Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Have you read Paul Cleave?

For the second in this blog's regular series (every Wednesday) of author introductions on Kiwi crime, mystery, and thriller writers, we now take a look at the work of Paul Cleave.

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1974, Cleave grew up wanting to be a writer, "ever since primary school", but found the things he was interested in writing about didn't go down too well with his teachers. High School reports on his short stories included comments along the lines of there was a time and place for his kind of writing - and school wasn't it. Fortunately, that didn't stop him.

In his late teens he switched from short stories to penning his first novel-length manuscripts. Similar to the growth curve of many international stars, he now has several early unpublished manuscripts firmly ensconsced in the bottom drawer. Then as a 24-year old he began working on what would become (after several years of hard struggle) his first two published novels, THE CLEANER (Random House, 2006) and THE KILLING HOUR (Random House, 2007). A year later, he quit his long-term job as a pawnbroker, which has allowed him an insight into many varying sectors of the local community, to concentrate on his writing.

Without any income, he was forced to make a decision - get another job or sell his house. He sold his house and continued to write. Over several years he continued to work on his novels, while also renovating houses. In 2006 THE CLEANER was released, and introduced Joe, a serial killer who works as a janitor at the Christchurch Police Department, to the world. When a killing he didn't perform is linked to him, Joe uses his inside access to try and find and punish the copycat.

Over the following year or so, THE CLEANER become an international bestseller. It was particularly popular in Germany, where the translation of the dark and raw tale that took readers inside an askew mind, hit #2 on the adult fiction book charts (just behind the then-latest Harry Potter), and battled it out over several weeks with Linwood Barclay's smash-hit NO TIME FOR GOODBYE to lead the crime fiction charts.

THE CLEANER ended up as the #1 crime thriller title on Amazon in Germany for 2007, and in the top 10 for all books. In reasonably short order more than 250,000 copies had been sold (international sales of Cleave's books are now approximately half a million, despite the fact he hasn't yet been released in either the UK or US markets). THE CLEANER is one of the biggest and fastest-selling fiction books to ever come out of New Zealand. It was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly crime writing award (Australia) and listed as one of the NZ Listener's Best Books of the Year (quite unusual for a crime novel, particularly a local one). Unlike Cleave's high school teachers, international reviewers were full of praise for his writing. THE CLEANER has been signed up by several non-English speaking countries, including Germany, Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Japan, and now (recently) France. There has also been some recent murmurings about a possible movie adaptation.

Cleave followed up his stunning debut with THE KILLING HOUR (2007) and CEMETERY LAKE (2008). All three novels are set in his hometown of Christchurch, which Cleave gives a dark sheen and almost character-like presence. They have somewhat overlapping timeframes (and the events in one book occasionally touch another), and some minor characters appear in multiple books, but each is a standalone, focused on the trials and tribulations of a different main character who is facing his own emotional turmoil.

In THE KILLING HOUR, Charlie wakes up, covered in blood, to the news that two woman he was with the night before have been brutally murdered. In CEMETERY LAKE, former policeman and now private eye Theo Tate finds himself caught up in the hunt for a serial killer who's storing bodies in other people's graves. Both books have received good reviews.

The great news for English-speaking northerners, is that Cleave's novels have recently been signed up by Random House UK (Arrow Books division). Starting with CEMETERY LAKE on 24 September, they are scheduled to start being released in Great Britain.

Those that like a mixture of grim crime with dark humour, ala Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride, are likely to enjoy CEMETERY LAKE. Although Cleave can be a little more brutal than Billingham, in the vein of Mo Hayder. He also focuses on allowing the reader a look inside some tormented, troubled, or otherwise askew minds, so fans of Patricia Highsmith may also really enjoy that aspect. You can sample the first chapter of CEMETERY LAKE at:
Award-winning British crime writer Mark Billingham met Cleave while in New Zealand last year, and (clearly having now future as a high school teacher) was very impressed by his writing. He says: "Most people come back from New Zealand talking about the the breathtaking scenery and the amazing experiences. I came back raving about Paul Cleave. These are stories that you won’t forget in a while: relentlessly gripping, deliciously twisted and shot through with a vein of humour that’s as dark as hell. Cleave creates fictional monsters as chilling and as charming as any I’ve ever come across. Anyone who likes their crime fiction on the black and bloody side should move Paul Cleave straight to the top of their must-read list."

However, like Dame Ngaio Marsh, Cleave still seems far more appreciated overseas (in those countries which have published his books) than at home in New Zealand. Hopefully, this may be slowly starting to change, with a large feature article on Cleave in a recent (June) issue of North & South magazine, and further feature articles scheduled to coincide with the release of his fourth novel, BLOOD MEN, in 2010. To give you a taste of what's to come, you can read the prologue of BLOOD MEN here:

Have you read Paul Cleave? What do you think of his crime novels? Do you agree with Mark Billingham? Do the snippets above (and first chapters) make you want to read more? Please share your thoughts.

You can read more about Paul Cleave (including reviews etc) at his website: or at:


  1. I love that Paul is making such a name for himself overseas - go the Kiwi!

    Cemetary Lake is my favourite of his novels so far. I'm looking forward to Blood Men

  2. Having read a copy of the manuscript, I can say that in my opinion Blood Men is his best novel yet. Before that Cemetery Lake was my favourite - it seemed more polished and balanced, although i did like the rawness of The Cleaner -

  3. I have read all of Paul Cleave's books. Like perhaps many in NZ I wouldn't even open them to start with thinking there was no way a New Zealander would any good. Oh how wrong I was! I think he is not only up there with the best, but surpasses them. The sometimes alarmingly macabre details are brilliantly balanced with humour. His understanding of the psychopathic mind is amazing. And he just keeps getting better...

  4. I don't like the cleaner that much. Am I the only one? I just think its stupid how Joe over looks Sally the whole time but is very perceptive of everyone else

    1. I totally agree with Anonymous. I didn't like the Cleaner either. Was my first and last book from this author.

  5. I have almost finished reading Cemetery Lake, and I still can't find much humour, dark or otherwise in this book. Not my cup of tea.

  6. I've looked everywhere - why can't I find "The Cleaner" or "The Killing Hour" to purchase in the USA?

  7. Anonymous - thanks for your comment. Unforutnately, Cleave's earlier books haven't been published in the USA yet - so the only option at the moment is to purchase Aust/NZ versions (or some of the European versions, if you can read French/German etc) - eg purchase online and import into the USA.

    However, Cleave's US-based publisher, Simon & Schuster, who have published his fourth (BLOOD MEN, 2010) and fifth (COLLECTING COOPER, 2011) titles, I understand may look to publish his backlist, including THE CLEANER and THE KILLING HOUR in question.

    Another option it to contact Cleave directly, via his website (

  8. I've just finished Collecting Cooper, my first Paul Cleave book. It won't be my last. I found it totally addictive. A couple of moments were almost too macbre , (even for me), but now I'm finding it hard to concentrate on any other book. I've got to read his back list, he's a major talent.