Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Have you read Neil Cross?

For the fourth 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 Neil Cross.

Born in Bristol (United Kingdom), Cross has lived in Wellington, New Zealand for the past several years. He has been the lead writer on the hit BBC TV series Spooks, and written his latest books, while living in New Zealand.

Cross split his childhood between Bristol, and Edinburgh slums where he was raised by a caring South African stepfather he now calls “the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other”. Derek Cross introduced Neil to his lifelong loves of reading and writing, but also cast both light and shadow on his childhood, and still evokes conflicted appreciation in the now middle-aged author.

In an interview with Cross earlier this year, he told me: “In many ways I couldn’t ask for a better parent, which is kind of why I took his name. He is the single most formative influence on my life. But he was also a white supremacist, a thief, an adulterer, possibly a bigamist, and essentially a religious crank.”

The duality of his father helped Cross get an early understanding of the complexities of human nature, which later strongly came through in the protagonists and other characters of his novels. Throughout his seven books, including the Booker long-listed ALWAYS THE SUN, and his latest release BURIAL, bleak yet menacing settings are populated with characters neither starkly good nor evil, but smudged shades of grey.

Cross says he always wanted to be a writer. For most of his life he spent much of his spare time writing – from his days being bullied and bloodied in the Scottish schoolyard, through delinquent teenage years back in Bristol, then a half-decade and more happily languishing on unemployment, to completing Bachelors and Masters degrees at Leeds University, and then working at a publishing company.

In 1998, he broke through with MR IN-BETWEEN, a disturbing tale of a violent hired gun whose life is turned upside down by a chance encounter with old friends. He followed this up the next year with CHRISTENDOM, before there was a bit of a break until 2003's HOLLOWAY FALLS.

His novels consistenly have bleak yet menacing settings, flawed characters forced into emotional and psychological maelstroms, and occasional literary flourishes. Cross was long-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize for ALWAYS THE SUN, a frightening tale of the steps a gentle man takes after learning his child is being bullied, inspired by Cross’s own “Travis Bickle sort of “ paranoia for his newborn son.

However, despite the literary acclaim, Cross said in our interview that he has always considered himself “a crime and suspense writer”, rather than embracing the literary label. He’s no longer interested in attempting to foist ‘meaning’ onto his work, instead preferring to “tell an interesting and engrossing story”. You can read more from my interview with Neil Cross in the May issue of Good Reading magazine:

Cross has said that if he had to pick a single novel that was his favourite – then the novel that most profoundly affected his life was CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller. "It was a big deal for me". He is also a big fan of THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY by Patricia Highsmith – "she was basically the Beethoven of psycho-pathology".

His favourite writers include Highsmith, Raymond Carver, Heller, Paul Theroux, Graham Greene, Angela Carter, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, and Anne Tyler.

In 2002 he moved to Wellington, New Zealand with his wife Nadya and their family. He visits Britain regularly as part of his TV work, but is otherwise working and based in New Zealand. Following the success and acclaim for ALWAYS THE SUN, a memoir about his troubled childhood and path to being a writer, entitled HEARTLAND, before returning to suspense tales with NATURAL HISTORY, and then his latest novel, BURIAL.

In BURIAL, the 'hero' Nathan is a drunken, coked-up witness to the sudden death of 19-yr old Elise, who expires while entangled in the back-seat with Nathan’s strange friend Bob. Panicked, the pair hastily bury Elise in the woods, and for years don’t speak. Then one day Bob arrives on Nathan’s doorstep, convinced Elise is speaking to him from beyond the grave, and threatening to upturn Nathan’s carefully constructed new life.

Cross is currently working on a new British crime TV series (apparently to be called Luther), along with his next suspense novel, from his Wellington home. You can read more about Neil Cross at: or via an interesting article he wrote for The Listener at:

Have you read Neil Cross? What do you think of his novels? Please share your thoughts.


  1. No, not yet. It sounds like his stuff is at the darker end of the spectrum I like to read but I will certainly look out for Burial.

  2. I ordered Burial from UBS and got my letter to say it has arrived, so I shall trot down soon...

  3. LUTHER is an addictive series, brilliantly written, directed, and acted. Engrossing viewing, worth watching for just the dramatic design, if everything else about it was not so very good. Highly recommended.