Friday, February 23, 2018

Cover reveal: OVERKILL by Vanda Symon (Orenda Books)

I've been sitting on this news for a while, but I'm stoked to finally share that OVERKILL, the debut crime novel from Dunedin author Vanda Symon, a three-time Ngaio Marsh Awards finalist and the author of the Sam Shephard series, will be published in the UK this year by Orenda Books.

Orenda Books is a terrific publisher, who specialise in bringing fresh crime voices to UK and US readers - a mix of top notch 'overseas' authors who haven't been published in the UK/US before, and brilliant British debutants.

Today, Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books has given me the honour of being the first to share the new Orenda Books cover for OVERKILL. It's striking and atmospheric, and certainly evokes the 'dark times in rural New Zealand' setting of Symon's raw and powerful debut.

OVERKILL will be published by Orenda Books in paperback and ebook form on 30 August 2018. There are also plans for an audiobook version. I'm very excited to see how northern hemisphere crime readers will respond to Vanda's writing, which I've admired for many years.

Here's the backcover blurb for OVERKILL:
When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems. Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast said her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands. To find the murderer … and clear her name. A taut, atmospheric and page- turning thriller, Overkill marks the start of an unputdownable and unforgettable series from one of New Zealand’s finest crime writers.

Congratulations to Vanda Symon and Orenda Books.

You can see Vanda's official page on the Orenda Books website here.


PAINTED by Kirsten McKenzie (2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

When art appraiser Anita Cassatt is sent to catalogue the extensive collection of reclusive artist Leo Kubin, it isn’t only the chilly atmosphere of the secluded house making her shiver.

Upon entering the house, Anita stands before a silent audience of portraits clustered on every wall. Every painted eye is watching her, including those of the unfinished portrait on the artist’s easel. A portrait with an eerie familiarity. 

Kubin’s lawyer didn’t share the detailed instructions regarding the handling of the art, and Anita and her team start work in ignorance of the very instructions designed to keep them safe.

Disturbed, a man eases himself out of his portrait and stretches. Free at last from the confines of his canvas, he has no intention of ever returning. He has a painting to finish…

Painted is a creepy slow burn piece of horror writing, putting scenarios in your head that play out long after you have finished reading.

At the start of the novel, you find out an artist has passed away and left specific instructions as to the disposal of his vast art collection – instructions which his lawyer has no intention of following. So, when an appraisal company is engaged and a young art appraiser, Anita, is the first of a team to arrive at the remote country pile, the reader already has amorphous concerns for her well-being.

Anita is haunted by a traumatic incident in her past, and is hyper-sensitive to male intentions. When the estate’s lawyer arrives to oversee her work, Anita is more concerned with his presence than with the odd happenings of which the reader is slowly becoming aware. For the characters, the Gothic setting and winter storms make strange noises and moving objects easy to explain away. And when they become aware of peculiar things happening to some of the paintings in the house, their first reaction is to accuse each other.

When more appraisers arrive, and people start to go missing, the action and the suspicions of the characters start to ramp up. Meanwhile, the reader is trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, including the little they learn of past goings on in the house, information given by a neighbouring farmer. Added to this are some disturbing developments in the house that are far from supernatural.

McKenzie plays with three familiar tropes: belief that an image of a person captures something of their essence, that the eyes are the windows to the soul – and the common rituals of ‘opening of the eyes’ of statuary, and the thought that some personal items can hold power over the owner.  These familiar elements make the supernatural plot of Painted feel graspable.  And as the reader has access to the goings on of both the natural and supernatural characters, the story is nicely filled in.  And the ending not expected at all. A good spooky read.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review was first published on her blog, which you can check out here


WOLVES IN DOGS' CLOTHING by Christodoulos Moisa (2017)

Reviewed by Antony Millen

Wolves in Dogs' Clothing is the second novel in the Wolf Trilogy. It is New Year's Eve 1973 in Nicosia, Cyprus. New Zealand journalist Steve Carpenter is celebrating the occasion with his friend Inspector Petros Zimaras and his family and is looking forward to a happier 1974. But it is not to be. In the early hours of the next morning, Zimaras receives a call from UN headquarters on the island alerting him that their helicopter patrol has found a body within the Green Line, the buffer zone that separates the Greek Cypriots from their Turkish counterparts.

This brutal event marks the beginning of a tumultuous year for Carpenter and Zimaras, as they are drawn into solving a series of cold-blooded murders against a backdrop of civil war and invasion. The two friends find their mettle tested to the limit, in a climate where they, and all the others who live on the Mediterranean island, are forced to question loyalties and long-held beliefs and to face threats from both within and beyond.

The second book in a trilogy by Christodolous Moisa, Wolves in Dogs' Clothing is his follow-up to The Hour of the Grey Wolf. The story picks up only a few months after the previous one finished, closing out 1973 and moving through to the end of a Cyprus summer in 1974. President Makarios is a pivotal figure again, targeted in a failed assassination which initiates a coup d'├ętat and quickly leads to war. Within the conflict, we follow New Zealand journalist, Stauvro Marange (aka Steve Carpenter), as he navigates through the turmoil while also working with local police to solve a series of murders.

Stauvro is now integrated in his parents’ community of Mpalloura. His neighbour brings him food when he is sick, and Sergeant Karageorgis, asks him to look after a crime scene while he attends to other matters in the nearby capital city of Nicosia. Moisa effectively re-introduces the principal characters, showing the progress of their relationship, and building empathy for them during this mini-golden age that is soon to be catastrophically disrupted.

With the introduction of the crime scene and associated murder investigation, Moisa wastes no time initiating action and intrigue. Whereas The Hour of the Grey Wolf was, in some ways, a literary experiment, almost memoir in nature, including a short story and a poem as part of the narrative, Moisa steers clear of this in Wolves in Dogs’ Clothing. Still, there are times where Stauvro’s voice is encyclopaedic in his exposition, relaying the real-life situation in Cyprus preceding the book’s events. He even includes a sort of treatise about journalism and altruism.

That’s not to say the background is not relevant or interesting. It is, and even if it may not be to some readers, Moisa can be forgiven as this is dealt with in brief sections of the first quarter of the book, embedded in a driving narrative which, for the most part, maintains a steady and earnest pace throughout, enabled primarily by sharp and realistic dialogue.

The journalistic aspect of Stauvro’s life plays a central role in this sequel. In addition to his sleuthing support of his friend, Inspector Petros Zimaras, he is also working on an automobile smuggling story. We even see him travel to London and drive all the way back to Cyprus, in a plot diversion that seems tangential, but does lead to resolutions later in the story.

However, the central investigation opens when the body of a young man is discovered with a gunshot to the head and four stab wounds to the back. This time it is Petros who invites his involvement, demonstrating the respect Stauvro had earned from his work in the first instalment in the series. We are introduced to the UN’s presence as they take an interest in crimes in Cyprus, seemingly ever alert for the growing tensions between the established Republic under Makarios and insurgents who wish to see the country governed by Greece. Tensions are high as Turkey also has a vested interest, understandable considering Cyprus’ position as a potential military base should conflict ever erupt between the two larger nations.

1974 Cyprus is highly politicised. Almost every character is identified by their place on the political spectrum. While not understanding all the complexities (though after reading the book, I feel much better informed), I see Cyprus as a version of Israel, racked by internal strife and treated as a pawn for larger nations. Stauvros expounds on this:
‘Ludwig Gumplowicz in 1884 came up with the theory that proposed that civilisation was largely shaped by conflict. He said (and here I am paraphrasing): What happened to other great empires may also happen to Europe, and although there are no barbaric tribes to cause its collapse their intent, though, lies latent within its very own people. He had been right on two monstrous occasions during the but the same sentiment, unfortunately, seemed also to apply to what was happening here and now as Cyprus, the island of love, was rapidly descending, once again in its long history, into the quagmire of fratricide, bloodshed, and hate.’

Because Stauvro is more ensconced in Cyprus now, he has made some personal enemies. While he essentially remains neutral as a journalist amidst the conflict, Costas, who blames Stauvro for his father’s death in the first novel, has aligned himself with the insurgent group EOKA B. Regardless of Stauvro’s neutrality, Costas uses the chaos to enact revenge and establish himself as a legitimate suspect in at least some of the crimes being investigated. This personal connection, along with potential enemies made from his smuggling story, serves to increase the jeopardy tenfold from The Hour of the Grey Wolf. But Stauvro also has familiar helpers, such as Old Xenis, a favourite of mine, and his neighbour, Giagia Androutsou.

On the heels of the coup, Cyprus is invaded by Turkey in an effort to prevent dominance by Greece and to look after established Turkish residents and interests. The coup and invasion seem to affect the genre of the story as Stauvro is then embroiled as a war correspondent for Reuters, able to cross various lines using his reporter status and New Zealand passport, but the mystery of the slain soldier lingers in the background. In fact, we suspect the murders are exacerbated by it as, within the chaos and overshadowed by other atrocities, more bodies are discovered around the island nation with the same wounds. With the possibility of a serial killer on the loose, Moisa enters new territory, complete with Da Vinci Code type symbolism.

Like all good historical fiction, there are plenty of other interesting things to learn about in Moisa’s trilogy.  Dates and place names, even street names, are carefully and explicitly indicated as Moisa accurately embeds his story in this tumultuous era. This is important to him, and it works for the reader without losing site of the crime story. Greek language is prevalent but always translated, as are some smatterings of French which I enjoyed.

What was impressed upon me most in the novel was how civilians continued the activities of their daily lives amidst the upheaval, waiting for the big players to work out their conflict and hoping order will be restored under someone’s rule. Stauvro notes this too and reveals his outsider’s and journalistic detachment even in the home nation of his parents in conversation with his love interest, Melani:
‘I also told her what I saw in Nicosia after the coup d'├ętat and in the first invasion.
“How do you see things?” asked Melani.
“I don’t know. In the end, it’s what the big powers decide to do.”’

Melani is a lovely character who adds an element of romance to the series. She has a sweet relationship with Stauvro, but one that is difficult to nurture in such trying circumstances and in the end increases Stauvro’s jeopardy again. As he reflects, “Love is a luxury of peace.” Amusingly, however, Stauvro always makes time to check on his cat Scipio in Mpalloura. It’s a charming trait and one that affects plot as he often encounters scenes or clues or during these travels.

If the second part of any trilogy should take its protagonist into the darkest places, then Moisa has succeeded in spades. Stauvro Marange faces enemies from all sides and in many guises. As does the island of Cyprus which, because of his frequent travels and the displacement that war creates, we explore more of in this novel. As we do so, we come to know the Cypriot people in many respects and marvel, as Petros does, at their resiliency:
“Imagine that, the war has just ended, and people have already gone back to doing what they have been doing for millennia. Ploughing, building ….”

Evoking admiration for the people of Cyprus is surely a major part of the author’s intent, drawing our attention to their manners, customs, culture, and fortitude. This is how we leave the people of Cyprus at the end of Wolves in Dogs’ Clothing, allowing them to rebuild. But with a third book forthcoming in this series, we can expect their peace, and Stauvro’s reprieve following another crime solved, to be short-lived.

Wolves in Dogs’ Clothing is available in paperback and e-book formats on Amazon.

Antony Millen is a Canadian living in New Zealand. He is the author of three novels and has recently been collecting awards, publications and rejections for his short stories. He blogs regularly on his website: Follow him on Twitter here

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Cluedo meets Quantum Leap: an interview with Stuart Turton

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the fourth instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 176th overall edition of our long-running author interview series!

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. What a line-up. Thanks everyone.

I'm aiming to average an interview a week for the rest of the year, but today we're doing a bonus interview (after Clare Carson's 9mm interview yesterday), since Granite Noir is coming up this weekend - a great opportunity to meet lots of cool crime writers from several countries. Along with recent 9mm interviewees Johana Gustawsson and Clare Carson (who'll be appearing onstage together for the "When Bygones Aren't Bygones" panel), today's 9mm target will also be heading up to Aberdeen for the weekend.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome the brilliant Stuart Turton to Crime Watch. Stu has just released his debut mystery, but already has the crime world abuzz thanks to his intricately plotted, exquisitely written first novel - and the sheer audacity of its high-concept premise. THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE is an Agatha Christie-like country manor murder mystery, but Stu has managed to come up with plots twists that even the Grande Dame didn't think of (a rare feat).

In THE SEVEN DEATHS OF EVELYN HARDCASTLE, the narrator has to try to solve the titular murder, with a few hitches: it doesn't look like a murder, they day of the murder will be repeated over and over until he solves it, and each time he'll wake up in the body of a different guest. He also only has eight 'hosts' - fail and he'll restart the loop, his memories wiped, investigating from scratch.

Just how long has this murderous insanity been going on? How many loops has the narrator been stuck in, trying to solve a perhaps unsolvable crime? It's a fiendishly clever conceit that combines Cluedo with Quantum Leap (seasoned by Groundhog Day and Rashomon), but the great brilliance of Stu's debut is that despite all the pre-publication hype about how cool and clever the book is, he not only manages to pull it off, but outdo the hype, delivering a book of the year contender.

Stuart Turton will be at Granite Noir this weekend, sharing the stage with Felicia Yap (who also wrote a high-concept crime debut, YESTERDAY) in the "Who Do You Think You Are?" session.

But for now, Stuart Turton becomes the 176th victim to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Philip Marlowe every day of the week. I love how sleazy 1940s LA feels in those novels - it's the best, worst, most exciting, dangerous place in history, and Marlowe just wades through it dropping wisecracks, getting punched a lot, and being cleverer than everybody else. They're so good, I feel like authors have been trying to write them ever since.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I was eight, on holiday with my parents in Malta. We went into a bookshop and they let me pick any book I wanted. I chose a horror novel called Spectre because it had this weird, horrible, nightmare-inducing cover. 200 pages later, after numerous severed limbs, punctured eyeballs and assorted horrors, I was a shell of the little boy I had been. It was brilliant, and it temporarily made me the most popular kid in school because it went around the playground like contraband.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I was a journalist for a decade before being published, so I'd written across newspapers, mags, and websites. I'd written a couple of short stories, which got nominated for things, but Seven Deaths was my first novel.

Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I have a guitar I'm determined to learn how to play before my daughter grows up so she thinks I'm cool. So far I can make it go twang. I don't think that's going to cut it.

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 visitors are in my hometown it's only because they got off the train to Liverpool two stops too early by mistake, and are waiting for the next one. Widnes isn't a touristy sort of place. There were queues around the block when Argos opened. The bowling alley's pretty good, though.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Somebody who can't play the guitar

Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
I hate everything I've written ten seconds after I send it to my editor. I wrote a travel piece called "The Brit, the Canadian and the Canoe" a few years ago. It's on my blog. I've very fond memories of the trip that inspired it, so that I guess.

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?
Very sadly, I'm not somebody to live in the moment. I've always got one eye on the future, wondering what comes next. When I got my agent, I worried about whether a publisher would buy the book. When Raven Books took it on I worried it wouldn't sell. Now I worry it won't sell enough, and my second book will be rubbish.Eventually I'm hoping I'll find a big enough crack between the things I'm worry about to wedge some joy in, but I haven't found it yet.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?

I've only been a published author for 12 days, so I don't have a lot to draw on. Somebody once asked me which of the vile murderous terrible characters in my book I most resembled. I must have had a mad glint in my eye.

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

You can follow Stu on Twitter here

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Moomins and secret policemen : an interview with Clare Carson

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the third instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 175th overall edition of our long-running author interview series!

Thanks for reading over the years. I've had a lot of fun talking to some amazing crime writers and bringing their thoughts and stories to you. You can check out the full list of of past interviewees here. What a line-up. Thanks everyone.

Today I'm pleased to welcome a new-to-me author to Crime Watch, anthropologist turned crime writer Clare Carson. I've been reading Clare's third novel THE DARK ISLE this week, and enjoying it thoroughly. It's part of a trilogy Clare has written about university student Sam, whose father was a 'secret policeman' doing covert operations as the 1970s gave way to the 1980s. Carson hasn't had to look too far for inspiration and authenticity, as her own father was an undercover cop in the 1970s. "As a child, I knew he was doing something secret, but I didn’t know quite what," Clare wrote in a piece in The Guardian.

After her father's death, Clare learned thanks to a 2002 documentary (which named him) that her father had been part of a secret police unit that infiltrated political organisations on the grounds of public security. Clare's childhood memories of their strange suburban life began to make more sense.

Reading THE DARK ISLE, it's clear that Clare has infused her crime storytelling with a really authentic sense of what it must be like to live in such a family, where the choice of career or calling demands secrecy and maintaining a certain distance, even from those you love and care about.

You can meet Carson at Granite Noir this weekend, where she'll appear onstage for the "When Bygones Aren't Bygones" event looking at mysteries hinging on deadly secrets from the past. But for now, Clare Carson becomes the 175th victim to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen remains my favourite crime fiction detective. Apart from the fact that he taught me how to cook spaghetti aglio, olio e pepperoncino, I can identify with his motivation; he only solves crimes because he doesn’t want to be sent to some godforsaken part of Italy. He’s an avoider. And he’s funny, which makes him great company.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson. Moomintroll is a small creature who should be hibernating, but he wakes up in midwinter to find himself alone in a strange, enchanted snow-covered land. It was probably that Nordic sense of cold and melancholy which grabbed me, as well as the magical descriptions of nature. The creatures that inhabit Moominland have difficult edges – Moominpapa is a depressive, the Hemulens are obsessive and the Fillyjonks suffer from anxiety. But that’s the point – everybody is different and difficult in their own way. I love all of the Moomintroll stories, as well as Tove Jansson’s novels for adults.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) - unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had a short story published when I was at school – which now seems like a couple of hundred years ago. Between then and the publication of my first novel, I spent decades as an anthropologist and researcher. My PhD is lying in some dusty basement of London University. The internet is littered with case histories, policy papers and research articles I have written. I realize now I’m an obsessive writer. I have to put my thoughts on paper and draft and edit until I exhaust myself. I can’t order the world the way I’d like it to be, so instead I create the worlds I want through ordering words on pieces of paper.

Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I have two teenage daughters and two cats. I probably spend more time than I should admit talking to my daughters about the cats. Does that count as an activity? If I want to switch off completely, I go for very long walks. I don’t care where I walk – I just go.

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 Brighton – beside the sea. The pier and Pavilion are great, but if you have time, take a bus to the Downs - the hills surrounding the town. If it’s warm, lie in a field and listen to the skylarks. Or in the autumn, find a slope where the swifts are gathering, watch them swooping all around, and imagine you are flying.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Claire Foy? She looks absolutely nothing like me, but I love watching her act, so that would make it a pleasure.

Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
Probably The Dark Isle because, to date, it’s the novel that turned out most like the one I had in my head when I started.

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 in shock when I was first accepted for publication. It happened very quickly. I was thrilled, but also scared because I was offered a two-book deal and, of course, the contract required me to write the second book in a year. That seemed daunting at the time – like most authors I’d spent ages working on my first novel.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I don’t think I’ve had a strange experience at an author event. I still can’t quite get over the fact that people turn up to listen.

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

You can read more about Clare Carson and her crime writing and interesting family history in this feature in The Guardian, or come along to Granite Noir and meet her in person this weekend, on Sunday 25 February 2018.

Monday, February 19, 2018


THE DARK LAKE by Sarah Bailey (Grand Central Publishing, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The lead homicide investigator in a rural town, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock is deeply unnerved when a high school classmate is found strangled, her body floating in a lake. And not just any classmate, but Rosalind Ryan, whose beauty and inscrutability exerted a magnetic pull on Smithson High School, first during Rosalind's student years and then again when she returned to teach drama. 

As much as Rosalind's life was a mystery to Gemma when they were students together, her death presents even more of a puzzle. What made Rosalind quit her teaching job in Sydney and return to her hometown? Why did she live in a small, run-down apartment when her father was one of the town's richest men? And despite her many admirers, did anyone in the town truly know her? 

Rosalind's enigmas frustrate and obsess Gemma, who has her own dangerous secrets—an affair with her colleague and past tragedies that may not stay in the past.

Australia and New Zealand have always had some very fine crime writers (going back more than a century - the bestselling crime novel of the 1800s was written not by Conan Doyle but a Kiwi lawyer and wannabe playwright and set in Melbourne), but international eyes are turning more towards Downunder lately thanks to the Edgar Award and CWA Dagger Award shortlistings of the likes of Jock Serong, Paul Cleave, and particularly Jane Harper, who won the CWA Gold Dagger last year.

Sarah Bailey joins an incredibly strong contingent of female Australian crime writers bringing fresh blood and fresh ideas to the #southerncrosscrime (Australian and New Zealand crime) ranks in recent years; along with Harper, multiple-award-winning Emma Viskic, and Candice Fox, who's collaborated with James Patterson on Australian-set thrillers (Patterson certainly follows the trends) as well as writing her own award-winning series, are particular standouts and relatively new voices.

There's a lot to like about Bailey's debut, THE DARK LAKE; it's an interesting and very solid debut from an author who delivers a polished tale and shows plenty of promise. Being hyper-critical, it's not quite the quite a slam-dunk 'oh my God, this is amazing' debut akin to Harper and Viskic in recent years, but that's more to do with the originality of its sublime peers. This is still a good read.

I'm a fan of rural noir, so I was immediately intrigued by Bailey's set-up; the drama teacher of a small town's high school is found strangled in the lake. The lead investigator, Detective Gemma Woodstock, knew the victim back when they were teenagers, setting up lots of that lovely small-town 'everyone knows everyone, lots of past histories but also secrets and things people don't know' vibe.

Bailey sets the hook quite well, and I found myself eagerly turning the pages to find out just what happened, while at the same time never feeling quite 'onside' with the main 'hero'. Gemma is a young mother who treats her partner badly, while obsessing over her colleague, with whom she's been having an affair. While Bailey gives us insights into Gemma that make her quite human - and a character doesn't have to be likable to be compelling - I just never quite gelled with Gemma, meaning I was following along the story more out of intellectual interest rather than being fully emotionally engaged. Perhaps a bit nitpicky, because it is a good read, but the balance wasn't quite right for me.

Bailey does a great job bringing the Australian small-town to life, the interlocking relationships and the secrets hidden away behind suburban doors. She has a nice touch for setting, and some good characterisation overall, and beyond the main players - which is always great to see.

THE DARK LAKE has more of a slow build, getting deeper and more engaging as it goes on, rather than being a page-whipping ripsnorter. I don't mind that, and find myself really enjoying many aspects of the book, while just wishing I engaged slightly more with the main characters. That could have taken the book from good/very good towards great. Bailey shows plenty of writing chops, and she'll definitely be one to watch in future. A good read from another talented Downunder author.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson


THE SILENT DEAD by Claire McGowan

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Victim: Male. Mid-thirties. 5'7". Cause of death: Hanging. Initial impression - murder. ID: Mickey Doyle. Suspected terrorist and member of the Mayday Five.

The officers at the crime scene know exactly who the victim is. Doyle was one of five suspected bombers who caused the deaths of sixteen people. The remaining four are also missing and when a second body is found, decapitated, it's clear they are being killed by the same methods their victims suffered. Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire is assigned the case but she is up against the clock - both personally and professionally.

With moral boundaries blurred between victim and perpetrator, will be Paula be able to find those responsible? After all, even killers deserve justice, don't they?

Claire McGowan is one of a new generation of British & Irish crime writers who in the past few years have quickly ascended from fresh voices breaking in to established must-read status (for me, at least, and I suggest should be for you too - Eva Dolan is another on the same list). McGowan writes intelligent crime fiction that ticks boxes across the board: good crime plotlines, interesting and well-drawn characters, plenty of depth to go with page-turning pace, a great and rich sense of setting, and plenty of underlying issues among the people and places she sets her tales.

But there's also much more here than just ticking all boxes on what can make for a good or great crime novel; McGowan has that magic touch for balancing various aspects, and putting enough of a fresh spin on things to make the sum even greater than all its very good component parts.

There's plenty of marrow in the well-constructed bones.

I first encountered McGowan's series heroine, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire, in a terrific short novella published in between series novels. That looked back to a teenage Maguire and gave an insight into some things that set her on the path to fighting crime and finding justice (or trying to).

McGowan loses none of the verve and power of that story in a full-length novel, while adding further depth and layers. THE SILENT DEAD is an excellent read, a compulsive page-turner that draws you in early and keeps you riveted throughout, while offering lots of thought-provoking depth and rich characterisation to go along with the intriguing 'who's behind all of this, and why?' storylines.

Maguire is heavily pregnant in THE SILENT DEAD, unsure which of her two past lovers is the father. It's a complicated situation on several fronts, especially given their identities - a man who's a been a big part of Maguire's history, and a man who plays a key part in her professional present.

Add in a complicated case: the abduction and killing of suspects in an horrific bombing that sought to reignite 'the Troubles' - is it vigilantes seeking overdue justice, paramilitaries cleaning house of bad PR, or something else going on? - and Maguire's life is teetering on the edge in several ways.

Determined to show that she's still highly capable, and valuable to the investigation, despite her 'condition', Maguire barnstorms her way around. There's a lot to admire about the character, who isn't without her flaws, but comes across as very human and engaging. There are understandable reasons for her choices and actions, even if readers might wish she'd made different ones at times. In this way, and others, McGowan does a great job drawing us in and bringing us alongside Maguire and her colleagues as they investigate a case that tears them in all sorts of directions.

THE SILENT DEAD will intrigue your head and tug at your heart. A very fine crime novel.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson


ROBICHEAUX by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Dave Robicheaux is a haunted man. Between his recurrent nightmares about Vietnam, his battle with alcoholism, and the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Molly, his thoughts drift from one irreconcilable memory to the next. Images of ghosts at Spanish Lake live on the edge of his vision.

During a murder investigation, Dave Robicheaux discovers he may have committed the homicide he’s investigating, one which involved the death of the man who took the life of Dave’s beloved wife. As he works to clear his name and make sense of the murder, Robicheaux encounters a cast of characters and a resurgence of dark social forces that threaten to destroy all of those whom he loves. 

There’s a brutal poetry and strange majesty to two-time Edgar winner James Lee Burke’s novels, a beguiling mix of beautiful passages and vile deeds, God-kissed landscapes and grotesque characters. Burke’s latest book sees the return of grizzled Louisiana investigator Dave Robicheaux for a twenty-first turn on the dancefloor – and Robicheaux has plenty of eclectic partners to zydeco with.

Sparked by the tragic death of his wife in a motor vehicle accident, the aging Robicheaux is teetering and about to topple. Assailed by his decades-long battle with alcoholism and penchant for morose thoughts and musings on history and morality, he tumbles off the wagon. Hard.

He wakens from a blackout the lead suspect in the killing of the man blamed for his wife’s death.

And that’s not the only problem in Robicheaux’s life, as he and old pal Clete Purcel crisscross paths with a corpulent gangster who wants to be a Hollywood producer, dirty cops, venal criminals, race-baiting power players, and a slimy local politician and a local bestselling author whose moneyed lifestyles badly spackle over the sins of their pasts they continue to struggle with. Oh, and a bizarre killer who gives ice-cream to kids and abhors impoliteness, before blowing people’s heads off.

ROBICHEAUX is another masterpiece from Burke. The past elbows hard into the present, Robicheaux is haunted by dreams of Vietnam and ghostly sightings of Confederate soldiers, and the best and worst of humanity is often jarringly contained within the same characters. There are beautiful passages of writing, where Burke seems to tiptoe along a tricky tightrope, bulls-eyeing onto lyrical and thoughtful while avoiding tumbling headlong into florid. A master at work.

Robicheaux may be a ‘noble mon’, as Clete is wont to say, but there are plenty of times he hurts and kills others without hesitation. He's got more layers than a box of onions, and at times can seem a bit of a contradiction; he's utterly human, raw at times, authentic and complicated. He lives in a violent world, where those wearing the white hats and the black hats are both prone to physical force. And at times it can be tough just who are meant to be the good guys or bad guys (though there are, as always, some particularly noxious characters who populate this latest Robicheaux tale).

Overall, ROBICHEAUX is a heady gumbo of a literary thriller where everything is multi-layered, blending, contrasting, and stacked with flavor. It won't be to everyone's taste, but is quite exquisite.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for magazines and newspapers in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed more than 200 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at books festivals in Europe on three continents, on national radio and top podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson