Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Ass-kicking nerds and performing poetry: an interview with Michael Botur

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to a new instalment of 9mm, the 211th overall edition of our long-running author interview series. It's been a while - almost six months in fact. A busy spring and summer in the UK, with lots going on.

But as Chris Cornell sang on Soundgarden's return back in 2012, "I've been away for too long". I'm mulling some changes to Crime Watch - we all need to evolve and keep things fresh. 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. Even as things may change moving forward, I'll continue to interview crime writers and review crime novels.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome talented Kiwi storyteller Michael Botur to Crime Watch. He has published five short story collections, so far, as well as dozens of other stories in various journals and online. A poet and a stand-up comic who likes performing his work live for others, Michael has also published the novel MONEYLAND and written two crime novels that he plans to publish in future.

I first read Michael's stories a few years ago from one of his earlier collections. Many of his tales are about about crime, lowlifes, petty thieves and other such characters. He writes literary short stories with a gritty edge, full of Kiwi vernacular and fascinating characters. His work has been published in some of the top literary journals in our part of the world, and he's also made many of his stories available to read for free on his own website. So you can check Michael's work out there.

Earlier this year, Michael appeared onstage at Rotorua Noir, and also gave a reading at McLeods Booksellers during the festival. His latest short story collection is TRUE, published in late 2018, which the highly regarded New Zealand Listener called "sixteen dark but wellcrafted snapshots of Kiwi life", saying "Michael Botur's work grabs you by the throat and won't let go".

Looking ahead, Michael is keen to publish CRIMECHURCH, his first crime novel. He describes it as "very gritty" and says it "explores the male code of violence and asks why young men do self-destructive things when we have the option to lead safe, harmless lives."

But for now Michael Botur becomes the latest storyteller to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

Michael at Rotorua Noir in January

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Clarice Starling from Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. I think Clarice would have been extremely distinctive and original when she first appeared in print in 1988. A hardworking young beautiful female nerd who kicks butt and saves lives, with a southern accent… great character.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I have a powerful memory of being sent to my room about age 15. I’d been reading John Grisham thrillers but avoiding The Chamber because it seemed so boring. I read The Chamber while sulking in my room and it was surprisingly engrossing – there’s a really good conflict between the lead characters. It remains memorable to this day.

3. Before your debut book, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I studied snobby poetry and postmodern literature at university around age 20/21, so I was surrounded by pretentious arty types! All we consumed was avant garde highbrow so-called literature. So from ages 20-25 I was mostly publishing small amounts of poetry and flash fiction in New Zealand literary journals. It was only after studying a Masters in Creative Writing that I was exposed to really influential novelists and short story writers from the world of literature. I trained as a journalist about age 29/30 which changed everything and I got heavily into journalism collections and true crime books.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I’m obsessed with exercise, always dragging my kids and friends from the mountains to the bush to the beach. I perform poetry and improv theatresports and a little stand-up comedy. It keeps the mind sharp and makes you a great speaker.

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?
I live in Whangarei, and Northland, New Zealand is covered in little volcanic hills you can climb in as little as 30 minutes. Get muddy, get dirty, climb a mountain then come down and recover in the pub. Awesome.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
It would need to be a young man brimming with rage! I was such a resentful angry young man until I had anger management around age 30. Jack O’Connell from Starred Up – the best film I’ve ever seen which addresses issues around shame and male violence.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite or particularly special, and why?
This story "Kiss You While You Sleep" was extremely hard to put together because I had to learn what it’s like to train in medicine and get it factually accurate. Reviewers like to single this story out.

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 collection in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
Unfortunately the thrill of public reactions to my work in print decreases a little each time. When I was about 20 in 2004, I had my first poetry and short fiction published by University of Otago’s Critic student magazine and then Takahe literary magazine. Both publications botched it a little. The poem in Critic didn’t have my last name on it; Takahe didn’t have my name on the poem at all! But that was really thrilling. The high decreases a little bit each time.

One thing that’s immutable is performing poetry to a crowd. There is so much risk involved. Huge risk for huge reward and it’s all raw and real. Not digital, not in print. That feels more rewarding than seeing a book on the shelf.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Well the other day, I was trying to walk my kids home from school and people kept stopping me on the street to congratulate me on stuff. I got really embarrassed, which is unusual for me! Silvana was complimenting me for winning this Northland Short Story Award; poet Vaughan Gunson stopped me in the middle of a pedestrian crossing to compliment me for a positive review in the Listener. I’m not used to reaping benefits, lol – I’m accustomed to a hard, thankless grind on a filthy keyboard writing underappreciated stories hardly anyone reads.

Thank you Michael. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can find out more about Michael and read many of his short stories at his website

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Then and now: tales of troubled youth win Ngaio Marsh Awards

A trio of fresh crime voices were the culprits in Christchurch on Saturday evening as Dame Fiona Kidman, JP Pomare, and Kelly Dennett were unmasked as winners of the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Awards.

While being very different kinds of crime stories, all three winning books explored young lives that had gone tragically astray. Dame Fiona, a doyenne of New Zealand literature, scooped the Best Novel prize for THIS MORTAL BOY (Penguin), a haunting recreation of the circumstances surrounding young Belfast immigrant Albert “Paddy” Black becoming the penultimate person hanged in New Zealand.

“Despite the historical nature of the novel, the spirit still resonates in our time with regards to bigotry and discrimination,” said the judges. “The quality of the writing is extraordinary: a richly textured sense of 1950s New Zealand and an elegant structure and flow creating a harrowing tale full of humanity.”

THIS MORTAL BOY becomes the first novel to win both the Ngaio Marsh Award and the Acorn Prize for Fiction. The book has also won Dame Fiona the NZ Booklovers Award and NZSA Heritage Book Award.

JP Pomare grew up on a horse farm outside of Rotorua, surfed the Bay of Plenty coastline, and now lives in Melbourne. He won the 2019 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel for CALL ME EVIE (Hachette), a mind-bending psychological thriller about Melbourne teenager Kate who is recovering from a traumatic incident in a remote cabin in Maketu. But is the man with her a carer or a captor?

“An interesting take on unreliable narrators,” said the judges. “Evocative and elegant writing. An intricate story packed with suspense and a fascinating exploration of the concept of false memory.”

Journalist Kelly Dennett won the Best Non-Fiction prize for her superb exploration of one of New Zealand’s most infamous unsolved cases in THE SHORT LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE FURLONG (Awa Press). Dennett’s first book takes readers behind the lurid headlines as it explores Jane’s broader life, the impact of her disappearance on those who loved her, and the ongoing mystery.

“A tragic story approached with sincerity and compassion,” said the judges. “There was a sense of understated rage at the injustice of it all. Dennett has, with compassion and respect, shown us the young woman who was so much more than a ‘teen prostitute’ who went missing from K Road.”

It’s a little surreal to realise this is now the tenth season of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, said founder Craig Sisterson. “We’ve been blessed to have some extraordinary books to consider and celebrate over the past decade, and this year has further added to the growing depth and diversity of local crime writing.”

Dame Fiona received a trophy, special edition of a Dame Ngaio book, and $1,000 courtesy of WORD Christchurch. Pomare and Dennett won a trophy, book, and cash prize from the Ngaio Marsh Awards.

“Decades ago, a remarkable woman from Christchurch was renowned globally as one of the biggest names throughout the storytelling world,” said Sisterson. “So it’s only fitting that awards in Dame Ngaio’s name are now showcasing just how world-class many of our modern-day Kiwi writers are too.”

For more information about the Ngaio Marsh Awards, visit the Facebook page or follow on Twitter

Friday, September 6, 2019


The past couple of years I've been privileged to be a judge of the McIlvanney Prize, the award for the best Scottish crime novel. This year, having served my stint, I had to wait along with everyone else to hear the judge's verdict. There was a really strong longlist this year - frankly, I believe it was deeper than either of the two years I was a judge, with a greater number of very good novels in contention.

This morning UK time (just now in New Zealand), the judging panel has announced the four finalists for the 2019 McIlvanney Prize, which will be presented at the opening reception of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival at the Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling on Friday 20 September. The winner will help lead the torchlit parade down from the castle to the Albert Halls.

It's an interesting group of finalists, with one and a half past winners in contention, and a couple of strong other titles that could nab the trophy for themselves too. I'm very curious to see who wins.

Given the strength and depth of this year's longlist, and Scottish crime writing in general, it really is a great accolade to be shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize. So congratulations all!

Breakers - Doug Johnstone (Orenda)
A tightly written and compelling exploration of two sides of Edinburgh, touching on social topics rarely examined in crime fiction. A brilliant and moving portrait of family dynamics and loyalty as a young boy struggles to break out of his powerlessness.

A Treachery of Spies - Manda Scott (Bantam Press)
A powerful, complex and remarkable espionage thriller: a present-day murder links back to Resistance France. An intricately plotted novel which keeps the reader guessing right to the end.

Conviction - Denise Mina (Harvill Secker)
A highly original and timely rollercoaster of a read, a caper which takes the reader on an unforgettable journey from central Glasgow to the Highlands, France and Italy. The novel fizzes with energy and brims over with a love of storytelling.

The Way of All Flesh - Ambrose Parry (Canongate)
Intensely and brilliantly researched piece of writing, casting back to 19th century Edinburgh when the art of surgery was just emerging at the same time as body snatchers were at large on the streets. Vivid, original, compelling, playful.

This year’s judges were Alison Flood, books reporter for The Guardian and a former news reporter for The Bookseller (it's Alison's second year on the panel - she was a judge with myself and Susan Calman last year); James Crawford, chair of Publishing Scotland and presenter of BBC series, Scotland from the Sky and Stuart Cosgrove, writer and broadcaster who was formerly a senior executive at Channel 4.

Previous winners are Liam McIlvanney with The Quaker in 2018, Denise Mina with The Long Drop in 2017, Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow in 2016, Craig Russell with The Ghosts of Altona in 2015, Peter May with Entry Island in 2014, Malcolm Mackay with How A Gunman Says Goodbye in 2013 and Charles Cumming with A Foreign Country in 2012.

The 2019 winner will be kept under wraps until the ceremony itself.

Five authors are also shortlisted for the inaugural Bloody Scotland Debut Scottish Crime Book of the Year:

All the Hidden Truths, Claire Askew (Hodder)
From the Shadows, G R Halliday (Vintage)
Black Camp 21, Bill Jones (Polygon)
In the Silence, M R Mackenzie (Bloodhound)
The Peat Dead, Allan Martin (Thunderpoint)

The winner will be revealed on the opening night of the Festival.

For more information on Bloody Scotland, visit the website.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Review: QUBYTE

QUBYTE by Cat Connor (2018)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Flu season is in full swing, surrounded by germs and illness, SSA Ellie Iverson reacts like any new mom, with hand sanitizer at the ready and a desire to keep away from anti-vaxers. Her newly hatched germaphobia escalates when Delta A is asked to investigate animal rights activists and a missing laboratory monkey. 

An incident in Lexington, Virginia leaves the Director of the FBI fighting for her life. 

A sudden violent death of a colleague in Washington, the discovery of a spate of deaths linked to the Intelligence Community, herald the arrival of an old friend from the UK with news of a potential global disaster. With biker gangs, drugs, grudges, and a plethora of ‘accidental’ deaths in the mix, this is no ordinary flu season. 

QUBYTE is the 10th in the "Byte" series from New Zealand author Cat Connor, featuring FBI Agent Ellie Iverson. A series that probably would be best read in order, and is definitely one for readers who enjoy a spot of supernatural goings on with their crime fiction.

This is a series that I've dipped into and out of over the previous nine books, with some of those I have read working better than others. Ellie is a strong character, with paranormal visions, she's got a good strong team around her and these books are nothing if not action packed.

In QUBYTE the action is complicated by Ellie's recent family expansion, which means that when she and her team take to a remote hideaway to consider the outcomes of a bad flu season, a life-threatened FBI Director, animal rights activists, a missing laboratory monkey and the portent that brings with it, they do so with Ellie's family in tow.

Into that scenario you insert a spate of deaths linked to the Intelligence Community, a possible global disaster, bikies, drugs, accidental deaths, and that whole flu season on steroids thing, and you've got the requisite action packed adventure that comes with a book in this series. Although this time out the action didn't quite compensate for what felt like a somewhat confused, kitchen sink-ish style plot, and a bit of reliance of good old coincidence which, for this reader, watered down the threat that should have inspired all that action.

The strength of this series is undoubtedly in the character interactions and the team that surrounds Ellie Iverson. As mentioned earlier, if you like a bit of thriller-styled action, with that supernatural/paranormal thing thrown in, and you're looking for something on the good fun, cliff hanger side then the "byte" series could fit your requirements neatly.

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 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best NovelShe kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

Thursday, August 15, 2019


DEATH OF AN AGENT by David McGill (2019)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Easter 1965 and radical Wellington students are threatening President Johnson's envoy, here to urge New Zealand to commit troops to its Vietnam campaign. American `advisers' warn our security services of violent action by a disaffected anarchist.

In his fourth outing, former detective and spy-catcher Dan Delaney is first on the scene of a woman dead in a hot tub and his good friend Ru Patterson unconscious beside her. The deceased is a security agent attempting to infiltrate Patterson's left-wing circle, which includes radical students such as the anarchist and Ru's headstrong daughter Hine, Dan's goddaughter.

The authorities demand Dan's help. Delaney is caught up in gang and police threats to Hine, a police raid on a suspected marijuana dealer, an SIS interrogation, the planting of an incendiary device, an unexpected encounter with Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, student confrontation at the envoy's airport motel, response to a Parliamentary intrusion with Special Task Force marksmen surrounding the building.

We first met Dan Delaney as a young wannabe detective holding the fort on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour in 1935, then again back in Wellington after having been a POW in the Second World War, and then in Auckland in the mid-1950s. He is now an Auckland vintner, and reluctantly down in Wellington again – “What possessed anyone to live in this godforsaken city?” – to visit his ex-POW mate, now radio personality, Ru Patterson, and Patterson’s daughter Hine, Dan’s goddaughter. It is Easter 1965, and the worst thing about Dan’s trip is the weather, until he accompanies Ru to a party for planning anti-Vietnam War protests, and a woman is found dead in a hot tub and Ru is discovered in a compromising position.

The dead woman is an Australian agent, working under the radar in New Zealand, as the Australians and the Americans are beginning to think New Zealand is the weak link in their ANZUS Treaty partnership. And Henry Cabot Lodge is on his way to New Zealand to talk to Prime Minister Holyoake about getting New Zealand troops on the ground in Vietnam. And Australian spies aren’t the only ones trying to infiltrate the anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-Vietnam War groups – the New Zealand SIS are also active, slightly laughable, considered ‘clowns’ by the activists, but they are just the agents they know about.

With Ru in hospital, Dan stays in Wellington, hovering on the periphery of the growing protest movement, and getting a bit concerned about Hine’s flatmate, Oliver, a skinny theatrical type, who appears to be getting overly-friendly with his goddaughter. He would have been happy though to quit the city and get back to his family in Auckland, and to pruning his vines, but then he, Hine and her strange flatmate are arrested. And Dan’s old colleague, and far-from-favourite person, Detective Chief Inspector Milton, gives Daniel an ultimatum: Feed him information on the planned protests, or Ru and Hine will suffer the consequences.

The hectic environment of Wellington is well-described: The art scene, the café scene, the experimenting with drugs, and the still raw memories of war experiences. The stories being spun about the ‘yellow peril’ and the ‘domino theory of communist expansion’ creating hysteria among some, scorn among others. Political theories of communism, socialism, nationalism are being openly debated, and we have a Prime Minister who you can just call in on and be invited in for a cup of tea. Among the array of characters there is tension building between those wanting to take peaceful protest action and those in favour of taking a more aggressive stance. And an anarchist group has gone missing, and the threat of direct action against Cabot Lodge is of concern.  Having no useful information about when and where an attack may take place is driving the SIS, the Police and U.S. agents to distraction.

The characters are complex: Dan is not sure what to think for most of the novel but then “He realized he wanted for the first time in his life to stand next to this thin line of unlikely protesters” – unfortunately at the time of his epiphany, he has a more important role to play. Ru does not feature much in the novel, being in hospital for most of it, but Dan finds out that he has entered a pretty dodgy relationship with a local gang, uses drugs and that Hine is totally aware of this. Oliver is very conflicted; privileged but abused, he has taken refuge in self-harm, religion, and a desire to act in the theatre. He is committed to stopping the various groups that are threatening his idealised world, and his Catholicism – that is until he realises that there is something more real and down to earth to adore – Hine.

The novel is full of cultural references that will resonate with anyone who lived in New Zealand, especially Wellington, during the mid- to late-1960s. At times I felt there were a few too many historical details added, and an over-abundance of adjectives and quotes – there is even mention of the dreaded short story about an earwig; the cause of my not being able to sleep with my ears uncovered since I was at high school – although it is attributed to Dahl, and I am sure it was by Oscar Cook. But this slight over-enthusiasm for the times and background aside, there are some very thrilling moments, and the politics are fascinating – especially considering recent events in New Zealand – when we are once again realising sections of our community are being dangerously swayed by myths of imminent threat. Another great New Zealand read and although it is part of a series, it can be read as a stand-alone.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here


HOW THE DEAD SPEAK by Val McDermid (Little, Brown, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

With former profiler Tony Hill behind bars and former DCI Carol Jordan finally out of road as a cop, he's finding unexpected outlets for his talents in jail and she's joined forces with a small informal group of lawyers and forensics experts looking into suspected miscarriages of justice. But they're doing it without each other; being in the same room at visiting hour is too painful to contemplate. 

Meanwhile, construction is suddenly halted on the redevelopment of an orphanage after dozens of skeletons are found buried in the grounds. Forensic examination reveals they date from between twenty and forty years ago, when the nuns were running their repressive regime. But then a different set of skeletons are discovered in a far corner, young men from as recent as ten years ago.

When newly promoted DI Paula McIntyre discovers that one of the male skeletons is that of a killer who is supposedly alive and behind bars--and the subject of one of Carol's miscarriage investigations--it brings Tony and Carol irresistibly into each other's orbit once again.

It must be hard to sustain a long-running crime series at very high levels. Like a band putting out album after album, it must be tricky to balance reader/audience demand for something that's a mix of similar and different. I'm sure keen crime readers can all think of characters we love to follow whose exploits plateau in later books, whose creators seem to be going through the motions a bit. More of the same with not enough forward movement. Still enjoyable, but not reaching the previous peaks.

Then there are authors like Val McDermid (and Michael Connelly, among others), who've been entertaining us for more than a quarter century - 32 years in McDermid's case - and continue to grasp for higher ground. Among many impressive things about McDermid's storytelling is the way she continues to push herself and her characters, finding fresh stories to tell, issues to explore, and ensuring that past events have an impact, rather than pressing the reset button each book.

This eleventh novel starring Tony Hill and Carol Jordan is a great example.

Throughout the novel the duo is separated, and both are struggling with their new situations and the absence of the other, following the cataclysmic ending to the tenth tale, INSIDIOUS INTENT.

With Tony behind bars and Carol no longer a cop, the remnants of Jordan's ReMIT team are forced to deal with both their unsettling absence and the unsettling presence of new bosses and peers, who have their own agendas. How much trust can Paula, Stacey, and Alvin have in the new regime as they move forward and tackle twin investigations sparked by the discovery of dozens of bodies in the grounds of an abandoned convent. Can so many deaths be explained away by the nuns? And what about the other bodies that are uncovered nearby? Has a serial killer been operating under the radar?

McDermid adroitly weaves a variety of storylines into a gripping novel. While the new-but-not-improved ReMIT team is busy with the convent bodies, Carol is struggling to cope with ongoing PTSD as well as her absence from Tony and unexpected requests from two former nemeses. Tony is trying to keep himself occupied, and alive, inside the concrete walls of prison. Fresh shoots for all.

So much has changed. What do you do?

HOW THE DEAD SPEAK showcases Tony and Carol's former colleagues while also giving readers a greater understanding of the series protagonists. After INSIDIOUS INTENT, McDermid could have taken the easy way out in a number of ways (jumping ahead to a new equilibrium, having Hill 'let off' for his actions), but instead she painted herself into a corner, then delivered a superb tale that could be a fitting conclusion to a beloved series while underlining the impact of all that has gone before.

More than thirty years after introducing the first-ever openly lesbian detective into British crime fiction, and almost a decade after receiving the Diamond Dagger for a career of ‘sustained excellence’ and a ‘significant contribution’, Val McDermid continues to raise the bar.

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. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019


LAST SEEN LEAVING by Catherine Lea (2018)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Syd Shaeffer used to be so much: ambitious and fearless, a stellar New York District Attorney, and fiancée to love of her life, Frank Spinelli. A viral eye infection changed all that. Now she's blind and runs a failing law practice out in the burbs.

But when Frank goes missing in New Zealand and the ransom note tells his mother not to call the police, Syd just may be the only one who can find him. Is Syd just driven by honor? Or is she trying to prove that she's still good enough? And when the first dead body turns up, can a blind woman see what everyone else has overlooked? Or will she be next on the killer’s list?

The blurb for LAST SEEN LEAVING outlines a particularly interesting concept - high-flying, New York District Attorney, with a happy personal life is struck down by a viral eye infection which renders her blind. Now running a small, suburb based law practice, her ex-fiancée is reported missing in New Zealand, and his mother receives a ransom note, and a gruesome example of the kidnapper's intent. Syd Shaeffer is contacted by Spinelli's mother which leads to her heading for New Zealand to try to find the missing man.

Now I will admit that if you sit down and think about this for a while it may sound a little unlikely, but why shouldn't a blind woman head off on her own to New Zealand. Although it is a place she's never been to before, she's left to rely on total strangers to guide her about, on an unknown trail of a missing ex. It get's a bit hairy at points needless to say, and whether or not you're going to be comfortable with all of that will depend a lot on how much the character of Syd Shaeffer convinces you of her abilities and determination.

Syd's an interesting character. On the one hand, no idiot, but on the other she does some seemingly daft, almost fem-jep things in LAST SEEN LEAVING. She's does manage to remain believable, despite the occasional "what the" moment though. What's less convincing about the novel overall where some of the seemingly endless byways that we were dragged into, with a tendency to just go on for way too long, rendering any sense of tension lukewarm. The other issue was some rather over the top depictions of the secondary characters - I must admit I never did decide if Spinelli's mother was supposed to be comic or not.

With some tightening of the plot elements, and more clear-cut depictions of the secondary characters, there's some potential in Syd Shaeffer and it would be good to see where she could go in the future.

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 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best NovelShe kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction


GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL by Michael Robotham (xx, 2019)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A girl is discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Half-starved and filthy, she won’t tell anyone her name, or her age, or where she came from. Maybe she is twelve, maybe fifteen. She doesn’t appear in any missing persons file, and her DNA can’t be matched to an identity. Six years later, still unidentified, she is living in a secure children’s home with a new name, Evie Cormac. When she initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult, forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven must determine if Evie is ready to go free. But she is unlike anyone he’s ever met—fascinating and dangerous in equal measure. Evie knows when someone is lying, and no one around her is telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Cyrus is called in to investigate the shocking murder of a high school figure-skating champion, Jodie Sheehan, who dies on a lonely footpath close to her home. Pretty and popular, Jodie is portrayed by everyone as the ultimate girl-next-door, but as Cyrus peels back the layers, a secret life emerges—one that Evie Cormac, the girl with no past, knows something about. A man haunted by his own tragic history, Cyrus is caught between the two cases—one girl who needs saving and another who needs justice. What price will he pay for the truth? Fiendishly clever, swiftly paced, and emotionally explosive, Good Girl, Bad Girl is the perfect thrilling summer read from internationally bestselling author Michael Robotham. 

Sydney author Michael Robotham has long been one of the leading lights in modern Australasian crime writing. Although due to the fact he sets his excellent thrillers overseas - most in the UK where he worked for many years - he's sometimes overlooked when people discuss the growing antipodean crime wave. But he has been on the crest of that wave as much as Jane Harper and her Outback novels, Paul Cleave and his Christchurch thrillers, and Peter Temple's Melbourne tales.

The Gold Dagger Award-winning author is a tremendous storyteller.

In recent years Robotham has interspersed his series starring Parkinson’s-afflicted psychologist Joe O’Loughlin with an array of standalones . This latest novel GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL steps away from Joe but swims in similar psychological terrain. It could, perhaps, be the start of a new series.

Six years after a traumatised adolescent dubbed ‘Angel Face’ was discovered hiding out at a brutal crime scene, the renamed Evie Cormac wants out of state care. Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven is called in to assess the unusual young woman who seems able to act as a lie detector. Meanwhile, Cyrus also consults with the police on the headline-grabbing murder of a teenage ice-skating star.

Intercutting between Evie and Cyrus’s perspectives (two fascinating characters who’ve found different ways to cope with each of their traumatic childhoods), GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL engages quickly and flows throughout It's a real page-turner, with the whodunnit of the murder bolstered by plenty of intrigue in relation to a variety of character secrets.

Overall this is yet another example that Robotham is an accomplished storyteller who knows how to draw readers in, hold their attention, and deliver an absorbing psychological thriller. I'm curious to see if we will see more of Cyrus or Evie in books to come. There's definite series potential here.

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.