Friday, September 4, 2015

Forgotten Book Review: EXECUTION LULLABY (2000)

EXECUTION LULLABY by Nigel Latta (HarperCollins, 2000)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Before New Zealand psychologist Nigel Latta became renowned for his many parenting books and his lively television appearances that focus on 'cut through the crap' advice for parents and families, he was a forensic psychologist who had spent a career dealing with the much darker side of human nature. Several years ago he fronted a popular television show, Into the Darklands, which provided viewers with remarkable insights into 'the criminal mind', and the motivations behind some of New Zealand's most horrifying real-life crimes.

Into the Darklands was inspired by Latta's 2003 non-fiction book of the same name, where he confronted readers by lifting the curtain on the realities of his career, tiptoeing through the psychological minefields that were the personalities and lives of some of our most notorious and dangerous offenders.

Nigel Latta lived up close and person with real-life crime and horror, and that insight comes through clearly in his one work of fiction, EXECUTION LULLABY, a disturbing crime thriller he published back in 2000, long before television celebrity came calling. Unsurprisingly given its title, EXECUTION LULLABY is a death-row thriller - Simon Chance is counting the nine weeks he has left before the state ends his life in retribution for a series of lives it says he ended. Seven teenage girls, wiped from existence.

As his time dwindles, Chance reflects on his happy marriage to Juliette, and how things irrevocably changed when he discovered a terrible secret. How did he really end up behind bars, preparing to walk the green mile? The reader follows along as Simon tells his story, almost as if we're the priest at final confession.

EXECUTION LULLABY isn't the easiest read out there - Latta take the reader to some dark places in terms of serial murder and sex crimes, threading in an intriguing whydunnit - as much as whodunnit - to power the narrative. As I read EXECUTION LULLABY I found the book settling into that 'good not great category', with some very interesting parts, plot and character-wise, but not quite the depth or texture of the better crime fiction. For a debut though, it showed a lot of promise, and was compelling and very clever.

But then Latta ramped things up significantly as Simon's time (and the remaining pages) diminished. He powered to a strong finish, that left me pondering for quite a while. His insight into human nature and the criminal mind, the dark things that lurk inside, coupled with some nice storytelling choices, made for a slick and gripping read, and left me hoping that Latta would write more crime fiction one day.


I bought this book back in the mid 2000s, before the recent resurgence in New Zealand crime writing. I read it and wrote a mini-review at the time, but have now expanded my thoughts on this out-of-print book. 

Latta, along with the likes of Simon Snow and Michael Laws, was one of a few local authors to publish a crime thriller in the gap between Paul Thomas's groundbreaking Ihaka books of the 1990s and the new wave of New Zealand crime writing spearheaded by the likes of Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, Paddy Richardson, Donna Malane, and Ben Sanders over the past few years. 


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