Tuesday, February 3, 2015


CROSS FINGERS by Paddy Richardson (Hachette, 2013)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Life has taken a sudden turn for the worse for TV journalist Rebecca Thorne. Her romantic holiday ended with a proposal...then a break up. Now her ex, Rolly, seems to be stalking her. Her boss has taken her off the investigation of a shady property developer, just when things were heating up, and he's charged her with producing a doco on the 1981 Springbok tour. How is she supposed to find a fresh angle on a story that has been hashed to death? Then there are the creepy bumps in night, the mysterious photos that keep arriving on her phone and the shadowy presence of Rolly.

Surely we've all got one of those authors. The author whose books languish on the To Be Read pile, even though you always enjoy them immensely when attention lurches into activity and you spy them sitting there. Even though they can, frequently, frighten the life out of you.

Paddy Richardson is one those authors for me, and in the past, she has frightened the life out of me, although I'm pleased to say that this time CROSS FINGER's didn't languish because of my fractured attention span, and whilst she certainly made me sit up and pay attention, this book wasn't flat out scary, rather a sobering experience.

In the early 1980's the Springbok Rugby tours in New Zealand and Australia caused considerable outrage. Even for a dedicated ignorer of football of all types, it was hard to miss the vehemence and passion with which fans of Rugby and people opposed to the tour took to their positions. Equally so in New Zealand it seems, where there were pitched battles in the streets, injuries and bad feeling that lingers to this day.

This book concentrates heavily on the character of Thorne. Everything is seen through her eyes, within her understanding. She goes about her role as a journalist with a dogged, almost fanatical dedication. Enough to make the idea that mysterious noises in her house of a night, strange phone calls and creepy photos being texted to her would obviously be something she'd put to one side, ignore whilst chasing a lead down - mostly in people's memories. The story of the tour protests is told through her "interviews" with a number of participants - protesters and cops, and it's the clues and observations in those accounts that lead her to the violent murder of the young man, onto his lover, their associates and eventually to her identifying the previously unknown "Lambs". That the Lambs, the protests, dodgy or over zealous cops all collide made sense, even though it's obvious from the start that they are going to. Her ex-boyfriend, the stalker and her new love also made sense, although the coyness with which the new boyfriend is revealed is probably something more for romance lovers.

It's strange to think of the 1980's now within a historical timeframe, but that's exactly what it comes across as in CROSS FINGERS. Historical in terms of the events, and particularly in terms of attitudes. Particularly sobering to realise that mindless anti-homosexuality laws still existed then. Although there is a small part of me that comes away from this book hoping the passion that sprung from the anti-Apartheid protesters still exists.

CROSS FINGERS is from the more thoughtful end of the thriller, investigative spectrum. Looking backwards into history might take away the immediacy of a threat (although that's compensated for by the current day stalker thread), but it does give this author a chance to look at history - and provide a timely reminder that sometimes you have to stand and fight for what you believe in.


Karen Chisholm is one of the most respected crime fiction reviewers in Australia. An absolute stalwart of antipodean crime fiction, Karen created and has been running her Aust Crime Fiction website since 2006, highlighting a plethora of authors and titles from this part of the world, to the wider world online. It is a terrific resource - please check it out. 

Karen also reviews for other outlets, such as the Newtown Review of Books, and since 2014 has been a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel - the New Zealand crime writing award. Her reviews of New Zealand crime novels will now be shared here on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction


1 comment:

  1. Thought this an excellent book. Love Paddy Richardson's writing. This wasn't a heart-pounding thriller like some of her other books, but as you said, it's thoughtful.

    Living in the States, where there was a strong anti-apartheid movement for years, I was very glad to learn of the anti-Springbok campaign and how widespread it was in New Zealand, and how passionate were its participants. The book sent me to learn more about it.

    A large part of me hopes that the passion that existed during those days still exists -- and I see it in the States with the anti-police brutality and Civil Rights movements with people of all ages, with young people in the lead.