Wednesday, July 29, 2015

9mm interview: Stephen Booth

The Peak District is a gorgeous national park a few hours north of London, picturesquely desolate in parts, filled with an assortment of stark rock formations, verdant scenery, intriguing caverns, quaint historic villages, and a very different kind of life to that of the crushes of humanity in the UK's larger cities. I recently had an opportunity to visit, and similarly to when I've travelled elsewhere, from Buenos Aires to Bangkok, Istanbul to Iceland, I hunted down some locally set crime fiction.

Recently, Sarah Ward has deservedly been getting attention for her debut IN BITTER CHILL, a classic intriguing mystery set in the Peak District. But there is another local author who has been setting some outstanding crime novels in what is a lovely region for more than a decade: Stephen Booth.

A former journalist (he started as a rugby reporter), Booth debuted his acclaimed series starring young Derbyshire detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry back in 2000, with BLACK DOG. In that book Cooper, a local, teams up with Fry, and outsider recently moved into the area, to solve the death of a young woman whose body is discovered by a recalcitrant miner. The book was widely praised, won the Barry Award for Best British Crime, and the famous Reginald Hill hailed it as the birth of a crime writing star.

This year, Booth released the fifteenth title in the Cooper and Fry series, MURDER ROAD. Over the years the series has earned Booth the CWA Dagger in the Library, as well as further wins or short-listings for the Barry, Anthony, Gold Dagger, and Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Awards. But for now, Stephen Booth becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN BOOTH

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective, and what is it you love about them?
I suppose everyone mentions Sherlock Holmes? He was my introduction to crime fiction as a reader. Holmes is such an enduring character that he’s gained a kind of immortality and is open to continual reinterpretation. As an author, there’s nothing better to hope for than having your characters live on for many years after you’re gone. More recently, my favourites have included John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick, Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks, Aline Templeton’s Marjory Fleming, and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. I like any strong, believable central character with the potential to drive a series.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Strangely, the first novel I can remember reading was George Eliot’s ‘Silas Marner’. That was mostly because it was the only novel we had in the house when I was a child. But it made a big impression on me, and encouraged me to seek out more and more books from my local public library. I became a big science fiction fan at an early age, and adored the books of a rather forgotten British SF writer called Eric Frank Russell, particularly ‘Wasp’ and ‘Next of Kin’. Unlike most of the science fiction being written then, they were wry and funny. They’re probably rather dated now, though.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Far too much! I began writing at a very young age – pretty much as soon as I could read, I think. I started with short stories, then wrote my first novel when I was about 13 years old. It felt so satisfying that I knew it was what I wanted to do when I grew up. But I knew I couldn’t just leave school and become a novelist, so I went into newspaper journalism because it was a way of earning a living by writing. I was happy doing that until the newspaper business changed, and I wanted to get out. Even so, I produced six unpublished manuscripts before I wrote the first Cooper & Fry novel ‘Black Dog’ - and that changed everything. So I’ve actually earned my living by writing and editing for over 40 years, and I’ve never done anything else. I think I’m very lucky to be able to say that, especially as I’m now living my childhood dream of being a full-time novelist.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
My main leisure activity has always been walking in the countryside. It’s great to get outdoors when you work on a screen all day, and I’m lucky to live near some beautiful and inspiring landscapes. In fact, this is how I first fell in love with the area I write about, the Peak District, which has become such a feature in the Cooper & Fry series. Many readers will also know that I used to breed dairy goats as a hobby (it still appears in my bio on some book covers as one of those quirky author details). I always found them fascinating and productive animals, with great personalities. At one time, I was at shows every weekend during the summer, and became a judge myself. When I was a journalist, it was so relaxing to come home after a stressful day in the office and milk the goats. I think everyone should have a hobby that is as far away as possible from the day job. It helps to keep you grounded.

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 a small rural village, which you could walk through in a few minutes. But the area I write about, the Peak District, has lots of hidden places off the beaten track. Not far from my fictional town of Edendale, there’s a place called Castleton, which sits on top of a huge cave system. For something unique, I’d recommend an underground boat ride through the tunnels to reach the Bottomless Pit. You do need to descend 105 very steep stone steps down to the caves, though. And preferably you shouldn’t suffer from claustrophobia.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Heart throb Aidan Turner (of ‘Poldark’ fame) could definitely play the younger me. But the older me is a role for an ancient character actor like Bernard Cribbins (or so my wife says).

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
Of course I have a big soft spot for the first Cooper & Fry novel Black Dog, because it literally changed my life. But as writers we like to think we improve over time. I tend to put a book out of my mind as soon as I start writing the next one, so it’s always the latest book I feel closest to. Right now, that’s The Murder Road, which I really liked the ideas and characters for when I was writing it. It’s also moving the series in a new direction, which is a great feeling.

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 story in book form?
It took me a long time to accept that it was actually happening. It all felt so unreal. My agent ran an auction in the UK for that first book, and she had three publishers bidding against each other. I was still working at my day job on a local newspaper while it all happened down in London, so it seemed to have nothing to do with me. My boss at the time was the kind of guy who was always talking about the novel he was writing – though we all knew he would never finish it. But I said nothing until the day I could walk into work and say “Oh by the way, I’ve just signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins.” That was a good feeling!

But I’m not sure I really believed it until I got the finished book in my hands 12 months later. Holding that physical book with my name on the cover was an enormous thrill, and I’ve never got over that feeling. It’s still the most exciting thing in the world, even after 14 more books.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
There have been many! I once agreed to auction myself for charity at the Bouchercon mystery convention in the USA and ended up taking two ladies out for lunch who’d bid the highest amount for me. They seemed to enjoy themselves, because they said I was worth every cent!


Thank you Stephen. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch 

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Have you read Booth's Cooper and Fry series? What do you think of the Peak District as a crime setting? Share your thoughts in the comment section. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Win a personally signed copy of a cracking Kiwi novel


Readers from around the world have the opportunity to win personally autographed copies of this year's Ngaio Marsh Award finalists, as the "Reading Kiwi Crime" competition kicks off for 2015. 

Going into the draw to win is simple: all you need to do is take a picture of yourself reading any New Zealand crime, mystery, or thriller title - from old classics like Ngaio Marsh, Fergus Hume, Elizabeth Messenger and Laurie Mantell, to the latest from award winners like Paul Cleave, Paul Thomas, and Neil Cross. Then share it with the Award organisers by:

  1. Tweeting the pic and tagging @ngaiomarshaward; OR
  2. Posting the pic to the Ngaio Marsh Award Facebook page; OR
  3. Emailing the pic to ngaiomarshaward@gmail.com. 
If you follow the Award's twitter account or like the Facebook page, you'll get a bonus entry in the draw. 


Just to clarify: the book in your photo doesn't have to be set in New Zealand, just written by an author connected to New Zealand (citizen, resident, grew up here, etc). If you're scratching your head for choices, here's a long list of possibilities.

So grab something from your shelf or hit your local bookstore or library, and get snapping.

Ngaio Marsh Award on Twitter

Rather belatedly, the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel now has a Twitter account, so if you want to keep up with the news and happenings in relation to Kiwi crime, mystery, and thriller writing that's a great place to do so. Look us up on Twitter: @ngaiomarshaward. 

Crime Watch will continue to publish and curate great content about New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing, but moving forward there will be more of a focus on analysis and reviews, features, and op-ed columns like last weeks's "10 Kiwi Crime Writers Who Should be Chained Up..." piece.

Breaking news, awards, and events news will feature more on Twitter and the Ngaio Marsh Award Facebook page in future. Although as Crime Watch evolves (a new look is coming) there will be Facebook or Twitter feeds of such news in the new sidebar.

Click here to go to the Ngaio Marsh Award Twitter page, and here for the Facebook page. Join the discussion! And say kia ora, hi, gidday or hello to New Zealand crime writing on social media.

Monday, July 27, 2015

9mm interview: Alan Carter

While the United States and the United Kingdom are the traditional powerhouses of crime writing, in recent decades booklovers have slowly become more aware of the cornucopia of talented authors from other countries.

Plenty has been written about the Scandinavians, while the likes of France's Fred Vargas had a lock on the International Dagger for a while, but it's not just novels in translation where gems are found. Friends, look to the antipodes: Australian and New Zealand authors are penning tales amongst the best in the world. We're often the harshest critics of that with which we're most familiar, but stepping back a little, I'm continually impressed by the depth and breadth of the crime, mystery, and thriller storytelling from both countries.

So today, I'm very pleased to welcome Alan Carter, a crime writer who calls both Australia and New Zealand home, to Crime Watch. Alan was born in Sunderland (northern England), but immigrated to Australia twenty-five years ago. He announced himself on the crime writing scene in 2011, with PRIME CUT, which introduced fascinating investigator DS Phillip 'Cato' Kwong, an Australian of Asian heritage. Kwong's on the outs with his superiors, demoted to the Stock Squad, digging into animal deaths on farms in Western Australia. He discovers a juicier case when an unidentified torso washes up onshore - no one else cares, they're too caught up with all the troubles in a mining town.

The book went on to win the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel, and Alan has since continued the series with GETTING WARMER (2013) and BAD SEED (2015). I recently met Alan at Crimefest Bristol, and today he becomes the 125th author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM INTERVIEW WITH ALAN CARTER

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?  
DC Paul Winter from Graham Hurley's Portsmouth-set 'Faraday & Winter' series. From the moment he's introduced in Turnstone, one of the best character introducing paragraphs I've ever read, I was hooked. He's amoral, funny, resourceful and very effective. But no matter how far over the line he steps you know he's ultimately on the side of the angels - even if they'd prefer it if he wasn't.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?  
Alistair MacLean's When Eight Bells Toll. I read it when i was about 11 or 12 and saw the movie with a very young Anthony Hopkins in the lead role. Thrown straight into the thick of things from page one with a bloke describing in detail the history of the big gun being pointed at him.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?  
Nothing.  Although in my day job I'd been writing narration for two decades worth of TV documentaries, some cheesy, some less so.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?  
I do a fair bit of ocean swimming, not fast but dogged, and I'm recently cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats - it's a mid-life crisis thing.  A Dwight Yoakam song comes to mind, "a thousand miles of misery".

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?  
Hometown?  Home in WA is Fremantle: take a six-pack or a nice bottle of red up on to Monument Hill and watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean and glance off the dockside cranes of the port. In New Zealand, it's Havelock - get an inner tube and jump into the Wakamarina River and float down to the Trout Hotel at Canvastown.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?  
It'd be pretty tough, they'd have to pull off a Geordie (Northeast England) accent, but I hear Sir Ian Mckellen is quite good. He might need to buff up a bit though.  And eat a few pies.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?  
While I'll always have a soft spot for my first, Prime Cut, I have to choose my latest – Bad Seed. As well as digging deeper into my hero's character and getting kinda deep, I've also had a whole lot more fun with some of the support characters, So much so that I’m thinking of a spin-off series based on one of them.

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 story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?  
It was a blast hearing first of all I was to be published as I'd never written it with that expectation.  And then seeing it on the bookshelves in the shops, I still have to check myself from doing something really sad and pathetic like going up to the shop assistant and saying - hey, that's me!  Celebration? I think alcohol might have been involved, in moderation.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?  
Like many authors, I draw some of my inspiration from real life people or events so inevitably that's going to come home to roost at some point. For both Prime Cut and Getting Warmer I've had people come up to me and say they know the person upon whom the fictional killer is based, and I’d thought the original cases had been pretty obscure. The Bad Seed killer is a complete fabrication so fingers crossed.


Thank you Alan. We appreciate you taking the time to chat with Crime Watch

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Have you read Alan Carter's Cato Kwong novels? Please share your thoughts with a comment. 

Bloodied in Scotland


Congratulations to the six authors whose books have today been announced as the shortlist for the Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year. Add these to your TBR pile; fantastic storytelling.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Review: A MAN LAY DEAD

The first edition cover of Ngaio's first novel,
published by Geoffrey Bles in 1934
A MAN LAY DEAD by Ngaio Marsh (1934)

Reviewed by Kerrie Smith 

This is Ngaio Marsh's debut novel, a classic country house party murder mystery, where the reader is tempted to map the location of all of the characters at the location of the murder. Nigel Bathgate, with his cousin Charles Rankin, is attending his first houseparty at Frampton. He has heard these houseparties hosted by Sir Hubert Handesley are both "original" and unpretentious. There will seven or eight guests, and, upon arrival, he learns that the main event will be a Murder. Sir Hubert has his own rules for the Murder Game, and eventually a murder there is, but not the theatrically staged one they have anticipated.

This is not Detective Inspector Roderick Alleyn's first murder case, although it is Ngaio Marsh's first novel. Alleyn is already a seasoned detective, with a reputation for thorough and careful sleuthing. His reputation preceds him. He arrives at Frampton from Scotland Yard the morning after the murder. The body has already been moved, and the local constabulary and the police doctor are already in attendance.

In essence what Marsh does in this first novel is establish some of the characteristics which will become Alleyn's "signature" in subsequent novels. Alleyn does not appear as the other characters expect a detective to be. He is tall, cultured, detached, thorough, and objective. He professes to have a poor memory and keeps a small note book of important facts, with an alphabetical index. We learn that Alleyn is an Oxford man who initially became a diplomat, before turning to policing. He likes to inspect things first hand, and likes to reconstruct events until he gets them right. He may also lay traps for suspects. In A MAN LAY DEAD he decides one of the characters is innocent, and then uses him as his "Watson", not only involving him in some of the sleuthing, but also as a sounding board for his deductions. Thus we see the action often through two sets of eyes, both Alleyn's and the other characters.

This is an interesting novel as Marsh has included the element of "the Russian threat". First of all there is the Russian dagger with which the victim is stabbed, then the Russian butler who disappears, the house guest who is a Russian espionage agent, and then the Russian secret society that binds them all together. A MAN LAY DEAD was published in 1934 and is indicative of the fear of Russian communism that had had Europe in its thrall for the previous decade or so.

Ngaio Marsh is a New Zealander but this novel puts her right into the vein of the Golden Age writers like Agatha Christie and Margery Allingham. It is a British cozy murder mystery through and through. In A MAN LAY DEAD she is exploring a classic scenario, and bringing a new sleuth onto the crime fiction scene. There is no hint of her Antipodean origins. The language, the slang, the setting are thoroughly British.

From a 21st century point of view A MAN LAY DEAD has survived eight decades pretty well. We wouldn't put it at the top of the tree these days, because there are things that date it. Marsh was more concerned to write a carefully constructed whodunnit, and not so taken with "why". Nevertheless it is very readable.

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Kerrie Smith is a renowned Australian crime fiction reviewer and the creator of Mysteries in Paradise, an outstanding online crime fiction resource where this review was originally published. She also runs the Global Reading Challenge. Kerrie has been kindly agreed to share her New Zealand crime fiction reviews here with the Crime Watch audience.  

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Saturday, July 25, 2015

10 Kiwi Scribes who Should be Chained Up until they Write Another Crime Novel (Part 1)

After decades of being maligned and overlooked, New Zealand crime writing is flourishing right now. But I want more. 

There are good signs everywhere: the media is regularly featuring our masters of murder and mayhem in reviews and articles; local crime novels are becoming bestsellers and picked up for overseas deals and translations; and more and more talented authors of all styles are choosing to write crime and mystery tales for the first time.

The Ngaio Marsh Award long-list is becoming deeper and more varied each year, and the judges are having a heck of a time picking the finalists, let alone the winner - there's so much good writing out there. But like a bear that's got a taste for honey, I want more. More crime-loving local readers giving our own authors a go, more distribution of our great tales overseas. More recognition and respect.

I want one more thing: some of our local crime writing talents who've stepped away to come back to the game. Let me explain: three years ago Paul Thomas - Godfather of modern Kiwi crime, 'Elmore Leonard on acid', one of the finest crime writers around, etc - published his first Ihaka novel in 15 years, DEATH ON DEMAND (2012). It went on to win the Ngaio Marsh Award. He'd taken a winding road back, via sports biographies, media columns, and screenwriting. Always writing, just not crime.

Likewise, it was fantastic to see Joan Druett recently continue her superb Wiki Coffin series (set on the 1800s high seas), after a hiatus of several years that was filled with short stories and much-acclaimed maritime-themed non fiction. THE BECKONING ICE was longlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award.

But other terrific authors have turned away from crime and not yet returned. They are Thomas or Druett mid-hiatus, working on other writings and other projects. Letting the demands of life steal their time, and worse, steal new crime tales from the voracious crime and mystery fans out there.

So over the next two weeks I'll be delivering my 'most wanted' list of Ten New Zealand crime writers who should be locked to their desks until they deliver us another crime novel. 

Here's the first five: 

1. VANDA SYMON
In a five-year period starting in 2007, Symon delivered four gripping books featuring Sam Shepherd (one of the most engaging female characters in New Zealand literature), then a dark and twisted standalone, The Faceless, to rival the likes of Linwood Barclay, Harlan Coben, and Gillian Flynn.

Then the three-times Ngaio Marsh Award finalist stopped: purportedly to work on a PhD examining Dame Ngaio's use of poisons in her novels. Time-consuming for sure, especially combined with looking after a family, reviewing books for radio, delivering the Ngaio Marsh Memorial Lecture, and skewering opponents on the masters' fencing circuit. En garde! 

I have some sympathy. Some. But it's a crime that we haven't had any new Sam Shephard tales in almost five years now. Like Ihaka, she's too good a character to disappear forever.

And Symon is too good a crime writer. Back in 2011 she told me, for a feature in Canvas magazine, that she took great joy in dropping Sam into all sorts of nasty situations, and seeing how she'd get herself out of them. Well then Ms Symon, it's time to find your happiness, put fingers to keys, and drop Detective Constable Shephard back in the proverbial again, methinks!

2. ALIX BOSCO (GREG MCGEE)
Another reprobate from Otago, although McGee calls Auckland home nowadays - when he's not winning Katherine Mansfield fellowships and swanning off to Menton to write sweeping epics that deservedly have the critics atwitter (The Antipodeans).

McGee vaulted into the local crime writing scene back in 2009 with the startlingly good Cut & Run. Who was this mysterious 'Alix Bosco', a "successful writer in other media", we wondered. My money was on Rachel Lang, a talented TV screenwriter, given the heroine's strong voice, city/suburban Auckland setting, cover quote from Outrageous Fortune's Robyn Malcolm, and the cinematic storytelling in this excellent debut.

A couple of years later McGee, the former Junior All Black, playwright of classic rugby-themed Kiwi play Foreskin's Lament, and screenwriter (at least I got that part right), outed himself as Bosco in the lead-up to the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award event. He was a finalist for his second Alix Bosco book, Slaughter Falls. He'd won the inaugural award the year before for Cut & Run.

Five years on from Slaughter Falls, we're still waiting for a third tale featuring legal researcher Anna Markunas. Like Sam Shephard, she's a layered and complex heroine, really fun to read about, and has many more stories to tell I'm sure. It's not like McGee hasn't been busy in his un-closeted interim: he wrote the bestselling biography of arguably the greatest rugby player of all time (Richie McCaw), a fine novel under his own name in Love & Money, and now The Antipodeans, described as "wonderful" by reviewers.

But whether it's as Bosco or McGee, we need at least one more book to finish Anna's trilogy. So put back on your fishnets and boa mate, and get to work. We're waiting...


3. STELLA DUFFY
Like Val McDermid, Tokoroa-raised Stella Duffy first broke through with a groundbreaking crime series starring a strong and engaging lesbian protagonist. After 1994's Calendar Girl, Duffy went on to write four more Saz Martin books - the last (so far) being 2005's Mouths of Babes. But unlike McDermid, Duffy hasn't continued with her crime novels.

Instead, over the past 20 years the multi-talented Duffy has produced a staggeringly impressive resume of projects across the creative and charitable spectrums. Along with her five crime novels, Duffy has written eight literary novels, two of which were longlisted for the Orange Prize. She's twice been the Stonewall Writer of the Year, and has also edited the anthology Tart Noir and twice won the CWA Dagger for Best Short Story. So there's been a wee bit of crime apart from the Saz novels.

The former Victoria University drama student has also acted on stage and screen, been a comedian and improv artist, written many stage plays, and directed many others - including Murder, Marple, and Me. If that wasn't enough, she's battled cancer, toured her solo show Breaststrokes in several European cities, and been a driving force behind Fun Palaces, a movement to encourage community engagement with creativity and the arts which saw 138 'laboratories of fun' created by local communities across Britain last year.

I think if we tried to handcuff Stella Duffy to her desk, she'd just break the chains. The woman's a creative dynamo, and an inspiration. So it's just as well that word on the street is that she's already working on a new crime novel. I don't know where she's finding the time, but I'm very glad she is.

4. ZIRK VAN DEN BERG
Back in 2010, as the Ngaio Marsh Award was launching, then Sunday Star-Times Books Editor Mark Broatch wrote a feature looking at the state of New Zealand crime writing. In that article, renowned editor and literary critic Stephen Stratford told Broatch (now New Zealand Listener Books & Culture editor) that he was "still waiting for a new novel from Zirk van den Berg whose outstanding Nobody Dies came out in 2004".

I've since read Nobody Dies, and Stratford is spot-on. It's an outstanding crime novel, a searing tale centred on a loner who's thrown into the witness protection programme in South Africa after witnessing a murder, unaware the cop in charge has taken it upon herself to eliminate her charges in a more permanent manner. In a Herald on Sunday review in 2012 I called it "an absorbing, tense tale that brings the expanses of South Africa to life on the page, along with the grey areas in human hearts and minds." Back in 2004 it's release caused the Listener to ask if van den Berg was New Zealand's best thriller writer - after only one book! And it was rated a Top 5 Thriller, globally, by the New Zealand Herald.

Despite it's acclaim, Nobody Dies fell out of print, in print, though van den Berg resurrected it in ebook form a few years later, and also published another thriller in ebook, No Brainer (2011). The recent Afrikaans translation of Nobody Dies won the kykNET-Rapport Prize as Best Filmable Book. But van den Berg hasn't written any thrillers in the past few years, instead concentrating on his communications business, and writing his historic drama/war and love story, Half of One Thing (2014).

That's all well and good, but whether it's a thriller set in Africa or in his adopted home of New Zealand, we need another crime tale from Zirk van den Berg. He's just too good to just stop.

5. CHAD TAYLOR
For a period from the mid '90s onwards, Chad Taylor was the author who, alongside Paul Thomas, dragged contemporary Kiwi crime writing into a darker, grittier place. His superb tales of urban noir crackled with venom and were powered by skillful, stylish prose. Thomas and Taylor were a long way away from Ngaio Marsh and Laurie Mantell's decidedly cosy tales.

Taylor kickstarted things with his intriguing novella Pack of Lies (1993), and followed that up with Heaven (made into a film by Miramax), Shirker (2000), Electric (2003), and Departure Lounge (2006). Taylor received widespread global acclaim for his 'neo-noir' novels, which both danced eccentrically in and around the edges of 'crime and mystery', and subverted the genre too. Leading UK critic Maxim Jakuboski called Taylor's work "entropy noir" and "hypnotic". The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Jonathan Yardley compared Taylor's stylised storytelling to Chandler, saying "cool certainly is the word for him, but there's a good deal of heat beneath".

Unfortunately for us, Taylor hasn't published any novels since 2009's The Church of John Coltrane. In a 2010 interview he mentioned he'd just finished writing a "noir, very hardboiled" novel, "Tijuana Bible", but I can't seem to find any trace of that book ever being published. In recent times, Taylor has written a sci-fi/noir film REALITi, which was nominated for several 2014 New Zealand Film Awards, including Best Screenplay. Perhaps it's time for Taylor to return to his noir novel roots - though chaining him to his desk and forcing him to write a crime novel sounds like something he might do to his own characters.

The rest of the "10 Kiwi Scribes who Should be Chained Up until they Write Another Crime Novel" will be named here on Crime Watch next week. I hope you've enjoyed this op-ed piece - I'd love to hear your thoughts on the writers above, or other New Zealand or international crime writers you want to return to the page. Join the discussion and leave a comment. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: CRASH & BURN

CRASH & BURN by Lisa Gardner (Headline, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Lisa Gardner's latest psychological thriller includes appearances from private security specialist Tessa Leoni and Boston detective DD Warren, two fabulously real and complex heroines who've endured plenty over the course of various appearances and escapades in Gardner's #1 bestselling novels. But while Tessa and DD add texture to this tale of a mysterious woman who survives a car crash only to lead rescuers on a chase for a child that may not exist, they aren't the central characters this time around.

CRASH & BURN is Nicky Frank's story. But just who is Nicky Frank? Is she a drunk who ran off the road then tried to elicit sympathy with a search for her 'missing child'? Is she confused from a series of concussions and accidents the past few months? An abused wife? Or someone trying to hide her past, even from herself?

Gardner has the reader off-balance and intrigued right from the start, as we switch between Nicky's perspective on the events around her, and that of others involved. Sergeant Wyatt Foster (Tessa's new man) is investigating the car crash and trying to work out just what the heck is going on. Does he need to protect the public from Nicky Frank? Or Nicky Frank from her husband, who is acting suspiciously? Gardner captures well the confusion and frustration of those suffering traumatic brain injuries or repeated concussions, as well as the uncertainty and emotion for the people around them who struggle to cope and understand.

If Nicky herself doesn't know what is real and what is not, what is a memory and what is fantasy, how can Wyatt know whether her husband wants to help or harm her? How can he keep her and everyone else safe?

There is a terrific sense of pace and narrative drive in CRASH & BURN, building slowly but surely before a helter-skelter crescendo as things rapidly come together. We know that something sinister is going on, but Gardner keeps the answers tantalisingly out of reach of both Wyatt and the reader. The book is full of her trademark twists upon twists. Even when we know they're coming and try to predict things, she still manages to surprise in just how things unfold, and why. Gardner also does a great job touching on the problems of those suffering from a brain injury – the confusion and fear, the way in which these physical injuries can have such a profound impact on the mental and physical health of a person. Nicky's head injuries aren't just a convenient plot device – Gardner gives us an insight into this very real issue. She makes us question, and care.

And that's the key to Gardner's storytelling talent – she makes us care. While her plotting is sublime and she nicely evokes the settings of her stories, it is in the depth and feeling of her characters where she excels the most. She makes us care about what happens to them, and engenders a visceral, very 'real' feeling as we turn the page and hurtle along the story. She can make us think, and feel, while being entertained.

A top-notch thriller from a top-notch writer.

This review was originally written for and published on Reviewing the Evidence