Saturday, July 26, 2014

Upcoming Events: Karin Slaughter to visit in August

One of the world's most popular crime writers is visiting New Zealand shores in August, with Atlanta-based author Karin Slaughter scheduled to appear at library events in Auckland and Wellington. It's a great opportunity for keen crime readers to meet the author of the Grant County and Will Trent series of thrillers. Those books, along with her other stories, have sold more than 30 million copies around the world, topped bestseller lists in several countries, and been translated into more than 30 languages.

Slaughter (her real name) kickstarted her career with BLINDSIGHTED, a superb debut that introduced paediatrician and part-time coroner Dr Sara Linton. That book was nominated for several prestigious prizes: a CWA Dagger, the Barry, and the Macavity awards.

I understand that this will be Slaughter's first visit to New Zealand. You can meet her at the following events:

Monday 11 August 2014 at 5.30pm
Auckland Central Library, Level 2
Lorne Street, Auckland
free entry

Tuesday 12 August 2014 at
Wellington City Library, Ground Floor
65 Victoria Street, Wellington
free entry

What a terrific opportunity to meet a fabulous author. Hope plenty of readers head along.

Friday, July 25, 2014

9mm: An interview with the Godfather of Kiwi crime

As we continue on the 9mm journey, for the 75th instalment in our ongoing series I thought I would feature a world class author who is renowned as the Godfather of contemporary New Zealand crime writing, Paul Thomas.

As I wrote in a large feature for the New Zealand Listener in early 2012, "In the 1990s, Thomas exploded onto the local fiction scene with a series of fast-paced crime thrillers packed with mayhem, spiralling subplots, humour and his very own maverick cop. Detective Sergeant Tito Ihaka, a hulking investigator who, like his literary antecedents, stood slightly apart from society and was somewhat untroubled by expected scruples, first appeared in Old School Tie, Thomas’s groundbreaking 1994 debut that one critic described as 'Elmore Leonard on acid'."

Thomas paved the way for the darker, funnier, modern thrillers being penned by some great New Zealand crime writers nowadays, tearing us from the cosy confines of the British-style village murder mystery made famous by Agatha Christie and our own Dame Ngaio Marsh. He returned, after a 15-year absence from the crime writing page, with DEATH ON DEMAND in early 2012, a book that went on to win the 2013 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel last December. Fortunately, we won't have to wait that long for the next instalment: Thomas and Ihaka will both be returning later this year in FALLOUT, which centres on a confrontation between New Zealand and the USA over our country's long-held anti-nuclear stance.

But in the meantime, Paul Thomas stares down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: An interview with Paul Thomas

1) Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Well I think if I had to nominate someone it would be Phillip Marlowe. I think if I hadn’t read Chandler I doubt if I ever would have written a crime novel. So, yeah, I mean I still keep going back to Chandler as the greatest crime writer, and I think that Marlowe created a template for the protagonist or heroes of crime fiction that still applies really. Everyone puts their own stamp on it and adds their own little idiosyncrasies and oddities and what-not, but the basic template I don’t think has changed a great deal at all.

And I think it’s the vulnerability I think which was the really revolutionary thing that Chandler introduced – you had a hero character who gave you an insight into his own psychological make-up, and his own depressions and concerns, and self-loathing. And I think that opened up a whole psychological area for crime writing that really revolutionised it in my view.

2) What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I can remember very clearly that at primary school we had access to a series of novels written by a guy called Ronald Welch, who wrote sort of historical novels that traced members of the same family over several hundred years. They were kind of minor nobility and a military family – so in each generation a member of the family was involved in the major military action of the time, whether it was Agincourt right through to the Battle of Quebec and so forth. And I was very, very taken with those, and I can remember devouring all of those, and going back to them.

And it’s interesting that a writer whose work I very much admired later was the George MacDonald Fraser flash series, who did a similar thing with one person – he took him through all the major military engagements of the Victorian era, using the same kind of idea that you inserted this character into the very heart of the action. But those Welsh books, and I can’t even remember the name of the characters now, were certainly the first books I can really remember being riveted by.

3) Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
The first book I ever did was a book called CHRISTMAS IN RAROTONGA, with the cricketer John Wright. Then I did a book with John Kirwan, the rugby player, RUNNING ON INSTINCT, and then the first book with John Hart, STRAIGHT FROM THE HART. So all those had come out before... I’d written those three before I wrote OLD SCHOOL TIE. I’d also worked as a journalist, I worked in Auckland for the Auckland Star, then went to the UK and was a travel writer in London and worked in France for a couple of years. Then I came back to New Zealand.

4) Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I have family, and obviously that’s been a huge part of my life for the last 13, 14 years anyway. So a lot of my time is involved around them, revolves around them. I love sport, so obviously watch a bit of sport on TV like most New Zealand males, and I walk the dog.

I still play cricket, social cricket, half a dozen times a summer or so. But it’s not exactly Lords. I played cricket right through school and played reasonably seriously for a few years after I left school, and I played in England a lot, so I’ve played over the years.

5) What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't a really famous thing in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I would suggest they go and take a walk through the Otari-Wilton's Bush, the last surviving native forest, native bush, in Wellington. It’s great; it’s well worth having a wander through. I would recommend it, it’s very restful.

6) If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
[laughing] I think you’d have trouble getting any well-known actor to play the part of Paul Thomas, because my life hasn’t really been the stuff of big-budget movies. The only way I could answer that question is to say I’ve often been told I look like James Woods... he was a charming sleazebag in Casino, I think that’s the last time I can remember seeing him in a movie.

7) Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Um, yeah, that’s tricky. I guess your first book is always a big event in your life, but of the others... I would probably say WORK IN PROGRESS because that’s the book I most enjoy picking up and reading a few pages of – and thinking that I achieved what I was trying to do with that. That’s probably the one I would pick. Sorry it’s not one of the crime books.

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?
Well, the thing with CHRISTMAS IN RAROTONGA, the genesis of the sports books is slightly different, because what happens is generally speaking the publisher goes to the subject, and says ‘we’d like you to do a book’, and then they go about finding a writer, and so it’s not like you’re pitching your own work, so to speak... But obviously the first time you see your name on a book it’s a bit of a thrill. My name was obviously a bit bigger on the cover of OLD SCHOOL TIE than it was on any of the sports books, for obvious reasons – because the athlete is the selling point, not the writer... I can’t imagine I let the occasion pass without opening a good bottle of wine.

9) What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I always remember on a Words on Wheels tour, somewhere down in Central Otago, there was a guy sitting in the front row with what was obviously a gigantic manuscript in a clear plastic folder, and the thrust of his questioning was resentment at his failure to get published, and an obvious belief – which he made no attempt whatsoever to conceal – that he could write the pants off the whole bunch of us who were sitting on stage. And there was just this palpable sense of burning resentment against anybody who’d ever been published. I often wondered what sort of manuscript, what his novel was about. UFOs seemed a popular choice when we discussed it afterwards. But yeah, that was something I remember.

With this guy, you felt he was a volcano waiting to explode, that the resentment had been building for some time... you do get a lot of questions from people, the implication there’s a magic formula, that there’s one step, they’re not sure what it is, but could you please tell them, because that’s the only thing between them and bestseller-dom. And they’re probably right – the trouble is the step is ‘luck’. And you can’t help them really with that.

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


Have you read any of the Ihaka novels? Or Paul Thomas's sports biographies? What do you think of Detective Ihaka as a character? Comments welcome.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Connelly reveals: Harry Bosch as an 11-year-old

When I interviewed Michael Connelly for a feature in the New Zealand Herald back in 2010, he said that THE LAST COYOTE, his fourth novel, was his favourite amongst his own books, for a number of reasons:

"One is that in my life it was the first book I wrote as a full-time novelist, I was able in the months before I started writing it to retire from journalism, and so the year I was writing THE LAST COYOTE I was just amazed that I was a full-time novelist, and I kind of revelled in that. And I also saw, I could quite clearly see, that the writing had improved because it was my only focus, and I wasn't writing at night and then going to the newspaper during the day. It had my undivided attention and I could see improvements almost every day. That was very exciting to me. And the last part was that it’s the case of Harry’s life, it’s about his mother, and so it’s very meaningful on a character level to write that story. Obviously it was my fourth book and I had no idea that Harry Bosch would be around for at least another 15 years, but I was getting the idea that he had some longevity, and that I was going to be writing more about him. And to write more about him I had to kind of … this is a kind of foundation story of what he’s about."

I remembered that final reason, about the book being the case of Harry's life, when I saw today that Connelly has now shared an 'unpublished chapter' from the novel, which explains even more about one of contemporary crime fictions most intriguing and layered characters, Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch.

The lost chapter takes us back to 1961 when Harry is 11 years old. Says Connelly on his website, "It was originally written as the prologue to the book. It takes place at the youth hall where an 11-year-old Harry was placed after he was removed from his mother’s custody because she was deemed an unfit mother."

The scene, as Connelly explains, was the last time Harry ever saw his mother, and this fuelled things about him, and the emotion about the case in THE LAST COYOTE. Later this was cut from the published version so readers could jump straight into the present day action, with mentions of the past woven into the book.

So Bosch fans, here is a chance to get more of an insight into LA's finest detective.

You can read the lost chapter here. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

First tastes: 11 terrific female crime fiction stars

Earlier this week I debuted a new series here on Crime Watch, "First Tastes", which will be looking back at novels in which some terrific authors first introduced their series protagonist (often the author's debut novel). I already have some great guest bloggers lined up to contribute to the series - message me or leave a comment if you're interested in being part of it - and it seems there is something in the water, as today The Reading Room, an Australian books website, highlighted "11 Must-Read Debuts of Female Leads in Crime Fiction", listing some great books and characters that I am intending to cover in more depth in my series.

While the men of crime fiction often grab the attention, there are some terrific female leads out there too, and so it's great to see The Reading Room making this high-quality list of intriguing crime characters:

  • THE OLD SCHOOL by PM Newton (Nhu "Ned" Kelly);
  • ONE FOR THE MONEY by Janet Evanovich (Stephanie Plum);
  • THE MERMAID'S SINGING by Val McDermid (Carol Jordan);
  • STILL MIDNIGHT by Denise Mina (Alex Morrow);
  • BLINDSIGHTED by Karin Slaughter (Sara Linton);
  • INDEMNITY ONLY by Sarah Paretsky (VI Warshawski);
  • POSTMORTEM by Patricia Cornwell (Kay Scarpetta);
  • COCAINE BLUES by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher);
  • THE SURGEON by Tess Gerritsen (Jane Rizzoli);
  • A IS FOR ALIBI by Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone);
  • DEJA DEAD by Kathy Reichs (Temperance Brennan). 
That's a pretty good list. Like any list, there are of course many other authors/heroines that could be added, that some readers will think are better than some on the list. I commend The Reading Room for putting together what is a pretty damned good list though, and highlighting some great female crime writers and crime characters. I own books by all of those authors, but have only read three of those specific 'character debut' tales. Worth going back to the beginning, perhaps. 

For my own part, I'd add the following authors and characters to a "Must-Read Debuts of Female Crime Reads" list: 
  • OVERKILL by Vanda Symon (Sam Shephard);
  • THE BOMBER by Liza Marklund (Annika Bengtzon);
  • THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Lackberg (Erica Falck)
  • THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson (Lisbeth Salander). 
I'd also put a plug in for CUT & RUN by Alix Bosco (Anna Markunas), SURRENDER by Donna Malane (Diane Rowe), and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson  - books that introduce three of the best, most layered and interesting female leads that I've read in the past decade. At the moment the first two characters have only appeared in two books each so far, while Salander was part of a trilogy, so perhaps they don't quite fit in a mix focused on longer-running series. Definitely worth reading though!

Interviewer turned interviewee: my thoughts on Paul Cleave and Kiwi crime writing

While I was working in North Carolina and travelling throughout the United States last year, I was contacted by New Zealand journalist Kelly Andrew, who was putting together a feature article on Kiwi crime writer Paul Cleave for the Herald on Sunday, a major nationwide newspaper. Cleave had won the Ngaio Marsh Award in 2011, is massively popular in Germany and France, and I've had a fair bit to do with him due to my involvement in local crime fiction, from reviews to interviews to sharing the stage together at events.

With Cleave's then-latest book, JOE VICTIM, about to be released, Kelly wanted my perspective on Cleave's writing, and where it stood in terms of local and international crime writing, along with some other comments about New Zealand crime writing. It always feels a little strange for me to be the interviewee rather than the interviewer, but it was fun to have a think about these things too.

As is always the case, many of my comments didn't make it into the final article (I know what that's like from a writer/interviewer perspective, trying to work out which of the 6,000 words of terrific interview with an author I use or don't for an 800-1,500 word article). I've recently rediscovered the interview while going through some old files, so thought as well as sharing the link to Kelly's feature here (it's worth a read), I'd share some of my other thoughts and comments that didn't make it into the piece:

KA: How does Paul Cleave stand out from other Kiwi crime/thriller writers?
CS: I think the thing that makes Paul Cleave stand out is the vividness of his writing, the way he treads the darker edge of crime fiction whilst still managing to instil some humour and a really keen eye for protagonists who see the world in a unique, slightly askew way. He really gets readers into the head of his main characters (which isn't always the most pleasant or comfortable place, but is intriguing and rather captivating), as well creating an almost character-like sense of place. 

KA: Is there a growing market for New Zealand crime writing overseas? 

CS: I think there is potentially a growing market for New Zealand crime writing overseas. Readers worldwide seem to be becoming more open to crime fiction set outside of the US and UK - not only Scandinavian crime fiction, but mysteries set in Asia, the Mediterranean and Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. There are a lot of terrific things about New Zealand as a setting, and we have good writers, so there is definitely potential for New Zealand crime writing to grow in a global readership sense. With the breaking down of geographic barriers when it comes to book publishing and distribution, there is perhaps more than ever an opportunity for NZ writers to succeed worldwide. 

KA: Why is the crime and thriller genre so popular in Germany?

CS: Germany seems something of a 'canary in the coal mine' when it comes to crime fiction - they 'discovered' authors such as Stieg Larsson, Linwood Barclay, and Paul Cleave before the UK/US markets caught up. The Germans do seem to devour crime fiction - but in all honesty it's the most popular genre in many markets. The Germans, like other continental Europeans, do seem to have less of a 'literary vs popular fiction' prejudice (which is sometimes apparent amongst literary critics and award judges in English-speaking countries), though I'm not sure how much this affects book sales anyway, given readers don't seem quite so worried about those types of delineations. 

KA: Do you think NZ book buyers are reluctant to buy crime novels written by local authors compared to the big international names such as Michael Connelly etc?
I'm not sure if New Zealand book buyers are reluctant to buy crime novels written by local authors as much as just being reluctant to buy books from lesser-known or new authors from any country. The biggest sellers in New Zealand when it comes to crime fiction are almost brand-like: Lee Child, Stieg Larsson, Michael Connelly, Kathy Reichs, James Patterson, etc. They are well-known names that readers recognise and feel they can count on. Crime fiction readers seem very 'tribal' - they find an author they like, and will read many/all of their books. Book prices in New Zealand are high, in a global sense, so I can understand why crime fiction readers might not rush to try newer authors, Kiwi or otherwise, until they have experienced them and are confident about liking them. For example, there are outstanding non-New Zealand crime writers who don't sell that well, relatively speaking, here too. However, things do seem to be improving on this front - at least from a sense of keeping an eye on the appearance of New Zealand crime writers such as Cleave, Paddy Richardson, Paul Thomas, Vanda Symon, and Ben Sanders on the Neilsen Best Seller Lists over the past  two to three years - they seem to be featuring more than in the past. Quite how this translates to the actual quantities of books sold, I couldn't tell you. 


So what do you think of Kelly's article, and what I had to say? Fair comments? Do you agree or disagree?