Monday, June 20, 2016


STONEDOGS by Craig Marriner (Vintage, 2002)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

In between drug deals and binge-drinking, reckless driving and street fights, the delinquents of the Brotherhood wage the holiest of wars. Yes, they will derail the Juggernaut before it can suicide … or have a ball trying at least. But when one of them falls prey to Roto-Vegas gang members, the cultural terrorists mobilise in earnest. Revenge takes them on a road-trip - a coming of age from hell. 

Sometimes you pick up a book, start reading, and instantly start wondering what on earth is going on. Yet for some reason, you cannot put the darn thing down. That's exactly what happened for me with STONEDOGS. Mind you, if I'd have read the blurb that states that Craig Marriner is New Zealand's answer to Irvine Welsh and Quentin Tarantino, I probably could have recognised a hint about what I was in for.

STONEDOGS isn't a recent book - it won the Montana New Zealand Book Award Deutz Medal in 2002, but it is a book that was recently bought to my attention by a correspondent on my website. Boy am I pleased about that pointer, otherwise I might have missed reading this completely.

Not that STONEDOGS is a particularly easy or pleasant read. The book is manic, rapidfire, and insane at points. Basically you've got a small group of teeanagers - the Brotherhood, waging the holiest of wars. Against something. Or somebody. Not sure. But they are a bunch of kids who stick together through drug deals, binge-drinking, abortive attempts to pick up girls (and not so abortive attempts for some of them), reckless driving and street fights. At heart, a bunch of fun-seeking young lads, there's a closeness and a supportiveness in this little band that just makes them so likeable - even though you have to scrape through a fair amount of trash talk and faux toughness to get to the reality. But as in so many of these coming of age type tales, things go awry and revenge takes over and the journey gets mad, bad and very dangerous.

Undoubtedly cringe inducing, STONEDOGS will also have you laughing out loud. As well as feeling vaguely reassured that whilst the language may change, and perhaps there's a tighter, tougher, slightly more dangerous edge to some of the activities, teenagers, basically haven't changed that much. Or at least they are still recognisable. As are the bonds of friendship, the lunacy of risk taking, the rites of passage.

I definitely had no idea what was going on at points in this book, but I also found I simply could not put it down. Dark, violent, very in your face, this isn't going to be a book for everybody. But for anybody who does pick it up - I think I can guarantee it will stay with you for quite a while.

STONEDOGS won the Hubert Church Best First Novel Award from the New Zealand Society of Authors, and the Deutz Medal for Fiction (Best Novel) prize in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. 

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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