Sunday, May 19, 2019

McIlvanney and McDermid among outstanding Theakstons shortlist
















This morning (BST) the shortlist for the prestigious Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award was revealed, with six outstanding crime reads chosen from a very strong 18-book shortlist.

Among the shortlisted authors is Liam McIlvanney, a University of Otago professor and past winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award (in 2014 for Where The Dead Men Go), for THE QUAKER, a tale which "uses a lightly fictionalised version of the real-life Bible John killings as a launch-pad for a textured, nuanced crime novel with a vivid sense of time and place" (New Zealand Listener, 100 Best Books).

The full shortlist is:

Bauer is a previous winner of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award (RUBBERNECKER, 2014) was also longlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize for SNAP. 

Inspired by the murder of a pregnant woman, Marie Wilks, on the M50 in 1988 (the real-life crime remains unsolved), SNAP became one of the very few crime-genre novels ever to be considered for the Man Booker prize. The judges described it as “an acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma.”

THIRTEEN is the latest Eddie Flynn courtroom thriller by Steve Cavanagh, hailed by Ian Rankin for “plotting that takes the breath away.” Cavanagh is an Irish lawyer and author born and raised in Belfast. Thirteen offers an original twist on the courtroom thriller, where the serial killer isn’t on trial – he’s on the jury.

Both Mick Herron and Val McDermid were shortlisted for last year's Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year (won by Stav Sherez for THE INTRUSIONS). McDermid last won Crime Novel of the Year in 2006. The No 1 bestseller and ‘queen of crime’ could reclaim the title with her latest, BROKEN GROUND. The Karen Pirie thriller digs up a secret buried for 70 years in a Highland peat bog and has been praised for its "masterly handling of pace and plot". McDermid has won many awards including in the Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award in 2016.

Mick Herron’s widely acclaimed Jackson Lamb novels have been shortlisted twice for the Crime Novel of the Year and LONDON RULES puts him back in the running: the fifth outing for the misfit disgraced band of spies at Slough House with the backdrop of Brexit Britain and a terror plot. 

Dubbed ‘the UK’s new spy master’ by the Sunday Times, Herron’s writing was praised by critic Barry Forshaw for, “the spycraft of le Carré refracted through the blackly comic vision of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.”

THE QUAKER by Liam McIllvanney has already scooped the 2018 McIlvanney Prize which was named to honour his father, the late ‘godfather of tartan noir’, William McIlvanney. Liam, an author and a professor of Scottish studies in New Zealand, set THE QUAKER in Glasgow in 1969 drawing on the real-life, never-caught serial murderer Bible John.

The only debut author on the list is that of Senior IT Officer turned novelist, Khurrum Rahman, with his first novel, EAST OF HOUNSLO.  Mixing edgy humour and pulse-racing tension, Khurrum was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Debut Dagger Award 2018. East of Hounslow follows his young hero Jay, a dope dealer who ends up reluctantly working undercover for MI5 while undergoing radical Islamist training. Khurrum lives in Berkshire with his wife and two sons.

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: 
“All shortlisted authors are deserving of the title, but there’s only one Novel of the Year. The public vote will be invaluable, readers have real power, so I’d encourage everyone to make their voice heard - it’s free and simple to vote online. It will be fascinating to see which of these remarkable titles prevails, all are simply outstanding.”

Shortlisted titles will feature in a dedicated online campaign with WH Smith and a nationwide library promotion. The overall winner will be decided by the panel of judges, alongside a public vote that opens on 1st July and closes on 14th July at www.theakstons.co.ukwww.theakstons.co.uk

The winner of the award, run in partnership with T&R Theakston Ltd, WH Smith, and the Mail on Sunday, will be announced on the opening night of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival on 18th July. The awards ceremony, hosted by Mark Lawson, will also reveal the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Outstanding crime fiction shortlisted for 2019 Petrona Award









Six outstanding crime novels from Denmark, Iceland and Norway have been shortlisted for the 2019 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, announced today.

  • THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)
  • THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)
  • THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)
  • THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin Random House; Iceland)
  • RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)
  • BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)


"We faced a challenging but enjoyable decision-making process when drawing up the shortlist," said the Petrona judges. "The six novels selected by the judges stand out for their writing, characterisation, plotting, and overall quality. They are original and inventive, often pushing the boundaries of genre conventions, and tackle highly complex subjects such as mental health issues, the effects of social and emotional alienation, and failures of policing and justice."

The winning title will be announced at the Gala Dinner on 11 May during CrimeFest, held in Bristol on 9-12 May 2019. The winning author and the translator of the winning title will both receive a cash prize, and the winning author will receive a full pass to and a guaranteed panel at CrimeFest 2020.

"We are extremely grateful to the translators whose expertise and skill allows readers to access these gems of Scandinavian crime fiction, and to the publishers who continue to champion and support translated fiction," said the judges.

The Petrona Award is open to crime fiction in translation, either written by a Scandinavian author or set in Scandinavia, and published in the UK in the previous calendar year. The Petrona team would like to thank sponsor David Hicks for his continued generous support of the Petrona Award.

Here are the judges comments on the shortlisted titles.

THE ICE SWIMMER by Kjell Ola Dahl, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)
Kjell Ola Dahl has achieved international acclaim for his ‘Oslo Detectives’ police procedural series, of which The Ice Swimmer is the latest instalment. When a dead man is found in the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour, Detective Lena Stigersand takes on the investigation while having to deal with some difficult personal issues. With the help of her trusted colleagues Gunnarstranda and Frølich, she digs deep into the case and uncovers possible links to the Norwegian establish-ment. Once again, Dahl has produced a tense and complex thriller, with his trademark close attention to social issues. 

THE WHISPERER by Karin Fossum, tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway)
Winner of the prestigious Riverton Award and Glass Key Award for Nordic crime, Karin Fossum is a prolific talent. The Whisperer focuses on the case of Ragna Riegel, an unassuming woman with a complicated emotional history, who has recently been arrested. As Inspector Konrad Sejer delves into her psyche in the course of a claustrophobic interrogation, Fossum slowly reveals the events leading up to Ragna’s crime. This is a highly assured mix of police procedural and psychological thriller, which really gets to the heart of one woman’s mental turmoil, and how easy it is for an individual to become unmoored from society.

THE KATHARINA CODE by Jørn Lier Horst, tr. Anne Bruce (Michael Joseph; Norway)
Jørn Lier Horst’s ‘William Wisting’ novels are distinguished by their excellent characterisation and strong plots. In The Katharina Code, a dormant investigation is reopened when police focus on a missing woman’s husband and his possible involvement in an earlier, apparently unconnected case. Wisting, who has long harboured doubts about the man’s innocence, becomes a somewhat unwilling participant in the surveillance operation. This finely plotted thriller with a strong sense of unresolved justice shows how Lier Horst is as comfortable writing about rural landscapes as urban settings.

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson, tr. Victoria Cribb (Penguin Random House; Iceland)
In Ragnar Jónasson’s The Darkness, the first in the ‘Hidden Iceland’ trilogy, a Reykjavík policewoman on the brink of retirement looks into a final case – the death of Elena, a young Russian woman, which may mistakenly have been labelled a suicide. As much a portrait of its flawed investigator, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir, as of the investigation itself, the novel explores themes ranging from parental estrangement and the costs of emotional withdrawal to the precarious status of immigrants trying to make their way in a new land. The novel’s ending is bold and thought-provoking.

RESIN by Ane Riel, tr. Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday; Denmark)
Ane Riel’s Resin is an ambitious literary crime novel with a remote Danish setting. Narrated mainly from the perspective of Liv, a young girl, it tells the story of three generations of one family, while exploring the complicated factors that can lead individuals to justify and commit murder. Other narrative voices – such as those of Liv’s mother and a neighbour – provide further nuance and depth. A moving meditation on the consequences of social isolation and misguided love, Resin is an innovative novel that offers its readers a keenly observed psychological portrait of a close-knit but dysfunctional family.

BIG SISTER by Gunnar Staalesen, tr. Don Bartlett (Orenda Books; Norway)
In this highly acclaimed, long-running series, former social worker turned private investigator Varg Veum solves complex crimes which often have a strong historic dimension. In Big Sister, Veum is surprised by the revelation that he has a half-sister, who asks him to look into the whereabouts of her missing goddaughter, a nineteen-year-old trainee nurse. Expertly plotted, with an unsettling, dark undertone, this novel digs deep into Veum’s family past to reveal old secrets and hurts, and is by turns an absorbing and exciting read.

The Petrona Award judges are:

  • Jackie Farrant – crime fiction expert and creator of RAVEN CRIME READS; bookseller for eighteen years and a Regional Commercial Manager for a major book chain in the UK.
  • Dr. Kat Hall – Editor of CRIME FICTION IN GERMAN; translator and editor; Honorary Research Associate at Swansea University; international crime fiction reviewer at MRS. PEABODY INVESTIGATES.
  • Sarah Ward – Author of the DC Connie Childs crime novels set in the Derbyshire Peak District (Faber and Faber). New Gothic thriller THE QUICKENING (Trapeze) under the name Rhiannon Ward coming February 2020. Crime fiction reviewer at CRIMEPIECES.

Further information can be found on the Petrona Award website.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Hungry Caterpillars and Volcano Views: an interview with Nathan Blackwell

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to another instalment of 9mm, the 210th overall edition of our popular and long-running author interview series.

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you.

You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been featured, let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome a fresh voice in antipodean noir, Nathan Blackwell, to Crime Watch. A man of mystery, Nathan Blackwell is the pseudonym of a former undercover cop and police detective in New Zealand, who has written an outstanding debut crime novel, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE, which was published by Orion in the UK and beyond last week. It's a masterful tale about Detective Matt Buchanan's descent into the abyss over the course of his twenty-year career, as he's haunted by the disappearance of a young woman from his earliest days as a cop, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE has garnered terrific reviews, and is particularly praised for its authenticity.

It was originally self-published in New Zealand, and garnered great reviews and media coverage due to the quality of the storytelling and its grim look into the realities faced by, and impact on, law enforcement when they're dealing with violent crime and constant stress throughout their careers.

The book went on to become a finalist in two categories of the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards, with the judges saying THE SOUND OF HER VOICE had "everything you want in a book about a cop who realises the system sometimes can't mete out the right justice" and that the book "probes what exposure to violent crime does to those who investigate the worst of human behaviour".

Following the release of THE SOUND OF HER VOICE in the UK, Nathan Blackwell will be appearing onstage at Newcastle Noir on 5 May - a great chance for crime fans to learn more about this mysterious author who's burst onto the crime scene with a really strong, gritty debut.

But for now Nathan Blackwell becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH NATHAN BLACKWELL

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Batman. Hands down. He's human, he's got a pretty dark backstory, and he doesn't have any super powers. I've enjoyed him since I was a kid through until Christopher Nolan's trilogy and beyond. Always something new, but you know what you're getting.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The Hungry Caterpillar. Man, that guy could eat! But I think the Famous Five, the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators were the first books I really got into as a kid. It was the adventure that grabbed me, and the idea of having a mystery to solve. I guess they made an impression!

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Absolutely nothing ... I nearly failed English at high school. Couldn't write essays or fiction to save myself. But I think my problem was I needed to write about something I was into ... something that I knew a bit about, and a genre I enjoyed.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I don't get to do any of these as much as I'd like ... lack of time and money get in the way! But I love getting out into the bush, I love scuba diving (anything on or in the water really), and I have a private pilot's licence so flying would be number one. Aviation has been in the blood since I was a kid, and being up in the air is like nothing else.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
It is definitely in the tourist brochures, but c'mon it's Auckland, not Rome! Take the ferry to Rangitoto island and walk to the summit. Do one better and kayak, and include a sunset in your trip. The view of Auckland city and the Hauraki Gulf from the top of the old concrete bunker on the summit is incredible.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Eric Bana or Christian Bale. They're both handsome guys. No seriously ... probably Marlon Brando, Carey Grant, or Humphrey Bogart. Because to be playing me, in a movie about me, things would have to be pretty dire. As in you'd already be dead.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
Definitely my fifth form English essay where I misquoted something from King's 'Stand By Me' in a question about Piers Paul Read's 'Alive'. I mean they're pretty similar stories. Same genre. Same everything really.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When Mary, Sophia and Anna from Mary Egan Publishing took on the project and gave me some great feedback, I was blown away just thinking that other people liked it! Seeing it on the shelves was odd ... I felt like an imposter next to people that could truly write. When the book was picked up by Orion, and Craig phoned me to give me the news ... I think I s**t my pants.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
The time my girlfriend went up to Lee Child at a book signing in Auckland, and said "Hi Lee, enough about you, see that guy in front of me whose book you just signed? He's an author too. You should read his book." How embarrassing.


Thank you Nathan. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

Nathan Blackwell will be appearing on the 'Do You Come From A Land Down Under' panel at Newcastle Noir at 11.30am on Sunday 5 May. His highly acclaimed debut, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE, is now widely available in ebook, audiobook, and trade paperback. Check it out at your favourite bookstore. 

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Review: A FATAL THAW

A FATAL THAW by Dana Stabenow (1993)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

On her homestead in the middle of twenty million acres of national Park, Aleut PI Kate Shugak is caught up in spring cleaning, unaware that just miles away a man's sanity is breaking. When the sound of gunfire finally dies away, nine of his neighbors lie dead in the snow. But did he kill all nine, or only eight? The ninth victim was killed with a different weapon. It's up to Kate and her husky-wolf sidekick Mutt to untangle the life of the dead blonde with the tarnished past and find her killer. It won't be easy; every second Park rat had a motive. Was it one of her many spurned lovers? Was a wife looking for revenge? Or did a deal with an ivory smuggler go bad? Even Trooper Jim Chopin, the Park's resident state trooper, had a history with the victim. Kate will need every ounce of determination to find the truth before Alaska metes out its own justice....

I've been meaning to read Dana Stabenow's long-running Kate Shugak series for quite a while now, having heard good things, so when I had a wee breather between awards judging and other 'have-to' reads a little while ago, I snagged this one from my bookshelves and gave it a go. Very glad I did.

Kate Shugak is a fascinating main character. She is a native Alaskan, an Aleut, who used to work as an investigator for the District Attorney's office in Alaska's capital Anchorage before retreating from the mental, physical, and emotional wounds suffered in that job. She now calls a sprawling homestead in an Alaskan national park home, and works from there as a private investigator.

Stabenow writes a solid mystery, but the character of Shugak and the evocation of the Alaskan setting are the elements that elevate and differentiate A FATAL THAW among the crowd. As Spring blooms in Alaska, Shugak's small community is thrown into chaos when a mass shooting occurs, costing nine lives. Or that's how it seems at first - in fact one of the victims was killed by someone else.

Throughout Shugak's investigation, Stabenow brings the Alaskan setting to vivid life, both its landscapes and the people who call them home. This is a rural mystery with a real sense of frontier edge. Stabenow also does a good job taking readers into native culture with respect, alongside populating her mystery with a host of fascinating, eccentric characters you find in small towns.

Overall I really enjoyed this tale and will definitely be reading more of the Kate Shugak series.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Holds fast as peerless crime drama; Bosch Season 5 is masterful in many ways






















TV Review: Bosch, season 5 (Amazon Prime)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Fifteen months after bringing his mother's killer to justice, Bosch finds himself seeking the truth on two fronts. New evidence in an old case leaves everyone wondering whether Bosch planted evidence to convict the wrong guy. And a murder at a Hollywood pharmacy exposes a sophisticated opioid pill mill, sending Bosch down a dark and perilous path in pursuit of the killers.

From the writing to the acting to the cinematography, Season 5 of Bosch is another masterpiece of television crime drama. The series continues to march to its own beat, with long silences and ambient noise allowing the actors and emotional notes to breathe. No quick cuts and soaring soundtracks to artificially heighten tension here. The creators trust the material and the actors implicitly, and it shows. The story is delivered beautifully, masterfully.

Drawing heavily from Connelly's recent Bosch novel TWO KINDS OF TRUTH, season 5 sees Harry Bosch under pressure on multiple fronts, as an old case from his early days as a detective is challenged, threatening to return a killer to the streets and put Bosch's job and reputation in Jeopardy. Meanwhile Bosch and Edgar get entwined in an undercover operation to flush out violent killers who are running a pill mill scheme, harvesting from opiate addicts.

Of course, as with any Bosch season, there's a lot more going on too, within Hollywood homicide and beyond. There's so much to like about season 5; I won't spoil things by listing too many subplots and character arcs. Suffice to say it's pleasing to see the return of many familiar faces, who each play a part, along with some interesting new characters.

On the latter front, Honey Chandler's investigator Hector Bonner (Ryan Hurst of Sons of Anarchy & Remember the Titans), and Detective Christina Vega (Jacqueline Obradors of NYPD Blue) in particular stand out and bring a really nice energy to the already wonderful cast. Bosch's daughter Maddie (Madison Lintz) is growing into an even greater role, and her interplay with Harry, played note-perfectly again by Titus Welliver, is a key part of this season.

Bosch Season 5 is another wonderful ride, full of emotion and great characters. There's an authenticity to it, a realness that doesn't need to be overplayed or overhyped, intercut or otherwise artificially enhanced. Just great writing, great acting, and some great visual storytelling. The only flaw to Bosch is having to wait an entire year for the next season.

But with plenty of seeds planted, it'll be interesting to see just what book/s are used for Season 6. Perhaps, even, the addition of another major Connelly character? Worth staying up Late for this Show.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Roller disco deaths and the gendered nature of violence: an interview with Alafair Burke

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to another instalment of 9mm, the 209th overall edition of our long-running author interview series.

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had tonnes of fun chatting to some amazing writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you.

You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. If you've got a favourite writer who hasn't yet been featured yet, let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome the marvellous Alafair Burke to Crime Watch. A maestro of compulsive tales centred on strong and layered female characters, Alafair worked as a prosecutor in the American court system (she was a Deputy District Attorney in Portland) before embarking on a dual career as a law professor and New York Times bestselling crime novelist. With the release of THE BETTER SISTER this month, Alafair has now published 18 crime novels, including her series starring Portland prosecutor Samantha Kincaid, another series starring NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, several compelling standalones, and a few books in a series co-written with Mary Higgins Clark.

I had the pleasure of meeting Alafair in person and hanging out a little at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate last summer, where there was plenty of buzz about Alafair's book THE WIFE, an oh-so-relevant tale of a women with her own tragic past forced to deal with sexual misconduct allegations, and worse, against her highly successful and high-profile husband.

Alafair's new novel THE BETTER SISTER deals with another high-tension family situation that runs headfirst into criminal investigations, as a 'goody-two-shoes' younger sister ends up marrying her reckless older sister's ex and raising her nephew-stepson, only for the husband to be killed by an intruder and the estranged siblings being forced to reconnect as accusations swirl. "Mesmerizing…Burke paints a poignant portrait of sisterhood and sacrifice with this twist-riddled, character-driven whodunit," says Publisher's Weekly. That book is released in the UK tomorrow, 18 April.

But for now, Alafair Burke becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. She was the first series character who made me think, “Wow, I wish this person were real so she could be my friend, and we could meet for drinks after work.” That trick she always uses of putting known facts on index cards and moving them around to see them in a different light and to find the connections? I often do that as a way to organize my thoughts when I’m working on a novel.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. If you don’t know it, it’s the story of Claudia Kincaid, this bored suburban girl who takes off for New York City, her little brother in tow, because she thinks her parents are awful. They end up living as stowaways at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bathing in the fountain, pilfering coins from the wish fountain, and sleeping on the historic beds. In the meantime, they stumble upon an art-based mystery that can only be solved by researching the files of a rich, eccentric old woman. As a headstrong bored suburban girl yearning for something larger myself, I loved everything about this book. My husband, by the way, does security at the Met Museum, so I find that pretty funny.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I wrote little stories, almost all of them mysteries, when I was really young. My mother sent me one called Death at a Roller Disco. It starts, “I’ve seen so many killings come and go, but this is the most confusing. My name’s Bernice Blonstead and I’m a detective.” A bit derivative, but it at least had a consistent tone. As I got older, I focused more on academic and legal writing, though my prose was always relatively naturalistic compared to most legal documents. I decided to write my first novel when I had a summer off between leaving the prosecutor’s office and starting my academic career as a law professor. I realize now how insane it was to jump all in instead of biting off something smaller, but I wound up accidentally finding a long-term side hustle.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I like nothing more than hanging out with my husband, dogs, and our friends, preferably somewhere beautiful with great wine and food that sometimes I will want to cook. I love to play cards, do a jigsaw puzzle, or just sit around doing absolutely nothing in front of a fireplace or staring at the waves. I used to need constant activity, but my husband has taught me the joy of being chill, and we are lucky to have some truly terrific friends who understand how happy their absolutely sedentary company makes us.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
Sit on my sofa and watch Netflix with my dogs. See above. I kid. Most people will end up at or near Grand Central Station anyway, so be sure to stop by the whisper archway in the dining concourse, by Oyster Bar & Restaurant. From opposite ends of the archway, two people can whisper and the sound travels as if you’re right next to each other.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Constance Zimmer.  Explaining why would require too much talking about myself, but I love her work and the characters she has selected so far.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite or a little bit special for you, and why?
Ack, that’s like choosing your favorite kid, but harder because unlike many parents, I actually like all my books. (That was a joke, to be clear.) The recent trilogy (The Ex, The Wife, and The Better Sister) is important to me because of what I think the books have to say about the gendered nature of violence and abuse in our society, as well as the roles that women are expected to play in the lives of others. 

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
I called my parents and told them about my first book deal after I’d reached an agreement with a publisher.  I think they were even more excited than I was, and I realized how special it was for them to have another writer in the family (my father is a writer). That felt pretty good, even though it wasn’t the reason I had done it.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Someone asked me to sign his book, “To Michael Connelly’s #1 fan.”


Thank you Alafair, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke is published by Faber & Faber on 18 April (£12.99)
You can read more about Alafair and her books at her website, and follow her on Twitter

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: THE DYING TRADE

THE DYING TRADE by Peter Corris (1980)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Hardy needs work. In fact, he's the type of detective who never turns down a case. He can't afford to. So when wealthy Bryn Gutteridge, a real estate heir who amuses himself by shooting seagulls, asks Hardy to find out who has been threatening his twin sister, Susan, the private eye agrees. And finds himself on a case that turns more brutal every day.

First Gutteridge's butler is murdered. Then his pretty young stepmother is badly beaten. Hardy himself takes a few punches. And before long it's hard to tell the victims from the villains.

The end of the Cliff Hardy series was announced when WIN, LOSE OR DRAW was released in 2017, and then with the subsequent death of Peter Corris, I made a promise to myself to re-read this excellent series, every year, during the Boxing Day Test, as I'd been doing with every new release.

The problem is I can't count and simple arithmetic defeats me, but even I've now managed to work out that 2020+41 = 2061. As I'm unlikely to still be alive in 2061, I'd better get a move on because I'm determined that I will re-read the Cliff Hardy series from start to finish before I too die. So, with fingers crossed on at least a few years left, that means a minimum of 2 books a year. Might make that 4 just in case.

In 1982 the Commodore 64 8-bit computer was released; Malcolm Fraser was PM and Bill Hayden was Opposition Leader; autobiographer Albert Facey died; the movies Monkey Grip and Running on Empty, as well as Far East were released (starring Bryan Brown who was also in the movie THE EMPTY BEACH, based on the Cliff Hardy novel of the same name); athlete Ian Thorpe was born and THE DYING TRADE was first published.

When Text Publishing re-released THE DYING TRADE in 2012 as part of their "Text Classics" series, they included a quotation from The Age:
‘A quintessentially Australian literary icon.’
That quote sums up the entire Cliff Hardy experience to a tee. Succinct and pointed, as all these novels are, Cliff Hardy is quintessentially Australian. From the Ford he drives, to the city he lives in, the pubs he drinks in, his propensity to wade in where others may have feared to tread, his dry, acerbic wit and laid back style, a propensity (in the early novels) to drink and smoke way too much, and his absolute refusal to age (gracefully or disgracefully). Cliff Hardy was always our Australian lone wolf, and over the 42 books in this series, he indeed became a literary icon.

THE DYING TRADE is an introductory novel. Right from the start it sets a standard that readers came to expect. It's pointed, it's dry, it's observational and it gets on with "it". Whatever "it" is, there are always some givens. Hardy will take a case that he probably shouldn't, he will care, he'll get a thumping along the way, he'll solve the case, he might even get the girl, but he'll lose her again, and he'll return to his small terrace house, park his Ford out the front, open a bottle of wine, stare at the walls and spend a few moments wondering about what could have been. Never long, never drawn out, never overly reflective.

Early 1980's Sydney is a world away from current day Sydney and yet in many ways it's not, and the Hardy series is a testament to the similarities and changes. Hardy is a product of this place, and he inhabits a world that Peter Corris seemed to love, understand and despair of. The descriptive elements of the novels are beautifully done, crisp, pointed, short, sharp, Corris was a master at the art of the precise and the pithy.

It's comforting to go back to the start of such a long series and see that right from the start there's the pattern, the style and the structure that carried forward for so many years. You can also see very clearly, after a long, drawn out battle to get publishers to take note and realise that we needed to hear stories in our own voices, set in our own locations, that they were bloody lucky to get the Cliff Hardy series.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the Ngaio Marsh AwardsShe kindly shares some of her reviews of crime and thriller novels from Australian and New Zealand authors on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction. where this review was first published.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Review: BETON ROUGE

BETON ROUGE by Simone Buchholz, translated by Rachel Ward (Orenda Books, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of Germany’s biggest magazines. He’s soon identified as a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in a similar way. Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect . . . to the dubious past shared by both victims. Traveling to the south of Germany, they step into the hothouse world of boarding schools, where secrets are currency, and monsters are bred . . . monsters who will stop at nothing to protect themselves. 

Hamburg author Simone Buchholz combines slick storytelling with substance in this slimline tale centred on a hard-living public prosecutor. When I reviewed BETON ROUGE, my first taste of the Chastity Riley series, as part of my regular crime roundup for a print magazine in New Zealand, I compared the book to a straight shot of top-shelf liquor: "smooth yet fiery, packing a punch, with no extraneous ingredients watering things down."

That encapsulates things quite well, I think. BETON ROUGE is slick and flows smoothly without feeling insubstantial. There's depth here, a weight to the story even if the book isn't weighty in size. There's also a dark energy to the fast and furious tale; it's a fascinating and appetising slice of German Noir. And noir it is: the main character is pretty hardbitten and there's a melancholy, even a sense of despair, running throughout, while at the same time there's dry humour and razor-sharp prose that gives BETON ROUGE an interesting energy and keeps things from becoming depressing.

Buchholz has plenty of style in her storytelling. Along with translator Rachel Ward she writes in a way that's both lyrical and concise. Punchy but poetic, like a haiku more than a long saga.  Chastity Riley is a fascinating heroine - not always likable, but always compelling. Like the writing itself, she is razor-sharp and peppered with dry humour. Both Riley and the reader get taken to some dark, even brutal, places in BETON ROUGE, but Buchholz and Ward never make it seem gratuitous.

It's a little bit tricky to describe BETON ROUGE as it is quite unique and original, without feeling try-hard or having an obvious author hand forcing 'this is so different' onto the reader. It's just a really, really good crime novel that sparkles darkly, has a fascinating heroine, a great evocation of people and place, and a bit of a philosophical sense to it - while being more than the sum of its fine parts.

I'll certainly be reading more of Simone Buchholz and Chastity Riley.


Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter.