: 29th March
TIME: 3.00pm - 4.00pm

VENUE: Buller District Library, Westport
DATE: 30th March
TIME: 1.00pm - 2.00pm

You can read my recent feature article on Vanda Symon for the Weekend Herald here, and Symon's 9mm interview with Crime Watch here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NZ Book Month vouchers extended for Christchurch readers


In the week before the devastating Christchurch earthquake in February, I shared the news about the $20 million worth of book vouchers that were being given away as part of New Zealand Book Month celebrations (4 million $5 vouchers, basically one for every person in the country). It is a fantastic initiative, and I have personally used a voucher to buy one of the few recent Kiwi crime/thriller novels I didn't already own (or hadn't read): THE CRIME OF HUEY DUNSTAN by James McNeish. Unfortunately for the bookloving people of Christchurch, along with everything else they've had to deal with, many of their NZ Book Month related events have also been cancelled or badly affected.

However, New Zealand Book Month is now pleased to advise that the delivery of the $5 book voucher put on hold to Christchurch is now underway. And in response to requests from Christchurch families, teachers, librarians and booksellers, residents will be able to take advantage of the voucher for an extended period of time.

Every child in school received a voucher via their principal on Monday 14 March. Two further vouchers will be delivered to 105,000 homes this weekend – Saturday 26 & Sunday 27 March. In addition vouchers will be available at Caltex and BNZ stores.

Eighteen out of the 28 local booksellers that had confirmed their support of the $5 book voucher are now open, with the remaining 10 closed until further notice. The eighteen open stores where Christchurch residents can redeem their vouchers are:
  • Paper Plus: Barrington, Bush Inn, Ferrymead, Hornby, Merivale, New Brighton, Northlands, and South City;
  • Take Note: Kaiapoi
  • Picadilly Bookshop in Avonhead Mall
  • The Reading Bug at 140 Colombo Street, Beckenham
  • UBS Canterbury at the University of Canterbury in Ilam
  • Whitcoulls: Bishopdale, Christchurch Airport, Clearance, Hornby, Northlands, Riccarton

In addition, thanks to the generosity and support of Booksellers NZ and over 130 participating publishers, the above 18 stores will now be able to redeem vouchers up to and including 31 May 2011, regardless of the date on the voucher, giving Canterbury readers much longer to take advantage of this great offer, and grab themselve a great Kiwi book to read to their kids, or otherwise take their mind off things for a while.

National Co-ordinator Beth Davies, herself a Christchurch resident, says "We are overwhelmed by the ongoing support to forge ahead with New Zealand Book Month, and by the events that are still taking place around the city. We've had fifteen events confirmed to go ahead over the next two weeks. Despite so many obstacles, the team at Christchurch City Libraries are still hosting eleven of those."

For full details of confirmed Christchurch events, please visit www.nzbookmonth.co.nz.

Bouquets all 'round, I say. Crime Watch heartily endorses the efforts of all the Christchurch booklovers, under very trying circumstances. In fact, I think we should all go out and celebrate NZ Book Month by buying a book from a Christchurch author - whether it's a classic Margaret Mahy tale to read to the kids, or a Paul Cleave, Andrew Grant or Steve Malley thriller for ourselves. Kia Kaha Christchurch.

A city perfect for dreamers and killers: My Weekend Herald feature interview with Robert Crais


A city perfect for dreamers and killers
Thriller writer Robert Crais talks to Craig Sisterson about the allure of Hollywood and turning an enigmatic sidekick into a leading man.

The very thing that drew a young Robert Crais to Los Angeles more than 30 years ago, just as thousands of people from all over the world are drawn there every year, is what makes the city such a terrific location for crime fiction, says the acclaimed novelist.

"Los Angeles is a destination city for dreamers," he says. "They're chasing hopes, chasing dreams. I don't care if they're Harvard graduates coming from the east coast because they want to be a shmancy attorney at a Century City law firm, they come for exactly the same reasons as some undocumented worker from Central America who's slipping across the river illegally. They're coming to find a future, they're coming here to build a life."

Crais, who grew up in Louisiana and fell in love with "the great promise, mystery and intrigue" of Los Angeles thanks to Raymond Chandler novels and television shows like Dragnet and Rockford Files, moved west in the 1970s because he wanted to become a writer.

"So I'm sympathetic to all those people who come chasing their dreams here, it's something we all have in common."

And it's that influx of dreamers, coupled with a canvas of spectacular physical geography painted with a colourful multicultural brush, that makes LA a perfect setting, says Crais, his passion for his adopted home clear in his voice.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ONLINE HERE

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The above extract is from my feature article published in the 19 March 2011 issue of the Weekend Herald, and is reprinted here with permission.

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Are you a fan of Robert Crais? Of Los Angeles set crime fiction in general? What do you think of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike books? Who are you favourite LA crime writers? Thoughts welcome.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Michael Robotham to visit New Zealand in May

In some great news, Australian crime writer Michael Robotham will be visiting New Zealand in May. Last year Robotham was due to attend the Christchurch Writers Festival, and be part of a panel at the originally scheduled event for the inaugural presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award, but those plans changed due to the September earthquake.

Now Robotham will be appearing at Takapuna Library on Thursday 26 May. That will be a great week for Auckland-based crime fiction fans, as Michael Connelly will also be in town earlier that week. A nice quinella of events to attend.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Robotham for a feature in the Weekend Herald last year, and I'm looking forward to meeting him in person. I will certainly be heading along to the Takapuna Library event on Thursday 26 May - Helen Woodhouse and her team there always put on terrific events.

You can read my Herald feature, "Ghostwriter haunted by his own characters", online here.

I understand Robotham may do some other events while in New Zealand. I will update you on any further details as they come to hand.

K is for THE KILLING HOUR

For my second go around at the Crime Fiction Alphabet (read my 2010 posts here), I've set myself the 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.

This week I'm featuring THE KILLING HOUR, by internationally bestselling Christchurch crime writer Paul Cleave. THE KILLING HOUR (2007) was Cleave's second published book, following on from his much-acclaimed debut, THE CLEANER, which ended up as the #1 crime thriller title on Amazon in Germany for 2007, and in the top 10 for all books.

Like his debut, Cleave's second novel is also told through the (perhaps more than slightly askew) eyes of a very troubled, even disturbed, protagonist, and has a nice sense of forebody - the setting casts a shadow over the story. While some crime writers have 'troubled' or 'flawed' protagonists that have a few things bothering them, Cleave has truly flawed and troubled protagonists, operating on a level beyond what many other writers would address, and does a fantastic job getting inside their heads - his writing really gets you seeing through their eyes, rather than just being a narrative about someone with some problems.

Here's the first paragraph of THE KILLING HOUR:
"They come for me as I sleep. Their pale faces stare at me, their soft voices tell me to wake, to wake. They come to remind me of the night, to remind me of what I have done. They do not smile, they do not accuse me; they are just there, looking. I wish only to be alone, only to forget, but I have no voice to ask them to leave. I fear what they want, though I already know. They are here to blame me. To hate me. And I share their feelings. They cannot touch me because they are merely ghosts. I cannot touch them either, cannot push them aside, and words alone will not make them disappear. I stare into their eyes and see the guilt they want me to feel, and I do feel it, I barely feel anything else, and when I wake it is with a scream in my throat that I just manage to hold in. It tastes like blood and death. I pull myself out of the nightmare but nothing changes. It is five o'clock in the afternoon and I am bathed in sweat."

In THE KILLING HOUR, Charlie has a problem. A big one. He doesn’t know what he has done. He is covered in blood, there's a bump on his forehead and on the news it says the two young women he was with last night were brutally murdered. Charlie knows Cyris is the murderer — except the police don’t believe Cyris exists. Nor does Jo, Charlie's ex-wife. He wants desperately for her to believe in him, because, the thing is, he doesn’t know if Cyris exists either. And now Charlie’s on the run with Jo bound and gagged in the car boot while the killing hour approaches yet again . . .

In an interview for a feature in Good Reading magazine ("Scary Tales", March 2010), Cleave told me he actually first wrote the THE KILLING HOUR prior to THE CLEANER, and that in a way it was a breakthrough for him as a budding author. "My friend at the time, when I was like nineteen, asked what I really liked, and I said I’d always wanted to be a writer and he said ‘well, why don’t you do it’," said Cleave. "And it was kind of like, ‘well, why don’t I?’"

"To me it was kind of obvious that if I did that I would fail, and you never get anywhere, and it’s too hard, and I can’t ever write 100,000 words, you know and if I can it’ll be crap. But I did it, and all of that happened; it was hard, and it was crap, but it was certainly worthwhile and I enjoyed the process, and then I wrote another one, and another one, and another one and I think about 6 or 7 attempts into it, after writing these kind of … then I wrote THE KILLING HOUR, kind of like my breakthrough thing, and then from that I wrote THE CLEANER – that’s the order I wrote them in."

Cleave also told me that THE KILLING HOUR was originally written as a horror. After writing the manuscript, Cleave read former FBI profiler John Douglas's book about serial killers, and came to the realisation that supernatural horror wasn't real horror. “The scariest stuff in the world is true stuff, stuff that’s real, like serial killers,” he told me. So he wrote THE CLEANER, told from the perspective of a serial killer, and then went back and re-wrote THE KILLING HOUR to make it more 'real', taking out some supernatural elements.

Like his other dark crime novels, THE KILLING HOUR is certainly a thrilling read, that gets you inside the head of a deeply troubled protagonist. If I'm being brutally honest, I probably prefer Cleave's other three novels, but THE KILLING HOUR is still a very good book, well worth a read by anyone who likes darker thrillers. Like others in the upper echelon of quality crime writing worldwide, all of Cleave's books are good to great, so I'm speaking relatively when I say that if I had to pick, THE KILLING HOUR would be my fourth favourite of the four (like saying that a particular Michael Connelly book isn't as good as some of his better ones). It's still an above average thriller that has lots of great aspects to it.

Have you read any Paul Cleave novels? Do you like darker thrillers that get you inside the head of (very) troubled protagonists? Do you like crime that verges towards (real) horror? What other Kiwi crime novels would you like me to feature in the Crime Fiction Alphabet?

Monday, March 21, 2011

9mm: An interview with Victoria Houston

Welcome to the fourth instalment this year of Crime Watch's exclusive 9mm author interviews, and the 48th instalment overall. You can check out some of the previous author interviews by clicking on an author's name on the sidebar to the right, on '9mm' on the header bar above, or you can see the first 44 instaments here.

But for now it is time to once again polish off the gun and point it towards a creator of tales mysterious and thrilling. Thanks to everyone for their comments and feedback on the series so far - I really appreciate it, as I know many of the participating authors do as well.

For those new to this rodeo, 9mm consists of the same 9 Murder Mystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. I hope you have all been enjoying the series as much as I (and the authors) have been. Suggestions are always welcome as to who else you'd like to see interviewed. Upcoming interviews include the likes of Kathy Reichs, Robert Crais, and CJ Box, amongst others.

Today I am very pleased to interview a 'new-to-me' mystery writer, Victoria Houston, author of the 'Loon Lake Fishing Mysteries'. I was introduced to Houston's work when I stumbled across a copy of DEAD ANGLER in a local bookstore. The first novel in Houston's long-running Loon Lake mystery series, the book has introduced me to Houston's intriguing protagonists, retired dentist Paul Osbourne and Chief of Police Lewellyn (Lew) Ferris, both avid fly fishermen (fisherpeople, given Lew's a woman?) I am enjoying it thusfar, particularly the way Houston evokes the rural Wisconsin setting. As much as I enjoy crime fiction set on the mean streets of a grimy city, it's also nice to read a well-written mystery set in more outdoorsy places.

Houston's eleventh Loon Lake Fishing Mystery, DEAD RECEIVER, will be released this year. Houston is herself a keen fly fisher, and lives once again in Wisconsin, where she was raised. You can read more about here at her website here.

But for now the author of the Loon Lake Fishing Mysteries stares down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH VICTORIA HOUSTON

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I have a couple. Long before the current rage for Scandinavian crime fiction (i.e. 30 years ago!), I got hooked on the Martin Beck detective series from Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo followed (about 15 years ago) Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander (the first six books are the ones I like best). But my absolute favorite crime/mystery writer (his main character's name changes though the gestalt remains the same) is Ross Thomas. Genius -- great plotting, great humor, great dialogue and a wonderful eye for the grim detail. I read and re-read his books.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
"Gone With The Wind." Terrific characters, steamy, heart-wrenching story. I grew up in the far north and this was set in the Deep South. Wonderful escapism. As a kid, I was a fanatic reader and devoured Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, all the dog and horse stories -- before moving on to Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and...Mickey Spillane! Rarely met a book I didn't enjoy.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Try ten years of freelance magazine and newspaper feature writing; art critic for a major American newspaper and correspondent for a major American art magazine (ARTNEWS); editor for a wire service (pre-computers) for the futures markets; six non-fiction titles (one ghosted and two co-authored with experts in their fields. My "Loving A Younger Man: How Women Are Finding and Enjoying A Better Relationship" was modest bestseller and put my three kids through private colleges.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
First of all, I have - and have had for 30-plus years - a day job in Public Relations, which is a terrific counter-balance to the mystery writing. I am very outdoors-oriented: both fly fishing and bait fishing, tennis, running, windsurfing, downhill and cross-country skiing. I love the outdoors. Also movies, books and really good TV like The Sopranos and The Wire.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn't initially consider?
Hang out for a couple hours at Jonny & Billy's Birchwood Lodge & Rustic Bar. Great location on a wonderful chain of lakes, good intro to the tourists and the locals in this region. Excellent pizza, good beer. Live music on the weekends. This is the neighborhood where I grew up and the lake, the trees, the owls, the fishing, the moon, the wind - all inspire my books.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Are you kidding me? Yikes. How about Annette Benning with Helen Mirren's hair? (Mine is silver white.)

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
The one I just managed to finish! Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed researching illegal traffic in human tissue (not organs) for DEAD HOT MAMA. Books are like your children - each one is different and you enjoy each for their own peculiar attributes.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller's shelf?
I burst into tears. It was news that I had a three-book deal and I was overwhelmed because it had taken me nearly ten years to make the change from writing non-fiction to fiction. Quite a struggle.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
It was awful. A poor guy who had attempted suicide ripped open his shirt to show me what a shotgun does to your body. This was during a book club presentation at a Barnes & Noble. Fortunately, another man in the audience was able to handle the guy without hurting his feelings.


Thank you Victoria Houston. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to Crime Watch.

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Have you read any of the Loon Lake fishing mysteries? Do you like the sound of mystery fiction set in rural, outdoorsy areas? Have you been to Wisconsin? Do you like to fly fish? Comments welcome.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Currently reading: LOVE YOU MORE by Lisa Gardner

This weekend I've started reading LOVE YOU MORE, the latest novel from New Hampshire-based thriller writer Lisa Gardner, who I've heard terrific things about and have been meaning to read for ages (I have a copy of her earlier novel THE NEIGHBOUR in my TBR pile too).

LOVE YOU MORE was released in New Zealand this month. Here's the publisher's blurb:

"For Boston homicide detective D.D Warren, the scene is all too typical: young abused wife, finally pushed too far, shoots and kills her abusive husband. That the young wife is a [state trooper] will make the press rabid for details, but it's nothing D.D can't handle. But the little suburban home yields not only a dead body - there is also a little girl's bed and a little girl's toys, but no little girl. Where's the child? Soon, a homicide becomes a high profile missing person case, one that drills to the core of what makes Warren tick as both a detective and a human being. While a team searches the city for missing Sophie, D.D finds that every one answer leads to two more questions and that time is running out. Somewhere is a little girl, whispering, 'Save me...'"

I am enjoying it thusfar. You can read more about Gardner, a New York Times #1 bestseller, at her website here. Like some other bestselling US female thriller writers (eg Tami Hoag, Sandra Brown), Gardner cut her teeth on romance and romantic suspense before fully coming across to the 'dark side' with crime and thrillers. From all accounts, many are glad she's made the switch.

Have you read Lisa Gardner (her romance novels or crime thrillers)? Thoughts welcome.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ngaio Marsh Award judge Mike Ripley interviewed at The Rap Sheet

On Tuesday I wrote about how I've received plenty of credit for the creation of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, including in a few media stories about the rise and growing recognition of Kiwi crime fiction (read Herald on Sunday article here, Listener article here, Fairfax magazines article here), but the truth of the matter was that it was very much a team effort to bring New Zealand's first-ever crime fiction award to fruition late last year.

Another of the terrific international judges who generously gave histime to read, rate and comment on New Zealand crime novels that (in some cases) weren't even available in his home country, was the irrepressible Mike 'the Ripster' Ripley. Along with being the author of the award-winning ‘Angel’ comic thrillers (see fansite here), Ripley is a renowned crime fiction commentator, and has helped Ostara Publishing resurrect some thriller titles that "have unjustifiably become unavailable either through the ravages of time or the forces of publishing economics". Read more about that project here.

Ripley is also the co-editor of three Fresh Blood anthologies promoting new British crime writing (with Maxim Jakubowski), for ten years was the crime fiction critic of the Daily Telegraph, and is now well known for his great “Getting Away with Murder column” in Shots Ezine.

Author, editor, publisher, commentator - Mike Ripley has been an integral part of the British crime writing scene for decades, and we were absolutely delighted to have someone of his calibre and expertise on board as a judge for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

Ripley was interviewed by Michael Gregorio of The Rap Sheet earlier this week. It's an interesting interview, and well worth a read. Gregorio and Ripley traverse a variety of interesting subjects, with plenty of dashes of the famous Ripley humour, including his own novels, his crime fiction commentary, his recovery from a stroke (and the book he wrote about it), and more. I recommend you go and have a read of the interview here.

I read and enjoyed Ripley's ANGELS IN ARMS last year, and am looking forward to reading FAMILY OF ANGELS and ANGEL CONFIDENTIAL, which I also recently acquired. Ripley has a caper-esque style that might give you a belly laugh or two while you are flipping through the pages of an interesting story filled with quirky and memorable characters.

Have you read any of Mike Ripley's 'Angel' novels? Do you like satirical or humorous crime fiction? Do you read Getting Away with Murder? Thoughts welcome.

Friday, March 18, 2011

J is for Andrea Jutson's THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK

For my second go around at the Crime Fiction Alphabet (read my 2010 posts here), I've set myself the 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.

That's the case this week, where I'm featuring Andrea Jutson's second novel, THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK (which was published in 2008 and can still be found new in some bookstores in New Zealand).

You can listen to Jutson talking about the writing of THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK in this archived Radio New Zealand interview.

THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK is Jutson's intriguing sequel to her debut SENSELESS, and again features reluctant psychic James 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.

Here's what I had to say about the book in a review for NZLawyer in 2009:

"I have to confess to being somewhat concerned before I started reading, as some authors imbue their fiction with the supernatural or paranormal seemingly as a gimmick, perhaps hoping to putty over cracks in thin characters or story. However, I needn’t have worried - one of the best things about The Darkness Looking Back 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. In fact he doesn’t even want his special abilities, eschews publicity and profit-making, and sometimes accidentally hinders the police even when he feels forced to help.

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."

Perhaps overlooked at a time when New Zealand readers were just starting to open their eyes again to locally-written crime fiction (it is getting better, slowly), Jutson's novel is a quality read that stands comfortably alongside the many international novels on our booksellers shelves, while still having something a little unique.

Have you read THE DARKNESS LOOKING BACK, or SENSELESS? Do you like psychic/paranormal tinged mysteries, whether in books or TV shows like Ghost Whisperer and Medium? Thoughts welcome.

Kiwi-raised Stella Duffy named a finalist for 23rd Annual Lambda Literary Awards

Finalists for the Lambda Literary Awards were announced this week by the Lambda Literary Foundation in Los Angeles, and I'm very pleased to note that UK/Kiwi writer Stella Duffy's novel PARALLEL LIES was one of the five finalists in the 'Lesbian Mystery' category (alongside another of Crime Watch's favourite authors - both for her writing and personality - Val McDermid) - hat tip to Crimespree Magazine for the heads-up.

The Awards, now in their twenty-third year, celebrate achievement in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) writing for books published in 2010. Winners will be announced at a May 26 ceremony in New York at the School of Visual Arts Theater (333 West 23rd Street).

PARALLEL LIES was originally published in the UK in 2005, but was released in the USA last year. Here's the blurb:
They say the truth matters. Not in Hollywood, it doesn’t. In Hollywood, you need to lie because Hollywood doesn’t need lesbians.

That’s the deal, and Yana Ivanova is Hollywood’s biggest star. So Yana Ivanova has a boyfriend called Jimmy. And a PA called Penny. But hey, Yana and Penny live in a very glamorous closet.

But then letters start to arrive. From a writer who knows the truth. Yana fears blackmail but she is terrified of bad publicity. And she clearly has a lot to lose.

And soon there’s an accident—or maybe it’s murder. Not that it matters, this is Hollywood. And more than anything else, the show must go on. All anyone expects—from other people, and even from themselves—is what Hollywood needs: Parallel Lies."

Sounds intriguing - I thought I had all of Duffy's mysteries on my bookshelf, but I don't think I have this one, so I'll have to ferret out a copy. It's available from Amazon.com here, Amazon.co.uk here, and Book Depository here.

The mult-talented Stella Duffy grew up in the small rural town of Tokoroa in New Zealand (a town revolving largely around the forestry industry). From a crime-writing perspective, Duffy is most famous for her Saz Martin series. However Duffy is also a writer of other ‘styles’ of books, an actress, comedian and improviser, and has also written for radio. She is the author of twelve novels (five in the Saz Martin series), over thirty stories, and eight plays.

Duffy' novel STATE OF HAPPINESS was longlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize. She has also worked on screenplays and teleplays, and co-edited the crime collection TART NOIR with Lauren Henderson (Duffy’s story in that collection, “Martha Grace”, won the 2002 CWA Short Story Award). She was the Stonewall Writer of the Year in 2008 for THE ROOM OF LOST THINGS. Her latest novel THEODORA: ACTRESS, EMPRESS, WHORE, a novel based on the story of Theodora of Constantinople, who "rose from nothing to become the most powerful woman in the history of Byzantine Rome", and a saint of the Orthodox Church, received great reviews last year.

You can read my 9mm interview with Stella Duffy here.

The Lambda Literary Awards have several categories, however for those of us passionate about crime fiction, here are the finalists for the two categories that matter most:

Lesbian Mystery:
The Cruel Ever After , Ellen Hart Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press
Fever of the Bone, Val McDermid HarperCollins
Missing Lynx, Kim Baldwin & Xenia Alexiou Bold Strokes Books
Parallel Lies, Stella Duffy Bywater Books
Water Mark, J.M. Redmann Bold Strokes Books

Gay Mystery
Cockeyed, Richard Stevenson MLR Press
Echoes, David Lennon Blue Spike Publishing
Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers, I.E. Woodward iUniverse
Smoked, Garry Ryan NeWest Press
Vieux Carre Voodoo, Greg Herren Bold Strokes Books

Have you read PARALLEL LIES, or any of the other Lambda Award finalists? Have you read Duffy's Saz Martin series, or her other work? Thoughts welcome.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A St Patricks Day Special: the Irish 9mm interviews

Well, it may not quite be St Patrick's Day in Ireland itself, time-wise, but here in the first country to see the sun, the celebrations are already well under way, with parties and events at Irish pubs and many other places throughout the day and night here in New Zealand.

St Patrick is of course the most well-known patron saint of Ireland, and over the centuries the day of celebration that was originally more about feast and tied to religion, became a wider celebration of Irish culture in general. It's a public holiday for our friends in Ireland, but is also widely celebrated elsewhere in the English-speaking world, especially in places like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which each had large numbers of Irish immigrants over the years.

For Crime Watch's celebration of all things Irish today, I thought I would revisit the 9mm author interviews I've done with writers from the Emerald Isle. So grab yourself a Guiness (or Kilkenny if you're that way inclined), kick back, and scroll through the thoughts and comments from a trio of terrific Irish crime writers: Rob Kitchin, Declan Burke, and John Connolly.

9MM: An interview with Rob Kitchin

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Hmmmm. I have soft spots for Bernie Gunther (Philip Kerr), Jack Irish (Peter Temple), Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly), Omar Yussef (Matt Benyon Rees), De Luca (Carlo Lucarelli), Hap Collins and Leonard Pine (Joe Lansdale) and John Rebus (Ian Rankin).

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Oh God, this is tricky. I've no idea what this book was! I got hooked on fiction in my early teens. I remember I went through a spy thriller phase working my way through Ted Allbeury, Len Deighton and John Le Carre. The Cold War was still live at the time and I was taken by the cloak and dagger plots, the underlying politics, and the intertextuality vis-à-vis real events and people.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I'd had quite a bit of academic writing published in journals and edited books, and I'd had 17 academic books published. Writing is something that improves with practice, and although it's a very different kind of writing, there's no doubt that my fiction writing has benefited from my academic work.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Read. Mostly crime fiction, but also some history, travel writing and popular science. Writing fiction is actually a big part of my leisure time - I have a full-time job that my writing has to be fitted around.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
If hometown is where I presently live, then it's a small, Dublin commuter town that has half-a-dozen pubs, a couple of restaurants, a GAA club, and not much else. You could take a walk along the canal.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
If my life were a movie, the audience would be asleep in the first five minutes.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
My favourite is 'Saving Siobhan', a comic crime caper set in Ireland, which is unpublished and has been rejected a fair few times by agents and publishers as either being (a) too quirky and niche to gain sufficient sales, or (b) too mainstream that it'll disappear in the pack. What's frustrating about the letters is that they all start with, 'I really enjoyed this, but ...'

The fact that they really enjoyed it, and perhaps other people would enjoy it, seems to somehow disappear from their decision making. I think increasingly publishers want guaranteed mega-sales for no risk, and small town Ireland is seen as too parochial to capture attention and sales and is therefore a potential investment risk. Oh well. I like the characters, I'm happy with the plot, and it rattles along at a good pace. The few people who've read it agree that it's my best piece to date. I'm not really sure what to do with it right now. I'll probably have another go at getting it out there once THE WHITE GALLOWS is published in a couple of weeks time.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
The first thing I had published was an article in an academic journal.

The initial feedback consisted of three reviews - one basically saying to accept the paper as it was, another that it needed major revisions but would be okay after those, and the final one saying it was hopeless and it should be rejected. It was a very sweet and sour moment.

Interestingly, it is by far my most cited paper, which suggests everything has been downhill since then! Receiving my first book, and seeing it in a bookshop, was a bit of anti-climax to be honest. The exciting bit, I think, was getting the proofs and the realisation that it was definitely going to see the light of day. I did get a kick seeing a pile of THE RULE BOOK in a bookshop in Dublin Airport. That was a 'perhaps there might be a future in this' moment.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Since I've only done a couple of signings and I've not yet been to a book fair or literary festival, I've not had much in the way of unusual experiences. When we launched the encyclopedia for which I was co-editor in chief, one of the panelists we'd invited to push it off into the world gave it a good thrashing in front of the 200 or so people who attended. That was quite sobering, especially after it had taken five years to put together and involved 840 writers from over 40 countries! The lesson is to be careful when picking someone to launch a book.


The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: Declan Burke

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
That would have to be Philip Marlowe. The first time I read the opening paragraph of The Big Sleep, it felt like coming home. Odd, really, because I’ve never been to LA. Generally speaking, I’m more a fan of standalones rather than series heroes, but I’ll be first in line if they ever discover an unpublished Marlowe manuscript. I reread at least one Chandler per year, just to remind myself of (a) why I love books, (b) why I want to write, and (c) how far I have to go to get to where I’d like to be.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Very tough question. You can love books for all sorts of reasons, not all of them to do with the story or the writing. And when you’re young, you tend to read indiscriminately, without worrying about whether you actually like or love a book - I doubt very much if I ever stopped to think about whether I was enjoying the Enid Blyton books, for example, as I wolfed them down. But I do remember having my socks blown off by Watership Down when I was about 10 or 11. A story about rabbits, from the POV of rabbits? And heartbreaking to boot? I even loved the General, Woundwort, when he went for the dog’s throat …

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’d been working as a journalist for about eight years or so before Eightball Boogie was published in 2004, mainly writing about arts and cultural stuff - movies, books, theatre. I’d also written a novel-length story set in the Greek islands that was utter rubbish, but which was important to me (and possibly one of the most important things I ever wrote) in that it meant I at least had the stamina to write a book-length story. Starting a story is the easiest thing in the world. Seeing it through is tough, tough, tough.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Writing is really only a hobby to me; I’ve only had two books published (Eightball Boogie and The Big O (2007)), both of which were very low-key affairs. And in these straitened times, working a full-time job as a freelance journalist, and with a young family to co-support, I don’t get much time to write, let alone tour and promote. For leisure, I’m lucky in that my job involves going to movies and theatre, and reading quite a bit for review. So there’s a lot of cross-over there between work and leisure. For strictly leisure time, I like to spend as much time as possible with my little girl, Lily, who has just turned two and is brilliant fun. I watch a little TV - football, Family Guy, science and history documentaries - listen to some music, potter in the garden a bit, do some blogging … Any spare time after that is spent reading, though.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I live in Wicklow now, which is called ‘the Garden of Ireland’, but I’m originally from Sligo, in the northwest of Ireland, which is renowned for its association with WB Yeats. It’s a beautiful place: there are mountains, forests, bogs, the Atlantic, good surfing, good fishing … in fact, it’s a great place to set a novel, because practically any kind of urban or rural setting you need is available within five or ten miles of Sligo town centre. What visitors do tend to overlook is Sligo’s ancient history. There are perfectly preserved settlements at Carrowkeel, for example, that predate the better-known Newgrange by about 500 years, and the Egyptian pyramids by about 1,000 years.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
If my life was a movie, it’d be stuck in development hell. Who would I like to see play me? George Clooney, one of the very few interesting movie stars with real screen presence. Who would be likely to play me? Steve Buscemi.


Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Now that’s a tough bloody question. It’s like asking which of your kids you love most. And the honest answer is that I love them all equally, and I’m including those that haven’t been published when I say ‘all’. Eightball was magic because it was my first, and I’ll never replicate that shining, incandescent moment when I first held the book - an actual book, written by me - in my hands. It happened on a street in Galway, and I believe I kind of blanked out for a few seconds. I’d waited a long, long time to see that book … The Big O I love because it was a co-published deal with Hag’s Head, I and my wife put our mortgage money where my mouth was by paying 50% of the costs, and it ended up a modest success, from a co-published little effort (880 copies in Ireland) that ended up getting a pretty decent deal in the States, and allowed me go to the States for a road-trip to promote it. Bad for Good (which is currently out under consideration) I love because it’s radically different to the previous books, and I’m still not sure where the voice came from, or where the notion of having a hospital porter blow up his hospital came from. But even the books that will never see the light of day, I love them too, because they’re me at my most me. Which is the main reason why I write, I think.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I can’t really remember, to be honest, possibly because I very probably went out drinking. But it’s a strange, strange thing hearing that your book is going to be published - you’re delighted, of course, because for me I’d had that monkey on my back for nigh on 20 years, having subconsciously set myself that much as a target in order to have a life worth living (!), and the relief that it was finally going to happen was immense. So there’s shock, and relief, and delight … and ten minutes later you’re worried if people are going to like it.

I had a bizarre experience, actually, in that a couple of months before Eightball was published, I read a Ken Bruen novel, I think it was The Guards. And I remember vividly putting it down and realising that Eightball was going to be evaluated on the same criteria, and having a panic attack of sorts, and then wondering what Ken Bruen would make of my book. And the very following morning, I got a letter from the publisher, via my agent, containing a blurb from Ken Bruen, in which he claimed I was the future of Irish crime fiction. That was a pretty good morning.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Most unusual event at a literary festival? Sorry, Craig - what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Generally speaking, though, the most unusual thing that happens at my book signings is that people actually turn up to have their books signed. That never ceases to amaze me.


The Crime Watch 9mm Author Interview: John Connolly

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?

Ah, probably it’s a tie between Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer - because of that capacity for empathy, that’s important to me - and James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, who taught me that writing can be very poetic, I think.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
It was a Secret Seven book by Enid Blyton, which I remember reading at the dining table in our sitting room, and I remember struggling because I hadn’t been reading for very long, and I struggled through with words phonetically, and for years afterwards I thought the word ‘cupboard’ was pronounced ‘cup board’ - and my mother must have thought I was like little Lord Fauntleroy, “can we get something from the cup board?”

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Nothing. I’d written for the Irish Times, so I’d been a journalist, but I’d not written fiction. Lots of articles but nothing in terms of fiction, no.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
It doesn’t leave a whole lot of time, to be perfectly honest (chuckling). Ah, I go to the gym because it’s good to get out of the house and to do something so I don’t turn into some kind of vegetable. I actually find - somebody once said that the secret to happiness is to find something you would do as a hobby, and convince somebody to pay you to do it. And given that I’m doing what I probably would have done as a hobby had I been given the opportunity, and had I had ‘a proper job’, I actually don’t begrudge the time I spend doing it. So most of my time, it’s a bit like that Raymond Chandler thing - he was asked what was his writing day like, and he said he spent 6-7 hours a day sleeping, 3 hours a day eating, 4 hours a day writing, and the rest of it thinking about writing. And that’s kind of what my day has become.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
They should go to the crypt of St Michan’s Church on the north side of Dublin, where there’s these preserved bodies of these nuns, but also this huge Crusader Knight - they had to break his legs to get him in the coffin - and you can touch his finger. Touching his finger is supposed to be good luck, so you can touch the finger of this mummified Knight... Don’t go kissing rocks...

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Um... my girlfriend is convinced I look like Colin Firth, and I’ve met Colin Firth, and I really don’t, you know (chuckling). So I don’t know - I suspect that they’d pick somebody bug-eyed like Steve Buscemi, you know, “we’re trying to capturing your character not so much your looks” - and I’d think “no, not Steve Buscemi...”


Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, simply because it was very personal, and also because I finished it and thought “that was a good day’s work”. And if you’re - I hate people who separate art and craft, any kind of art, you’re not going to get to judge it, but art comes out of craft. And as a craftsman, sometimes you put the finish, and think “that’s as good as I can do”, and you sleep well after doing that.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I did really mundane things... I paid off my credit card bill. That was how I celebrated, I paid off my credit card bill. I was so fearful that it was all going to be taken away from me, that I think I was afraid to spend any of the money. So I paid it off, and I got an apartment that I could live in and work in. Very mundane things - I don’t think I ever ... now when I send off a book I take my family out to dinner, we’ll do something really simple. It was funny, there was no great splurge of buying things. No Ferrari, I’ve got a second-hand Ford Mondeo.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I had a woman come up to me once at a signing at a festival, saying ‘I love, I just love your books - I’ve been looking for you all weekend and if you’d please just stay there, I will come back and get my book signed. And she did, and she came back and handed me a copy of Ian Rankin’s BLACK AND BLUE, and said “there you go Mr Rankin, will you sign that for me please?”

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So there you have it, an Emerald trio for St Patrick's Day. Hope you enjoyed it. There are some terrific Irish crime writers out there (I have recently read and really enjoyed BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway, and have a Ken Bruen and a Declan Hughes book in my TBR pile too), so get out there and get amongst some Emerald Noir to celebrate St Patrick's Day. With a nice Irish beer of course.

Have you read any Rob Kitchin, Declan Burke, or John Connolly novels? Are you a fan of Irish crime writing or crime writers? What do you think of the 9mm interviews above? Comments welcome.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One night in Ponsonby

Last night I attended a lively books event at Dymocks Ponsonby, celebrating Roy Vaughan’s first novel, THE MERELEIGH RECORD CLUB TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND (now available in paperback as well as hardcover).

It was great to see a good crowd of 40-50 people there, especially as Vaughan’s book is published by a small New York publisher, and hasn’t been widely available in New Zealand in stores. Vaughan is a former officer in the British and New Zealand Merchant Navies, and journalist for the New Zealand Herald (amongst other roles), who has now started a series of thriller novels, alongside his work as a travel agent specialising in overseas educational tours (eg school trips to Europe, Asia, the Pacific Islands, etc).

There were several New Zealand Herald staff, former and current, in attendance, including former editor Peter Scherer who shared some of his thoughts on Roy and his writing in an introduction to the evening. It was great to see current Herald editor John Roughan also there. There were a few local writers in attendance also, including Charlotte Grimshaw (whose earliest work was crime/noir-ish, eg PROVOCATION), Bev Robitai (MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW), and Pauline Hayes (MURDER NOT SO SWEET) - see photo below of Roy, Bev, and myself. Great to see everyone there supporting books and writing.

It was a cracker of an Auckland late summer evening outside, so things got a little hot and stuffy in the store thanks to the large crowd, but drinks in hand we were entertained by first Scherer, then a reading from THE MERELEIGH RECORD CLUB TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND - a scene on board an ocean-going vessel where a passenger falls overboard, chosen because it demonstrated Vaughan’s use of his own maritime background in the novel - and then Vaughan himself talking about his journey to writing this novel, and his upcoming work. Vaughan also unexpectedly gave both myself and Crime Watch and Graham Beattie of Beattie’s Book Blog a nice bouquet - he had some nice things to say about how the support or acknowledgement of others who aren’t friends or family can mean a great deal for writers.

It was good to see much of the crowd hang around after the speeches ended, mixing and mingling, discussing books and writing, and getting Vaughan to sign copies of his debut thriller. It is always great so those who love books - writers, booksellers, readers, reviewers - come together with events like last night’s. Hopefully there will be more such events in future for our local writers, as well as visiting international stars.

Kudos to Andrew Rumbles and his team at Dymocks Ponsonby for putting on a good event, supporting local writers, and looking after the attendees. THE MERELEIGH RECORD CLUB TOUR OF NEW ZEALAND was published by a small New York-based publisher, and for those of you overseas is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and Book Depository. Readers in New Zealand could also contact Andrew at Dymocks Ponsonby (Ponsonby@dymocks.co.nz), who might be able to help source copies locally - the book sold like hot cakes last night, if you’re lucky there might have been a couple of copies left (possibly signed).

You can read my 9mm author interview with Roy Vaughan, from June 2010, here.