Thursday, August 21, 2014

Forgotten Kiwi crime: LIGHT SPEED by David Frame

LIGHT SPEED by David Frame (Quoin Press, 1996)

The blurb: Who killed the lovely Claire Bartlett, New Zealand's youngest, prettiest, greenest Member of Parliament? Was it Rufus Trout, MP for Nowhere in Particular and thwarted lover; Dale Thomas, fiscally correct crusader, or one of the many other characters who swarmed around the Golden Girl of Greendom?

Before being blown to bits by her briefcase on a Greencorp boat, Claire had single-handedly given a grateful nation the Light Speed Act 1999, but not everyone is delighted by a nifty piece of legislation which severely retards the speed of light in the name of Environmental Awareness...

Enter Morton Mains, physics lecturer, sceptic and reluctant detective. As he stumbles through the increasingly obscure world of professional politics in an attempt to piece together the last hours of Claire's life, Mort finds he's in a race against time like no other.

The author: Dave Frame was born in Invercargill in 1969. He was educated at Otatara Primary School and Southland Boys High School and majored in Physics and Philosophy at the University of Canterbury, from which he also holds a Masters degree in Astrophysics. He wrote LIGHT SPEED concurrently with his PhD thesis. He plays rugby and cricket and likes to borrow money from his mates. This is his first novel.

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I found this book last week at Arty Bees Books in Wellington. An outstanding bookstore that for my money has by far the best out-of-print and hard-to-find New Zealand literature section I've ever seen. Both times I've visited I've found one or two old crime or thriller novels I didn't yet have, and I've compiled an amateur collection of more than 150 New Zealand crime novels from earlier days. So it is very hard for me to find anything I don't already have. If you're in Wellington, definitely check out Arty Bees, they have more than 100,000 books. It's a delight wandering their aisles and perusing their shelves. I was there for an hour plus.

From what I can gather, and there's not much available online about LIGHT SPEED or its author, Frame went on to work at the Treasury for two years after finishing his PhD, and is now Director and Professor of Climate Change at the School of Geography, Environment, and Earth Sciences at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand's capital. You can see his faculty page here. He does not appear to have written any more fiction, although he has written several academic papers.

I'm looking forward to reading this books, which apparently is a bit of a satirical thriller.

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What out-of-print or hard-to-find crime fiction have you discovered and loved?


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Whither THE LUMINARIES?

When the finalists for the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel were announced earlier this month, I did wonder if anyone would comment on or query the fact that THE LUMINARIES, the superb Man Booker Prize-winning novel from Eleanor Catton, hadn't made the cut from eight longlistees to four finalists. Especially as Alan Duff's FREDERICK'S COAT, another atypical 'crime novel', was a finalist.

Well, after a few days of not hearing a peep from anywhere, Philip Matthews of The Press asked the question, leading to his piece about the 2014 finalists in the Your Weekend supplement last Saturday (see right). Philip contacted me, as the Judging Convenor for the Award, asking about what was behind THE LUMINARIES missing out.

In the end, it was simple: the international judging panel praised the book, but collectively preferred the four finalists - although, as noted in Matthews' article, some of the judges had selected THE LUMINARIES as a finalist. It was that type of year, with eight excellent and very different books in the running - every single one of which was selected as a finalist by at least one judge. Four had to miss out. Close year. Tough decisions. Great books.

I thought I would include my full interview with Philip Matthews about the Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists here, as only some of it made it into the eventual article (I know what that's like as an interviewer - you only ever use part of the interview in the article), and perhaps some of you may find some of the rest of it interesting too.

PM: Do you expect people to be surprised that The Luminaries missed the shortlist given its awards success so far? 
CS: I do expect some people will be surprised THE LUMINARIES isn't a finalist, given it has deservedly won many awards already, and is a superb book in so many ways. There was nothing that disqualified it from the finalists list - it was in fact chosen as a finalist by some judges, but in a year when there were eight books that all explored and expressed crime, mystery, and thriller writing in very different ways, THE LUMINARIES, along with three other very good books, missed out. It was without a doubt the toughest year in the Award's history for the judges, and this was reflected in some very divergent opinions.

PM: Was there something about it that disqualified it from the final shortlist? Or was it never really a "crime" novel to start with?
CS: Although THE LUMINARIES is certainly not a crime novel in the "traditional" Christie, Marsh, or Chandler-esque detective fiction sense, it is a novel involving a murder mystery, and the Ngaio Marsh Award from the beginning has been focused on celebrating the best local books in the broader crime, mystery, and thriller genre. Crime is a broad church, and goes beyond detective fiction.

THE LUMINARIES certainly fell within the parameters, as did Alan Duff's FREDERICK'S COAT, which may have been a surprise finalist to some (who likewise may not have thought of it as a crime novel). I agree with Harriet Allan's comments about such books.

Last year, LITTLE SISTER by Julian Novitz was a finalist, and in previous years THE CRIME OF HUEY DUNSTAN by James McNeish and ACCESS ROAD by Maurice Gee have made the longlist. So we welcome books that span the literary and crime/mystery spectrum.

In the end, all four books that missed out on being finalists received some high praise from judges, and THE LUMINARIES received particular praise for its language and evocation of 19th century New Zealand, but more judges preferred the eventual four finalists when it came to what they personally were looking for. Eight had to go into four, and THE LUMINARIES missed out.

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Have you read THE LUMINARIES? If so, how do you think it stacks up as a crime, mystery or thrillr novel? What did you most enjoy about the book? 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Davitt Awards shortlists announced!

This year a record 76 books published in 2013 compete for six Davitts – handsome carved polished wooden trophies – to be presented at a gala dinner, 7pm, Saturday 30 August by leading South African crime writer, Lauren Beukes, after an ‘interrogation’ by Professor Sue Turnbull:
Best Adult Novel; Best Novel Young Adult; Best True Crime Book; Best Debut Book (any category); Readers’ Choice (as voted by the 660 members of Sisters in Crime Australia) and, for the very first time, Best Children’s Novel.
Shortlisted are:
Best Adult Novel
  • Honey Brown, Dark Horse (Penguin Books Australia
  • Ilsa Evans, Nefarious Doings: A Nell Forrest Mystery (Momentum Press)
  • Annie Hauxwell, A Bitter Taste (Penguin Books Australia
  • Katherine Howell, Web of Deceit (Pan Macmillan Australia
  • Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (Picador Books)
  • Angela Savage, The Dying Beach (Text)
Best Young Adult Novel
  • Karen Foxlee, The Midnight Dress (UQP)
  • Simmone Howell, Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan Australia)
  • Kim Kane and Marion Roberts, Cry Blue Murder (UQP)
  • Ellie Marney, Every Breath (Allen & Unwin)
  • Felicity Pulman, A Ring Through Time (Harper Collins)
Best Children’s Novel
  • Ursula Dubosarsky, The Perplexing Pineapple: The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta) Book 1 (Allen & Unwin)
  • Ursula Dubosarsky, The Looming Lamplight: The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta) Book 2 (Allen & Unwin)
  • Susan Green, Verity Sparks: Lost and Found (Walker Books)
  • Jen Storer, Truly Tan: Jinxed! (Harper Collins)
  • Jen Storer, Truly Tan: Spooked! (Harper Collins)
Best True Crime Book
  • Anna Krien,Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport (Black Inc)
  • Kay Saunders, Deadly Australian Women (ABC Books)
Best Debut Book (Any category)
  • Livia Day, A Trifle Dead (Twelfth Planet Press)
  • Karen Foxlee, The Midnight Dress (UQP)
  • Simmone Howell, Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan Australia)
  • Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (Picador Books)
  • Ellie Marney, Every Breath (Allen & Unwin)
Davitt judges’ wrangler, Tanya King-Carmichael, said that the five judges had been stunned by the number of entries in this year’s annual Davitt Awards.
“Australian women crime writers have their gumshoes (or stilettos) on and they’re marching across the literary landscape. This year, the five judges were confronted by an astonishing 76 books to get their blood pumping, including 40 adult novels with characters ranging from the psychic to the psychotic.
“Fourteen years ago, when the Davitts were established, only seven adult crime novels by Australian women were in contention. There’s been a great leap forward,” King-Carmichael said.
King-Carmichael said that for the first time Sisters in Crime was presenting an award for the Best Children’s Crime Novel.
“Previously, children’s crime novels had to compete against young adult crime novels for a joint category award. This was a bit unfair but there weren’t really enough novels written by women for the children’s market. But the spirit of Enid Blyton lives on,” she said.
“This year we were faced with a record 13 children’s crime novels, tipping the Young Adult crime novels by one. It’s hardly if the Young Adult genre is slipping. The quality of the writing for young or ‘new adults’ (as the case may be) shoots up every year. And, for the first time, an e-book has been shortlisted – Ilsa Evans, Nefarious Doings: A Nell Forrest Mystery, published by Momentum Press, Pan Macmillan Australia's new digital-only imprint.
“Australian women’s crime writing is entering an exciting new phase.”
Prior to the award presentations, Sisters in Crime convenor Professor Sue Turnbull will interrogate Lauren Beukes about her life in crime. Beukes is also a scriptwriter, documentary director and comics writer and is in Melbourne to speak at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival.
Turnbull, who reviewed Beuekes’s first crime novel, The Shining Girls, for Fairfax Media last year said: “By turns brilliant, brutal and riveting, in all its puzzling mystery, The Shining Girls is testimony to the promiscuous hybridity of the contemporary crime novel. Read it and wonder.”
Beukes’s latest crime novel, Broken Monsters, is just out. Her other fiction has also been highly acclaimed — Zoo City won the prestigious Arthur C Clarke Award in 2011, and Moxyland was longlisted for both the Sunday TimesLiterary Award and the M-Net Book Prize in 2009.
Turnbull is Professor is Discipline Leader: Creative Industries, University of Wollongong, a Sisters in Crime national co-convenor, and crime columnist for Fairfax Media. Her latest book is The Crime Drama (University of Edinburgh Press).
The Davitts are named after Ellen Davitt, the author of Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and Fraud, in 1865. The awards cost publishers nothing to enter.

“The Davitts have played a key role in getting women’s crime books better recognised – and in encouraging Australian publishers to take a punt on crime books produced by women locally, instead of just importing the latest blockbusters from overseas. It’s a gamble that has paid off,” King-Carmichael said.

The judging panel for 2014 comprises forensic pathologist Dr Shelley Robertson; Sun Bookshop Deb Force and Sisters in Crime national co-convenor, Jacqui Horwood and former convenors Tanya King-Carmichael and Sylvia Loader.
The previous Davitts have been presented by New Zealand crime writer Vanda Symon (2013); Swedish crime writer Asa Larsson (2012); Singapore crime writer Shamini Flint (2012), Scottish crime writer Val McDermid (2010); Justice Betty King (2010), Judge Liz Gaynor (2008); Walkley-winning investigative journalist Estelle Blackburn (2007); Karen Kissane true crime writer (2006); Debbie Killroy, Sisters Inside (2005); Karin Slaughter, US crime writer (2004); Val McDermid (2003); Sharan Burrow, ACTU President (2002) and Christine Nixon, (then) Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police (2001).
Sisters in Crime Australia was set up 23 years ago, has chapters in different states and holds regular events in Melbourne dissecting crime fiction on the page and screen. It also hosts a popular annual short-story competition, the Scarlet Stiletto Awards.
Venue: Thornbury Theatre, 859 High Street, Thornbury (wheelchair accessible)
The cost of this very special event, which includes dinner and the presentation of the 2013 Davitts Awards, is $60 (no concession). Drinks are available at bar prices.
Seats only (no dinner): $15 (no concession) Bookings close Monday 25 August. All seats are limited so book early — individually or in tables of up to 10. Men or ‘Brothers in Law’ are welcome.
Sisters in Crime members will receive 10% discount on books purchased from the Sun Bookshop stall. All books in contention will be on sale.
Media comment: Tanya King-Carmichael on 0418 574 907 email elicat@gmail.com

Monday, August 18, 2014

First Tastes: Linda Lee takes a look at DI Tom Thorne

Crime Watch is currently undergoing a renovation and upgrade, and as part of that ongoing process, a month ago I debuted "First Tastes", a new series which will take a look each fortnight at novels where some terrific authors first introduced their series protagonist. One of the many things that makes crime fiction great is the myriad of fascinating characters in the genre, and the way in which we, as readers, can follow characters we love and loathe over a series of tales, rather than just one-off stories.

This will be a series with plenty of guest bloggers, and today I have the pleasure to introduce Linda Lee, an avid crime fiction reader who is the driving force behind Penny's Bookstore in Hamilton having such a strong crime and thriller component, including visits from international authors. Linda is taking a look at the first appearance of one of her very favourite crime characters, Mark Billingham's Detective Inspector Tom Thorne (played by David Morrissey in the TV adaptation, see pic below). Enjoy!

Tom Thorne in SLEEPYHEAD

by Linda Lee

Way back in 2001, I was given a debut novel by one of my book reps, and told I must try this new author, I would like it. The book was SLEEPYHEAD by Mark Billingham, and I didn't like it, I loved it.

So began my love affair with the fictional character of DI Tom Thorne. I had been reading crime novels for a long while yet I had not come across writing such as Mark Billingham’s where the characters interacted in such a way. Mark is a stand-up comedian and this reflected in the dialogue between the characters.  Lots of humour and leg pulling.

Sleepyhead focuses on a serial killer who is trying to get his victims into an almost suspended state where they can see and hear everything that is going on around them but cannot move an inch. The first three victims are found dead but the fourth victim is discovered in this state. Thorne at first thinks this girl found alive is the killer’s first mistake, but soon comes to the realisation that she is the first one that the killer has got right.

Knowing that police procedure won’t catch this killer, Tom goes outside the law (as he does in most of the subsequent books) and relying on gut instinct sets about to catch this madman. As with most of Mark’s novels, this one is set in and around London, and features real places, restaurants etc.

Each subsequent novel peels away another layer of Thorne (41 years’ old in the first book) and it has been a pleasure learning about him, from his beautiful relationship with his father to his often ill-chosen love life, his relationship with his co-workers and his peers. His love of country music, namely Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Emmylou Harris, and penchant for curries from the Bengal Lancer. He is not an alcoholic, a chain smoker, nor has he a missing limb, carry excess weight or have a miserable married life, but he does carry the scars of previous cases with him. It is no small surprise that SLEEPYHEAD became the biggest selling British debut that year.

I have met Mark Billingham on several occasions and it is easy to see some of Thorne's traits in the author. They both love the same music, and both loathe the same singers (who will remain nameless here).  But really they are worlds’ apart, which is good as it would be a bit creepy to fancy Mark too!

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Have you read SLEEPYHEAD or any of the other Tom Thorne novels? Have you watched the TV series? What do you think of the character on page or screen?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Two weeks left - Be in to Win (autographed book giveaway)


Earlier this month, the four finalists for the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel were announced. From an outstanding long-list of eight excellent novels, the deepest and most diverse long-list in the Award's five-year history, the following four books were selected by the international judging panel:

  • JOE VICTIM by Paul Cleave
  • FREDERICK'S COAT by Alan Duff
  • MY BROTHER'S KEEPER by Donna Malane
  • WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO by Liam McIlvanney

To celebrate the upcoming announcement of the winner of the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, at the WORD Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival on 30 August, we're running a competition where you can win a personally signed copy of the winning book. The book will be autographed, with a personal message for the winning entrant(s) from the winning author. That's pretty cool!

Entering is simple. All you have to do is 'like' the Ngaio Marsh Award Facebook page. Nothing else. Easy as. The more entries there are (ie likes on the page), the more personally autographed copies of the book will be given away as part of the competition. Just click on the image above or right here to go to the Award's Facebook page. The winner(s) will be drawn on 31 August 2014, following the official announcement of which book has won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel.

You've got to be in to win! So get 'liking'.