Saturday, July 4, 2015

Independence Day: State by State Crime Reading

Today is a very important day for all my friends in the United States - the country I've spent by far the most time in outside of New Zealand - as fireworks and outdoor cooking and parties will mark the Fourth of July; Independence Day.

I've had the pleasure of celebrating Independence Day in a variety of ways during my four summers spent in the United States, but since I'm now based in London, I thought I'd give a nod to this great place full of great people by officially joining the USA Fiction Challenge.

The idea of the challenge is to read your way across America, all 50 states (or 51, if you choose to include the District of Columbia). It is a challenge that can be done in a year, or over time. I've decided to concentrate on crime fiction I've read or will read from the different states (setting or author location). Obviously states like California, New York, and Florida give huge amounts of options, with many terrific crime writers setting their books there, or being from there. Others will be more difficult.

Rather than starting afresh, I will be using crime novels I have already read and reviewed as part of this challenge, and then trying to 'fill in the gaps' moving forward. In each case I'll pick one great book/author to represent a state, but I may list other cool crime titles for that state as recommended reads too. A rule I'm considering for myself: no author double-ups as the main title for a state (ie can't use James Lee Burke for Louisiana, Texas, and Montana, despite him writing terrific books set in each state). But we'll see how I go. I might use some double-ups to start with, until I can replace one book with a different author.

You can sign up for the USA Fiction Challenge yourself here. I think it's a great idea to encourage us to read other, new-to-you authors, and to explore crime fiction set in a variety of places (think Global Reading Challenge: the US edition). Having travelled a lot in the United States, I often say to friends that every state is different, like it's own country in a way, and you can get amazing diversity exploring that great land. So we'll be experiencing that through the reading challenge too.






CALIFORNIA: The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (2012): in this cracker from California's best modern-day crime writer, Mickey Haller is juggling foreclosure cases as the economy crumbles when he's forced to question everything when he defends a client accused of murder. Read review here. 








IDAHO: Blue Heaven by CJ Box (2010): an absorbing tale of two frightened children who witness a murder and are then sheltered by an elderly rancher when they're hunted by corrupt cops who are leading the search party. Edgar Award winner. Read review here.




KANSAS: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (2009): Libby Day has drifted for 20 years after surviving the notorious "Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas". Running out of money, she accepts a paid appearance before true crime fans who believe the man convicted, her brother, is innocent. Read review here. 

KENTUCKY: Buried Alive by Jack Kerley (2010): the seventh instalment in the outstanding Carson Ryder series sees the Alabama detective travel to rural Kentucky for a vacation only to stumble across a series of sadistic killings. Snippet review here, fuller review to follow. 





MICHIGAN: Misery Bay by Steve Hamilton (2012): the return of former city cop Alex McKnight who is asked by his nemesis to investigate the hanging suicide of a young man in the frozen Michigan wilderness. Read review here.


MISSISSIPPI: One Night in Mississippi by Craig Shreve (2015): a broken man haunted by the lynching of his brother helps track down the killers fifty years later when the US Dept of Justice reopens old cases. Review to be published. 



NEBRASKA: A Wanted Man by Lee Child (2012): Jack Reacher is picked up hitch-hiking in rural Nebraska by three strangers, only to realise something bad is going on and maybe they just want him as a decoy for the police roadblocks. Read review here




NEW MEXICO: A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman (1988): the discovery of two corpses at an ancient burial site spurs Navajo Tribal policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee to plunge into the past to unearth an astonishing truth and a cold-hearted killer.  Macavity Award winner; Edgar finalist. Read review here. 


NORTH CAROLINA: The Last Child by John Hart (2009): a thirteen-year-old boy hunts for his missing sister in a small-town full of secrets in this bleakly magnificent Edgar Award-winning crime novel. Read review here.


OHIO: The Silent Hour by Michael Koryta (2009): Cleveland-based private eye Lincoln Perry is asked by a convicted killer to solve the 12-year-old disappearance of the founder of a unique programme for parolees. Edgar-nominated author. Read review here.





SOUTH DAKOTA: 61 Hours by Lee Child (2010): Jack Reacher finds himself marooned in snow-swept Bolton, South Dakota after a bus crash, protecting a witness from a hit man in a small town hemmed in by a gigantic prison and a violent gang of bikers. Read review here. 


TEXAS: Playing Dead by Julie Heaberlin (2012): returning to Texas for her beloved father's funeral, a woman receives a letter saying she was kidnapped from her real mother as a child, sending her on a perilous road of secrets and discoveries. Snippet review here, fuller review to follow. 



VIRGINIA: Edge by Jeffrey Deaver (2010): a high-level government bodyguard is assigned to shepherd (protect) a DC cop and his family in a cat-and-mouse game with a notorious 'lifter', an assassin who'll do whatever it takes to get the information he wants. Read review here.

WASHINGTON: The Night Crew by Brian Haig (2015): an army lawyer is ordered to defend a soldier accused of torturing enemy prisoners abroad. As he reluctantly prepares for trial, he begins to wonder whether she's being scapegoated by powerful people. Read review here. 



WYOMING: Cold Wind by CJ Box (2011): the 11th Joe Pickett novel sees the Wyoming game warden conflicted as he tries to keep his much-hated mother-in-law from prison as he investigates who murdered her rich fifth husband and strung him up from a wind turbine. Read review here.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Review: BEYOND THE RAGE by Michael J Malone

BEYOND THE RAGE by Michael J Malone (Saraband, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Glaswegian author Michael J. Malone's prose is onyx; unique and glittering in its darkness. While journalism is a common background for crime writers, Malone has 200 published poems to his name, and that rare talent for language bleeds into his storytelling in this noir-ish tale.

Kenny O'Neill is both hero and villain; a likeable criminal at the core of this exquisite thriller. A Glaswegian gangster capable of brutality, but with a degree of heart and (sort-of) moral compass, whose rage powers a fascinating thrill-ride into the underbelly of Scotland.

Kenny has every right to be angry. His father abandoned him after his mother's suicide, yet is now reaching out years later, while at the same time his girlfriend - a high-class hooker - has been viciously attacked. Balancing white knight and black hat, Kenny is driven to try to solve the mysteries of the past and the present, quick-stepping through a minefield of dangers as he seeks answers, and vengeance.

Malone does a tremendous job at crafting a novel with a dark heart, yet peppered with moments of humour and plenty of things that can make readers grin, even laugh. Kenny is Tony Soprano-esque, in that he's a bad guy, but also incredibly fascinating, layered, and you just can't help but root for him on his quest. There's an intriguing cast of characters that orbit around Kenny's life too, from the high to the low in Glaswegian society, wannabe tough-guys to aging mentors and dangerous monied men. Malone infuses them all with some nuance - there are no cardboard cut-outs or caricatures here. People want things, for very human reasons.

BEYOND THE RAGE has a twisting plotline that will thrill crime fans, keeping the reader guessing as events unfold, while delivering depth of character and stylish prose that elevates it to the higher echelons of the genre. Just a damned good story. Dark, absorbing, filled with ferocity and feeling.

Delightful seems a bizarre word to use for such a noir tale, full of unsympathetic people, but delighted I was as I was carried along by Malone's craftsmanship, the words crackling with intensity, pages filled with spark.

A violent and visceral read from a master storyteller. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Murder in the Library hits Lower Hutt tonight!

The Ngaio Marsh Award, in association with the New Zealand Book Council and Hutt City Libraries, invites booklovers to a thrilling event celebrating two talented Wellington writers.

As crime writing has evolved from puzzle-like mysteries to novels delving deeply into people and places, it has continued to be the world’s most popular form of storytelling. But what makes the genre so fascinating?

2015 Ngaio Marsh Award longlistees Cat Connor and Paul Thomas will quiz each other about creating memorable characters, exploring real-life issues through storytelling, and what drew them to crime fiction.

WHEN:         Thursday, 2 July 2015
WHERE:       War Memorial Library, 2 Queens Drive, Lower Hutt
WHEN:         6.30pm author discussion

RSVP:            Hutt City Libraries, (04) 570 6633

Cat Connor’s ‘byte’ books starring FBI Special Agent Ellie Conway have been described as “fast-paced techno-thrillers with black humour, likable protagonists with real depth, and full of twists and turns” (Crime Watch)

Paul Thomas has been described as the ‘Godfather’ of local crime writing (New Zealand Listener), and his books featuring Tito Ihaka have won the Ned Kelly Award in Australia (1996) and the Ngaio Marsh Award (2013). 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

9mm: An interview with Sarah Ward

Welcome to another great edition of 9mm, Crime Watch's quickfire author interview series. Pull up a comfy seat, grab yourself a tasty drink, and get ready to learn a little more about another terrific storyteller who is bringing tales of murder, mayhem and more to the page (or screen, if you're an ebooklover).

Today I'm pleased to introduce Sarah Ward, a new British author from Derbyshire, whose much-anticipated debut crime novel, IN BITTER CHILL, is released this week (great book, by the way, go grab a copy). Ward is well-known in English literary circles for her crime fiction reviews for a number of outlets, including her own popular blog, Crimepieces.

IN BITTER CHILL centres on historic and contemporary tragedies: two girls are abducted in the late 1970s, one is found. More than 30 years later, the mother of the missing girl commits suicide, upturning the life of the now-adult girl who returned. As Ward's agent said when a two-book deal with Faber was announced last year, "This is a story that gets to the heart of a community and the legacy of a tragedy like this. It’s a story about loss and secrets – those we tell ourselves and those we tell each other."

As I noted at the start of 2015, this is a book I'm very much looking forward to reading. Ward wrote the novel, set in her home county of Derbyshire, while living and working in Greece, and missing home. I imagine you'll be hearing a lot more about Ward over the next few weeks, given her outstanding debut, but for now, she becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
This is a really hard question for me to answer as I've read so much crime fiction over the years. I'm a huge Agatha Christie fan and I'm so tempted to mention one of her characters or perhaps P D James's Adam Dalgliesh. However I'm going to concentrate on contemporary crime fiction and my favourite detective is Fred Vargas's Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. He's innovative, reflective and completely original.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I can't remember the very first book I read myself as learning to read is such an organic experience. My mother read to me a huge amount when I was a child. I'm sure one the early books I read on my own would have been a Ladybird fairytale. I used to love them all.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Before IN BITTER CHILL, I wrote a book featuring the same police characters but I wasn't happy with the story so I didn't do much with it. I'd like to revisit it some day and resurrect one the characters that didn't make it into the finished book. We'll see.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Well I'm a huge reader still, even though my reading has taken a hit by my writing. I'm not sure my blog, Crimepieces, counts as leisure as I spend so much time on it, but reading and reviewing crime novels is a passion. I also sing in the Manchester Cathedral Voluntary Choir. This is a great group of people. As I learnt to speak Greek while I was living in Athens I also practise this with a friend.

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 the countryside in Derbyshire Peak District which receives lots of tourists who use the national park for outdoor activities. I'm interested in the industrial landscape of the area. Former mines, mills and so on are worth a visit because our industrial heritage is fascinating.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
There's absolutely no way I want my life made into a movie.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I'm currently writing my second book which I'm completely absorbed in. But I suspect your debut novel always holds a  special place in your heart.

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?
I was having a tea break in a Language School when I saw the e-mail from my agent to say Faber had offered for the book. I replied 'hooray' and went back into the classroom.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
These are yet to come, I suspect.

Thank you Sarah, we appreciate you taking the time to chat with Crime Watch. 


You can read more about Sarah Ward and her writing here: 


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A dirty dozen: some new Kiwi crime titles

As the announcement of the finalists for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award looms (in the next few days), celebrating the best of last year's New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller titles, I thought I'd pause to appreciate the present, and the future.

Here is a dirty dozen of recently released or upcoming (available for preorder) Kiwi crime titles. Next year's Ngaio Marsh Award finalists and winner may very well be among them, but for now, they're just great reads. I can personally vouch for Cleave's TRUST NO ONE, Daniell's THE FIXER, Nicol's THE MISTAKE, Sanders' AMERICAN BLOOD, Sarafis's SOMETHING IS ROTTEN, and Thomas's BLOOD, WINE & CHOCOLATE. Those books are all in the good to outstanding range. I'm looking forward to reading the others (I recently really enjoyed Ryan's prequel to THE MARK OF HALAM, so that's high on the list).

I will be ramping up the publication of New Zealand book reviews here on Crime Watch in the coming months (sixty full reviews, a dozen or so mini-reviews, and 100+ international book reviews and counting).

If you are a reviewer, and would in particular be interested in reading and reviewing any of the above books - or any other New Zealand crime, mystery, or thriller title - for Crime Watch, please leave a comment or contact me on craigsisterson[at]hotmail[dot]com. I can provide review copies.