Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Talking Kiwi crime fiction - Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, and Paul Thomas

Back in early 2012 I had the privilege of chairing a great session on New Zealand crime writing at the New Zealand International Arts Festival. Sitting onstage with three terrific contemporary writers who have all taken the genre in our country to new heights and added new things, in different ways, was a great experience. You can read my thoughts at the time about the entire weekend here.

Paul Thomas is the 'godfather of New Zealand crime writing' thanks to his Ihaka books in the 1990s, and had at the time of our hourlong session at the Arts Festival recently returned to penning pages of murder and mayhem with DEATH ON DEMAND, which would go on to win the Ngaio Marsh Award. Vanda Symon is the Queen of contemporary Kiwi crime fiction, a three times Ngaio Marsh Award finalist, and very knowledgeable about literature in general (hosting a radio show and studying for a PhD). Paul Cleave is arguably New Zealand's most successful novelist of the past decade, in global terms, having topped bestseller lists in Europe and racking up award wins and nominations in NZ, France, and the USA.

We had an absolutely wonderful session before a great crowd. You can listen to the full session, thanks to Radio New Zealand, here:

Here's the official blurb about the New Zealand crime writing sessions, from the Arts Festival brochure:

Three of New Zealand’s best crime writers discussed bringing one of the world’s most popular forms of storytelling into a distinctly New Zealand setting.

Paul Cleave’s Christchurch-set thrillers are critically acclaimed worldwide. His debut, The Cleaner, is one of the biggest selling novels to come out of New Zealand. Paul Thomas dragged local murder mysteries into modernity with popular thrillers in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After a decade-long hiatus, Thomas returns with Death on Demand. Called ‘New Zealand’s contemporary Queen of Crime’ by the New Zealand Listener, Vanda Symon is the creator of the bestselling Sam Shephard novels, set in Otago and Southland; the latest in the series is Bound. Craig Sisterson chaired this session.


Review: FREDERICK'S COAT by Alan Duff

FREDERICK'S COAT by Alan Duff (Vintage, 2013)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

From the author of Once Were Warriors, FREDERICK'S COAT is equally as surprising, challenging, moving and profoundly affecting. It's also particularly unusual in that it looks past the crime, the investigation and jail time to a life that is being rebuilt.

Johno comes from a long line of single fathers. So it's no particular surprise that his release from jail after a long sentence doesn't lead to happy ever after in his personal life. Despite trying, it's not long before his wife packs up and leaves him, taking their daughter with her. This leaves Johno responsible for the care of their son Danny. Johno vows to go straight, to set a good example, to be different from his own father and grandfather. That's not to say that anything they did was cruel, or exploitative. In their own way, this is a family of caring and loving men. Lifetime criminals who did their best, it's that habitual criminal aspect that Johno is determined to avoid for Danny.

From the very start, as soon as Johno comes out of jail, it's obvious that Danny's very different. It's not just his artistic ability, there's something else. His social skills aren't good, he's instantly the target of bullies in school, he simply doesn't fit in. Johno takes each of the challenges that Danny throws at him and does the very best he can. He also works hard, builds a business, makes a lot of money, stays as straight as he possibly can, cares for Danny, encourages his artistic interests, is proud of his son. Along the way he helps out old friends, and eventually finds love of his own. All the while Danny's behaviour becomes more odd, and stretches Johno's understanding further. Although nobody could possibly predict the outcome when Danny befriends a homeless man. All Johno can do at that stage is stand by and watch the car crashing - or does he fall back on old connections from his criminal past?

FREDERICK'S COAT is an unusual crime novel in that it's exploring long term consequences. It does that in a particularly moving and sobering way. There's so much here about the struggle to change your destiny, the difficulties in handling the temptations that we all brush up against every day, and the ease with which wrong decisions can be made. It's also most definitely a story about love. There's real love between these generations of men, and there is a stoic acceptance of failings, foibles and faults.

There's also a touch of steel displayed. Johno is a man who is determined to get in front of his background, to make a change in his life. He's quiet about it, not flashy and not prone to emotional outbursts but there's something about him, in particular, that was so real, so raw and so beautifully drawn that it's almost impossible to get to the end of this book without a tear in the eye.

Regardless of whether you believe (as this reader does) that FREDERICK'S COAT is a psychological thriller, an exploration of background, upbringing and influence, it is definitely an outstanding analysis of consequences.

Regardless of how you want to classify it, FREDERICK'S COAT is different. Beautiful, moving and a difficult book to read, it was an absolute privilege to do so.

*FREDERICK'S COAT was a finalist for the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award


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


Monday, January 26, 2015

9mm: An interview with Antti Tuomainen

Well, we've done it. One hundred author interviews for the 9mm series have been published here on Crime Watch! Wow, crazy to think the series is still going almost five years after it started on a bit of a whim. I'll be pulling together some things from the 100 interviews for a blog post or two in the coming days, but for now, on with the show!

Late last year I had the pleasure of attending Iceland Noir in Reykjavik, an excellent crime fiction festival that had first been launched the year before following a casual conversation between Icelandic crime writers Quentin Bates, Ragnar Jonasson, and Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It was a wonderful festival, and I was feel grateful to have spent a wonderful couple of days attending events, interviewing a lot of authors, and chatting about crime fiction.

One of the authors I met for the first time at the festival was Antti Tuomainen, author of THE HEALER, a futuristic post-apocalyptic thriller set in Helsinki that won the Clue Award for the Best Crime Novel in Finland in 2011 and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Even before I met Antti, I'd heard his name bandied about by several other attendees - he seemed something of a Scandinavian crime writing rock star.

The English-language translation of THE HEALER has been praised as a mix between Stieg Larsson and Cormac McCarthy, with the power and poetry of Tuomainen's prose, as much as his page-turning plotting, drawing rave reviews. Critics have praised "his piercing and evocative style", and feted him as "one of the first writers to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula".

But for now, Antti Tuomainen becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.

9MM: An interview with Antti Tuomainen

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective? 
Right now, at this very moment, I would say my favourite criminal character is Frank Underwood, the American politician played by Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, the TV series. Frank is utterly corrupt, completely immoral and endlessly brilliant. I hate him and I can’t stop rooting for him. In other words: great writing.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why? 
Aaro Honka: Juanikkaat virtaheposet. A Finnish YA adventure story from the 1950’s. I found the book at my mother’s birth home library. In the book a group of resourceful young boys do all kinds of things in a small seaside town, including catching a petty criminal. (I think the guy had stolen a fishing pole or something to that extent) It was somehow very exotic and familiar at the same time and I could relate to it. I think that book ignited something in me even though I can’t really remember anything specific about it.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles? 
I’ve been writing for a living practically all my adult life. I was an advertising copywriter for 12 years, I’ve done journalism, have written film and TV screenplays and scripts for documentaries and, of course, I wrote poetry, plays and short stories in my youth. Also, I wrote two unpublished novels before my debut novel was published in 2007.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise? 
A few things: I like to spend time with my wonderful wife and we like to take long walks. We enjoy this, and -- as we travel quite a bit -- we’ve found it’s the best way to get to know and see a new city. I also like sauna a lot. If I had a chance I’d probably go every day. I love it. And, of course, I read. Simple pleasures all of them, but surprisingly hard to find time for. I’m not complaining, by the way.

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 would recommend the whole city, not just downtown Helsinki. There’s so much to see: the different parts of the city are like different characters in the same film. Also, the sea is everywhere and I enjoy walking the shores in different parts of the city.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you? 
Bill Murray and Groundhog Day. Just kidding. What a tough question. Although, as it would be a slow and quite undramatic movie, I would hope for someone with an interesting face. Just to make sure that there’s something to see.

7. Of your writings, published and unpublished, which is your favourite, and why? 
I suppose they all really are my favourites. This has to do with the fact that every piece of writing is a child of that particular time. I believe every piece stands for something. Sounds simple and a bit corny, perhaps, but that’s how it is: I needed to write every book and every piece I ever wrote. For one reason or another.

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 online or physical bookseller’s shelf? 
I felt like I won. I don’t know what, but that’s how it felt. It felt strange and special to see my book in a bookshop. Actually, it still does. I feel grateful every time I see that. It makes me happy and very grateful to think that the book might find a reader. It’s a feeling I can’t really compare with anything else.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival? 
I’ve been very lucky. Only happy experiences.

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


You can read more about Antti Tuomainen and his books here: 


Comments welcome.

New Kiwi mystery: FORECAST by Sarah Costelloe

FORECAST by Sarah Costelloe (2014)

Sixteen-year-old Holly Armstrong finds herself alone and afraid when she is forced to move from London to a small surfing town in New Zealand. It's supposed to be her chance at a fresh start - a chance to put the past behind her and start again. So she tries to be normal in her new home, even striking up an unlikely relationship with the charming and mysterious local boy, Taine Kingi. But Holly's life has never been normal. Before she knows it, she starts dreaming about murder, then her deadly dreams come true. Why are people dying exactly how she's dreamed it? Searching for answers, Holly discovers a terrifying secret. Something sinister is awakening in the sleepy town of Piha. What is it and what does it have to do with Taine? With the body count rising, only one thing is clear: nowhere and no one is safe. How can Holly save the people she loves, when there is no one left to trust?

FORECAST is the debut young adult thriller from Auckland-based author Sarah Costelloe, a former chemical engineer. Costelloe says on her website that she first thought about becoming a writer when she read Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden when she was 12 years old. Interests in science and debating veered her away from that writing dream for a while, as she earned degrees in Engineering and Political Science before working as a chemical engineer in a brewery, a steel mill, a paper mill, and a cereal factory. Her passion for creative writing never dimmed however, and last year she published her debut novel. You can read more about Sarah Costelloe and FORECAST at her author website here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ngaio Marsh Award: Me and Mr McGee

Greg McGee with the 2010 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, that he won for his
debut thriller CUT & RUN, written under the pseudonym Alix Bosco. Photo credit: Maja Moritz

When the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel was launched in 2010, it marked a new era in New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing. We finally had an award to celebrate our best works in the world's most popular genre. Murmurs around the local literary world were largely positive, and a big September event - including a murder mystery-themed performance by the famous Court Theatre - was scheduled to headline that year's Christchurch Writers Festival in the prime Saturday night slot.

Unfortunately, everything changed when a few days beforehand the first of two major earthquakes struck Christchurch. Fortunately no lives were lost then (unlike the devastating 'quake a few months later), but infrastructure was badly damaged, and the festival was cancelled. Then, in December, a good crowd turned out for a one-off special event, complete with finalists Vanda Symon and Neil Cross, and local crime writer Paul Cleave. Unfortunately, as s/he was writing under a pseudonym at that time, the inaugural winner was not there to claim their well-earned prize in person: Alix Bosco for the terrific debut CUT & RUN.

So we never had a picture of the winner with the first award - a terrific and distinctive handcrafted trophy created by sculptor Gina Ferguson. It was still a fabulous night, and it was great to have New Zealand crime fiction finally being celebrated in such a way. The Ngaio Marsh Award has gone from strength to strength in the years since, but it always irked me we never had a picture of Greg McGee (who 'came out' as Alix Bosco in 2011) with his trophy. But thanks to photographer Maja Moritz, now we do.

I'm very pleased to share this lovely photo with you all now. Moritz did a photographic series of 43 New Zealand authors for DPA Picture Alliance in Germany in association with New Zealand being the Guest of Honour at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair. You can see more about her work on this project here.

As part of that project, Moritz took some photos of Greg McGee at his house, including this one of him holding up the Ngaio Marsh Award he'd won as 'Alix Bosco' two years before.

Moritz, who is a very talented photographer, and took some lovely pics of some iconic New Zealand authors (including other crime writers like Paddy Richardson, Chad Taylor, and Eleanor Catton), has been kind enough to let us use this photo now. You can see more of her work at her website here.

Thank you Maja. We appreciate you sharing your talent, and work, with us.