Friday, July 12, 2019

Review: THE WHISPER MAN

THE WHISPER MAN by Alex North 

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.

But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed "The Whisper Man," for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.

Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter's crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.

And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window...

The first offering from 'Alex North' offers the beautiful writing and exquisite plotting that crimelovers have found in the author's prior work (several very fine crime novels), meshed with a dark and chilling storyline that strikes at the heart of family and may (should) catapult the author to greater attention and a wider readership. 

Widower Tom Kennedy and his young son Jake are both struggling with the loss of the woman at the centre of their world. Tom hopes a move to the village of Featherbank will give both of them a fresh start. He feels like he's struggling as a father and that he needs to do something to help his son.

When a young boy vanishes, the town’s dark past returns. Twenty years ago, ‘the Whisper Man’ prowled, killing five people before being caught. While Detective Amanda Beck is the lead on the new disappearance, its eerie similarities to the Whisper Man means that ageing Detective Pete Willis aboard too. For it was Willis that brought down the Whisper Man, and Willis with whom the Whisper Man still occasionally toys.

Is the new foe linked to the historic murders and a killer that's fallen into local folklore? Could this be a copycat, or did the Whisper Man have an accomplice, as some cops and others often wondered?

Meanwhile strange things start to happen at Tom’s new home, and Jake hears whispering outside.

North sets the hook early and crafts a compulsive tale that hurtles along (a one-sitting kind of book) while being textured with plenty of depth. THE WHISPER MAN is a compulsive tale with a dark heart - but that's a notable thing too; the book has real heart to it. It's a creepy page-turner that's also a story of fathers and sons, a story of families and nightmares, and of the price paid for past mistakes and the struggle to put things right.

For my money, this will be one of the top thrillers of the northern summer, which given all the great books coming out lately and soon, is high praise indeed. A terrific first bow from 'North', a top-notch dark thriller.

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 and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Review: WHAT LIES BENEATH US

WHAT LIES BENEATH US by Kirsty Ferguson (Elephant Tree, 2019)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Jessica James had the perfect life. She had a good job, supportive friends, and her husband Geoff and her son Jack both adored her. Everything changed the moment she found out she was having another child. 

Now she’s a stay at home mum, they have barely enough money coming in, Jack is a troubled ten-year-old and she feels there’s an insurmountable divide between her and her husband. Worse still, her feelings towards her youngest son are just wrong. Does her recent diagnosis of postpartum depression explain these feelings or is something more sinister going on? 

The unthinkable occurs when baby Jason is found dead in his cot. At the time of his death, Geoff is away on a camping trip. Now Jessica finds herself accused of murder and is vilified by all those who once claimed to love her. As the evidence mounts against her, Jessica must come to terms with the fact that she may well have had something to do with her baby’s death. 

When a second tragedy rocks the James family, Jessica’s world quickly unravels, and she spirals into darkness. Meanwhile, Victorian Detectives Hunter and Cooper investigate the infant’s homicide but are left with more questions than answers. By the time they get to the bottom of this mystery, will there be anyone left of the James family to save? 

Kirsty Ferguson's WHAT LIES BENEATH US is a story in two parts. On the one hand you have Jessica the mother, with a 10 year old son she almost obsessively adores, a husband she loves, and a good life in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Jessica had problems bonding with Jack when he was first born, but nothing compared to the reaction she has to the birth of her second son. A pregnancy she didn't want, a baby she cannot bring herself to call by name, she does the basics of physical care, but feels no love or attachment for, and rapidly comes to resent and dislike baby Jason. A sketchy diagnosis of postpartum depression does absolutely nothing to relieve the pressure-keg that the family has become, with Jessica's judgemental mother stirring the pot, her husband unable (or is it unwilling) to comprehend, and her older son struggling with his father's over-compensation with the new baby.

On the other hand you have Jessica the suspected murderer, after the discovery of baby Jason's body. His father away for the weekend, and Jessica stuck at home after a drunk and maudlin night, wakes on Sunday morning to a dead baby and no signs of what caused the death. Jessica doesn't think she killed the baby, but she's also not that sure, although Geoff's reaction is extreme and bitter, and he's convinced. What he doesn't know is his own alibi is looking a bit flaky, and there's another potential explanation that Jessica has to deal with. To complicate things further Jason's death is initially assumed murder, then it looks like a SIDS death, then back to murder, all the while with Jessica as the main suspect, and the two investigating cops with their own individual conclusions. The more they dig, the less clear events over that weekend become. 

Ferguson has crafted an excellent portrayal of this family, from the sense of confusion, and guilt in Jessica, the anger and resentment of her husband Geoff, and her mother's quietly delivered judgement. As she's building that phase of the novel it's increasingly obvious that something's going to happen, and sadly you kind of know that things aren't going to end well for Jessica or her new baby. What happens, when and how the wheels fall off everybody's lives is delivered elegantly, dodging the overt emotional manipulation card by turning just about everybody - Jessica, Geoff, Jack, Jessica's mother and even the investigating cops into good and evil, black and white, right and wrong simultaneously. The reader is never given anybody to constantly believe in, or to trust and a lot of possible scenarios that explain baby Jason's death.  

The resolution, once it all falls into place is perhaps not the strongest storyline in the entire novel, but to be honest, by that stage for this reader at least, it had become more of a powerful examination of the awful outcomes that undiagnosed and untreated mental illness create, and a salient lesson in the sheer bastardry of faux perfection and the pressure of external expectations. 


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.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Review: RIPPLING RED

RIPPLING RED by Brigid George (Potoroo Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

The third novel in this Australian murder mystery series takes the reader behind the friendly laid-back facade of Darwin, Australia’s northern capital, into a world where a crocodile roams the waterways in search of revenge and evil ripples in the hearts of humans.

The suicide of Cody Bongiorno is devastating to those left behind. But was this gentle young man manipulated into taking his own life? Is there a link between Cody’s death and the horrific crocodile attack on his comical friend, Jerry Lucas? Following on from her stunning success in solving the murder of a famous Byron Bay resident, amateur sleuth and investigative journalist Dusty Kent is once again determined to bring resolution to the families left behind in the wake of these tragedies.

The third novel in the Dusty Kent series, these books are built around investigative journalist Kent and her Irish assistant and IT expert Sean O’Kelly. IN RIPPLING RED they are in Darwin looking into the alleged suicide of Cody Bongiorno. Cody’s parents are convinced that their compassionate and kind teenager had been coerced into committing suicide, and they want Dusty to look into the verdict, something that she's more than willing to do especially given the strange death of Cody's close friend, school teacher Jerry Lucas.

Dusty's from the wise-cracking, Australian slang deploying end of the amateur investigator mob. The story is told with a sense of humour, in crisp and believable dialogue, with plenty of opportunity to bamboozle the Irish Sean with local terminology and phrases. Whilst Dusty is very much the star of the show, there is also plenty of opportunity for the reader to get to know a little about both victims, and their families, creating a slightly rare sense of connection with victims.

Readers coming to this book, in particular from outside Australia, may struggle a little with the style of banter, and the humour between Dusty and Sean. There interactions are quintessentially Australian, veering slightly to the smart-arse end of the scale, and whilst locals will probably get that there's nothing superficial or lacking in compassion in that approach, those from other locations may find it a little more difficult to connect with. Sometimes the humour has a slight sense of the gallows to it, but at no stage is there any feeling (to this Australian) that this is belittling the seriousness of the core premise - that somebody could set out to coerce a gentle young teenager to commit suicide.

The humour, and the banter is pitch-perfect for two mates working together, and the sense of place and the people / community that lives there is strong in this outing, and Dusty and Sean have a good working relationship and friendship, even though it seems like Sean has no idea what Dusty is talking about most of the time.

The title of this novel refers to the sight of ripples on the river at dusk, and there's an indigenous story that ties in about an elusive albino crocodile in the area as well, all of which combine with a solid sense of place and people to create a mystery novel, on the cosier, humorous side of the spectrum, that's nicely intriguing without being hefty lifting. You probably don't need to read the earlier books in the series, but fans of the lighter, funnier side of crime fiction might find themselves wanting to

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.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Review: ONE FOR ANOTHER

ONE FOR ANOTHER by Andrea Jacka (2018)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Laudanum. Irish whiskey. The tried and true escape routes of bordello madam Hennessey Reed. On this occasion she suspects even their combined magic will not soothe her distress. The girl lying violated on the undertaker's table will remain dead, wounds horrifying and inexplicable, reminiscent of Indian sacrifice.

Hennessey treasures the uneasy peace she has found in the remote town of Melancholy in 1880s Idaho Territory. However the discovery of three more young victims—all girls of similar age to her daughter Evie—compromises this hard-won equilibrium when she recognizes one of the girls. Usually content to tend her own business and leave others to mind theirs, Hennessey decides U.S. Marshal Rafael Cooper requires her help to search for the killer but acknowledges, if consulted, he may not necessarily agree.

Although helped by an eclectic group dedicated to the barstools in her saloon, she is hindered by demons stifled by addiction and myopic hatred of Jedidiah Cannon: a man from her past she is convinced is involved in the present-day murders. So with her Bowie strapped to her calf and wolfhound Raven at her side Hennessey sets out to investigate—a one-woman stampede. 

A mystery set in 1880's Idaho with a bordello madam Hennessy Reed at the centre of it, that has a lot going for it. I know....

Hennessey Reed is a bordello madam with a liking for laudanum, irish whiskey and the local marshal. Although they keep that last one on the quiet as much as possible. Reed is more than a bit annoyed when her 3 young girls are murdered near her town, Melancholy, where she's part come to hide out and start again. When her own daughter goes missing, she's into the hunt, whether US Marshal Rafael Cooper likes it or not, and she's convinced that a threat from the past - the awful Jedidiah Cannon - is behind these killings.

Armed with a Bowie knife strapped to her calf, with faithful wolfhound Raven at her side, as the blurb puts it she becomes a one-woman stampede. And you can really believe that's exactly what Hennessey Reed would become when anybody is wronged on her watch. Needless to say Reed is the stand out of this novel. Strong, determined, bolshie and independent, this madam-come-avenger is a tremendous character with considerable ongoing series potential. Sure there's a tendency for this novel to get overly wordy at points, and the overtness of the threat and the white hat / bad hat obviousness needs dialling back a bit, along with some tweakage to the flow of dialogue and plot to help achieve a more overall pace consistency, but they are mostly minor irritations that could be easily resolved, and might not even be an issue if you're more of a fan of historical styled novels than fast paced crime fiction.

At the heart of ONE FOR ANOTHER, the standouts, however, are the great character of Reed, the strong supporting cast around her, and the interesting scenario into which those characters are placed. Tighten the delivery up and you can't help but feel there's something very good coming our way.



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.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Review: BOXED

BOXED by Richard Anderson (Scribe, 2019)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Dave Martin is down on his luck: his wife has left him; his farm is a failure; his house is a mess; he has withdrawn from his community and friends; and tragedy has stolen his capacity to care. He passes the time drinking too much and buying cheap tools online, treating the delivered parcels as gifts from people who care about him.

And then boxes begin to arrive in the mail: boxes that he didn’t order, but ones that everyone around him seems to want desperately. As he tries to find out the secret of the boxes, Dave is drawn into a crazy world of red herrings and wrong turns, good guys and bad, false friends and true, violence, lust, fear, revenge, and a lot, lot more. It’s not a world he understands, but is it the only one Dave can live in? 
I know that summer is supposed to be finished, but no one told the sun and its mate, the wind that blisters off the plain, making me feel like a dry frog stranded between water points. But I see the plains grass is still green, the dust is holding low, and the kurrajong tree leaves are shaking their shiny vigour, so perhaps the last few months haven't been that hot. Can't say I've been paying attention.
Richard Anderson's latest novel BOXED opens with a series of tableau paragraphs, almost photographic in their capture of place, and a man. Right from that start you know this is a man with problems.
I don't want to be Dave Martin, loser, parked at his mailbox under the river gum: two beers' drive from Stony Creek Pub, half a state from Sarah, and at least eighteen months past useful.
But Dave's not as useless as he thinks he is. Definitely struggling, grieving for a dead son, and a past life, Dave's paralysed by overwhelming loss, distracting himself with online shopping, waiting for the parcels delivered to his mailbox. Those parcels providing (he fully admits) a small moment of joy in what's otherwise a difficult, downtrodden life. Caught on the farm that's failing in part because of him, trapped by depression and an inability to pull himself out out of it, his interactions with the world are driven by those that come to him, but most especially his parcels.

Until the day something very unexpected is delivered to Dave's mailbox and things get weird. Packages of something white and large amounts of cash, a neighbour behaving oddly, a mailman who is unforthcoming, a neighbourhood suddenly infested with strange men with violence on their agenda, Dave's world quickly gets a lot more "interesting" than he wants, but it could just be the thing that he needs.

As with Richard Anderson's earlier book RETRIBUTION, BOXED is rural crime fiction of the highest calibre. It's not all blood soaked violence (although there is some of that), nor is it necessarily crime and punishment based. It's a character study through the prism of threat, and people outside their comfort zones. Particularly, in this case, a man for whom the problems of his life are pretty overwhelming. Dave Martin is beautifully evoked and whilst he will ring bells with city people, rural dwellers will know him in particular. A man whose life is tied to a place through generations past, the expectation would always be the same of generations future. Until the unbelievable happens and a moment wipes away that future. Then it's a marriage that doesn't survive the loss, but a friendship that remains. It's about somebody who can't bring themselves to step away from the source of so much pain, and yet simultaneously can't bring themselves to thrive in that place. It's about depression ultimately, the scourge of so many rural people where livelihoods depend so much on physical ability, often impaired by mental challenges.

BOXED is slower paced than some crime fiction, but there is an intriguing mystery at the heart of this novel, providing the catalyst that could change Dave Martin's life, wrecking it further, or possibly improving it. You won't know until the end of the novel, but I bet you by that time you will find yourself experiencing a connection with Dave and all his challenges.


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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Review: THE NANCYS

THE NANCYS by RWR McDonald (Allen & Unwin 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Tippy Chan is eleven and lives in a small town in a very quiet part of the world - the place her Uncle Pike escaped from the first chance he got as a teenager. Now Pike is back with his new boyfriend Devon to look after Tippy while her mum's on a cruise.

Tippy is in love with her uncle's old Nancy Drew books, especially the early ones where Nancy was sixteen and did whatever she wanted. She wants to be Nancy and is desperate to solve a real mystery. When her teacher's body is found beside Riverstone's only traffic light, Tippy's moment has arrived. She and her minders form The Nancys, a secret amateur detective club. 

But what starts as a bonding and sightseeing adventure quickly morphs into something far more dangerous. A wrongful arrest, a close call with the murderer, and an intervention from Tippy's mum all conspire against The Nancys. But regardless of their own safety, and despite the constant distraction of questionable fashion choices in the town that style forgot, The Nancys know only they can stop the killer from striking again.

Well, this was something different. I don't know if I've grinned as much reading a crime novel for quite a long time. There's such a lovely sense of exuberance to Melbourne-based Kiwi author RWR McDonald's debut mystery, which is set in a fictional small town in the deep south of New Zealand.

Delightful, charming, heartfelt, exuberant; they're not usually the words that come top of mind when musing on a crime novel, but they absolutely fit for THE NANCYS, which has an adolescent heroine but is very much an adult mystery novel (not a young adult or juvenile mystery).

I can certainly see why the then-unpublished manuscript was highly commended in the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards (a pipeline that has highlighted the likes of THE DRY by Jane Harper, THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion, and THE NOWHERE CHILD by Christian White).

There's just something, well, je ne sais quoi, about THE NANCYS that makes it quite different to much of the great rural and small-town crime writing coming out of Australia and New Zealand in recent years. While it has some of the quirky local characters and secrets-behind-closed-doors you'd expect with 'rural noir', there's a different energy and tone, delightfully so.

At its heart, and the book has a big one, THE NANCYS centres on the misadventures of an unlikely investigating trio and the colourful South Otago townsfolk they encounter. along the way.

Tippy Chan is an eleven-year-old Riverstone local delighted by a visit from her beloved Uncle Pike, a Sydney hairdresser who could body double for Santa Claus. Pike has returned to the riverside town he fled years before - "the town that style forgot", as the blurb aptly describes - with his fashionista boyfriend Devon in tow, to look after Tippy while her mother goes on a cruise.

It's been a tough time for the Chan family, with Tippy's father passing away in the past year and even more stress heaped on her mother, Pike's sister, who could do with a good break away. Tippy loves her uncle’s old Nancy Drew books, and when her best friend falls off a bridge and then her teacher’s body is found near the town's only traffic light, the trio see a chance to solve a mystery for real.

At the same time they're juggling other local adventures, including a surprising makeover of a glum teenage neighbour for a local show, and Pike dealing with his past history in the town.

Overall THE NANCYS is a real delight, a charming mystery that is much more than charm, packed with lovably unruly characters and chaotic events and perfectly seasoned with humour and heart. First-time novelist McDonald has opened his account with a real belter, a unique and enthralling tale.


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 and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Review: LADY IN THE LAKE

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman (Faber & Faber, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Cleo Sherwood disappeared eight months ago. Aside from her parents and the two sons she left behind, no one seems to have noticed. It isn't hard to understand why: it's 1964 and neither the police, the public nor the papers care much when Negro women go missing.

Maddie Schwartz - recently separated from her husband, working her first job as an assistant at the Baltimore Sun - wants one thing: a byline. When she hears about an unidentified body that's been pulled out of the fountain in Druid Hill Park, Maddie thinks she is about to uncover a story that will finally get her name in print. What she can't imagine is how many lives she is about to ruin, or how many hearts she's about to break, by chasing a story that no-one thinks is hers to tell.

There are many different ways an author can grab readers from the very first page. Sometimes it's an intriguing first line that draws you in, sometimes it's a stark incident or piece of action that tractor-beams you straight into a propulsive narrative. And sometimes its something subtler but even more powerful (in the right hands): just the pure, mesmerising quality of the writing, the voice.

LADY IN THE LAKE, the latest standalone from the superb Laura Lippman, is a pretty great example of the latter. From the first lines we know we're in the hands of a master storyteller as we're enticed deep into 1960s Baltimore by the voice of Cleo Sherwood, a poor young black woman who's recalling the first time time she saw Maddie Schwartz, then a finely dressed Jewish housewife.

Maddie Schartz would go on to create a whole host of problems for a lot of people, including Cleo, who might have preferred to have been forgotten, despite all the tragedies in her young life.

Cleo and Maggie, two mothers in 1960s Baltimore, different in many ways but both shackled by prejudice. Both woman also hungered for more in their lives, and would risk a lot to chase it.

Perhaps too much.

Unlike Cleo, who goes missing and is rather forgotten and becomes the 'Lady in the Lake' when a body finally emerges from a fountain, Maddie Schwartz gets a chance to be more.

LADY IN THE LAKE follows a pivotal year in Maddie’s life as she flees her stable but stale marriage, trading affluence for independence, domesticity for a search for passion and meaning.

After helping the police find a missing white girl whose story filled the newspapers, Maddie is looking for another story to help her get a foothold in the male-dominated field of journalism, and turns her attention to Cleo, a black woman whose story has been left untold by the white press.

Lippman intercuts Maddie's narrative with rich vignettes, first-person perspectives from a variety of people that Maddie encounters along the way. These chapters really texture the novel and weave together to form a stunning portrait of Baltimore life in that era - the place and the people living in it.

The multiple perspectives also give the reader differing views on how Maddie and her efforts are seen by herself and others. Readers themselves may have mixed feelings about Maddie, and some of the decisions she makes. She is a complex, fascinating character, and has an interesting arc from bored and rather repressed housewife to independent, ambitious career woman unafraid of breaking rules. Throughout it all, Cleo lingers as a contemptful specter as Maddie throws stones into several ponds, oblivious to the dangerous ripples she may be creating in her pursuit of a story to make her name.

Overall, Lippman has forged a sublime, suspenseful tale that flows along so wonderfully that it perhaps obscures its own genius. I was reminded of watching a brilliant musician onstage, or perhaps a particularly special athlete on the field - in each case they can make things that are incredibly difficult look deceptively simple. There's a flow and ease because of their mastery, and we're so entranced but what we see or hear that it's easy to overlook the skill involved. Lippman is that level.

This is a stylish, rich novel from one of the crime genre's very best.


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 and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Review: CONVICTION

CONVICTION by Denise Mina (Harvill Secker, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s just a normal morning for Anna McDonald. Gym kits, packed lunches, getting everyone up and ready. Until she opens the front door to her best friend, Estelle. Anna turns to see her own husband at the top of the stairs, suitcase in hand. They’re leaving together and they’re taking Anna’s two daughters with them.

Left alone in the big, dark house, Anna can’t think, she can’t take it in. With her safe, predictable world shattered, she distracts herself with a story: a true-crime podcast. There’s a sunken yacht in the Mediterranean, multiple murders and a hint of power and corruption. Then Anna realises she knew one of the victims in another life. She is convinced she knows what happened. Her past, so carefully hidden until now, will no longer stay silent.

This is a murder she can’t ignore, and she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, her past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

Anyone who has read any of Denise Mina's books over the past 20 years knows that she's a highly talented crime writer. Her resume is packed with awards and accolades, and whether it's one her one of her three acclaimed series (Garnethill, Paddy Meehan, Alex Morrow) or inventive standalones like SANCTUM and THE LONG DROP, there's evidence aplenty that Mina is crime writing royalty.

After celebrating the twentieth anniversary last year of her striking debut GARNETHILL, Mina now underlines her versatile talents with this zesty new tale imbued with up-to-the-minute issues.

The main character in CONVICTION is Glasgow wife and mother Anna McDonald, who lives a fairly domestic existence with her lawyer husband Hamish and two young daughters. The comfort and safe banality masks Anna's past and very public trauma she suffered years before.

Now living under a new identity, Anna’s lukewarm reality is upturned in a single day when Hamish leaves her for her best friend, and she learns from a true crime podcast that an old acquaintance is dead. Even worse, a powerful woman who made Anna’s life hell could be involved in some way.

Untethered and desperate for a distraction, Anna becomes obsessed with the true crime podcast, and starts picking at the case of a luxury yacht that sank in the Mediterranean, finding an unlikely ally in the form of the anorexic ex of her former best friend. Pandora's Box opened, together they follow a trail from the Scottish Highlands to continental Europe, hunting for some sort of truth while visiting the hideaways of the rich and the wretched and trying to stay ahead of some very dangerous people.

There are so many things to love about CONVICTION. First and foremost for me, there's a real verve and sense of energy to Mina's storytelling, which blends gut-punch moments with great characterisation, a clever structure, and some nice touches of black humour. This fair hurtles along, and is one of those smile-inducing books even as its full of dark deeds.

CONVICTION is a whirlwind, in the finest way. Recommended.


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 and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter.