- COLLECTING COOPER by Paul Cleave
- LUTHER: THE CALLING by Neil Cross
- BY ANY MEANS by Ben Sanders
- BOUND by Vanda Symon
On Saturday night, after The Great New Zealand Crime Debate event at the Christchurch Writers Festival, we will find out who takes home the terrific hand-crafted art trophy designed and created by local sculptor Gina Ferguson (along with the winner's cheque - thanks to the Christchurch Writers Festival Trust - and collection of Ngaio Marsh novels - thanks to HarperCollins, Dame Ngaio's publisher). Before then, I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at each of the contenders - four books and authors. We kicked things off, alphabetically by author, with COLLECTING COOPER by Christchurch writer Paul Cleave, who won the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award, and then LUTHER: THE CALLING by Wellington author Neil Cross, who is a three-time finalist, and then BY ANY MEANS by young Auckland crime writer Ben Sanders, a first-time finalist.
Here's the blurb:
A brutal home invasion shocks the nation. A man is murdered, his wife bound, gagged and left to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard scratches the surface, the victim, a successful businessman, is not all he seems to be. And when the evidence points to two of Dunedin's most hated criminals, the case seems cut and dried... until the body count starts to rise. Meanwhile, Sam is in big trouble again...
BOUND is an exciting tale that grips you right from the helter skelter opening pages, and finds Shephard facing enormous pressures on both the professional and personal front. In an interview with the Weekend Herald in 2011, Symon said she thought literary characters, just like real life people, should be affected by all that has come before in their lives, that detectives should evolve over the course of a series, rather than staying static. That were affected by the events that happen during the course of each book. Symon certainly tests Shephard heavily in BOUND, throwing many challenging life events at her heroine, along with a tricky case that sees her pitted against some of her own colleagues. "I love writing about Sam, doing mean and nasty things to her," laughed Symon during the Weekend Herald interview. "She's great to hassle."
In that same interview, Symon revealed that she originally had a male detective in mind for her Otago and Southland-set crime series, until a moment of realisation struck, and changed everything. "I can't even remember exactly what it was, but my husband did something completely daft, and I went, 'oh my God, I can't even understand my own husband, how could I get into the head of a male', so I changed it," she laughs. "And the moment I changed it to a female, Sam Shephard stepped up, fully-formed as a character, and it was like she attituded her way into my life."
On its release last year, BOUND debuted at #1 on the New Zealand Adult Fiction Bestseller List, which was fantastic to see - both from a general local crime fiction perspective (nice to see local crime novels starting to do better on the local bestseller lists - New Zealand readers giving our own crime fiction a go) and for Symon herself; she's a heck of a good crime writer. But what did critics and readers have to say about BOUND? Here are a few comments from various reviews (the ones available online - BOUND also received some very good reviews from print-only magazines in New Zealand):
"Symon is New Zealand’s contemporary Queen of Crime, heir to Ngaio Marsh... Superlative storytelling packed with vivid scenes, touches of humour, and one of the most engaging heroines around."The New Zealand Listener
"Set in Dunedin, these stories have a fantastic Kiwi flavour and it's great to see a New Zealand author showing the world that we can turn out murder mysteries that rival anything else out there."The Southland Times
"What BOUND does demonstrate is that Vanda Symon is a force to be reckoned with in Australasian, if not world, crime fiction. She is a skilled story teller, has managed the art of developing threads, at the same time as weaving personal elements from Sam's life into the novel."Mysteries in Paradise
"A real joy to read: a fast-paced, engaging and credible story and even the ending did not disappoint (a rarer thing than it should be). I can’t think of too many people who would not get a kick out of meeting Sam and getting lost in a top quality story like this one."Reactions to Reading
But what did the Ngaio Marsh Award judges think of BOUND? Well, they liked it too - with the expert panel consisting of crime fiction afficianados from the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and New Zealand, putting the book through from a tough and closely-contested longlist. Among other comments, the international judging panel rated BOUND as “full of surprises” and “the best yet” in Symon’s excellent Sam Shephard series, filled with “great pacing, characters, and dialogue”.
Have you read BOUND, or any of Vanda Symon's other terrific crime novels (the Sam Shephard series, or the standalone thriller THE FACELESS)? Does it sound like a book you'd like to try? Comments welcome.