Monday, May 31, 2010

Review: BLOOD MEN by Paul Cleave

BLOOD MEN by Paul Cleave (Random House, 2010)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Christchurch novelist Paul Cleave doesn’t write boring stories, that’s for sure. His taut tales told through the eyes of deeply troubled ‘heroes’ have broken the mould when it comes to local crime and thriller writing, becoming huge international bestsellers in continental Europe. His debut The Cleaner was the biggest-selling crime/thriller novel for Amazon Germany in 2007, and on its release last year the German translation of this third thriller, Cemetery Lake, jumped straight to the number two spot overall, just behind Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol, and ahead of the Stieg Larsson trilogy.

Down this way, we’ve been a little slower on the uptake, but with the release of BLOOD MEN, Cleave’s fourth dark thriller, local readers have another chance to find out why the young man from Christchurch is being read and praised by the likes of Lee Child, John Connolly, Tess Gerritsen, Mark Billingham, and other international heavyweights, and why he will soon be launched in the key US market, a rare feat for a New Zealand writer.

In BLOOD MEN, Edward Hunter is a happily married family man with a great life, but a very dark past; he’s the son of a notorious serial killer who’s been in prison for 20 years, and will never be coming out. The son of a man of blood. When tragedy strikes his family, Edward suddenly needs the help of the man he’s spent his entire life distancing himself from, and trying to prove he’s nothing like. But as things spiral out of control, Edward begins to hear his own dark inner voice, and begins to fear he’s destined to become a man of blood, just like his father.

In terms of writing, Cleave’s prose crackles with freshness and energy. Sporadic moments of brutal violence may be too much for some who prefer mysteries of the Christie-esque ‘cosy’ style, but those who can handle grittier crime will uncover a top-notch tale. Cleave masterfully mixes compelling characters, sly humour, a taut plotline with enough tension and twists to keep the pages whirring, and a well-evoked, if somewhat malevolent, version of Christchurch.

With BLOOD MEN, Cleave shows he not only stacks up with, but in fact betters, many of the big-name international crime and thriller bestsellers that Kiwi readers buy in droves. Perhaps it’s time we better recognised the budding star in our own midst.

Ed Note: BLOOD MEN went on to win Cleave the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, presented following the "Setting the Stage for Murder" event at the Christchurch Arts Festival

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