Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dinah Holman's A HISTORY OF CRIME named a National Indie Excellence Award finalist

Dinah Holman with fellow Ngaio Marsh
Award longlistee Ben Atkins at the recent
Murder in the Library event in Takapuna 
Ngaio Marsh Award longlistee Dinah Holman has received another accolade for her debut novel as she has been named a finalist for the US-based National Indie Excellence Awards.

"I am delighted to be a finalist in the NIE Awards," says Holman, whose book A HISTORY OF CRIME: THE SOUTHERN DOUBLE CROSS is one of six finalists in the thriller category. Holman's first novel (the heritage planner and biographer has written non-fiction books) interweaves real and fictional crimes in 1880s New Zealand, exploring the seamy side of Victorian society, with echoes that resonate into the present day in this novel of misunderstanding and betrayal.

Radio New Zealand called A HISTORY OF CRIME: THE SOUTHERN DOUBLE-CROSS an “ingenious first novel” that “resounds with the ring of truth” as it examines colonial greed.

The Ngaio Marsh Award judges have said: “full of interesting historical aspects” ... “a fascinating read” that “combines history and mystery” and “does Kiwi readers a service by illuminating a period of colonial history and reminding us that crime and corruption are nothing new”.

The National Indie Excellence® Awards (NIEA) were created to help establish self-publishing as a proud, legitimate, and strong facet of the publishing industry. NIEA is proud to be a champion of self-publishers and small & independent presses that go the extra mile to produce books of excellence in every aspect. More information about the awards can be found here. Congratulations to Dinah Holman!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Glasgow, gangsters, and ice cream vans: a 9mm interview with Douglas Skelton

Back in the 1980s, the East End of Glasgow was divided in a turf war between criminal gangs who fought over ice cream van routes. It was suggested (not proven) that the ice cream vans were used distribute drugs and other stolen goods. The "Glasgow Ice Cream Wars" lead to a mass murder and then a 20-year fight courtroom fight that become one of Scotland's most contentious cases and helped launch the groundbreaking Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission, before two men were finally freed after being wrongfully imprisoned for murder. Glasgow journalist and true crime writer Douglas Skelton co-wrote a book, FRIGHTENER, which played a part in the men's exoneration.

But when I met Douglas Skelton at Bloody Scotland last year, it wasn't in his guise as a true crime writer (he has written 11 non-fiction books), but as a teller of fictional crime stories. His 2013 debut, BLOOD CITY, centred on Davie McCall, a henchman with a conscience for one of Glasgow's criminal overlords. "A good man walking in a bad man's skin" is how Skelton describes Davie, who returned in CROW BAIT (2014).

I caught up with Skelton last weekend at Crimefest in Bristol. His third book in a planned quadrilogy, DEVIL'S KNOCK, will be released in the UK next month. But for now, Douglas Skelton, "a crime writer steeped in the real stories of Scotland", becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH DOUGLAS SKELTON

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
That’s a moveable feast. Or maybe I’m just fickle. If you’d asked me a few years ago I’d’ve said Steve Carella in the 87 Precinct novels. Then came Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro team. Right now it’s Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Going way back it would be a western called ‘Seventh Cavalry’ by Jeff Jeffries, part of the Children’s Library. I wish I still had it. Like any boy with an ounce of sense, I loved western movies and this merged that with a bit of history, although the portrait of Custer was somewhat rose-tinted. But the first crime-related book would have to be ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, which began my affection for Holmes and Watson. It’s hard to say why I loved it. After all, Holmes is out of the narrative for a long period. But it mixed a bit of detection with an element of horror, which I enjoyed at the time, and the phrase ‘It was the footprint of a gigantic hound’ is up there for sheer hair-raising appeal along with the words ‘Man is in the forest’ from ‘Bambi’. Which I’ve never seen, actually, but I know about the line.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Well, before my first novel was accepted I’d written 11 true crime and historical books. However, like everyone else I’ve got unpublished thrillers locked away in a drawer that will probably never see the light of day. I look on them as training materials. I’ve also got some comedy scripts written for hospital radio – and the recorded shows. Overall they’re pretty dire, heavily influenced by ‘Round the Horne’, a radio show from the 60s, but there are occasional flashes of something that might work. And some of the performances need a little attention, especially mine. But the production was not bad and helped the shows hold together. Barely.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Walking the dogs. I’ve two, a Lab and a Lab Retriever, and I like to take them to the beach or up into the hills near my home and just walk. It helps the little grey cells. I’m a movie fan so I watch a lot of films, and listen to film music – I’m pretty geeky that way. Oh – and reading of course. You can’t write without reading, as far as I’m concerned. After all, who are you going to steal your ideas from? Sorry, be influenced by?

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?
Take a trip round the east end estates and discover they’re not as rundown, in general, as the media would have them believe. Glasgow gets a bad rep but really it’s no more dangerous or slum-ridden as any other city, perhaps even less than some. Sure, it has less-than-garden spots but where hasn’t?

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
George Clooney but I’ll say anything for a cheap laugh. There are those who say I bear a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt, if someone has been striking Mr Pitt on the face with an iron bar for an hour or so. A ‘Four Weddings’ Hugh Grant and I have been known to share a hairstyle and a tendency to self-deprecation that is irritating to some. But I’d probably end up with Andy Serkis doing motion capture.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Of my non-fiction I’d say ‘Indian Peter, because it’s such a fabulous and little-known story. Fiction-wise, whatever I’m writing next. I know that’s a cop-out but I’m never wholly satisfied with what I write and continually feel I can do better. I think that’s healthy for we must always strive to outdo ourselves, to reach a potential that we may not even possess. For, as James Stewart said in ‘Shenandoah’, if we don’t try, then we don’t do, and if we don’t do then why are we here on this earth? See what I mean about being geeky over movies?


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?
My initial reaction was one of shock. I was on my way out when the phone call came from Bill Campbell at Mainstream Publishing that he wanted my first true crime book and I remember calmly thanking him and walking out to my car in a kind of daze. This was a dream come true. I think later there might’ve been a glass or two of something amber and Scottish – not Irn Bru – but I can’t recall. On publication day I went round all the bookshops in Glasgow city centre just to see it on the shelf or on a table. It was a thrill, then and now. I couldn’t quite believe it and I still can’t.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
What comes to mind first was when I was giving a solo talk on true crime at a festival many years ago. There was a guy in the audience who complained because I didn’t have any photographs of dead bodies in my books. He was a bit creepy looking and the people around him shifted their chairs away. I couldn’t blame them. Then, last year at Bloody Scotland, I met this New Zealand bloke called Craig Sisterson. That was strange, unusual and an experience.


Thanks Douglas. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch

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You can read more about Douglas Skelton and his writing here: 
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Have you read any of Douglas Skelton's crime novels? Or his true crime books? Do you like to read books that are based on reality?What did you know about the Glasgow Ice Cream Wars? Comments welcome. 

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Yrsa Sigurdardottir scoops Petrona Award

Yrsa Sigurdardottir (third from left) with Petrona judges Sarah Ward and Dr Kat Hall, Godmother of Scandinavian
crime writing Maj Sjowall, judge Barry Forshaw and EuroCrime's Karen Meek. Photo Credit: Eurocrime
Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir emerged from a very strong field to be named the winner of the 2015 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel at the Crimefest Gala Dinner last night. Sigurdardottir was presented with the award by Godmother of Scandinavian crime Maj Sjowall (co-author of the groundbreaking Martin Beck series), who was a special guest at Crimefest in Bristol this year.

The Petrona Award judges said Sigurdardottir is "the supreme practitioner when it comes to drawing on the heritage of Icelandic literature, and channelling ancient folk tales and ghost stories into a vision of modern Icelandic society". Her winning novel, SILENCE OF THE SEA, involves Thóra Gudmundsdóttir investigating a "puzzling and deeply unsettling" case where a luxury yacht crashes into Reykjavik harbour, with it's crew and passengers nowhere to be found. The judges said the story "skilfully orchestrates fear and tension in the reader". Congratulations to Yrsa Sigurdardottir!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Strolling Verulamium Park, in the dark: a 9mm interview with James Carol

As both a reader and reviewer, one of my favourite things is discovering a new author who really truly grabs me, whose characters I want to follow, and whose stories envelop me in such a way I become fully invested in what is going on, rather than being so aware that I'm reading words on a page. I find you can often tell from the first few pages of a book whether the author is on that 'other level' for you personally.

James Carol burst onto the crime writing scene last year with the thrillers BROKEN DOLLS and WATCH ME. The Scots-born, Hertfordshire-based Carol has an interesting background. Like several crime writers, he's honed his writing chops as a journalist, but he's also worked as a guitarist, sound engineer, guitar tutor and horse riding instructor (music and horses being two of his ongoing passions).

I met Carol at an event in London in March, which doubled as the official launch of Paul E. Hardisty's debut THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING (Carol and Hardisty took part in an excellent panel discussion with William Ryan). I was immediately intrigued by Carol's discussion of his protagonist Jefferson Winter, an eccentric ex-FBI profiler who travels the world hunting serial killers, and whose own father was a killer.

For those attending Crimefest in Bristol this weekend, I'd highly recommend going along to one of Carol's events, and picking up one or more of his books. But for now, he stares down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES CAROL

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
It’s got to be Jack Reacher. I’ve always had a thing for antiheroes, and Reacher is the best by a mile. He’s one of those characters who’s still going to be talked about in a hundred years’ time. The thing I find most impressive is that Lee Child is now on book 20 and, if anything, they are better than ever. A lot of writers would have taken their foot off the gas by now. Not Child. He’s got his foot hard down to the floor, and all you can do is hold on for the ride.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. This one sticks in my mind because it was the first adult book I read. I was only eleven at the time, so this was a real wake up call. For starters the hero died at the end. That sort of thing never happened in Enid Blyton’s books. The Dead Zone was the start of a lifelong obsession with Stephen King. Even now, I’ll be first in line when he has a new novel out. King is another of those writers whose books just keep getting better.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I started writing fiction in 2000 and in that time I’ve written all sorts of stuff. Thrillers, horror, spy books. For me, the story is everything. If I’ve got an idea that won’t leave me alone, then I need to get it down on the page.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Music is a big part of my life. I started playing guitar when I was ten. It’s got to be the coolest instrument there is. Plugging into an amp, hitting the distortion and cranking up the volume … it doesn’t get much better. I also ride and train horses. Most mornings are spent writing, while my afternoons are spent at the stables.

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?
If they’ve read BROKEN DOLLS then they should take a walk in Verulamium Park, in the dark. If they haven’t then they should read chapter 3, then head off to the park. The last I heard, the local tourist board had taken out a contract on me for sullying one of the city’s most beautiful places.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I copped out on this one and passed it over to my wife. She said Bradley Cooper. I’m not sure whether I should be flattered or concerned!

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I’ve enjoyed writing all of them for different reasons. That said, if you put a gun to my head and made me choose, I’d say WATCH ME. With BROKEN DOLLS I was still trying to work out who Winter was, however, by the time I got to WATCH ME, I had apretty good idea. Writing this was like being given the keys to a Ferrari and told to go and have fun.

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?
Like a lot of authors my first reaction was shocked disbelief. I’d spent years sending getting rejection after rejection, so to have someone turn around and say “yeah, I’ll publish that” was just incredible. The day the postman delivered the first copy is still one of the best days of my life. As soon as I unwrapped it, I sat it on the table and just stared at it. All the hard work and disappointment suddenly made sense. It was a wonderful moment.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Last year I was asked to take part in Mord am Hellweg in Germany, which was a huge honour. The event I attended was in this amazingly atmospheric old castle. What I remember most is sitting on stage in front of 300 people, reading the opening of BROKEN DOLLS in English and wondering if anyone had a clue what I was saying. Very surreal.


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

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You can read more about James Carol and his enigmatic profiler Jefferson Winter here: 

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Review: THE PALLAMPUR PREDICAMENT by Brian Stoddart

THE PALLAMPUR PREDICAMENT by Brian Stoddart (Crime Wave Press, 2014)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

The second Superindentent Le Fanu Mystery sees our intrepid British policeman on the trail of the murderers of an Indian Rajah. Under pressure from his superiors, pining for his lost love and allergic to the sight of blood, Le Fanu must navigate through a political mine-field of colonial intrigue in 1920s Madras. As the British tighten their grip on the sub-continent, Gandhi’s peace movement, British secret agents and armed pro-independence rebels complicate Le Fanu’s investigations further and he soon finds himself in a quagmire of violent opposing forces that are unwilling to compromise.

There is often no better way to spice up a bit of historical fiction by adding a murder mystery. The historical detective story has taken crime and history lovers to plenty of times and places through ancient Rome, Tudor Britain and, in the more recent past, Ireland during the Troubles. Brian Stoddart has set his Inspector Le Fanu novels in Madras in the years after World War I. The British are still in power but their grip is slipping, thanks partly to the pacifist uprising being led by Ghandi. It is a fascinating time and place to explore and Stoddart clearly knows his way around.

The Pallampur Predicament has a number of intersecting mysteries that all revolve around life in British India. At the centre of the web is the Raja of Pallampur, brutally murdered in his Madras home after a formal reception. Just prior to that there were rumours of corruption, tax evasion and other strange goings on in Pallampur. As the case unravels connections spiral out to include the nascent British secret service and the influence of international organised crime organisations.

Inspector Le Fanu himself is typical of the historical crime genre. As the readers’ eyes and ears, Le Fanu brings a distinctly twenty-first century view of the world he is living in. He can see the writing on the wall for British Rule, he promotes his staff based on their ability, he clashes with some of his superiors over the way they treat the local people and he has an Anglo-Indian lover, something frowned upon by Madras society. He is also a dogged investigator, keeping his blackboards up to date and following the “rule book” for a successful investigation.

Where The Pallampur Predicament excels, its wealth of historical information, is also where it falls down a little. The plot tends to get bogged down with digressions full of historical exposition. At one point, a character even apologises for the lengthy explanation he has to give to the police about a particular historical point. The central mystery itself takes a bit of a back seat to the history lesson that all of the investigation of red herrings and dead ends brings to the reader. And the resolution of who killed the Raja and why is decidedly weak. But for those who like their history with a dash of mystery, The Pallampur Predicament is worth the effort.

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Karen Chisholm is one of the most respected crime fiction reviewers in Australia. An absolute stalwart of antipodean crime fiction, Karen created and has been running her Aust Crime Fiction website since 2006, highlighting a plethora of authors and titles from this part of the world, to the wider world online. It is a terrific resource - please check it out. 

Karen also reviews for other outlets, such as the Newtown Review of Books, and since 2014 has been a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel - the New Zealand crime writing award. Her reviews of New Zealand crime novels will now be shared here on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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