Sunday, August 20, 2017

Upcoming new #yeahnoir: THE ONLY SECRET LEFT TO KEEP


Detective Ngaire Blakes is back on the case when a skeletonized murder victim is discovered thirty-six years after his death. While a fierce and glorious fire lights up the Port Hills of Christchurch, Ngaire fights to piece together a crime that took place during the Springbok Tours of 1981. A period that pitted father against son, town against city, and showed the police using batons to beat back protesters on the evening news, night after night.

When the victim is identified as Sam Andie, a young African American man transplanted from the States to NZ by his family, Ngaire must investigate whether racial motives were behind the death. In line with evidence from the forensic pathologist, a police baton could easily have been the murder weapon. Or was his death connected to Sam's girlfriend—a young woman convicted of a savage double homicide in the same week that Sam disappeared?

With files missing, memories hazy, and a strident false confession muddying the waters, Ngaire must sift through the detritus if she hopes to find the truth hiding deep beneath the lies.

The Only Secret Left to Keep is the third book in a series of mystery novels set in the darkest shadows of New Zealand. If you enjoy puzzling mysteries, strong female leads, and the thrill of psychological suspense, then you'll enjoy the latest story in the Ngaire Blakes trilogy.

Release date: 25 September 2017 (you can preorder on Kindle here)

Pre-release thoughts: I'm quite looking forward to this one, as I found Ngaire Blakes to be quite a fascinating heroine in The Second Stage of Grief, the second in the series. The first in the series, The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton, was also longlisted for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards.

I'm particularly intrigued by the weaving in of past and present, including the infamous 1981 Springbok Tour to New Zealand. This is a multi-layered, emotive part of New Zealand's modern history, and a setting that I think still lies not untouched, but only lightly plowed, by Kiwi authors.

I really enjoyed Paddy Richardson's Traces of Red, which mixed crime with the Springbok Tour, so I'm hopeful that Hayton's upcoming mystery will be an engaging and fascinating tale too.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


THE GLASS RAINBOW by James Lee Burke (Orion, 2010)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Seven young women in Jefferson Davis Parish have been brutally murdered. While the crimes have all the telltale signs of a serial killer, the death of Bernadette Latiolais, a high school honor student, doesn't fit: she is not the kind of hapless and marginalized victim psychopaths usually prey upon. 

Detective Dave Robicheaux and his best friend, Clete Purcel, confront Herman Stanga, a notorious pimp and crack dealer whom both men despise. When Stanga turns up dead shortly after a fierce beating by Purcel, in front of numerous witnesses, the case takes a nasty turn, and Clete's career and life are hanging by threads over the abyss.

Meanwhile, Robicheaux's daughter Alafair is on leave from Stanford. Her literary pursuit has led her into the arms of Kermit Abelard, celebrated novelist and scion of a once prominent Louisiana family whose fortunes are slowly sinking into the corruption of Louisiana's subculture. Abelard's association with bestselling ex-convict author Robert Weingart, a man who uses and discards people like Kleenex, causes Robicheaux to fear that Alafair might be destroyed by the man she loves. 

There are many ways that crime writers try to grab readers' attention right from the first page.

Some drop us straight into an unnamed killer's mind as they go about their deadly deeds, others entice with high-stakes action, and yet others hang their hat on memorable lines that intrigue and/or set a tone (ala Paul Thomas's "It was entirely appropriate that Wallace Guttle, the private investigator, should have spent the last hour of his life looking at pictures of other people having sex" in the first Ihaka book, or Helen Fitzgerald's punchy first line in VIRAL: “I sucked twelve cocks in Magaluf.”).

But very few open their tales of mystery like James Lee Burke.

Known for his masterful touch for his southern settings, Burke begins The Glass Rainbow, his eighteenth novel starring Detective Dave Robicheaux, with an entire page describing a room in a Mississippi river town, complete with ventilated storm shutters "slatted with a pink glow, as soft and filtered and cool in color as the spring sunrise can be".

From there, the book evolves into an intricate tale involving a series of depraved murders, a convict-turned-celebrity writer, some old money Louisiana families with plenty of skeletons in their closets, and hired mercenaries. Septuagenarian investigator Robicheaux, now something of an ornery and battle-hardened old man (picture a slightly warmer and more connected to the world but no less tough version of Clint Eastwood's aging hero in Gran Torino), has his hands full trying to dig through the muck for the truth, while keeping his hulking sidekick Clete Purcel out of jail and protecting his enamoured daughter Alafair from two older men with murky motives.

Then there's Robicheaux's own nagging mortality.

Burke may write lyrically, bring landscapes and the natural world to fragrant life, and salt in plenty of literary, religious, and philosophical touches to his crime tales, but he also has no problem getting down and dirty in the nitty gritty too. His villains are very nasty; modern-day spins on the classic grotesques of the Southern Gothic tradition. Corruption abounds. As does menace. There's a sweltering sense of lurking evil, not just common badness or uncaring self-interest.

One aspect that I really enjoyed in The Glass Rainbow, a fresh element to a superlative series, was the way Robicheaux and Purcel more than ever had to struggle with their own aging and mortality.

Personally, as much as I love certain crime fiction characters and would love to see them go on and on in perpetuity (more stories to read), I think it adds something to a series if the characters significantly age and evolve, rather than staying relatively the same. It's part of life, and different things are important at different ages, and stages, of our lives. I think it's great for ongoing crime series to address that. The best crime fiction is about much more than plot, and even the best characters will get less interesting if they don't evolve over time.

Along with the murky gumbo of violence and other issues Robicheaux finds himself entangled with during The Glass Rainbow, I really thought Burke did a good job addressing the shadow of death that casts itself longer and longer over he and Clete's lives. A reckoning is coming, perhaps quickly.

The Glass Rainbow is a masterpiece of crime writing. It won't be for everyone - if your tastes veer strongly towards the staccato chapters and breezy action over character of thriller authors like James Patterson and his ilk, then I wouldn't necessarily recommend making the leap straight to Burke. He's like a handcrafted small batch whiskey; far superior in quality and skill, but never going to beat Jim Beam for popularity or distribution with the masses. One to be appreciated by the aficionados.

Layered and lush, with intricate plotting, compelling characters both ongoing and guest stars, philosophical insights and lyrical prose, The Glass Rainbow is superlative, and illustrates why the likes of the great John Connolly call Burke the world's greatest living crime writer (as Connolly says, "you could argue, but you'd be wrong"). It's sublime and superlative stuff.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio and top podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Monday, August 14, 2017

The verdicts are in: the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists revealed

There’s fresh blood aplenty and the usual suspects were nowhere to be found as the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists were revealed earlier today. And for the first time since the inaugural award in 2010, when Greg McGee’s fish-netted alter ego Alix Bosco pseudonymously scooped the spoils, the power balance in #yeahnoir may have shifted back north of the Bombays.

Speaking as the judging convenor of this year's awards, it's been a remarkable year. After record entries last year, we really weren't sure what to expect in 2017. None of our previous winners would be in the running, nor a host of other great Kiwi crime writers who'd been multiple-times finalists. In fact, eighteen of the nineteen authors who'd been finalists in the first years of the awards were MIA.

Would 2017 be a lull in #yeahnoir?

The answer was an emphatic 'No!', thanks to a flood of fresh voices bringing lots of new, exciting storytelling to our New Zealand crime writing stocks. Entries in our fiction categories (Best Crime Novel, Best First Novel) were up fifty per cent, and we added a Best Non Fiction category too.

It seems #yeahnoir (hat tip to Steph Soper of the Book Council for coining the term) is going from strength to strength, as debut authors as well as more experienced writers from other parts of the book world turn their hands to stories entwined in crime. The pool is deepening, and widening.

Our international judging panels praised the inventiveness and variety of crime, thriller, and mystery tales that Kiwi authors were producing. Although this made the judging even tougher. “Talk about judging apples and pears,” said Paddy Richardson, a two-time past finalist and now judge of the Best Crime Novel category. “It was more like apples, asparagus, avocados, and melons!”

It's been fantastic to see that growth in numbers and variety since 'Alix Bosco' won at our first awards night back in 2010 - an event that had been postponed after the September earthquakes forced the cancellation of the Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival that year.

The Ngaio Marsh Awards are proud to have been working with WORD Christchurch since our very beginning. We've had a terrific run of awards events in Christchurch, and are looking forward to another great event to celebrate this year's finalists and announce the winners later this year.

Speaking on behalf of the Awards, we're very grateful for WORD Christchurch's ongoing support, including sponsorship of the cash prize for the winner of the Best Crime Novel category. Since those earliest days, even as they were personally dealing with their city's long and ongoing recovery from the deadly 'quakes, the likes of Rachael King, Ruth Todd, Morrin Rout, and Marianne Hargreaves have been so helpful and supportive of our Awards, and helped created some really fantastic events.

We're currently finalising the details of our 2017 event, to be held in Christchurch on 28 October.

And perhaps on that night we'll see a changing of the guard in more ways than one; while all the trophies since McGee’s inaugural prize have gone to crime writers from Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington, this year more than half of the finalists are from Auckland.

Ado done, here are our 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists, with judges comments:

The finalists were chosen by a panel consisting of Richardson, New Zealand book critics Greg Fleming and Stephanie Jones, renowned overseas reviewers Karen Chisholm (Australia), Ayo Onatade (UK), Janet Rudolph (USA), and Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

Pancake Money by Finn Bell (ebook): Detectives Bobby Ress and Pollo Latu are put to the test when someone starts martyring Dunedin priests in the most medieval of ways: "A brutal page-turner with compelling characters that takes a deep-dive into the psychological and a captivating examination of urban and countryside life."

Spare Me The Truth by CJ Carver (Zaffre): a man suffering memory loss, a grieving daughter, and disgraced cop all have their lives upturned as they’re plunged into a global conspiracy: “Intriguing characters, twists that keep you guessing, and at heart a complex tale of betrayal and deception – a brilliant page-turner."

Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins): private eye Johnny Molloy and reporter Caitlin O’Carolan get entangled in deadly agendas and union politics as the 1951 waterfront dispute rages: "Cullinane’s characters fizz and sparkle in this historical thriller whose cracking dialogue and ceaseless pace make it feel utterly current."

Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin): After his witness protection handler is kidnapped, ex-NYPD undercover cop Marshall Grade decides that offense is the best form of defense, infiltrating  his old haunts for answers: "Some of the tautest writing and nastiest characters around, an adrenalin-charged tale where no-one emerges unscathed."

The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby): a survivor and a perpetrator of a brutal home invasion seek to come to terms with their altered lives after the news cycle moves on: “Lyrically and sensitively written, a harrowing yet touching story that stays with you; this is brave and sophisticated storytelling.”

I was joined on this judging panel by three-time finalist Vanda Symon, US crime writer and critic Margot Kinberg, and British reviewer Chris Simmons, to choose these finalists.

Dead Lemons by Finn Bell (ebook): a wheelchair-bound man contemplating suicide or recovery in Riverton is obsessively drawn into a dangerous search for a father and daughter who went missing years before: "A wonderful new voice in crime writing delivers a tense, compelling tale centred on an original, genuine, and vulnerable character."

Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins): remarkably similar to book of the same moniker in the Best Crime Novel category: "A very impressive debut that sucks you into the story and politics of the time with laconic description and dialogue".

The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell (Bush Press): Detective Sergeant Malcolm Buchan, the new head of CIB in the Southern Lakes, faces moral and professional challenges when the body of a woman he recognises is pulled from an icy canyon: "An intriguing plot with solid character development in a well-drawn setting; a great local debut."

The Student Body by Simon Wyatt (Mary Egan Publishing): Newly promoted Detective Sergeant Nick Knight grapples with personal demons while trying to solve the puzzling murder of a teenage girl at a school camp in the Waitakeres: “A well-executed, tense police procedural delivering a solid sense of modern New Zealand.”

Days Are Like Grass by Sue Younger (Eunoia Publishing): paediatrician Claire Bowerman ran from a shadow of kidnap and murder, but her past is uncorked when she hits the headlines after a family refuses medical treatment for their sick kid: "A really impressive and enjoyable debut, a strong character-driven story".

Jones, Auckland lawyer Darise Bennington, Hamilton true crime writer Scott Bainbridge, and Scottish crime writer Douglas Skelton selected the following finalists for the new prize.

In Dark Places by Michael Bennett (Paul Little Books): the astonishing tale of how teenage car thief Teina Pora spent decades in prison for the brutal murder of Susan Burdett, and the remarkable fight to free him: “A scintillating, expertly balanced account of one of the most grievous miscarriages of justice in New Zealand history".

The Scene of the Crime by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins): a penetrating look into the brutal and banal realities of the criminal justice system, told via twelve tales: "Braunias’ unique way of finding dark humour in tragic circumstances gave a new perspective to crimes that have been written about incessantly by others".

Double-Edged Sword by Simonne Butler with Andra Jenkin (Mary Egan): a stark look behind the scenes at the prelude and aftermath of Antoine Dixon’s notorious ‘samurai sword’ attack: "A shocking, moving, but ultimately uplifting account of a woman who endured so much yet came through it with her spirit remarkably intact".

The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie by David Hastings (AUP): a whodunit turned whydunnit illustrating the social and political tensions of 1880s New Zealand after a young woman is found near Opunake with her throat slit: "A highly impressive historical tale which balances industrious research with terrific storytelling".

Blockbuster! by Lucy Sussex (Text Publishing): the story behind how Otago Boys High old boy and wannabe playwright Fergus Hume irked Conan Doyle and wrote the bestselling crime novel of the nineteenth century: "Very enjoyable, a richly detailed, highly readable account of the world and work of Fergus Hume".

This year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists will be celebrated and the category winners announced at a special event in association with WORD Christchurch on 28 October. You can keep up with awards news on Facebook and Twitter

Sunday, August 13, 2017


THE LAST RESORT by Steph Broadribb (Orenda, Aug 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Done with a life of exploitation and violence, Lori Anderson is training to be a bounty hunter. Holed up in the Georgia Mountains with her reclusive mentor, JT, Lori is determined to put her new skills into practice. Behind JT's back, she breaks his rules and grabs the chance she's looking for. Will her gamble pay off, or will she have to learn the hard way?

One of my favourite reads of the past year is Steph Broadribb's debut crime novel Deep Down Dead, a terrific, action-packed thriller set in America's Deep South which introduced bounty hunting momma Lori Anderson. Sultry and suspenseful, Deep Down Dead is an absolute cracker of a debut that introduces a fresh voice to the crime scene, one that has a strong, compelling narrative voice.

I've been keenly awaiting the next instalment in the Lori Anderson series, Deep Blue Trouble, but while that;s still a few months away, today I was very glad to discover that Broadribb has given us a tasty wee amuse-bouche in between full courses: a Lori Anderson short story.

The Last Resort is a fun, quick read. It takes us back to Lori's days first training as a bounty hunter in the Georgia mountains with her mentor JT. For those who've read Deep Down Dead, it provides another look at a character we've met, while for those new to the burgeoning series, it'll give you a first-impressions insight into whether Lori might be a character you want to follow.

There's certainly plenty about her that's worth following. Lori is tough while not being impervious, full of attitude but with plenty to learn. Brave, stubborn, and more. She's a really interesting heroine, and as I said in my review of Deep Down Dead, offers something deliciously different to the floods of middle-class suburban housewives or working mothers traipsing through oceans of domestic noir.

Broadribb packs a lot into what is a short, quick read in The Last Resort. She skilfully evokes Lori's character, the complicated relationship between her and JT, and the surrounding landscapes of the Georgia mountains. There's a rawness and ruggedness to Broadribb's storytelling, a tough vulnerability that really draws you in. I think she's a superstar on the rise. Broadribb and Lori both.

Like a great amuse-bouche from a great chef, The Last Resort gives you a wee taste of her skill, and leaves your mouth watering in anticipation for the courses to come.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at festivals in Europe and Australasia and on national radio, and is a judge of the McIlvanney Prize and the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Monday, August 7, 2017


A KILLER HARVEST by Paul Cleave (Atria, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Joshua is convinced there is a family curse. It’s taken loved ones from him, it’s robbed him of his eyesight, and it’s the reason why his detective father is killed while investigating the homicide of a young woman.

Joshua is handed an opportunity he can’t refuse: an operation that will allow him to see the world through his father’s eyes. As Joshua navigates a world of sight, he gets glimpses of what these eyes might have witnessed in their previous life. What exactly was his dad up to in his role as a police officer...

I fear I'm sounding like a broken record when it comes to Paul Cleave's thrillers - book after book he shows himself to be one of the world's finest authors when it comes to creating page-turners with real depth that dance along the darker edge of the crime and thriller genre.

His tenth novel is something of a departure: there's a teenage protagonist (but this is very much an adult thriller with a teen hero, rather than a young adult novel), and Cleave veers towards his horror roots with the inclusion of an eye transplant and the idea of 'cellular memory', where an organ recipient feels that they've inherited memories or feelings from the donor. Long-time Cleave fans shouldn't worry though - these aspects just add fascination to his tale, rather than overwhelming it.

If Cleave was a literary author - particularly one from Latin America - A Killer Harvest might be considered 'magic realism'; a story with a single fantastical element intertwined in a rich portrayal of an otherwise very realistic, grounded world. As Cleave showed with his previous novel, the superb psychological thriller Trust No One, he's not afraid to stretch his literary legs within the crime genre.

Despite its slightly experimental feel, A Killer Harvest is still one of those thrillers that you can absolutely tear through in one sitting, while never feeling like it's 'thin' or 'breezy'. It's a terrific read, darkly hypnotic, that entices you through the power of Cleave's characterisation and storytelling even more so than its high-concept hook. As we've come to expect from Cleave, there's a delicious malevolence, tempered by his trademark obsidian humour and prose that crackles like a campfire.

The narrative switches between teenager Joshua, struggling with the tragedy and opportunity surrounding his new eyesight, and several other characters. Cleave masterfully builds the tension as we shift perspectives; A Killer Harvest dances along assuredly through all the movements.

At its heart, A Killer Harvest is a tale of an isolated boy struggling to fit in, who now feels like 'a freak' in both the blind world and the sighted one. Who's faced tragedy from his earliest days, and must find something deep within himself as the sins of the father threaten to be visited upon the son.

Overall, A Killer Harvest is a superb read from a virtuoso of the darker edge of crime that is firmly in the mix for my 'best read of the year'. Very highly recommended.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio and top podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Subway pub crawls and Stephen King dissertations: an interview with Mason Cross

Welcome to the latest instalment in the 9mm series! I'm very grateful to all the terrific crime writers who've generously given their time over the past few years. You can see the full index of author interviews here. If you've got a favourite author who hasn't yet featured, leave a comment, and I'll make it happen.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome thriller author Mason Cross to Crime Watch. Cross is a Scottish author who, like his protagonist Carter Blake, operates under an assumed name. Carter Blake is a highly skilled operative who specialises in finding people who don't want to be found; Mason Cross pens high-octane thrillers that have been praised by the likes of thriller masters Lee Child, Simon Kernick, and Lisa Gardner. His debut, The Killing Season, was longlisted for the prestigious Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, while his sophomore effort, The Samaritan, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick.

Part of an exciting new generation of thriller writers, Cross is published on both sides of the Atlantic, and there are now four books in his Carter Blake series (the fourth, Don't Look for Me, is already out in the UK, but will be published in the United States in the coming months.

For those on the festival circuit, this weekend Mason Cross will be appearing in two events at the Bute Noir festival in Scotland, alongside Steve Cavanagh on Friday night, and with Steph Broadribb on Sunday afternoon (all three are British authors who set their books in the USA). If you can't make it to Bute, in September you can see Cross at Bloody Scotland in Stirling, including as part of the 'From Tinseltown to Sin City' panel with Chris Carter that I will be moderating.

But for now, Mason Cross becomes the 167th crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
That’s a tough one, because I have so many favourites, including Harry Bosch, Jack Reacher, Travis McGee, Tempe Brennan, John Rebus and more. If I had to pick one, it would probably be the classic: Philip Marlowe. So much of the template for the maverick hero who always does the right thing was laid down by Raymond Chandler in those books. He’s a compelling character, but his smartass attitude and ability to find poetry in the most unpromising of places make him a great character (though not always a completely likeable one) to spend time with.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
I remember loving the Three Investigators book The Secret of the Vanishing Treasure when I read it in primary school. It’s probably what kindled a love of mystery books, and I read all of the other books in the series I could get hold of.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything)? Unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I had a short story called ‘A Living’ published in the Sun Book of Short Stories, after entering it for a competition. I got a kick out of going into bookshops and libraries and seeing my name in a real book, and I think that definitely spurred me on to keep writing. I had a few other stories published in small magazines.

Probably the biggest piece of work I completed before writing a novel was my final year dissertation at university, which was on four Stephen King books and the movies adapted from them. I’m told that tutors at Stirling University cite that as evidence you can write your dissertation on anything, which is either a compliment or a criticism, I’ve never been sure. Oh, and I had one unpublished novel before The Killing Season. Looking back, it was for the best that it didn’t find a publisher, because it allowed me to avoid a lot of the rookie mistakes for the next one.

Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Unfortunately, between writing a book a year, having a day job and being dad to three kids I don’t have a whole lot of time to indulge my other interests. I used to love playing basketball and cycling, but at the moment climbing three flights of stairs just about kills me. I also love walking, both long distance trails like the West Highland Way, and just wandering around a big city like New York or London. I still try to explore a new place whenever I travel.

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?
Glasgow is a great town because it’s big enough that you have all the social and entertainment advantages of city life, but its location means you can get in the car and be surrounded by mountains and lochs and complete solitude in less than an hour.

In terms of off-the-tourist-trail stuff, I’ve always liked exploring the hidden parts of the city. You can go on a guided tour of the caverns underneath Central Station where they have abandoned Victorian platforms, and you find out all sorts of cool stuff, like fact they buried an entire village during construction, or where they stockpiled the dead coming back from World War I. If I was a horror writer, there would be a lot of material for a book there.

The other great way to get a feel for the city is doing the Subway pub crawl, getting off at each of the fifteen stops which span some of the most deprived and most affluent parts of the city.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
It would be an exceptionally boring movie. One of my American friends keeps telling me Liev Schreiber should play me, but I think that’s just because we both have moderately chubby cheeks.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
I like all of them once I have enough distance from the writing process (you absolutely hate a book by the time it gets to proof stage), but I’d probably have to say the first one, The Killing Season. Maybe that’s just because it’s longer since I wrote it, but I enjoyed having all the time in the world to finish it, as opposed to the subsequent books where I’ve had deadlines to hit.

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 pretty happy about it. I found out when my agent called me on a Friday night half an hour before I had to leave the house for my second job delivering pizzas. So the immediate celebration was eating dinner and going to work, but I picked up a few beers after my shift to celebrate.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I think I’m too new to have experience anything truly bizarre yet, but there was one guy at a library event who asked a long, rambling question about why you need to go to Eton to be an actor or a musician or get a book published. He was pretty upset about it. I didn’t go to Eton.

Thank you Mason. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

You can read more about Mason Cross and his tales at his website, and follow him on Twitter

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


PAYBACK by Geoff Palmer (2016)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Solikha Duong lives the carefree life of a village girl in northern Cambodia until her world is torn apart by ‘truck men’ from the south. But Solikha is tough, resourceful, and won’t give up without a fight ...

Alice Kwann is on vacation when she’s set upon by thugs at a stopover in northern Nevada. But Alice too is tough, resourceful, and won’t give up without a fight ...

What binds these women together is a shocking trade – the third-largest criminal activity in the world – but one we’d rather ignore.  Now Solikha and Alice must go deeper than they’ve ever gone before, to fight the demons that haunt them and battle the evil men who would use them and destroy them ... because sometimes your past won’t let you go. 

A vengeance styled thriller, set in Asia, PAYBACK tackles sex-trafficking and child abuse head on. Opening with the recounting of a young village girl being trucked off to the south of the country, along with many others, to be forced into a child sex ring. The resourcefulness this young girl and the small boy she has befriended show in escaping their intended fate goes on to be reflected in adult life, with the two of them staying in touch, close friends to this day.

The blurb includes the line: "What binds these women together is a shocking trade - the third-largest criminal activity in the world - but one we'd rather ignore." That really should stop anybody dead in their tracks. If the sex-trafficking is that big, and child sex trafficking is included in that figure then what on earth is wrong with us as a species?

Whilst there is much that is shocking in PAYBACK, there is also much that is hopeful - built in main around the central character - a strong, sympathetic and complex female protagonist who is not adverse to a bit of action hero fighting into the bargain. The only slight downside to her is a bit of heavy lifting to create vulnerability in the character which isn't always convincing and didn't feel necessary. On the upside however, the subject matter is handled sensitively, there's layers to the revenge aspects of the story, and the US setting rings true.

Overall PAYBACK is a good action thriller that's well worth reading. If I'm reading Palmer's website correctly it's the first he's written, given his other novels appear to be in the fiction/science fiction/young adult category.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares and republishes her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


SHAFTS OF STRIFE by David Bates (2016)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

The New Zealand government – led by autocratic Prime Minister Wynyard Nairn – approves the establishment of a USA naval facility, and in the middle of Wellington’s pristine harbour. Given the anti-nuclear stance in the country, all hell breaks out! Daily protests and rallies occur and threats of mayhem are made. Within days anarchy rules; Parliament is occupied, the US Embassy is attacked and two die, a major TV communications tower is destroyed and central Wellington is blockaded. But when the International Airport is forced to close, the situation reaches crisis point.

The Prime Minister – under increasing pressure from the scale of continuing protests – attacks the Police, threatening to remove their independence and bring in the army. Will Nairn change his mind, is he even listening? … or will it be up to the people? A story of democratic power and protest!

New Zealand's decision to declare itself nuclear-free in 1987 created quite a stir at the time, so it makes considerable sense that an autocratic Prime Minister approving a US Navel facility in the middle of Wellington harbour (and therefore allowing the possibility of nuclear powered vessels back into New Zealand waters) would create an even bigger stir.

SHAFTS OF STRIFE is built around that concept - where daily protests and rallies occur, mayhem and anarchy ensue and, well all hell breaks out as the blurb says.

The novel builds a picture of an authoritarian Prime Minister, hell bent on what seems like a ridiculous direction, in the face of absolute opposition from most sides.

Unfortunately there's something soberingly real about the scenario put forward. Unfortunately, an idea that doesn't quite hit as hard as it should, due in part to a tendency towards expository style with big info dumps, and a simplistic "bad politicians" versus "good cops" underlay.

Well worth a look though - especially as a reminder that there is a world of difference between an autocrat and a strong leader.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and the Ned Kelly Awards. She kindly shares and republishes her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction