Monday, October 5, 2009

The smell of old books...

Continuing on from my post of last month, as I've been looking more and more into New Zealand crime and thriller fiction, I've been struck by duelling thoughts as I've found an increasing amount of hitherto unknown-to-me Kiwi crime and thriller authors and titles; while I'm pleased that the New Zealand crime and thriller writing tradition (and landscape) is far richer and deeper than I realised, in a relative sense, it also underlines the disappointment that so many writers have been largely overlooked. I'm a crime fiction fan, and I'd never heard of so many of these people and their works - and with many, information can still be very hard to find, even in our seemingly info-rich Internet age.

As you can see from the sidebar to the right, I have been 'discovering' more and more Kiwi authors who've written crime or thriller books (and that's not yet even including several famous Kiwi writers like Maurice Gee, Alan Duff etc whose novels often have plenty of crime/thriller aspects to them, but some may not consider 'crime' or 'thriller' novels, persay)... If any of you readers can think of other Kiwi crime/thriller writers that I haven't yet included, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line. I'd appreciate any help building my ad-hoc list...

As I've been stumbling over more and more Kiwi authors and titles, I have also been digging through the online second-hand stores, particularly the TradeMe and Sella websites, to see if I can get my hands on copies of any of their out-of-print and hard-to-find books. I've purchased several more recently, which I will be reviewing on this site at some stage in future (including those outlined below). I'm actually, in an unplanned, somewhat unintentional and ad-hoc way, building up something of a library of out-of-print and hard to find Kiwi crime and thriller titles...

On a related point, what is it about the smell of older, hardcover books? For me at least, there is something, I don't know, magical? nostalgic? comforting? about the slightly musty aroma of the (often yellowing) pages... what do you think?

Onto the recent purchases:

New Zealand journalist and novelist Jack McClenaghan's third novel, TRAVELLING MAN, was first published in 1976. McClenaghan is perhaps most well-known (amongst those who have heard of him) for his debut, MOVING TARGET, the story of a renegade (simultaneously published in the UK and USA a decade before).

In fact, Mike Ripley of Shots magazine noted in his most recent 'Getting Away with Murder' column that "Whilst most readers think of “crime” and “New Zealand” and then, instinctively, of Dame Ngaio Marsh, I tend to automatically go for the sadly forgotten Jack McClenaghan... His 1966 thriller Moving Target was a stunning first novel and described by Francis “Malice Aforethought” Iles as: one of the most exciting man hunts I remember. The late Gavin Lyall, who knew a thing about thrillers, agreed and called it: As simple, subtle and hot as an Armstrong trumpet solo. The best manhunt since Household’s Rogue Male." Ripley even talked about MOVING TARGET being a precursor to the novel that lead to First Blood (the first Rambo movie).

In TRAVELLING MAN, drifter Paddy Hogan takes jobs wherever he can find them during the early years of the Depression. As the jacket says, "he keeps moving for many reasons; sometimes a grasping female, at others the grasping arm of the law".

This 1992 debut from freelance illustrator and designer DaveGunson, who immigrated to New Zealand from England in 1966, involved the body of a young Maori girl found in a bush stream, with a mysterious red car seen in the vicinity. As the back cover states: "Although WARRIORS IN THE TEMPLE follows the hunt for the girl's killer, it is no simple detective novel, no mere whodunnit. The story traces the violation of a country's summer calm when a terrible crime is committed, setting loose a blind national anger that leaves no one untouched. In the search for a scapegoat, one person in particular will be relentlessly pursued."

It certainly sounds interesting, and I'm looking forward to giving WARRIORS IN THE TEMPLE a read. I can't find any information about Gunson ever writing another novel, although he has contributed illustrations and designs to more than 100 books over the years, many involving animals and the natural environment, often targetted at schoolchildren.

EYE OF THE KEA is the 2002 debut from Tom Lewis, who after retiring from a career in finance and human resources, including for NZ Post and Telecom (NZ's biggest company), and time spent as the Books Editor for the New Zealand writers website, turned to writing full-time. Originally self-published in 2000, it was picked up by Horizon Press and published in 2002.
EYE OF THE KEA involves the discovery in an abandoned quarry of the brutally murdered body of the protagonist, Todd Blaine's, brother-in-law. Blaine embarks on a mission, that takes him to Edinburgh, London, Melbourne, and Wellington, to find out what happened, and survives several attempts on his life as he and others work to "turn the tables on the criminal organisation determined to undermine the New Zealand economy".

From what I can gather, Lewis self-published his second thriller, BLACK FRIDAY, in 2004, and has written another, as yet unpublished, thriller novel. And just to clarify for anyone searching for more information on this author, there is another New Zealand writer named Tom Lewis, a former policeman famous for his explosive book COVER-UPS & COP OUTS, which apparently detailed allegations of misdeeds and even corruption amongst certain members of the New Zealand police force (which is generally considered worldwide as one of the most transparent and least corrupt of any police force internationally). They are not the same person - one writes fictional crime, whereas the other (I guess), true crime.

As I noted on 16 September, journalist and sportswriter Paul Thomas sparked some notice of an interest in New Zealand crime writing with his critically-acclaimed 1994 debut OLD SCHOOL TIE (later released in Australia as DIRTY LAUNDRY).

The first of three Thomas novels to feature DS Tito Ihaka, a Maori detective based in Auckland, in OLD SCHOOL TIE businessman Victor Appleyard jumps from the Harbour Bridge with a suitcase of evidence connected to a wealthy woman's death 20 years earlier. Ihaka finds himself entangled with the local mafia, a Maori street gang, a small-time loser, and some big-time ex-SAS psychos. One critic described it as "Elmore Leonard on acid".

Do you enjoy reading older, out-of-print or hard-to-find books, or do you think there are too many new books to bother about older ones? Do you have any favourite books which are sadly no longer in print? Thoughts and comments welcome...


  1. I don't know all the details of your searches, but if some good stuff is out of print, you might look into acquiring the rights, or finding someone who will, and bringing some of it back into print. You might consider an anthology of short fiction, of short fiction plus excerpts from novels. Perhaps you might land some government or private backing for such an effort.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  2. I think it is one of the marvels of the internet that you can educate those of us who were totally ignorant about NZ crime fiction. i am going to look out for Moving Target after reading your post, thanks.

  3. You might want to look at Gith by Chris Else (Vintage 2008) as an example of NZ crime fiction. At least, it is in the crime section of Unity Books Wellington.

  4. Thanks anonymous. I actually have a copy of GITH - it's one of those books that doesn't squarely fit into a genre (the publicist describes it as "an unorthodox love story and a page-turning whodunnit" for instance) - there are a few NZ authors like that - not out-and-out crime/thriller writers, but plenty of crime/thrills in their novels, though they might eschew the genre label (e.g. Alan Duff, Maurice Gee, Charlotte Grimshaw, Craig Marriner).

    This could also be because we haven't really encouraged our cultivated a crime-writing culture, so these things are just placed in 'general' fiction, unless they are out-and-out crime like Paul Cleave or Vanda Symon etc...

  5. Hi Craig - Congratulations on the blog. You're doing a good thing.

    Question: do you think a "crime-writing culture" requires a dedicated imprint?

  6. It's an interesting question Chad - I'm not sure if a dedicated imprint is needed necessarily (although it could be helpful in some ways), but certainly having a publisher that is open to, and supportive of, crime writing, would be important. Part of that support would be marketing, eg creating something of a recognised 'brand' for NZ crime/thriller fiction - so I guess that's where a dedicated imprint could come in.

    It would also make it easier for new/aspiring crime/thriller writers to know who might be more likely to be interested in their writing, in terms of potential publishers. At the moment Random House and Penguin seem to be growing their local crime writing stables again, which is pleasing to see (some of the Random House stuff comes out under the Black Swan imprint). In the past Hazard Press also had a lot of crime/thriller fiction authors, although many only released a book or two (apart from Edmund Bohan of course).

    So when are we going to see another noir from yourself?

  7. I suspect an imprint will be necessary for the genre to gain the level of recognition you've talked about, if only to establish the mainstream. Many of the titles you've featured are already presented in that way but it's more than just the logo on the spine. You need editors who truly love and know the stuff and don't regard it merely as easy-to-craft filler for the rest of the catalogue.

    I've been working on a couple of things. I wrote an actual detective story for The Mammoth Book of Crime - you know, for fun. I wrote a noir novella, but that probably won't find a home because of the form . I'm working on a new... thing. No comment before it's finished!