Thursday, April 28, 2011

In search of answers: my feature on Henning Mankel

My first-ever large feature article for the New Zealand Listener was recently published in the April 9-15 2011). It's a three page article, "In search of answers", based on my interview with Henning Mankell. I was fortunate enough to be the only New Zealand journo granted an interview with Mankell in the lead-up to the release of his tenth and latest Wallander title, THE TROUBLED MAN. Although, as anyone who's spent some time on the Internet recently will realise, Mankell has given plenty of interviews about this book to other overseas publications.

Still, I think my article is well worth reading, and that I've taken a somewhat different tack to many of the other features out there. And now, the full version is available online.

In search of answersA decade after his last Inspector Wallander novel, Henning Mankell has brought back his most popular creation for a final encore. By Craig Sisterson

It always starts with a question, says acclaimed Swedish writer Henning Mankell, his heavily accented voice resonating down the phone line. “In everything I write, there must be a question, there must be something I do not know, something I would like to find an answer to, something I would like to explore,” he says.

Whether it’s his internationally bestselling series of crime novels starring dogged and dour Inspector Wallander, his gripping stand-alone thrillers, his 40-plus radio and theatre plays, his socially conscious children's stories or his atmospheric novels set in Africa, Mankell is always inspired by questions, by a need to tackle the things that concern him about society, about our modern world, about life.

READ FULL ARTICLE BY CLICKING HERE or by clicking on the image above.

Comments welcome - on Wallander, Mankell, the article, or whatever you wish...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Greetings from Gallipoli; lest we forget

Well, this morning I've seen the dawn rise above Turkish beaches where far, far too many Kiwis, Aussies, and Turks lost their lives, 96 years ago today. Packed in with many thousands of other Kiwi and Aussie travellers, as well as some others, we're here for the traditional ANZAC Day service at Gallipoli. Crime Watch may be near-solely a book-focused blog, but for today at least, it's time to honour something else.

Down in New Zealand and Australia, and for others all around the world who have links to our two nations, the 25th of April is a very special, and sombre day; ANZAC Day. It is a day when we pause and remember the soldiers, sailors, and others who have served (and are still serving) our countries in wars and conflicts all over the world.

Ninety-siz years ago to this very day, our two nations first fought side by side under the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) banner – our soldiers landing together at dawn on a desolate beach on the Gallipoli peninsula in Turkey. It was a military bungle by the British commanders - but the attitudes, actions, and courage of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers both at Gallipoli and over the many battles and years since, stoked a burgeoning sense of independent identity and nationhood.

Despite being so far away from the conflict, and in no direct danger ourselves, more than 100,000 New Zealand troops and nurses served overseas during the First World War, from a population of just over one million. 42% of men of military age served.

Over the past century, Australia and New Zealand have contributed greatly on the world stage in many ways and in many diverse areas, generally 'punching far above our weight' given our geographic isolation and small populations - and in some ways this can be traced back to the values associated with 'the ANZAC tradition'.

Along with book reviews and author features, and my fulltime job as a legal journalist, I freelance write articles for New Zealand and overseas magazines and newspapers on a variety of other subjects, including sport, travel, and business. But one of the articles I am most proud of (not necessarily my best article, but one I'm proud of writing) is one I wrote for the April 2009 issue of WildTomato, interviewing modern military personnel about the ongoing importance of Anzac Day. If you have time, please take a few moments to read that article here.

I'll leave you with a universal and distinct part of any Anzac dawn service, which is timed to coincide with the initial landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 - the reading of the Anzac Dedication:

At this hour, on this day, ANZAC received its baptism of fire and became one of the immortal names in history. We who are gathered here think of the comrades who went out with us to battle but did not return. We feel them still near us in spirit. We wish to be worthy of their great sacrifice. Let us, therefore, once again dedicate ourselves to the service of the ideals for which they died. As the dawn is even now about to pierce the night, so let their memory inspire us to work for the coming of the new light into the dark places of the world.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Thoughts and comments welcome.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Travel Crime: the Turkey edition

As I said last December, before I headed off on a three week trip to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, over the past couple/few years, as I've been doing lots of travel, I've started to look for crime fiction set in the locations I'm travelling - preferably written by locals, where possible.

For my 2009/2010 trip to Egypt, which included a 3-day stopover in Cologne, Germany for the Xmas festivities, I read SELF'S MURDER by Bernhard Schlink (translated from the German), and THE ANUBIS SLAYINGS by PC Doherty (set in Ancient Egypt). And when stopping over in the Kuala Lumpur airport on the way home, I went searching for Malaysian crime fiction. Finding none, I settled for BANGKOK EIGHT by John Burdett (I had spent about 30mins in Bangkok airport too) - a very fortuitious purchase - it was excellent.

Then over last Xmas/New Years I bought and read PHNOM PENH EXPRESS by Johan Smits (set in Cambodia), as well as another John Burdett book, BANGKOK HAUNTS, which was set in both Thailand and Cambodia. I didn't manage to find any Vietnam-set crime fiction, although I did find a fantastic bookstore in Hanoi, that provided me with plenty of quality reading to kickstart 2011.

Now today I am arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, on my latest travel adventure (I'm going to Gallipoli for Anzac Day, which is a pretty cool thing for Aussies and Kiwis). So I've scored myself some Turkish-set mystery reading for my trip; THE JANISSARY TREE by Jason Goodwin.

THE JANISSARY TREE is Goodwin's first novel in his internationally acclaimed Yashim detective series, set in 1830s Istanbul. It won the Edgar Award, so I'm really looking forward to giving it a read. Here's a synopsis:

The year is 1836. Europe is modernizing, and the sultan of the Ottoman Empire feels he has no choice but to follow suit. But just as he's poised to announce sweeping political change, a wave of murders threatens the fragile balance of power in his court. Who is behind the killings?

Deep in the Abode of Felicity, the most forbidden district of Topkapi Palace, the sultan - ruler of the Black Sea and the White, ruler of Rumelia and Mingrelia, lord of Anatolia and Ionia, Romania and Macedonia, Protector of the Holy Cities, steely rider through the realms of bliss - announces, "Send for Yashim." Leading us through the palace's luxurious seraglios and Istanbul's teeming streets, Yashim places together the clues.

He is not alone. He depends on the wisdom of a dyspeptic Polish ambassador, a transsexual dancer, and the Creole-born queen mother. He manages to find sweet salvation in the arms of another man's wife (this is not your everyday eunuch!). And he introduces us to the Janissaries.

For four hundred years, they were the empire's elite soldiers. But they grew too powerful, and ten years earlier the sultan had them crushed. Are the Janissaries staging a brutal comeback? And if they are, how can they be stopped without throwing Istanbul into political chaos?

Have you read THE JANISSARY TREE, or any of Goodwin's other Yashim books? Have you read any other Turkish-set crime or mystery fiction? Do you like reading crime novels set in 'exotic' places and/or travel destinations you may visit? Comments welcome.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kiwi crime grows: KICKING OUT by Tony Price

Those who enjoy crime and mystery tales with a touch of the paranormal, ala TV shows Medium and Ghost Whisperer, or the psychic-tinged Kiwi crime novels of Andrea Jutson, may want to try the recently released KICKING OUT by Tony Price, another Kiwi author.

It's great to see more Kiwi crime fiction becoming available for readers here and overseas, from a variety of authors, established and new.

KICKING OUT is a 'supernatural thriller', and is available both in paperback and e-book format (the latter meaning those of you overseas have a chance to give it a go too, which is great). Here's the blurb:

"For 20 year old Lily MacDonald, aside from the death of her mother when she was only a child, growing up in the small town of Hawthorne, New Zealand has been relatively idyllic - until the day her safe and carefree world is torn apart by the detonation of a bomb in her work-place. Friends and colleagues perish and Lily's life begins to spiral out of control as she fears that a psychopath is targeting her. Her initial terror quickly turns to desperation when events become darker and more bizarre as Lily is also forced to battle with a psychic gift awakening inside her... "

You can read an excerpt from the novel, by clicking here.

Price, in his mid 40s, worked in the travel industry for fifteen years (including for Air New Zealand), before turning to novel writing. According to his website, he also worked in advertising, banking and finance "a long, long, time ago", prior to taking off on the obligatory (for Kiwis) OE.

Tony is also "happily married to a (reluctant and non-practicing) clairvoyant, of true Romany ancestry, who has provided him much inspiration and understanding (not to mention three fabulous children)".

I know that the lack of availability of some great Kiwi crime novels does frustrate some Crime Watch readers in North America and Europe. Well, fortunately that's not the case here. You can buy an e-book of KICKING OUT for US$2.99 on Smashwords (here), or you can buy a print copy at (here),, or Book Depository.

You can see a comparison of the cost and delivery times of several retailers at Price's website here (eg, it is available in print in New Zealand, but may be cheaper for NZ readers to buy via Amazon or Book Depository, even with delivery).

It's great to see Kiwi authors getting their books out there, more widely available. It would be terrific to see some of our established crime writers like Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, Paddy Richardson etc, have more of their books widely available overseas in e-book and print copy format, so that those of you in the Northern Hemisphere can more easily give them a go.

Do you like the sound of KICKING OUT? How do you feel about crime, mystery and thriller novels that bring touches of the supernatural or paranormal into the story?

Monday, April 18, 2011


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.

Lately I’ve been highlighting a few out-of-print and hard to find titles from Kiwi crime fiction history, but this week I’ve decided to focus on something a little more recent, and still available new in bookstores; modern day Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon’s raw but excellent debut OVERKILL, a novel that introduced a feisty and fantastic new heroine, policewoman Sam Shephard, to the crime fiction world.

You can read more about Symon in my recent feature interview for the Weekend Herald here, in her Crime Watch 9mm interview from 2010 here, and at her own website here. Her fourth and latest Sam Shephard tale, BOUND, hit #1 on the New Zealand Adult Fiction bestseller list back in early February, and has remained in the top 10 (often the top 5) pretty much every week since. It's great to see Kiwi readers giving some of our local, high quality, crime fiction a go. Long may it continue (and grow even further).

Turning now to OVERKILL, Symon's debut. Here’s the back cover blurb:

“When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks for the Mataura River a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what is seems.

Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide, and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover.

When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duties she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands to find the murderer and clear her name.”

Sounds pretty intriguing and exciting, eh? And trust me, it is. OVERKILL is a very enjoyable read, one of the better crime fiction series debuts I’ve read in the past several years. In a review for WildTomato magazine back in early 2009, I said:

“Fans of high quality international crime fiction won’t be disappointed by this local fare. Symon wastes no time, immediately stunning readers with an opening-pages haymaker, as during the prologue an intruder forces a stay-at-home mother to submit to her own death, in order to save her baby daughter. Who knew the farming town of Mataura could harbour such evil?

... Overkill is an excellent first novel from a talented storyteller. Symon nicely balances action, character and story in a well-drawn rural setting, and realistically speckles the book with light-hearted moments and humour throughout. Symon drops Sam right in it and the reader can’t help but be taken along for the ride, willingly and wonderfully.

Symon builds the book to a satisfying conclusion, weaving throughout real issues relevant to agricultural communities, along with the loves, hates, hopes, and fears universal to people anywhere. Good crime novels set in an authentic rural setting are rare, as is quality Kiwi crime fiction (at least until recently). Overkill ticks both boxes. Highly recommended.”

I still stand by what I said there, and continue to recommend OVERKILL, and Symon’s writing in general, to crime fiction fans here and overseas looking for something interesting and new of good quality. I haven’t had any complaints yet.

You can read some other reviews of OVERKILL at:

But don't just listen to me and other reviewers - find out for yourself. You can read the prologue to OVERKILL at Symon's website here (scroll down a little).

Have you read OVERKILL? Any other books in the Sam Shephard series? If so, what do you think? Do you like murder mysteries set in rural settings? New Zealand crime fiction in general? Comments welcome.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Currently reading: SMILING JACK

Taking a brief hiatus from the adult crime and thriller fiction, in the past day or so I've dipped into a young adult mystery written by one of New Zealand's most prolific and beloved children's authors, Ken Catran.

SMILING JACK was published late last year. Here's the blurb: "There's something wrong with this picture. Robert lives in a small, prosperous rural town where his father is a respected and trusted pillar of the local community and financial advisor to the eccentric but essentially harmless community of Atenists who live nearby.

When Robert's father and uncle are killed in road accident his comfortable world rapidly begins to unravel. With so much to deal with, he barely thinks about the evil grin on the playing card Jack found at the site of the accident. Until the second death, and the third, when once again Jack's leering malicious grin is found nearby.

As Robert realises he never knew his father, those people his father betrayed turn against him, and he is forced to look deep into the shadows that are closing in if he is to get out alive. A classic whodunnit with a startling and unexpected twist, Ken Catran's dark and brooding murder mystery is a real page-turner that will have you looking over your shoulder like Robert, desperately trying to second guess Smiling Jack."

I'm about 2/3 of the way through, and enjoying the read, although it is of course a bit more 'basic' than most of the crime fiction I'm used to reading. Catran has created an intriguing story, and I'm still wondering what exactly is going on in the town of Tucker. He also evokes a nice sense of 'small town-ness', where the locals all know each other, and each other's business. Which isn't always a good thing. He sprinkles some mythological, historical, and literary references throughout too (eg Kipling's poetry, Beowulf, etc), which is kind of fun.

Catran has won nine writing awards and written close to fifty books, and was also the 2007 recipient of the Margaret Mahy Award for services to children's literature. Here's part of his bio from the New Zealand Book Council website:

"An award-winning children’s writer and scriptwriter who has written for some of New Zealands best-loved television series. He has won many awards for his television scripts and in 1986 was a finalist for Best Overseas Programme at the US Emmy Awards. His books for children and young adults engage with the historical, the fantastical, and science fiction. He has been shortlisted many times in the New Zealand Post Book Awards and won Book of the Year in 2001. In 2004 he won the Esther Glen Award for a distinguished contribution to literature at the LIANZA Childrens Book Awards."

You can read more about Ken Catran on Wikipedia here, at the New Zealand Book Council website here, at NZ On Screen (for his TV credits etc) here, and in an interview with kid readers at the Christchurch City Library here.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy 50th 9mm interview: Robert Crais

Welcome to a very special edition of Crime Watch's exclusive 9mm author interview series - the 50TH instalment overall. Not bad for a series that started on a whim - we've averaged nearly one terrific author interview a week since the series began in March 2010, and it's grown far beyond anything I could have imagined when we began.

The list of authors who've participated reads like a veritable 'who's who' of the global crime landscape - from legendary international stars like PD James, Val McDermid, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Faye Kellerman, and many more, to up-and-coming talent, and some terrific local crime writers from New Zealand and Australia that deserve wider attention, here and abroad.

It's been a real privilege to interview all these authors, and a lot of fun too. I hope you've been enjoying the series as much as I and the authors have been. 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 a clickable list of the first 44 instaments here.

I fully intend to continue the series, and march towards the 100 interview mark over the coming year. There are plenty more crime writers out there who would be great to include in the 9mm 'family' - but at the same time we've got a pretty amazing line-up already. Feel free to go back over some of the old interviews, and perhaps add comments etc, if you like. Suggestions are also always welcome for future interviewees too. So speak up, and let me know what you want to see.

But for now it is time to once again polish off the gun and point it towards a creator of tales mysterious and thrilling. 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.

Today I am very pleased to share with you all my recent 9mm interview with Robert Crais, creator of the award-winning Elvis Cole and Joe Pike series, and some great standalones. I recently interviewed Crais by telephone for a feature article in the New Zealand Herald (read here), and also asked him the 9mm questions. He was a very personable, interesting, cool guy to talk to. As some of you will know, prior to turning to novels, Crais was also a TV screenwriter on some great shows like Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice, and Hill Street Blues.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
James Bond. Just I find him eminently entertaining. He represents to me a part of life that I’m completely unfamiliar with but fantasise endlessly - the suave and debonair but at the same time gritty and tough-as-nails super spy. I don’t write that stuff of course, but maybe that’s one of the appeals to me. For me it’s a completely different reality. I wish I were James Bond

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Probably, and it’s certainly a watershed event for me, Raymond Chandler’s novel THE LITTLE SISTER. I often point back to that book as the book that gave me the rest of my career. I was a teenager at the time, about 15 I guess, and found a paperback copy of it in a second-hand bookstore - and honestly the only reason I picked it up is that the cover painting was of this really hot chick - and I just fell in love with Chandler’s Los Angeles, and the whole thing. I’d never read a private eye novel, and that was my gateway to everything that followed.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I started as a short story writer actually, and along with crime fiction I was writing a lot of science fiction and fantasy - the very first few stories I sold weren’t crime stories, they were fantasies. Then TV screenwriting for a number of shows.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Anything outside. I’m a workout nut. I hike every morning, get up insanely early. I’m a runner. I fly aeroplanes; I love to fly - anything that gets me outside. I have a Cessna 310 twin engine aeroplane. I also fly single engine aeroplanes. I just love the whole notion of getting out in the sky alone - it requires concentration, and that’s a way to free myself from the work I do.

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?
Well, everyone who comes to Los Angeles should go up Mulholland Drive at night. The city comes alive in the darkness, I think, because when you’re up on the crest of the mountain, the lights of the city itself spread out to infinity. They go all the way to the horizon, because Los Angeles is such a big place. It looks like the stars have fallen from the sky. That’s one of the things I fell in love with when I first came here.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I have never, ever been asked that. Oh, wow... um, Tom Hanks. I’m a huge fan. Listen, you ask me that question and I’m tempted to say some heroic figure like Russell Crowe or somebody who plays gladiators, but Hanks, he seems like a funny guy, a genuine guy, that would be a hoot. There’s a [love for life] and also earnestness to him. He’s the whole palette. Great question, man.

Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
You know this is going to sound hokey and put up, but I have to say THE SENTRY. For a variety of reasons, but mostly because I’m really exploring Joe Pike’s character in the last few books, I’m getting into what for me was a mystery, an enigmatic character, and I think I took something on with him that was very, very difficult to pull off, for me as the writer and character. And I like to think that I hit pretty close to the target. I’m extremely proud of that, so right now THE SENTRY is my absolute favourite book.

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?
Oh, well, I probably broke out a six pack. With THE MONKEY’S RAINCOAT, I had written a couple of manuscripts before that did not sell, in fact they were so bad that I never submitted them, I’m the only person that has ever read them, they were that awful. They were both crime novels - one was a private eye novel and the other was a crime novel but not a PI novel. And they were both just failures, they simply didn’t work as books, as stories.

So when I started out writing THE MONKEY’S RAINCOAT, my goal was just to write a story that made sense, still something that I was proud of, but after two failures in a row I was like ‘please, just let me have a beginning, middle and an end of a story that makes sense’. It did not sell right away. When I finished it I felt that it was a successful story, but when we began to submit it to publishers in New York it did not sell right away, it was rejected many times. I think on ninth or tenth time it finally sold and sold as a paperback original. But then I was ecstatic at that point. It’s been a long time ago now, but I probably broke out a six pack and had a party.

--- And seeing it on a bookshelf in a store must have felt good?
The best... having it in your hand. In fact I still have three or four copies - when I would go around town and see it in a bookstore for the first time, I would buy the copy, and then write in the book the date and where I bought it, where I saw it for that first time. And I still have some of those, it meant that much to me.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I was doing a signing outside of Philadelphia, and there was this long line of people, and a woman in this line holding up a two-year-old boy, and she's waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And she gets closer and closer and closer, and finally she reaches the table and pops the child on the table in front of me and says 'here's your Daddy!'.

It was a joke, a complete joke, but it was one of those things where the whole room fell absolutely quiet... and then she burst out laughing, and then about 100 people in the room all burst out laughing - you could feel the relief, especially from me. It was a very funny moment, a very funny moment.

Thank you Robert Crais. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.


Have you read THE SENTRY? Any of the Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels, or Crais's acclaimed standalones like DEMOLITION ANGEL? Have you watched Cagney and Lacey, Hill Street Blues or Miami Vice? What is your favourite Robert Crais book? Comments welcome.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Longlist for CWA Dagger in the Library announced

The Crime Writers’ Association is delighted to announce the longlist for the CWA Dagger in the Library 2011. The CWA Dagger Awards celebrate the very best in crime and thriller writing, and are the longest established literary awards in the UK. These premier awards in crime fiction are recognised internationally as a mark of excellence. The CWA Dagger in the Library is sponsored by The Random House Group.

Authors are nominated by UK libraries and Readers’ Groups and judged by a panel of librarians. The Dagger is awarded to an author for a body of work, rather than a single title. The prize money is £1500 to the author, plus £300 to a participating library's readers' group.

The shortlist will be announced at the CWA reception at CrimeFest, Bristol on May 20. The winner will be announced, along with other Daggers, during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate, on the evening of July 22

Dagger longlist 2011
  • Bolton, SJ
  • Brodrick, William
  • Ellory, RJ
  • Goodwin, Jason
  • Griffths, Elly
  • Hannah, Sophie
  • Harvey, John
  • Hayder, Mo
  • Hill, Susan
  • Hurley, Graham
  • James, Peter

  • Kerr, Philip

  • Rickman, Phil

  • Sansom, CJ

  • Taylor, Andrew

  • Tyler, LC
Nice to see a couple of authors I met and interviewed last year, RJ Ellory and Peter James, on the list, along with some other terrific crime writers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

N is for Neil Giles' A CASE OF IMMUNITY

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’ve decided to feature another one of the many Kiwi crime novels that came out from smaller publishers in the 1990s and early 2000s, but are largely forgotten or unknown; Neil Giles’s A CASE OF IMMUNITY. Published in 1995 by Christchurch’s Hazard Press (which was a strong promoter of New Zealand ‘popular fiction’, eg crime, fantasy, adventure, thriller etc, before it later went into liquidation), A CASE OF IMMUNITY was Giles’s debut novel, although the Australian-born author and practising astrologer had previously written a number of stage, radio and television plays both in Australia and New Zealand.

In A CASE OF IMMUNITY, Larry Lane is a private investigator and he’s looking for someone. That isn’t unusual - missing persons are his speciality. This time he’s looking for A-Chem International, a giant manufacturer of industrial chemicals. A-Chem mislaid a staff member. That isn’t unusual either. They’re careless with anything worth less than a billion dollars. So Larry Lane is looking for someone called Hedley Drake, tidying up loose ends for a big corporation. If it sounds easy, it isn’t. And now, everyone’s looking for Larry Lane - the police, the mayor, the media, and a gang called Brain Damage. In a future of arrogant wealth and desperate poverty, immunity comes at too high a price.

The back cover states that A CASE OF IMMUNITY is written “in the racy, gripping, humourous and self-aware style of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, this novel joins the growing list of popular detective fiction now being published in New Zealand”.

Sounds intriguing, although it would have to be pretty terrific to match up to the Chandler and Hammett stylistic reference. I acquired a copy of A CASE OF IMMUNITY via an online auction website, and I’ve also seen it occasionally in second-hand stores. I am looking forward to reading it, and seeing what kind of adventures Giles and Larry Lane take me on.

Are you participating in the crime fiction alphabet? Have you been enjoying learning about some lesser-known crime fiction, both here on Crime Watch and at some of the other terrific blog sites that are participating? Do you enjoy finding older, out-of-print books in second-hand stores, auction sites, or libraries, and giving them a go?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Currently reading: SHADOW SISTER by Simone Van Der Vlugt

As I said last week, in 2011 I am once again participating in the Global Reading Challenge. , created by writer, reviewer and blogger Dorte Jakobsen of DJ's Krimiblog and CANDIED CRIME fame.

This year have already read more than the three European novels needed for the Expert level, and from at least three countries (Scotland, Ireland, England, Sweden). However I've decided that I will try to expand my European choices to include more translated fiction, so I am currently reading SHADOW SISTER by Simone Van Der Vlugt, who is dubbed "Holland's Queen of Crime".

SHADOW SISTER was originally published in Dutch in 2005, but has recently become Van Der Vlugt's second psychological thriller to be translated into English. Here is the blurb for the English-language version (pictured):

"Lydia and Elisa, twin sisters, identical in appearance, different in every other way. When Lydia is threatened by one of her students, her sister is the first person she turns to. But Elisa is powerless to stop what follows: threatening letters, smashed windows. How far will this student go? Or is someone else taking advantage of the situation? And what part does Elisa play in all of this? Twins are close… aren’t they?"

I am about 60 per cent of the way through, and enjoying it thusfar. There's a creeping sense of unease, and the way the story shifts between the perspectives of the two twin sisters, the reader is very well aware from the start that something horrific has happened. We just don't know why, or by who, or exactly what, yet.

Have you read SHADOW SISTER or any of Van Der Vlugt's other novels? Have you read any other Dutch crime fiction? Do you like trying translated crime novels? Are you participating in the 2011 Global Reading Challenge? Thoughts welcome.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Miss Marple vs Carter Ross: it's your call!

The online vote to find the world's favourite amateur sleuth (ie someone not involved with the police, licensed PIs or other law enforcement roles) is coming to a rapid close, with the voting in the championship round soon to finish.

A month ago 64 amateur sleuths - some classic, some new, some known worldwide, some lesser known but remarkably popular amongst the voting bloc, some underappreciated, some overblown - began a knockout tournament on the award-winning Jen's Book Thoughts blog to find the 'world's favourite'.

Now we are down to two: Agatha Christie's Jane Marple vs Brad Parks' Carter Ross. You can vote for your favourite here.

I'm sure I'm not the only keen crime reader from outside the US who is a little surprised by one of the finalists. To be honest I'd never heard of Carter Ross prior to the tournament. Apparently there was something of a surge in support for the character (who is penned by an relatively new author who is getting some acclaim by keen readers who post and comment on crime fiction blogs in the United States), enabling Ross to beat Lisbeth Salander in the semifinal.

Bizarrely however, some commenters on Jen's blog over the past couple of weeks seem more surprised by Miss Marple's ongoing success - an overtly pro-contemporary viewpoint that may explain some of the 'interesting' voting results, where 'classic' sleuths, international sleuths, and US sleuths that are more beloved worldwide have fallen by the wayside, beaten by lesser-known (on a global scale) hometown favourites of recent vintage.

Being the curious person I am, however, I decided to get to know a little more about Carter Ross - clearly he's a character that has caught the zeitgeist, at least amongst voters.

Carter Ross debuted in Brad Parks' Nero and Shamus Award-winning debut mystery, FACES OF THE GONE (first published in December 2009). He is an investigative reporter in Newark who doesn't believe the story police are feeding the media about four bodies found in a vacant lot, each with a bullet in the back of the head. His paper prints the police's version anyway, leaving Carter all but alone to find the real story - a story that puts him in the path of one very ambitious killer.

You can read an extract from FACES OF THE GONE here.

Carter Ross has now returned in Brad Parks' second mystery novel, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, which was released in February this year. You can read more about that book here, and about Carter Ross here.

In all honesty, Carter Ross sounds like an intriguing hero, and I would be very keen to read some of Parks' work (I'm not sure how available they are here in New Zealand yet). However, I am still a touch uncomfortable with such a brand new character, who's only featured in two books, winning his way through the 'world's favourite amateur sleuth' ballot. For me it raises questions of 'ballot stuffing' and perhaps not getting a representative enough voting bloc this time around.

Unlike last year, where most of the favourite detectives who got through to the final rounds were longstanding or classic characters that had received much acclaim over long series - meaning that even if you had other favourites (eg I thought Dave Robicheaux should have done much better, as did many crime authors I've spoken to) then you could understand why the quarterfinalists and semifinalists etc had made it through - the amateur sleuth voting seems to have skewed more towards characters who are perhaps more recent and popular amongst groups of keen crime readers in the USA, rather than the wider reading public. Not that's a bad thing, just different - and an observation I think is kind of interesting. As they say, sometime voting tells you just as much about the voters as it does about what they're voting on.

Anyway, if you're a Carter Ross fan or a Miss Marple fan, make sure you do have your say (the voting is open worldwide), and head along to Jen's Book Thoughts to cast your vote.

As for me, I'm going to try to get hold of one of Brad Parks' books - they certainly sound good.

Have you read any Carter Ross books? If so, what do you think? Does Miss Marple deserve to be named 'world's favourite amateur sleuth', or has her time passed? Thoughts welcome.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In search of answers: Henning Mankel

My first-ever large feature article for the New Zealand Listener has been published in this week's issue (dated April 9-15 2011). It's a three page article, "In search of answers", based on my recent interview with Henning Mankell.

I was lucky enough to be granted the only New Zealand interview with Mankell in the lead-up to the release of THE TROUBLED MAN, the final Wallander novel (note - a NZ newspaper also published an interview with Mankell recently, but this was a republication of a Guardian article). So for all of you in New Zealand, go out and grab a copy of this week's issue of the New Zealand Listener. The feature is on pages 34-36.

I've been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to write for many great publications here in New Zealand and overseas, and I'm very pleased to now be contributing (occasionally) to the New Zealand Listener as well. It's a great magazine.

Traditionally the New Zealand Listener places the first paragraph of its articles online, and then about three weeks after an issue is published in print places the entire article online for anyone to read. However, just this week the magazine's website has had a major overhaul (it looks terrific), and it doesn't seem the entire contents of the current issue are listed. I'm not sure if or when my feature will now be placed online - I will let you know as soon as I do. [EDIT: I have this afternoon been told by the NZ Listener Books Editor that articles will continue to be freely available online two weeks after the issue is no longer current - so for all of you overseas I will link to the online version of my feature when it's available].

You can search for and read previous Books articles from the Listener, here. For example, you can read Guy Somerset's terrific feature on New Zealand crime fiction and the Ngaio Marsh Award here, and Jane Bowron's feature on Paul Cleave here.

The New Zealand Listener has long been considered one of our premier magazines. It is a weekly current affairs and entertainment magazine, renowned (amongst other things) for having one of the best books sections around. Near the end of each year the Listener also publishes a “100 Best Books of the Year” issue, where its reviewers compile their list of best novels, short stories, poetry, biography, memoir, and other non-fiction books of the year. You can see the crime fiction content from last year's Top 100 list here.

Have you picked up this week's Listener, and perhaps read my article? If so, what do you think? Have you read THE TROUBLED MAN, or do you intend to? Are you a Wallander fan (in books or on TV)? What do you think of the Listener's new website? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Monday, April 4, 2011

M is for MURDER AND CHIPS (1981)

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 MURDER AND CHIPS by Laurie Mantell. From 1978-1984, Mantell wrote five Wellington-set murder mysteries featuring Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow of the New Zealand Police - her books were published in the UK and the US as well, I understand. She also wrote a sixth crime novel, the standalone MATES, in the late 1990s. Unfortunattely Mantell passed away at the age of 93 last year.

MURDER AND CHIPS (1981) was Mantell's third murder mystery, following on from her debut MURDER IN FANCY DRESS (1978) and A MURDER OR THREE (1980). Although 'Fish'n'chips' have always been a very popular takeaway in New Zealand, and the title is probably a play on that, in the novel the chips in questions are actually wood, not potato.

MURDER AND CHIPS continues the adventures of Detective Sergeant Steve Arrow and his wife’s uncle, Chief Inspector Peacock. Here’s the blurb from the inside flap: “First, Cody Pyke is found smothered in a wood chip pile... Accidental death? Steve Arrow doesn’t think so, but that’s what the coroner, under pressure, decides. And then Carter Ancell is bashed to death. No doubt that it’s murder this time; but is the robbery - of no more than some costume jewellery - merely a cover for what the police call a ‘domestic’ crime? The investigations of the two deaths become most cunningly interwoven, and it might be said that each crime leads to the solution of the other. It’s a beautifully dovetailed plot, and another bright feather in Laurie Mantell’s hat.”

After her funeral last year, her family sent me some rembrances of Mantell. At her funeral service, Ray Mantell spoke of how his mother took everything she saw in, and often used it later in her mystery stories: "When I was young I set up my 8mm movie camera to take time motion of flowers opening & closing etc. One day I set it up on the roof to film cloud movements and thought mum did not even know what I was doing. Then in one of her books there it was a boy who set up a camera with time motion on the roof of his house to film a possum in the tree next door and in one of the frame he had the killer on film... [Another time], Linda & Barry took Mum & Dad down to Nelson and Mum saw the wood chips piles waiting to be shipped so she came up with MURDER AND CHIPS."

Some copies of MURDER AND CHIPS can still be found in secondhand stores (physical and online) and libraries, although the book does unfortunately fall into the 'out of print and hard to find' category. I have sourced a copy, thanks to the family, and I'm looking forward to reading this one. I enjoyed Mantell's Steve Arrow books A MURDER OR THREE and MURDER TO BURN last year.

Have you read Laurie Mantell? Do you like trying some out of print crime fiction from days gone by, from libraries or secondhand stores, to go with the modern stuff on booksellers' shelves?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Currently reading: MIXED BLOOD by Roger Smith

I've been doing a lot of reading the first three months of this year, but I am a little behind in my reviewing. And my reading choices have been a little constrained too - along with reading new New Zealand books and upcoming or recently released books for some newspaper columns and in preparation for feature interviews with the likes of Robert Crais, Peter Corris, Michael Connelly, and Henning Mankell, I am also participating in Dorte Jakobsen's excellent 2011 Global Reading Challenge.

For one of my 'Africa' crime novels for the expert level of the challenge, I have now started reading a book from a 'new-to-me' author, Roger Smith. I've heard some very good things about Smith's writing, so when I saw a new copy of MIXED BLOOD on a discount table at Whitcoulls a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't resist grabbing it.

Here's the short blurb for MIXED BLOOD: "An American, hiding out in Cape Town, South Africa, after being blackmailed into a bank heist back home, is building a new life for his pregnant wife and young son, when an incident of random violence sets him on a collision course with street gangs and a rogue cop who loves killing almost as much as he loves Jesus Christ."

Smith was born in Johannesburg, and now lives in Cape Town. Before becoming a crime writer, he was a screenwriter, producer and director. MIXED BLOOD was his debut novel, and was published in the US and Germany in 2009. It won the Deutschen Krimi Preis 2010 in Germany and has been nominated for a Spinetingler Best Novel award. His second book is WAKE UP DEAD. According to Smith's website, GreeneStreet Films (NYC) is developing the movie version of MIXED BLOOD – scheduled to start shooting in Cape Town in 2011 – starring Samuel L. Jackson, with Phillip Noyce directing.

Have you read MIXED BLOOD or WAKE UP DEAD? Do you like South African-set crime fiction? Are you participating in the 2011 Global Reading Challenge? If so, what African novels have you chosen? Thoughts welcome.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Vanda Symon tours the West Coast

As I noted several days ago, acclaimed Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon was heading this past week to the wild West Coast for several New Zealand Book Month events at libraries and schools in Hokitika, Greymouth, and Westport. It's great to see local crime writers getting out and about for events like this, and meeting readers.

Symon reports on her West Coast tour at her blog, Overkill, here. Symon's latest Sam Shephard tale, BOUND, debuted at the #1 spot earlier this year, and has remained on the NZ bestseller list since, which is great news. It's good to see Kiwi readers giving tales from our own crime writers a go. Hopefully more and more people will continue to discover Symon and her terrific heroine Sam Shephard. I'm sure they won't be disappointed.

BOUND was one of my 'crime picks' in February for my regular column in the Herald on Sunday. Here's what I had to say:

"A leading light amongst the recent surge in quality Kiwi crime fiction, Vanda Symon kick-starts her latest thrilling tale with a brutal home invasion; a dodgy businessman is shot gunned, his wife nearly chokes to death on a gag. Feisty heroine Sam Shephard’s Dunedin CID colleagues zero in on two lowlifes suspected of an earlier cop killing, but she’s uneasy, and keeps investigating. Excellent storytelling with real verve and energy, starring one of the most enjoyably readable heroines on the crime fiction scene."

Weeks later, I still stand by that final comment. I can think of very few crime fiction heroines that I enjoy reading, book-in, book-out, more than Sam Shephard. Symon is a world class crime writer that the wider world just hasn't found out about yet.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Forgotten books: DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER (1964)

Over the past couple of years I've been keeping a keen eye out for any New Zealand-written crime, mystery or thriller fiction, both contemporary and from days gone by. Here at Crime Watch I have shared some information about such 'forgotten' Kiwi crime writers, whose work isout-of-print and had to find, including the likes of:

  • Laurie Mantell (five Steve Arrow murder mysteries, 1978-1984, plus a standalone in the lates 1990s);

  • Freda Bream (who while retired published 13 murder mysteries starring the Rev Jabal Jarrett between 1982-1997);

  • Edmund Bohan (who wrote five historic Inspector O'Rorke novels between 1996-2003);

  • Carol Dawber (who wrote three Top of the South-set mysteries around the same period);

  • Elizabeth Messenger (who wrote at least nine crime thrillers that I know of, in the 1950s-1960s); and

  • V. Merle Grayland (at least three books in the 1960s).

Another forgotten Kiwi author from the era of Messenger and Grayland is Simon Jay, who published two mystery novels in the 1960s. I first read about Jay in the digital version of Joan Stevens' book THE NEW ZEALAND NOVEL 1860-1965 (Reed, 1966), available courtesy of the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. In a subsection on crime fiction, Stevens says:

" Another sub-type flourishing in recent years is the detective story, where we have at least one remarkable success, Simon Jay's Death of a Skin Diver, 1964. This has a tight plot, good writing, and a really knowledgeable exploitation of the New Zealand setting. What could be better ingredients for a local thriller than skindiving, yachting and yachtsmen, expeditions by day and by night on the intricacies of the Waitemata Harbour (with maps), plus some smuggling, some science, some humour, and some murder? Simon Jay is a pseudonym disguising an Auckland pathologist; his amateur detective is, naturally, also a pathologist, Dr Peter Much, who looks like a winner."

It certainly sounds intriguing to me, although I have found the book very hard to find. I am also curious as to what constituted a "remarkable success" for DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER - perhaps it had great reviews or large sales for a New Zealand book of the time, although I haven't been able to find much more in the way of information.

Thanks to Scott McPherson at the Classic Crime Fiction website, you can read a short biography of 'Simon Jay' (with photo) and a decent synopsis of DEATH OF A SKIN DIVER here.

Bev Robitai releases her second mystery

Last year I came across a new-to-me New Zealand mystery writer, Bev Robitaille, who writes under the name Bev Robitai.

Robitai is a photographer for publications in New Zealand and overseas and a freelance writer for magazines like Next. Born in the UK, she has lived on Auckland's North Shore for 12 years, and spent the prior two decades in Nelson (my hometown). Her first crime novel, MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW, was launched at the Theatre Royal in Nelson last year.

I read and enjoyed her debut cosy-style theatre-set mystery - read my WildTomato review of MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW here. You can read a review by Bernadette of Reactions to Reading here.

Now Robitai has released her second mystery novel, entitled EYE FOR AN EYE. Here's the description: "It’s a long way from her home on a quiet farm in the Marlborough Sounds to the bustle of downtown Toronto, but Robyn Taylor is a fearless and practical woman who can turn her hand to anything, including some very inventive punishments when necessary. When she discovers that Colwyn Symons has defrauded her family of thousands of dollars, leading to her father’s death, she has to take action. His enjoyment of the high-rolling lifestyle in the big city will come to an abrupt end if she can only get her hands on him.

Mike Kent, a Canadian insurance investigator, persuades Robyn to help gather evidence that will put an end to Colwyn’s continuing frauds, but both of them underestimate Colwyn’s cold-blooded greed. When she faces kidnapping and attempted murder, Robyn’s survival skills are severely tested."

You can purchase an electronic version of EYE FOR AN EYE or MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW (in a variety of formats - Kindle, html, .pdf etc), for US$3.90 from Smashwords (see here).


LOVE YOU MORE by Lisa Gardner (Bantam, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

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? 

This was the first time I'd read a thriller from Lisa Gardner, who is one of a cadre of female US crime writers who’ve successfully jumped from penning romantic suspense to writing bestselling darker thrillers (others include the likes of Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag, and Tess Gerritsen). I'd heard some good things. 

In LOVE YOU MORE, Boston homicide detective DD Warren finds herself called to the scene of a domestic incident. The husband is dead, the bruised wife claims he abused her and she shot him in self-defence. But this is a little different: the wife is state trooper Tessa Leoni, who is trained to handle herself, but she chose not to use less-lethal options; and the couple’s six-year-old daughter is missing. As the search for little Sophie continues and the state police close ranks around Leoni, Warren gets the feeling that the missing girl isn’t the only thing that’s wrong with the whole situation. There is too much that doesn't add up... 

Gardner creates a pacy and intriguing plotline, switching between the perspectives of Warren and Leoni - each trying to work out what is going on. Warren, who has appeared in four previous Gardner tales, struggles with the case on multiple fronts, having to partner with a former lover as she tries to bust down the blue wall of silence as Leoni's colleagues close ranks around her. Is she really an abused wife? Was she left with no choice but to shoot her husband? Or has she harmed her daughter and is now using all her skills and knowledge as a state trooper to cover her tracks? 

While LOVE YOU MORE is the fifth book to feature DD Warren, it is the first outing for Leoni, who is quite an intriguing character on several levels, if one that is hard to get a read on. In fact, I had a little trouble connecting with her and her plight - the plot whizzed along with plenty of tension, twists, and turns, but I often felt like an interested but detached observer, rather than being fully sucked into things emotionally alongside the twin protagonists. However, I was compelled to turn the pages, and the story flowed along really well, hurtling towards a conclusion. 

For me my first read of Lisa Gardner fell into the 'solid not spectacular' category; a book I enjoyed and has me intrigued enough to want to read more of Gardner's work in future, without blowing me away or having me rush out to immediately read her backlist. Interestingly, despite some reservations about the character of Tessa Leoni, I was also left with a sense that there is much more to her story too, and perhaps room for her to become an ongoing character like DD Warren herself. 

Overall, a good tale that’s well worth a read for thriller fans. 

This is an expanded version of my review of LOVE YOU MORE published in Good Reading magazine.