Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don't give up your day job - writing while working

Most writers, even the biggest big name bestsellers, wrote their earliest novels while holding down another fulltime job, grabbing time for their personal creativity in amongst the (at times gruelling) day-to-day requirements of whatever else they needed to do to earn money and/or raise a family. Many writers continue to work in other areas even after they're published (the life of a full-time author is a dream for most - something only a small percentage of writers, even amongst those who are published, achieve).

At the same time, many budding writers say they wish they could write their novel/play/screenplay/children's book - if only they could find the time, in amongst their busy, busy life. But those that have been successfully published have often had similarly busy, busy working lives. So how do they manage to juggle writing with other responsibilities? How do they manage to create when they have to snatch writing time here and there, before work, or when they're tired at the end of a demanding day?

An upcoming free public event in Auckland takes a look at this very issue, and seems well worth attending for published and budding writers alike, as well as interested readers.

Trading Places is a panel event to be chaired by Ian Wedde (New Zealand Poet Laureate 2011-2013, novelist and curator). Wedde is joined on the panel by high-profile New Zealanders:
  • Gareth Morgan, economist, investment manager, adventure traveller and published author;
  • Tessa Duder, children’s writer and literary ambassador;
  • Geoff Walker, publisher, editor and writer; and
  • Juliet Bergh, doctor, screen writer and director.
Wedde and the panellists will share their insights in to how they balance their working lives with writing, how they make time to write, nurturing their creativity and contributing to the creative economy, and avoiding procrastination.

Trading Places is a free public event, to be held at Auckland’s Central City Library, Level 2, 44-46 Lorne Street, on Tuesday 15 November. Crime Watch readers are invited to join Wedde and the panellists for a glass of wine from 7pm for a 7.30pm start; available on a first come/first served basis.

Trading Places is proudly sponsored by the New Zealand Book Council, Auckland City Libraries and the National Library, whose aim is to foster New Zealanders’ creativity.

Hat tip to Bookman Beattie for the heads-up about the event.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

9mm: An interview with Bev Robitai

The 9mm series has been on a bit of slow burn in the past few months, but don't worry, it will continue to be a regular feature here on Crime Watch (hopefully an increasingly regular feature moving forward, rather than the once every few weeks thing it's become recently).

Today, for the 57th instalment of the popular series, I am sharing my 9mm interview with New Zealand mystery writer Bev Robitai, who lives on Auckland's North Shore. I first came across Robitai's work last year, when I read her theatre-set debut mystery MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW, having purchased the ebook from Smashwords. You can read my review of that novel here, and another well-written review here (Reactions to Reading).

Robitai is a photographer for publications in New Zealand and overseas and a freelance writer for magazines like Next. Born in the United Kingdom, she has lived on Auckland's North Shore for 12 years, and spent the prior two decades in Nelson (my hometown). Although MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW is set in a fictional town, it was inspired by Robitai's experiences in the Nelson theatre community.

Robitai released her second mystery novel, AN EYE FOR AN EYE, in April (read more here), and I understand she is working on more crime novels too. You can read more about her at her website here.

But for now, Robitai stares down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
I’m enjoying the unfolding of Jack Reacher as Lee Child reveals more of his story in each book. He was such an enigma at first. I’m also falling back in love with Ngaio Marsh’s Roderick Alleyn – he’s so intelligent, charming, and funny.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Hm, I guess you mean something more advanced than Orlando the Marmalade Cat? Then Swallows & Amazons and all Arthur Ransome’s stories. I read them on the sofa with my mum and learned to speed-read so she didn’t turn the page before I’d finished.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Plenty of published non-fiction articles. I’ve attempted a romance or two but got stuck on how to keep two intelligent characters apart until the end. It’s so hard to think of plausible reasons two perfectly sane people couldn’t sort out their differences! Short stories I’ve never liked much because if I enjoy a character I want to live with them for a whole book.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise.
READ! My greatest luxury is pushing everything else aside to dive into a great crime novel. Second choice – photography. At least that gets me out in the fresh air, and has been a secondary career for a good few years. I love theatre production too for the variety of creative skills it uses.

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?
My real hometown is Staines in England and I’d send visitors to the little ‘village green’ beside the Thames on the day the swan-uppers go by. A slice of medieval history in a lovely riverside setting.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
If I pick a young Goldie Hawn because my husband likes her, then can I pick who’d play him…that seems fair, doesn’t it? I’d choose Richard Gere. No wait, Mark Harmon - he’s got more sense of fun. Oh no wait, I want David Tennant. Yes!

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
The one I’m writing at the moment, Body on the Stage, because I love the surprises when the characters become friends and interact. And I get to write all the comedy lines! Eye for an Eye was my first finished book and I’m still excited with it, even though Murder in the Second Row was published first and has had all the attention so far.

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?
My biggest thrill was seeing my book in the library. It’s a proper book when it’s in the library! It’s pretty cool seeing it on the shelves in Borders too, but seeing several copies as ‘out on loan’ in the library catalogue is hugely satisfying. It was a great buzz seeing it mentioned on Crime Watch too, thanks for that! J

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I launched Murder in the Second Row in Nelson, in the theatre I’d used as the setting. An old boyfriend I hadn’t seen for 30 years drove all the way up from Christchurch to surprise me, and I didn’t even recognise him until my husband brought him over to where I was signing books and introduced him. That felt a bit weird! It’s hard to compete with C.J. Box’s answer to this question though – what a classic.

Thank you Bev Robitai. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.


Have you read MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW, or EYE FOR AN EYE? What do you think of Robitai's writing? Do you like crime fiction set in the theatre?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Confessions of a teen fiction writer: my feature article on Harlan Coben

As I said a couple of weeks ago, the 8-14 October 2011 issue of the New Zealand Listener (which came out on 1 October), included my large feature on award-drenched crime writer Harlan Coben, who's latest book SHELTER takes a turn into the teen fiction world, centring on the adventures and escapades of Myron Bolitar's nephew Mickey, and his new friends. The article also included a side-bar on other adult fiction thriller writers who had recently turned to the young adult market. The article, and side-bar, is now available to read in full online, at the Listener website here (or click on the image above).

I really enjoyed talking to Coben a few weeks ago for the article; he's an intelligent, interesting guy with a good sense of humour. I read SHELTER before the interview, and really enjoyed it - unlike some adult writers who've turned their hand to teen fiction, Coben hasn't simplified the storylines and issues too much - in essence, SHELTER is a good suspense novel that just happens to have a teenager at the centre of it.

Have you read SHELTER, or any of Coben's other tales? Do you like reading teen crime fiction, even as an adult? What do you think of the feature interview? What were your favourite crime or thriller novels as a teen reader yourself? Comments welcome.

Galaxy Book Awards honour crime and more

The 2011 Galaxy National Book Awards nominees have been released, with a few crime writers featuring. One of the Awards' eleven categories is for the Thriller & Crime Novel of the Year, but crime writers also feature in some of the other more general categories too.

The Galaxy National Book Awards tout themselves at 'the Oscars of the book industry', and they certainly highlight and celebrate a variety of books, with categories ranging from crime, to children's books, to cookery/food books, to biography/autobiography, to audiobooks, and more. It's good to see that crime/thriller writing has its own category (not every genre does, as there are catch-all categories like 'popular fiction' and 'paperback of the year', etc). The nominees for the Thriller & Crime Novel of the Year in association with iBookstore are:
  • Before I Go To Sleep S.J. Watson (Doubleday)
  • The Fear Index Robert Harris (Hutchinson)
  • Heartstone C J Sansom (Pan)
  • The Family Martina Cole (Headline)
  • The Impossible Dead Ian Rankin (Orion)
  • Trick Of The Dark Val McDermid (Sphere)
Acclaimed new crime writer SJ Watson, who recently won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for his debut Before I Go To Sleep, features strongly in the Galaxy line-ups; also receiving nominations for New Writer of the Year, and AudioBook of the Year.

American thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz is nominated in the Paperback of the Year category for his excellent thriller You're Next (read my review here, and my feature article on Hurwitz discussing that novel here). Norwegian star Jo Nesbo (The Leopard) has been nominated for International Writer of the Year, finding himself up against the likes of Haruki Murakami, and Booker nominee AD Miller (Snowdrops) has also been nominated in the New Writer of the Year category. It is nice to see crime getting something of a look-in, especially in awards which are made across genres. Though like any awards nominee lists, there's bound to be plenty to discuss in terms of people left off the list, and whether people think the nominated books are better than others that seem overlooked.

The winners will be revealed on 4th November at a ceremony at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in west London, which will be hosted by comedian Dara O'Briain. The event will be staged and filmed by Cactus TV, with a series of six programmes about the awards to be screened between 13th November and 17th December on More4. Cactus TV Managing DirectorAmanda Ross said, "It will be far more interesting for the viewers to experience the event in bite-size chunks spread across six shows, as we will be able to properly focus on the category winners."

You can read more about the 2011 Galaxy Book Awards at the website here. Graham Beattie has a full list of the categories and nominees here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Happy Birthday Ben Sanders

Today, wunderkind Auckland crime writer Ben Sanders turns the ripe old age of 22, so Happy Birthday Ben! With two quality crime novels already under his belt, and a third on the way in his Sean Devereaux and John Hale series, Sanders (pictured right, with Michael Connelly in Auckland earlier this year)looks to have a very promising crime writing career ahead of him.

To mark Sanders' birthday, I thought I would republish my reviews of each of his first two novels, #1 bestseller THE FALLEN, and sequel BY ANY MEANS. I enjoyed both these books, although of course they're not without flaws, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how Sanders develops as a crime writer over the coming years; he could be part of a new wave of Kiwi crime writers that may put New Zealand squarely on the international map again. You can also read my recent interview with Sanders for the New Zealand Herald here, and his 9mm interview with Crime Watch here. But for now, here are my reviews:

The Fallen by Ben Sanders (HarperCollins, 2010)
A man dazedly regains consciousness, only to find himself handcuffed, feeling like "he's been bathed in something corrosive", and with his head adhered to the carpet by his own clotted blood.

So starts this debut crime thriller from North Shore engineering student and nascent author, Ben Sanders, an adroit barely-20-something being touted as "a major new talent" with a "sophisticated and edgy" writing style.

The Fallen then quickly switches to the first-person narration of street-savvy Auckland police detective Sean Devereaux, a hero who quickly displays some classic crime fiction traits. Devereaux has a tendency to trust his own morals, instincts and judgment more than "the rules" of his superiors; his narration is peppered with pithy comments and observations about the case and the wider world that are tinged with both smart-aleck humour and the occasionally jaded eye of someone who's already seen plenty - "criminal investigation is inherently recession-proof"; but at the core he's someone who cares, even if at times he may not want to.

Devereaux returns early from leave to investigate the brutal slaying of a 16-year-old "Epsom princess", whose bashed body is discovered on the edge of a flowerbed in Albert Park. "I wondered what she could have done to deserve such a fate," reflects Devereaux, "but as always when I asked myself that question, my subconscious churned up the same answer: nothing".

Off the clock Devereaux is busying himself playing white knight for his attractive neighbour - finding out why she's being watched by a mysterious man. As he juggles his official and unofficial duties, the latter with the help of "strong but silent" security specialist John Hale (formerly an investigator with both the army and the New Zealand Police), Devereaux opens the proverbial Pandora's Box. His after-hours activities peel the scab from a scam run by senior colleagues and he and Hale are dropped right into an escalating cycle of kidnapping, murder, and violence.

Sanders writes in a punchy, crisp style, employing short sentences and terse but telling descriptions - rather than languid or overwrought prose - to evoke a strong sense of the various Auckland settings, and his characters' thoughts, actions, and motivations. There is a sleekness to his storytelling that would be impressive for any crime writer, let alone one so young.

He sprinkles musical references throughout; Devereaux, like the author, has a passion for rock, from REM to Neil Young. Sanders has reportedly been enamoured with crime fiction since he was an adolescent, and fellow fans of the genre will be able to spot the influence of varying big-name international bestsellers in aspects of The Fallen. Hale has echoes of Robert Crais' Joe Pike, while Sanders' ability to evoke an essence of Auckland as Devereaux travels the city's streets is almost Connelly-esque.

But just like a new band that has echoes of those that have gone before, the real question isn't whether a newcomer is completely unlike anything else, but whether he or she provides something enjoyable and a little different. More importantly, whether they're any good. With The Fallen, Sanders comes up trumps on that front: Devereaux's first outing is an absorbing debut that also entices with future promise.

The young man from the North Shore has added to the mounting evidence that New Zealand can produce native, compelling crime fiction to match the international offerings readers buy and enjoy in droves.

This review was first published in the 31 July 2010 issue of the New Zealand Herald.

By Any Means by Ben Sanders (HarperCollins, 2011)

Young Aucklander Ben Sanders, who juggles novel writing with his university civil engineering studies, burst onto the local books scene last year with The Fallen, a gritty crime thriller that introduced Detective Sean Devereaux and ex-cop John Hale, and was packed with murder, kidnapping, and police corruption. All set amongst the seamy streets and suburbs of our largest city. Now, 21-year-old Sanders returns, as do Devereaux and Hale, with By Any Means, the follow up to his #1 bestselling debut.

In the first sentence, a bus driver is killed, shot by an unknown gunman on Auckland’s bustling Albert Street during Friday rush hour. Detective Sean Devereaux picks up the case, only to discover wildly conflicting witness accounts then a sense the victim wasn’t the true target. But then, who was? At the same time Devereaux is dealing with a double killing in the affluent suburbs: the wife and daughter of a prominent finance company director. Murder-suicide or double homicide? The police turn their attention to the husband, but Devereaux has doubts. Meanwhile, John Hale is largely unavailable to assist, as he’s witnessed a kidnapping, and finds himself the target of a dogged senior police officer as he tries to do his own private investigations.

Sanders writes in a crisp and punchy style, powering a storyline that can hook you early and keep the pages whirring. He often has a very nice way with words when it comes to pithy descriptions of people and places, using some vivid imagery, although at times some of the travel around Auckland, and the use of musical references, can get a touch too ‘listy’, which could bother some readers. Overall, By Any Means is a solid sophomore effort, and shows that Sanders is no one-hit wonder. I’m certainly looking forward to the next Sean Devereaux and John Hale tale.

This review was first published in the Friday, 26 August 2011 issue of NZLawyer magazine.

Happy Birthday Mr Sanders! I hope to be reviewing many more of your crime novels in the coming years.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

RWC Semifinal 1: France vs Wales (Manotti vs Bauer)

After four tremendously exciting real-life quarterfinals in the Rugby World Cup 2011 last weeked, we now move on to the final four. While I would have picked McGilloway's BORDERLANDS over Belinda Bauer's BLACKLANDS, in a close call, crime fiction wise, the Welsh overcame the Irish on the field. And likewise French flair overcame English pragmatism, rugby-wise, meaning we've said goodbye to Mark Billingham as well. So this week we find ourselves with an intriguing France vs Wales match-up in the first quarterfinal.

As neither rugby team has made much of a change to their sides, and both will be looking to play a similar game tonight as took them to victory last week, I've decided to keep the crime fiction match-up the same as well (I was almost tempted to substitute in a Fred Vargas book that I purchased this year as France's representative, but decided to stick with Manotti).

So here we go for semifinal numero uno:

Representing France: THE LORRAINE CONNECTION by Dominique Manotti
In all honesty, I haven't yet read any French crime fiction - which is a travesty considering I go out of my way to source, purchase, and read plenty of translated crime fiction, and crime fiction from a variety of countries. I do have some French crime fiction that I have bought, but not yet read, however, including THE LORRAINE CONNECTION by Dominique Manotti, which I purchased earlier this year.

When a cathode ray tube factory in a small French town is hit first by a strike and then by a suspicious fire, the battle for the takeover of the plant’s beleaguered parent company heats up. The Lorraine factory is at the center of a strategic battle being played out in Paris, Brussels, and Asia for the takeover of the ailing state-owned electronics giant Thomson. Accusations of foul play fly, and rival contender Alcatel calls in its intrepid head of security Charles Montoya to investigate. He soon uncovers explosive revelations and a trail of murders, dirty tricks, blackmail, and corporate malfeasance.

Representing Wales: BLACKLANDS by Belinda Bauer
Another debutant on the crime fiction scene, Welsh author Bauer certainly hit the ground running with BLACKLANDS, which won the CWA Gold Dagger last year - a rare feat for a first novel. I read BLACKLANDS late last year, and enjoyed it. The novel centres on 12-year-old Steven Lamb, who spends his free time searching the windswept moors outside his small town, hoping to find trace of his uncle Billy whose disappearance two decades ago fractured the impoverished family in such a way that even though Steven wasn't born when it happened, he experiences the ongoing effects of the tragedy.

Desperate for closure, Steven turns to an imprisoned paedophile, writing him a letter that he hopes might garner some much-needed clues - but instead opening Pandora's Box to an even worse nightmare. I liked the way that even though Bauer's debut was seemingly simple in storyline terms and the way she writes, there was plenty going on underneath. BLACKLANDS delves deeply into character and human frailties, gives convincing “voice” to both child and child killer, and ably depicts the dark underbelly of English village life.

Result: Well, since I haven't read the Manotti book yet, it's probably a little tough to judge (although that does fit with not really knowing what France is going to offer tonight on the rugby field, to be fair - which France will indeed turn up). All in all, I'm probably in a similar place as rugby fans - I'm impressed by Bauer (and the Welsh team), and they're operating at a high level, but the French (Manotti) are an unknown quanitity that could swoop in, be brilliant (to read, or on the field), or fall far short. Coin toss territory.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Facebook users: you can now 'like' Vanda Symon

News in today that after much harassment at the recent SheKilda conference in Melbourne, contemporary Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon has finally added herself to Facebook, creating an author page that readers and others can 'like' (ie it's not a personal page that you 'friend'). This will be another easy way for those interested in Symon's excellent Sam Shephard books, or her upcoming standalone thriller, FACELESS to stay up to date with what is happening in Symon's writing world.

It's great to see New Zealand-based authors Neil Cross and Paul Cleave deservedly getting more and more attention overseas, but Symon is another terrific Kiwi crime writer who I think many readers would really enjoy, given the chance. Hopefully in future more overseas readers will have the opportunity to read Symon's books, as and when they become more available (her Facebook page might be a good way of keeping up with any developments on the international distribution front, of course).

You can 'like' Vanda Symon's Facebook author page here.

CWA announces the shortlist for the Ellis Peters Historical Award

The Crime Writers’ Association has announced the shortlist for this year’s prestigious Ellis Peters Historical Award. The award is sponsored by the Estate of Ellis Peters, Headline Book Publishing Company and Little, Brown Book Group. It is given to the best historical crime novel (set in any period up to 35 years prior to the year in which the award will be made) by an author of any nationality, and commemorates the life and work of Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) (1913-1995), a prolific author perhaps best known as the creator of Brother Cadfael.

CWA chair Peter James said: “Historical fiction remains as popular as ever and has seen the creation of some of crime writing’s most enduring characters. This year’s books continue that fine tradition.“

The winner will be announced on November 30 at the Athenaeum in London. The shortlist is:

  • Rory Clements, PRINCE: Rory Clements won the Ellis Peters award last year for Revenger, the second instalment in his John Shakespeare series. Prince is the third book to feature this Elizabethan intelligencer, and finds Shakespeare caught up in the infighting between the Queen's rival favourites, Robert Cecil and Lord Essex, as he investigates a series of bombings targeting Dutch immigrants in London. There are some clever references to twenty-first-century concerns, as well as the wit and breakneck pace we have come to expect from Clements.
  • Sam Eastland, THE RED COFFIN: Sam Eastland's second novel sees the return of the brilliant special investigator Inspector Pekkala, once the trusted advisor of Tsar Nicholas II, now forced to work for Stalin. It is 1939 and rogue Russian soldiers are trying to precipitate war with Germany before Stalin's secret weapon is ready-- a super tank known as the "red coffin". This manages to be a superbly entertaining thriller while fully conveying the horrors of life under Stalin.
  • Gordon Ferris, THE HANGING SHED: The Hanging Shed was a massive success even before its print incarnation hit the bookshops, when it became one of the most downloaded books in Britain after being released on the Amazon Kindle. The setting is Glasgow in 1946, and the author's delineation of the immediate post-war years has a bristling immediacy. Ferris’s protagonist Brodie is an ex-policeman, forced to save a childhood friend from hanging via a daunting odyssey through the dangerous backstreets of the Gorbals, obstructed by both bent coppers and murderous razor gangs.
  • Andrew Martin, THE SOMME STATIONS: Martin's novels featuring railway detective Jim Stringer reveal their treasures in subtle fashion with a winning synthesis of period atmosphere, intriguing plotting and a passion for steam railways. The Somme Station plunges into the horrors of WW1 trench combat. Stringer and his unit must undertake dangerous nocturnal assignments: driving the trains taking munitions to the front. Death is everywhere, as the trains travel through blasted surrealistic landscapes, and a single-minded military policeman continues to investigate a killing that occurred before the departure for France.
  • RN Morris, THE CLEANSING FLAMES: Reading this splendid fourth entry in the RN Morris sequence of riffs on the detective Porfiry from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a bittersweet experience, as Morris is about to put the character on hold. In the new book, St Petersburg is in flames, and the fires are harbingers of the revolution that will tear the country apart. After a post-winter thaw, a body surfaces in a canal, and Porfiry is in business again. As before, character building, locale, and historical detail are all beautifully balanced.
  • Imogen Robertson, ISLAND OF BONES: This is Imogen Robertson's third novel to feature her wilful heroine Mrs Harriet Westerman and gives us some background to her sleuthing sidekick, the eccentric and reclusive amateur anatomist Gabriel Crowther, as the duo head to the Lake District to investigate when one corpse too many is found in the ancestral tomb at Gabriel's family seat. Robertson expertly juggles family politics, murder mystery and kidnap thriller, while giving a fascinating picture of country life in the late 18th century.
The Judging Panel for the Ellis Peters Historical Award consists of:
  • Eileen Roberts (Chair) - Originator and organiser of St Hilda’s annual crime symposium in Oxford, mystery and crime enthusiast
  • Geoffrey Bailey - Bookseller specialising in crime
  • Barry Forshaw - Edits Crime Time and is a talking head for the ITV Crime Thriller author profiles and BBC TV documentaries. A prolific writer, he has been Vice Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association.
  • Sir Bernard Ingham - Press Secretary to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and crime fiction fan
  • Jake Kerridge - the crime fiction critic of the Daily Telegraph
For press enquiries or more information on the CWA, please visit the website,, or contact

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Crime amongst the NZ Film and TV awards nominees

Well, the nominees for the 2012 AFTA Awards (the Aotearoa New Zealand Film & TV Awards) have been announced today, and scanning through the eye-glazingly-long list of nominees in the 61 categories (yes, 61, crazy, I know - it's like the Golden Globes, with news media categories added on), I can see that there is some local crime fiction and true crime content amongst those being lauded.

I'll leave aside for the moment any comments re: the plethora of categories for reality TV (even split into 'contructed' and 'observational' reality TV categories) and news media, while those that are the true initial creators - the writers - are relegated to one single TV writing category that combines drama and comedy (while actors and others have multiple categories, split into drama, comedy, lead and supporting, male and female, etc) - that's a personal pet peeve of mine, the way writers, who start it all when it comes to storytelling, are still overlooked and underappreciated by the media and public etc.

Anyway, onto the good news; there are some highlights for crime-loving fans amongst the many awards. Back in 2009 the excellent dramatisation of the real-life David Dougherty miscarriage of justice case (Until Proven Innocent) deservedly starred at the awards, picking up seven trophies. Writer-producer Donna Malane went on to publish her debut crime novel last year, SURRENDER, and now her TV work has received several more nominations, with her telemovie Bloodlines (based on another NZ true crime story) being nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Script, and Best Director. Congratulations to Malane and her team.

I watched and enjoyed Bloodlines; personally I didn't think it quite reached the heights of Until Proven Innocent, which was truly superb, but it was still a very good telemovie. Incidentally, Bloodlines already won the Best TV Drama Script Award at the Scriptwriting Awards of NZ.

A feature film, Predicament, based on Kiwi thriller writer Ronald Hugh Morrieson's darkly twisting third novel (published posthumously in 1975), has also been nominated in several categories. Morrieson, who was born, lived, wrote, and died in Hawera, South Taranaki (a small rural town) is a very interesting character in New Zealand's literary history. He scratched at the dark underbelly of rural New Zealand life, but wasn't really appreciated until after his own death in 1972; his tales were considered too dark, twisted, and violent.

He is widely celebrated as writing the best opening line ever in a New Zealand novel: "The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut", from THE SCARECROW, a tragicomic tale of a sex killer in a small town, published in Sydney in 1963 and made into a film in 1982. In fact, the film version was I believe the first New Zealand film ever to win official selection at Cannes. And we don't have a history of crime fiction; hmmpphhh!

The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature states that, "Conservative critics had diffculty with the violence and sexuality of his writing and its failure to conform to the high culture models that dominated the literary values of the period".

Predicament, which stars Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords fame, is the fourth film to be made from Morrieson's writing (all well after his death), after adaptations in the 1980s of THE SCARECROW, CAME A HOT FRIDAY (pictured left, starring Billy T James), and PALLET ON THE FLOOR.

You can read a review of the film here (more positive about the book than the film). It has received ten nominations, in the Best Feature, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Original Music, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Make-up, Best Visual Effects. No nominations for acting though.

Other thriller, mystery, and crime-themed nominees include acclaimed TV show Outrageous Fortune. You can read the full list of nominees here.

Did you watch Bloodlines, Predicament, or Outrageous Fortune? Have you read any of Morrieson's work? Thoughts and comments welcome.

Murder, global conspiracies, and... cows?

It's great to see more writers joining the small but growing crime fiction wave we have here in New Zealand. This week saw the release of Nelson-based writer Matt Hammond's debut thriller, MILKSHAKE, on Amazon and Smashwords. I understand it will soon be available in print copy as well.

Hammond works for the New Zealand government, having immigrated from the UK with his wife and kids in 2002, "inspired by the scenery and the laidback lifestyle". He has been working on the manuscript that became MILKSHAKE for several years, and it has evolved into a "fast-paced, ecologically focused thriller":

On the day David Turner is supposed to emigrate to New Zealand, he witnesses a savage murder and becomes caught up in ruthless global conspiracy.

A thirty year-old technological discovery threatens his own future and jeopardises the lives of millions of others as David discovers that starting a new life is about to become a deadly game of cat and mouse... and, somewhat surprisingly, cows.

Modifying milk so that ethanol can be processed from it could be the solution to an impending global oil crisis, but drinking it will kill you. Can the truth be uncovered before an entire country is sacrificed to satisfy the world's demand for bio-fuel?

It's kind of cool that Hammond has brought the dairy industry into his conspiracy thriller, as it is quite a big part of the New Zealand landscape. Although little old New Zealand only has about 0.06 per cent of the world's population (ie 1/1500th), we are responsible for around 30 per cent (ie 500/1500ths) of the global dairy export industry, which is pretty 'wow'; punching above our weight 500 times over.

Since I've had a fairly good experience with some books first published on Smashwords (eg MURDER IN THE SECOND ROW by Bev Robitai) - belying the small publisher/ebook publisher prejudices - I'm going to give MILKSHAKE a go too.

Do you like the sound of a global thriller set in the agricultural industry?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Finishing a post-apocalyptic thriller trilogy

I'm pleased to share that the third instalment in Gulf Harbour-based author Michael Green's post-apocalyptic 'Blood Line' thriller trilogy will soon be available. BLOOD ROOTS is scheduled for release next month.

I read, and enjoyed, the second book in the series, BLOOD BOND, on its release in late 2009. You can read my NZLawyer review here. I'm looking forward to seeing how Green brings his saga of the Chatfield family - apparently the only survivors of a global pandemic, thanks to a rogue familial gene - to a climax.

Green, who is now in his mid 60s, was born in England but has lived in Auckland for a few decades (having transferred here as the IT Manager of a large British multinational). He has had a lifelong love of sailing, worked in the Merchant Navy in his younger years, now lives on a yacht in Gulf Harbour, north of Auckland, and travels to Europe each year for the New Zealand winter. Before he started his thriller trilogy he also wrote a humorous sailing-inspired book, BIG AGGIE SAILS THE GULF.

You can read more about Michael Green in a Crime Watch bio here and his website here.

I do like his fairly lively website bio, which begins by stating that Green "arrived in this world with a 'hell of a bang'. He was born during an air raid in May 1944, under the kitchen table in his grandmother's cottage in Sevenoaks, Kent, England."

When Green retired from his IT consultancy business in 2003, he found he had more time to write, and notes in his blog that "like many who retire, I also felt it was time to ‘put something back’. " Combining his goals of writing a novel, and raising money for charity, he began work on a thriller, inspired by the SARS outbreak, looking at how the few survivors of a global pandemic that got out of control might act, and interact, when everything was stripped away from them.

Green aimed to raise $10,000 for the telephone counselling charity Lifeline - a cause close to his heart due to New Zealand's high youth suicide rate, and the fact that years ago he'd lost his son, and an aunt back in England, in that way. Green self-published THE CRUCIAL GENE, using his toastmaster skills to market the book - he sold out the print run (and more) by talking to Lions, Rotary, and Probus Clubs, and was able to exceed his planned donation to LifeLine. The book was then picked up by Randon House, and republished in late 2008 as BLOOD LINE (with some minor edits to make it a 'tighter' novel). BLOOD BOND followed in late 2009, with the third and final instalment in the trilogy, BLOOD ROOTS, released soon.

In BLOOD ROOTS, the Chatfield family, scattered across the globe, continue to fight for survival. Their only hope is to form one strong community together, but power struggles, violence and deception keep them apart. In this thrilling conclusion, the New Zealand community makes a last desperate bid to return to their relatives and blood roots in England. Along the way they discover more survivors of the super-SARS pandemic, but is this new addition to the gene pool more trouble than it's worth?

You can read more about each book in the trilogy, including an extract from each of the three books, at Green's website here.

Do you like post-apocalyptic style thrillers? Have you read BLOOD LINE or BLOOD BOND?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Does a new book lift the lid on a controversial UK murder case?

Although I tend to focus on fictional crime rather than true crime, occasionally a real-life case catches my eye, as has happened in the past day or so thanks to reports about the publication of a new New Zealand book that might be about to create something of a storm in the international security intelligence world, apparently lifting the lid on a strange and intrigue-filled true life British murder case from the 1980s.

A Christchurch man claims in A THORN IN THEIR SIDE: THE HILDA MURRELL MURDER, that he has "explosive new evidence" suggesting the British security service was responsible for the murder of the rose grower and anti-nuclear campaigner, and framed then-teenaged petty thief Andrew George(who was eventually arrested in 2005).

Christchurch-based Robert Green is the nephew of 78-year-old Hilda Murrell, who was kidnapped, stabbed, bashed and left to die in a field in England in 1984. A former British Navy commander, Green has never believed the official story that the murder was a botched burglary, and after years of research has now written, under extreme secrecy, A THORN IN THEIR SIDE: THE HILDA MURRELL MURDER.

George is serving a life sentence after being convicted of Murrell’s abduction and murder following a five-week trial in 2005. "We have discovered fresh evidence which would acquit him," Green told ONE News yesterday (read story here). Such evidence apparently includes DNA and witness statements, and Green now believes that the murder was committed by "state security operatives for political reasons".

As reported by the Shropshire Star this week, "While police favoured a ‘burglary gone wrong’ theory, there were allegations that it was a state murder connected to Hilda’s work to expose risks at the planned Sizewell nuclear reactor, and also to the sinking of Argentine cruiser General Belgrano in the Falklands War, when Mr Green was working in Navy intelligence."

It's always hard to know with these things - there are so many conspiracy theories out there in the world, but then again, there are also plenty of examples of governments and people in power, in western democracies - not just dictatorships and third world continents - putting what they believe is important and in the 'national interest' etc, ahead of the rights and even lives of others. Growing up in a place like New Zealand, as a kid you see the world through a 'good guys and bad guys" lens, always assuming that 'we' are the good guys. As you get older, you learn that there are plenty of examples where bad things have been done by those on "our" side too. So who knows what the truth is in the Murrell case?

For me, I'd never heard of this case before, but it certainly sounds intriguing. One of those real life cases that rival fictional crime or thriller tales - although of course we should never forget that it is real-life people involved, and who have faced nasty consequences. Green and co-writer Kate Dewes have reportedly written the book, following years of research, largely in secrecy due to security concerns - their homes have reportedly been burgled, and bugged, and their car tampered with, etc.

A press release on Beattie's Book Blog suggests that A THORN IN THEIR SIDE "is likely to be a major embarrassment to politicians, security services, police and the justice system in the UK, so Green and Dewes were anxious to ensure that publication could not be stopped, as has been the case with other books involving the British security services. Hence the decision to publish in New Zealand and the high level of security." Apparently the publishers even had to contact the authors by sending mail to other addresses and arranging phone calls to be made from other people’s homes. Meetings in Christchurch and Masterton, where the publsihers are based, were always held in noisy cafes, with cellphones left in respective cars.

It almost sounds like a movie. You can read much more about Hilda Murrell and various theories etc, here and here.

Do any of my international readers of Crime Watch remember the Murrell case? What do you think of the allegations - paranoid conspiracy theory, or do you think there might be something to them? Do you enjoy reading true crime books, and getting behind the headlines and soundbites to learn more about real-life cases? I'd love to read your perspectives on this.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A nationwide crime spree: dastardly deeds the length and breadth of New Zealand

"L Recently I wrote a large feature article for New Zealand Author, the magazine of the local Society of Authors, taking a nationwide look at the state of contemporary crime fiction in New Zealand.  I understand from an author contact that the article has been published in the current (October/November 2011) issue of the magazine (cover image, see right), although I haven't yet seen the print version of the article myself.

I've written a lot about New Zealand crime fiction in the past couple of years, for magazines, newspapers and websites here and overseas, from author interviews to reviews to speaking and/or writing in general about New Zealand crime fiction (why we should read it, etc) - so I was a bit worried about getting a little jaded about the whole thing.

However, I really enjoyed writing this feature, as I decided to take a bit of a north to south tiki tour of our country, pulling together in one piece the variety of writers and writing styles we have in our burgeoning crime fiction community, all across the country. It was really pleasing to see that we did indeed have a pretty comprehensive geographic spread (in author locations and story settings), even when I just largely focused on books that had been published in the past couple of years or so (2009-2011).

As I said in the introduction to the feature (which I hope to be able to share with you here online in due course), "From Northland to Southland and everywhere in between, it’s becoming clear that more and more we have a number of local storytellers who are capable of weaving top quality tales of mystery, murder, and mayhem. Writers who have something interesting to offer readers, here and abroad, who enjoy this most thrilling (and globally popular) of genres."

One of the cool things was that I couldn't even mention all the books and authors I wanted to (although it was a very comprehensive piece) for fear of getting far too encyclopaedic or 'listy', and cutting out all room for any insight comment etc. That is a great sign of the growth of contemporary Kiwi crime fiction.

As I've discovered, there are crime, mystery, and thriller writers all across our small but diverse nation, which is great to see. Here are the authors mentioned in the article, with links to their websites or articles etc relating to their most recent books. As I said, there are also others who've published in the 2009-2011 period who I couldn't include for space reasons, as well as of course some other local crime writers from previous years:

As can be seen, we're fairly well served, geographically - although it would be good perhaps to see some more Central North Island set crime fiction - after all that's a fairly interesting part of the country, and a very large area between Auckland and Wellington, ranging from the agricultural regions of the Waikato, Manawatu and Taranaki to the volcanic plateaus of Rotorua, Taupo and surrounds, to the sun-drenched Coromandel, the Bay of Plenty and the East Coast, and much, much more. 

As I said in the article, "The regions between our biggest city and our capital city currently provide slimmer pickings when it comes to contemporary crime fiction, despite what would seem like a plethora of intriguing landscapes, geographic and demographic, and issues that could provide great fodder and colour for a well-told thriller story."

I will talk more about the geographic spread of contemporary (and historic) Kiwi crime fiction at a later stage, and some of the other authors from various regions, but for now, I'd be very interested in your comments about geography and crime fiction, whether Kiwi or overseas.

What do you think of my little Aotearoa tiki-tour? What New Zealand locations do you think would make a fantastic setting? Which Kiwi authors do you think use setting best? Which other crime authors from various Kiwi regions stand out to you, whether contemporary or historic? Comments and discussion welcome.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

RWC Quarterfinal 4: Argentina vs New Zealand (Martinez vs Symon)

For the fourth and final instalment in my quarterfinal round of rugby-themed international crime fiction posts, we have Argentina vs New Zealand. In rugby terms, this is being picked as the least-close of the quarterfinal match-ups, the only one that shouldn't be able to go either way (1 vs 8, in effect), but you never know. The ball can bounce in funny ways...

As for the crime fiction, well, let's take a look at a book from each country that I've read and/or purchased in the past year or so.

Representing Argentina: THE BOOK OF MURDER by Guillermo Martinez
I saw this book in the Brisbane airport bookshop when I was travelling a few months ago, and grabbed it. Unfortunately I haven't yet got around to reading it, but I will endeavour to do so soon. I understand that Martinez's novels are of the psychological suspense and literary thriller variety; this one certainly looks intriguing.

The narrator is an up-and-coming young writer who has little in common with Kloster — a literary giant whose disturbing crime novels dominate the bestseller lists. However, they have both, at one time, employed the secretarial services of the alluring Luciana B. Out of the past, Luciana makes a desperate plea to the young writer. She thinks that Kloster is slowly killing off everyone close to her — can he help before her grandmother and younger sister are murdered?

While the narrator suspects her misfortunes have driven her mad, Kloster has a powerful motive; and eerie parallels surface between the murders in Kloster’s books and the real-life deaths surrounding Luciana. As the body count multiplies, the question arises: Can words really kill?

 Representing New Zealand: BOUND by Vanda Symon
Symon's fourth and latest novel starring Dunedin police detective Sam Shephard is in my opinion her best yet. And the others have all been good to great, too. I read and really, really enjoyed BOUND earlier this year.

Symon kick-starts her latest thrilling tale with a brutal home invasion; a businessman is killed with a shot gun; his wife, who watched him die, nearly chokes to death, gagged and tied to a chair. As Shephard and her CID colleagues investigate, it becomes clear that the businessman's succes might not have been all that legitimate, leading the police eventually to a couple of lowlifes suspected of an earlier cop killing. But while Shephard's colleagues are happy they might be able to kill two birds with one stone, she's uneasy, and keeps investigating - much to the chagrin of her police peers.

BOUND is top notch crime fiction; excellent storytelling with real verve and energy, starring one of the most enjoyably readable heroines on the crime fiction scene.

Result: As I haven't read THE BOOK OF MURDER yet, it would be unfair for me to speculate whether this contest will go the same way as the rugby (ie, a likely New Zealand victory). All I will say is that, like the All Blacks, Symon's BOUND is a very strong contender that would take a heck of a performance from the Argentinians to overcome.

Comments welcome.

RWC Quarterfinal 3: Australia vs South Africa (Corris vs Smith)

As I said yesterday, one of the biggest sporting events on the planet is currently being staged right here in New Zealand; the Rugby World Cup 2011. As a way of celebrating crime fiction from around the world, and joining in the 'everything rugby themed' atmosphere down this way at the moment, I'm creating crime fiction posts that mirror the playoff games being played. So for the next eight games (four quarterfinals, two semifinals, one 3rd/4th playoff, one final) I will highlight a crime, mystery, or thriller novel from each of the countries playing the game, that I have either read or purchased in the past year or so.

Yesterday Wales overcame Ireland, and France overcame England in the rugby games (probably the reverse of what I would have picked in the crime fiction match-ups). Today it's the turn of the Southern Hemisphere.

The third quarterfinal sees Australia taking on South Africa. Should be a titanic battle.

Representing Australia: FOLLOW THE MONEY by Peter Corris
Although THE WRECKAGE by Michael Robotham is probably the best crime novel written by an Australian I've read in 2011, it's not set in Australia, so to represent the Lucky Country in this crime fiction match-up I'm picking the latest novel from another great Australian crime writer, Peter Corris. I read FOLLOW THE MONEY in January this year, in preparation for interviewing Corris.

The ‘godfather of Australian crime writing’, Corris has been penning his acclaimed Cliff Hardy tales for decades. This new instalment sees the aging hero in a slump; he’s lost his private eye license and his entire life savings - embezzled by a dodgy financial advisor, who later wound up dead. But then Hardy’s unofficially ‘hired’ by a slick, desperate lawyer to find out whether the embezzler faked his own death; an assignment that has the budding granddad entwined with ethnic gangs and Sydney’s gritty underbelly. There are a lot of things to like about FOLLOW THE MONEY, and I'd definitely read more of Corris and Hardy.

Representing South Africa: MIXED BLOOD by Roger Smith
South Africa is definitely gaining in stature on the international crime fiction stage. Deon Meyer has garnered plenty of acclaim, and other authors like Smith and Margie Orford, amongst several others, are certainly putting their indigenous crime fiction on the map. I read MIXED BLOOD in April this year.

Reluctant bank robber Jack Burn is on the run after a heist in the United States that left $3 million missing and one cop dead. Hiding out in Cape Town, South Africa, he is desperate to build a new life for his pregnant wife and young son. But on a tranquil evening in their new suburban neighborhood they are the victims of a random gangland assault that changes everything.

Benny Mongrel, an ex-con night watchman guarding a building site next to Burn’s home, is another man desperate to escape his past. After years in the ghetto gangs of Cape Town he knows who went into Burn’s house. And what the American did to them. He also knows his only chance to save his own brown skin is to forget what he saw. Burn’s actions on that night trap them both in a cat-and-mouse game with Rudi "Gatsby" Barnard—a corrupt Afrikaner cop who loves killing almost as much as he loves Jesus Christ—and Disaster Zondi, a fastidious Zulu detective who wishes to settle an old score. Once Gatsby smells those missing American millions, the four men are drawn into a web of murder and vengeance.

I really enjoyed MIXED BLOOD. It twists and turns in a violent yet engaging journey, that is filled with memorable characters. I'll definitely be reading more of Smith's work (as well as more South African crime fiction in general).

Result: while the rugby is a toss-up that could go either way depending how the teams play this evening, if I had to pick a winner between these books, I might go for MIXED BLOOD, even though Corris has had an illustrious career. I will be reading many more of Corris's Cliff Hardy books, but for me, MIXED BLOOD might just pip FOLLOW THE MONEY on the day. Whether this is an omen for the rugby quarterfinal, we'll just have to wait and see.

Have you read either of these books, or authors? Do you like Australian and/or South African crime fiction?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Crime Thriller Awards: Winners Revealed

Cactus TV and ITV3, in partnership with the Crime Writers' Association (CWA), are pleased to announce the winners of the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards 2011, a celebration of all things criminal in literature, TV and film.

A host of famous faces from the TV, Film and Publishing crime scenes gathered on the black carpet for a gala awards ceremony celebrating the very best law-breaking of the year at London's Grosvenor House Hotel. Marcus Brigstocke returned to lead the charge as presenter, in an evening which perfectly topped the six-week build up over the 2011 season documentary series The A-Z of Crime, featuring the shortlisted nominees for the ITV3 People's Bestseller Dagger 2011.

Winners on the night were:
  • ITV3 People's Bestseller Dagger 2011: Peter James
  • CWA Gold Dagger: Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
  • CWA Ian Fleming: Steel Dagger for Best Thriller: Steve Hamilton's The Lock Artist
  • CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger: S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep.

The CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger was awarded to S.J. Watson, named the best new crime author of the year for Before I Go To Sleep. With the film rights already owned by Ridley Scott we hope to see the film version back to blag the Film Dagger before too long! It was a tough slog to the finish however, and each of the shortlisted authors (Danny Miller for Kiss Me Quick, Sam Hawken for The Dead Woman of Juarez, and Conor Fitzgerald for The Dogs of Rome) are sure to become regular faces on the black carpet.
SJ Watson said: "I'm stunned and delighted! It was such an honour to have been shortlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, but to have actually won, especially when up against such fine books, is incredible!"

Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter beat of stiff competition for CWA Gold Dagger from A.D. Miller's Snowdrops, Denise Mina's The End of The Wasp Season, and The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton, in a fitting climax to the evening. Tom Franklin said: "What an amazing long list! What an amazing short list! I'm truly happy just for the company, and everything else is gravy. All my thanks."

Steve Hamilton did not leave the night empty-handed however - as much like his protagonist Mike who picks locks and breaks safes, The Lock Artist snuck past its rivals to win the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for Best Thriller. The title saw off competition from S.J.Watson's Before I Go To Sleep, The Good Son by Michael Gruber and Craig Smith's Cold Rain.

Steve Hamilton said: "Ian Fleming's work represents everything I've always loved about storytelling, whether it be books or movies. I can't even express how honoured I am to receive an award with his name on it."

ITV3 People's Bestseller Dagger 2011 was given to Peter James. Peter James said: "The is a wonderful award that strikes at the very heart of what good books are all about: Enthralling readers with gripping, page-turning fiction - and decided not by an elite committee but by the very people who read and loved them - the general public. I don't think there can be a higher accolade for any author and I could not be more thrilled."

The viewers had been voting over the 6 week Crime Thriller Season to decide on the winner of the People's Bestseller Award. Amanda Ross, creator and Executive Producer of the Awards said: "It was amazing to see such a close fought contest and thanks to the success of the pre-awards series, more people than ever before voted for their favourite author".
TV and film are the perfect media for crime fiction, and some of the genre's best-loved detectives - from Marple to Morse - have been immortalised in this way. This year's Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards honoured the stars of the small and silver screens, as well as the films and series they feature in. The nominees included actors Idris Elba, last year's Best Actress Dagger winner Maxine Peake, Brenda Blethyn, Rufus Sewell and Rafe Spall, and the winners are as follows:

  • THE FILM DAGGER: True Grit (Paramount Pictures)
  • THE TV DAGGER: Case Histories (Ruby Films, BBC One)
  • THE INTERNATIONAL TV DAGGER: The Killing, (Arrow Films, BBC4)
  • BEST ACTRESS DAGGER: Sofie Gråbøl for The Killing (Arrow Films, BBC4)
  • BEST ACTOR DAGGER: Idris Elba for Luther (BBC One) - pictured
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR DAGGER: Rafe Spall for The Shadow Line (Company Pictures, BBC Two)
  • BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS DAGGER: Ann Eleonora Jørgensen for The Killing (Arrow Films, BBC 4)

RWC Quarterfinal 2: England vs France (Billingham vs Manotti)

As I said earlier today, one of the biggest sporting events on the planet  is currently being staged right here in New Zealand; the Rugby World Cup 2011. As a way of celebrating crime fiction from around the world, and joining in the 'everything rugby themed' atmosphere down this way at the moment, I'm creating crime fiction posts that mirror the playoff games being played. So for the next eight games (four quarterfinals, two semifinals, one 3rd/4th playoff, one final) I will highlight a crime, mystery, or thriller novel from each of the countries playing the game, that I have either read or purchased in the past year or so.

Second up (following the Celtic tussle), it's another ding-dong battle with plenty of history and tradition, as England meet France in the second quarterfinal of RWC 2011. Like the Ireland vs Wales game, I'm intending to go and watch the game at 'The Cloud' in downtown Auckland - a fan zone with food, drink, activities, and tonnes of big screens to watch the action. But onto the crime fiction match-up:

Representing England: GOOD AS DEAD by Mark Billingham
Just as England is the home of rugby (in the 'where it was created' sense), you could make an argument that England is something of the home of modern detective fiction - or at least the place where it first rose to great popularity with the likes of Wilkie Collins and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, then Agatha Christie (the bestselling author of all time, in any genre). As such, there's plenty of choices you could make to represent England in a crime fiction sense, but in terms of picking just one to highlight, I'm going to go with the most recent English born and based author, English setting, novel that I've read; GOOD AS DEAD by Mark Billingham.

Few if any are better than Billingham when it comes to contemporary British crime. His tenth novel to feature DI Tom Thorne finds the gritty London copper in a race-against time to save police officer Helen Weeks (from IN THE DARK), who’s being held hostage by a dairy owner who’s snapped. What does the gunman want? Not money or his personal safety, but for the Police to properly investigate the death of his son in custody; he’s sure it wasn’t suicide.

For me, Billingham never disappoints, and GOOD AS DEAD was no exception. An exciting plot (more of a 'ticking clock' type pace than Billingham usually uses) marries with compelling characters, and continuing threads that run throughout the series, to create a great, gripping read that will leave longtime readers wondering what is next for DI Tom Thorne. Billingham also gets you thinking about a few issues, salting in some nuggest of social commentary, in amongst the page-turning prose.

Representing France: THE LORRAINE CONNECTION by Dominique Manotti
In all honesty, I haven't yet read any French crime fiction - which is a travesty considering I go out of my way to source, purchase, and read plenty of translated crime fiction, and crime fiction from a variety of countries. I do have some French crime fiction that I have bought, but not yet read, however, including THE LORRAINE CONNECTION by Dominique Manotti, which I purchased earlier this year.

When a cathode ray tube factory in a small French town is hit first by a strike and then by a suspicious fire, the battle for the takeover of the plant’s beleaguered parent company heats up. The Lorraine factory is at the center of a strategic battle being played out in Paris, Brussels, and Asia for the takeover of the ailing state-owned electronics giant Thomson. Accusations of foul play fly, and rival contender Alcatel calls in its intrepid head of security Charles Montoya to investigate. He soon uncovers explosive revelations and a trail of murders, dirty tricks, blackmail, and corporate malfeasance.

Result: well, it's a bit unfair for me to call this one, considering I haven't yet read Manotti's book (not that not watching the games or knowing very much prevents far too many people commenting about the rugby on talkback radio and the Internet etc, of course). As for the real game, although I'd like to see France win - as badly as they've been playing, they have some flair and can play great rugby on their day - plus, it would be nice for them to finally do to someone else what they've done to New Zealand a couple of times - I think England will edge it in the end. But you never know in the oval ball game.

So, who do you think should win, England vs France - in the rugby, or the crime fiction context?

Updated (Sunday 9 October): Well, well, well. In the real life rugby result, the Manottis stormed out of the gate, getting a great first-half lead that the Billinghams just couldn't overcome. Another great RWC 2011 upset that sees Martin Johnson and his lads heading home to Blighty. There was certainly plenty of francophile celebrating here in Auckland last night, that's for sure. Here I am with a very proud and happy Frenchman at the Cloud, just after the final whistle.

Allez les bleus!

RWC Quarterfinal: Ireland vs Wales (McGilloway vs Bauer)

Currently, one of the biggest sporting events on the planet (some say the third biggest after the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics) is being held right here in New Zealand; the Rugby World Cup 2011. As you can imagine, all sorts of rugby-themed and linked things are happening up and down the country, and plenty of the the world's sporting media have their lens and pens (laptops) turned this way.

Given this weekend marks the kick-off of the knock-out stages of the tournament, I thought I would use this opportunity to have a little fun, and create crime fiction posts that mirror the games being played (ie the quarterfinal line-up). So for the next eight games over the next three weekends (four quarterfinals, two semifinals, one 3rd/4th playoff, one final) I will highlight a crime, mystery, or thriller novel from each of the countries playing the game, that I have either read or purchased in the past year or so.

First up, it's the Celts in the Ireland vs Wales quarterfinal, later this afternoon/evening in New Zealand:

Representing Ireland: BORDERLANDS by Brian McGilloway
I'd heard some good things about Irish writer Brian McGilloway before I bought a copy of BORDERLANDS and read it in January this year. McGilloway's debut novel introduces Garda Inspector Benedict Devlin, and involves a murder case where the body of a local teenager is found on the 'borderlands' that span Ireland and Northern Ireland. The only clues are a gold ring placed on the girl's finger and an old photograph, left where she died. Then another teenager is murdered, and things become further complicated when Devlin unearths a link between the recent killings and the disappearance of a prostitute twenty-five years earlier a case in which he believes one of his own colleagues is implicated.

I really, really enjoyed BORDERLANDS, and I'm very much looking forward to reading more of McGilloway's writing (I already have BLEED A RIVER DEEP on my TBR bookshelf at home). He has a nice writing style, and a great touch for weaving plot, theme, setting, and character together into something polished yet still distinctive. It's certainly one of the better debut crime novels I've read in the past few years, and a worthy initial representative of Ireland in my little RWC-themed blog series here.

Representing Wales: BLACKLANDS by Belinda Bauer
Another debutant on the crime fiction scene, Welsh author Bauer certainly hit the ground running with BLACKLANDS, which won the CWA Gold Dagger last year - a rare feat for a first novel. I read BLACKLANDS late last year, and enjoyed it. The novel centres on 12-year-old Steven Lamb, who spends his free time searching the windswept moors outside his small town, hoping to find trace of his uncle Billy whose disappearance two decades ago fractured the impoverished family in such a way that even though Steven wasn't born when it happened, he experiences the ongoing effects of the tragedy.

Desperate for closure, Steven turns to an imprisoned paedophile, writing him a letter that he hopes might garner some much-needed clues - but instead opening Pandora's Box to an even worse nightmare. I liked the way that even though Bauer's debut was seemingly simple in storyline terms and the way she writes, there was plenty going on underneath. BLACKLANDS delves deeply into character and human frailties, gives convincing “voice” to both child and child killer, and ably depicts the dark underbelly of English village life.

Result: for me, although I'm picking Wales to beat Ireland in the rugby, I think I'd have to go with BORDERLANDS over BLACKLANDS in the crime fiction match-up, in a close call. Both are very good books, and worthy representatives of their respective crime writing and rugby playing nations, but I'd probably rush back to read more McGilloway before more Bauer, just.

UPDATE: In the real-life result, the Bauers took down the McGilloways 22-10, deservedly moving ahead to the semifinals of RWC 2011. One of the form teams of the entire competition, the boyos from the valleys are certainly playing some scintillating rugby, and it will be a great game between them and France next weekend.

I enjoyed the Celtic tussle down at 'party central' in Auckland, where the game was displayed on huge screens and thousands of fans gathered, dressed up in their teams' colours. Here's a pic of me and a friend with a very happy Welshman, now living in New Zealand, following the final whistle (see left).

So, what do you think of Irish and Welsh rugby, and crime fiction? Comments welcome.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Storytelling on screen is very different to storytelling via the pages of a book, even when those involved are dealing with the same characters and plots. There are far too many examples of good and great books turned into mediocre movies or TV shows; although, to be fair, there have also been some terrific book-to-screen adaptations over the years too, bringing well-loved characters to a new audience.

But while there are plenty of examples of crime novels that have been adapted, loosely or authentically, for the big and small screen, the reverse is far less common: a crime drama on the big or small screen becoming a book series. As a general rule, TV tie-in books can be pretty mediocre, but a recent release bucks that trend magnificently. Perhaps because Neil Cross, the creator and writer of the award-winning TV series Luther, is in fact himself an acclaimed crime novelist, and has been the one to bring his onscreen characters to the page, in all their volatile and vivid glory.

Cross takes us back before the beginning with Luther: The Calling, a prequel novel that explores the events leading to DCI John Luther (played wonderfully by Idris Elba in the TV series) being on long-term leave, having lost so much professionally and personally, at the beginning of season one. Just like on screen, the hulking London copper is a riveting protagonist; a simmering volcano of a man, stumbling a tightrope between intelligence and insight and insanity. Faced with a horrific crime while juggling personal drama at work and home, he begins to devolve, crossing various lines in order to chase down a terrible predator and protect the vulnerable. Cross has created a character that is neither black nor white, but smudged shades of grey; he’s not corrupt, but is he bad – even if only to serve good?

Cross writes in crisp, vivid prose that brings his characters and world to startling life. Luther: The Calling is a good read that will interest and intrigue newbies and fans of the TV series alike (the author salts in plenty of foreshadowing, subtle and obvious, for later events). Unflinching, brutal, and brilliant.


This review was first published in the 7 October 2011 issue of NZLawyer magazine, and is reprinted here with permission.


Comments welcome

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Who leads the way, writers or agents?

Recently, three New Zealand-based crime writers discussed the role of agents in publishing at an event at the Dunedin Public Library. Contemporary Kiwi crime queen Vanda Symon, along with police officer turned writer Bill O'Brien, and US immigrant Lee Wood, were on the panel for the event. You can watch the video of the discussion above.

Symon is of course the author of the acclaimed Sam Shephard series of Southland/Otago-set mysteries (the latest being #1 bestseller BOUND). Next year she will release her first standalone thriller.

O'Brien writes fiction and non-fiction for children and adults. He is perhaps best known for his book ARAMOANA: 22 HOURS OF TERROR, which was the basis for the intriguing Kiwi film Out of the Blue. You can read more about the Aramoana incident here.

Wood is the author of the Inspector Keen Dunliffe series (KINGDOM OF LIES (2005), KINGDOM OF SILENCE(2009)), which is set in the UK, although Wood is of US origin, and now lives in New Zealand. She had previously written science fiction novels, including LOOKING FOR THE MAHDI (1995).

The issue of agents is an interesting one within the New Zealand books community. While agents are commonplace overseas, New Zealand is somewhat unique in the fact that many writers don't start with agents, and publishers here may accordingly consider unsolicited manuscripts more than their overseas counterparts, rather than filtering things through agents first. However, having said that, the chances are still slim for any budding New Zealand writer to get published - whether they are able to go direct to the publishers here or not. Symon, O'Brien, and Wood all have agents (UK-based, NZ-based, and US-based respectively), so are in a good position to give insights about the benefits and challengings of gaining, and having, and agent, as a writer.

James Lee Burke chats to Radio NZ's Kim Hill

"James Lee Burke has been hailed as one of America's greatest contemporary novelists" ... Renowned New Zealand broadcaster and interviewer Kim Hill began a lengthy interview with Burke, broadcast on Radio New Zealand last weekend, with a pithy statement that I think truly sums up Burke's status. He is one of America's finest novelists, regardless of genre. His books are swirling gumbos packed with philosophy, allegory, imagery, literary references (subtle and obvious) and more, all entwined with violent plots and vivid, multi-layered characters evoked with great depth.

Burke is apparently talking to Hill about his thirtieth and latest book, FEAST DAY OF FOOLS (which he thinks is his best yet, touching on many issues surrounding neo-colonialism and the use of religion by fanatics and evil men to justify their actions, etc), but like my interview with Burke last year for the New Zealand Herald (read 9mm interview here, read Herald feature here), Hill ends up talking to Burke predominantly about much broader, universal issues than just his writing. I've listened to about half of the 40-mins plus interview so far, and it's an excellent discussion about a number of topics, ranging from religion to politics (and the corruption of both by extremists), history, and much more.

When you have time, it's well worth a listen. Hill is a good interviewer, and Burkes gives a great interview. You can listen to it online by clicking HERE.

Comments welcome.