Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Want to win an advance copy of THE STAKES by Ben Sanders?

Thanks to the lovely people at Allen & Unwin New Zealand, the official Ngaio Marsh Awards Facebook page has some advance reader copies of three-time Ngaios finalist Ben Sanders' upcoming standalone thriller, THE STAKES, to give away. Great news for crime readers!

Just click through to the Ngaio Marsh Awards page to read more, and enter (note: this competition is only available to New Zealand-based readers).

Here's some more information about the new tale:

An NYPD robbery detective uses his insider knowledge to rob criminals. The dazzling new stand-alone thriller from the bestselling author of American Blood and Marshall's Law.
'It's easy to see what the fuss is about. Sanders' prose is sharper than a switchblade ... It's like Raymond Chandler, Lee Child and Elmore Leonard rolled into one.' Sydney Morning Herald

Rip-offs are a dangerous game, but NYPD robbery detective Miles Keller thinks he's found a good strategy: rip off rich New York criminals and then retire early, before word's out about his true identity. New town, new name, no worries.

Retirement can't come soon enough, though. The NYPD is investigating him for the shooting of a hitman named Jack Deen, who was targeting a former police informant who also happened to be Miles's ex-lover.

Miles thinks shooting hitmen counts as altruism, but in any case a murder charge would make life difficult. He's ready to go to ground, but then Nina Stone reappears in his life.

Nina is a fellow heist professional and the estranged wife of an LA crime boss. Miles last saw her five years ago, when he was investigating her for bank robbery and looked the other way, for reasons he is still trying to figure out. Since then her life has grown more complicated: her husband wants her back, and he's dispatched his go-to gun thug to play repo man.

Complicating matters is the fact that the gun thug in question is Bobby Deen, cousin of the dead Jack Deen - and Bobby wants vengeance.

The stakes couldn't be higher, but Nina has an offer that could be lucrative. Maybe Miles can stick around a while longer and get the big payoff he's been waiting for? But luck has a way of running out and soon Miles is in way over his head.

Effortlessly cool, suspenseful as hell and pure reading pleasure.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


DEEP BLUE TROUBLE by Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Single-mother Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson’s got an ocean of trouble on her hands. Her daughter Dakota is safe, but her cancer is threatening a comeback, and Lori needs JT—Dakota’s daddy and the man who taught Lori everything—alive and kicking. Problem is, he’s behind bars, and heading for death row. Desperate to save him, Lori does a deal, taking on off-the-books job from shady FBI agent Alex Monroe. Bring back on-the-run felon, Gibson "The Fish" Fletcher, and JT walks free. 

Following Fletcher from Florida to California, Lori teams up with local bounty hunter Dez McGregor and his team. But Dez works very differently to Lori, and the tension between them threatens to put the whole job in danger. With Monroe pressuring Lori for results, the clock ticking on JT’s life, and nothing about the Fletcher case adding up, Lori’s hitting walls at every turn. But this is one job she’s got to get right, or she’ll lose everything.

I've quickly become a fan of Steph Broadribb's Lori Anderson series, for a number of reasons. It can seem at times like the mystery genre is lately drowning in a tsunami of middle-class heroines getting themselves into all sorts of domestic noir scrapes (thanks Gone Girl) - some great tales but plenty of mediocre ones too - but here's a female-centric series that provides something quite different.

Lori is hard-working, blue-collar single Mom kicking ass in an action-packed series set in the sultry American south. Holding her own against the mean and maniacal, the brutal and the bigoted, ala Jack Reacher, Charlie Fox, or Camaro Espinoza, without having any of their military backgrounds.

There's a real energy to Broadribb's storytelling, a strong narrative voice that draws you in to Lori's world, and the challenges she faces. From the early chapters of Deep Down Dead, her debut appearance, I was fully alongside her, enjoying the ride as the helter-skelter story unfolded. I also enjoyed the short story, The Last Resort, that was released between novels - even if only a short tale it had that same vivid storytelling and gave us a little more insight into Lori's bounty hunter journey.

Deep Blue Trouble deals with the aftermath of Deep Down Dead, where Lori had reconnected with her old bounty hunting mentor JT, who was wanted for various crimes, and the pair had got into all sorts of trouble while uncovering some nasty crimes and trying to bring very bad guys to justice.

JT has taken the fall for some of what went on in the previous novel, a decision that could lead to the death chamber and a lethal injection. For lots of reasons, Lori is not willing to let JT languish in jail, and sets out to earn his freedom via a deal with a shady federal agent. As you can imagine, things do not go to plan, and Lori's efforts open a Pandora's Box of trouble for a lot of people, herself included.

This is another really solid action-thriller from Broadribb, which cements the Lori Anderson series as much more than just a great first tale. Lori is not an infallible superhero character - she makes mistakes, bad choices, and gets herself and others hurt with occasionally head-scratching decisions. But you always feel like her heart is in the right place, and even her bad choices come from an organic, authentic place and fit her character (rather than being 'author hand' to create drama).

I tore through this book in a couple of sittings. Broadribb has a great authorial voice and is an incredibly assured writer for one who is just starting out in what (I hope) could be a long crime writing career. There are occasional moments where it didn't seem quite as tight as the debut (being super-picky), and I think readers may get more out of this book if they've read Deep Down Dead and got a sense of Lori already (so this deepens their understanding), rather than starting with this one. But overall Deep Blue Trouble is a very good read that shows Broadribb is a new star here to stay.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading publications in several countries. He has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at festivals on three continents, and 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

Sunday, January 7, 2018


EDGE OF TRUTH by Brynn Kelly (Harlequin, 2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

A woman searching for the truth… Kidnapped and thrown in an underground prison, journalist Tess Newell thinks she’s a goner. Stopping the terrorists holding her hostage seems impossible—until the arrival of a mysterious prisoner whose smile masks an edge more lethal than their captors.

A soldier with the darkest of secrets… A French Foreign Legionnaire bound to a brotherhood that is both his blessing and curse, Flynn launches a daring escape—but honor won’t allow him to abandon the brazen, alluring reporter whose prying questions could bring down his world. The only thing more dangerous than the enemy close on their tail is the searing passion threatening to detonate between them…

Edge of Truth is another adrenaline roller coaster ride from Brynn Kelly, the author who brought us the fantastic mash-up of thriller/romance that was Deception Island.

Edge of Truth is a story of international conspiracy and war-mongering, played out in the Horn of Africa. Tess Newell is a well -known tele-journalist, unfortunately known more for a high-profile romance break-up than for her journalism. But Tess has uncovered a huge story of corruption and conspiracy, and is desperate to get the story out before the world is plunged into a major conflict – and she has been captured by the conspirators.

Tess is being held in a dungeon in an unknown location, and is under threat of an online streamed execution. Her captives have decided to spice up the execution by introducing a second victim, a French soldier, adding pathos to the killings, as well as drawing another country into the conflict.  What they didn’t count on was the French soldier being a legionnaire, Flynn, who appeared briefly in Deception Island as a confrère of one of the main characters, Rafe Angelito. Flynn, like Rafe a hunk with a tragic back-story and trust issues, decides to help Tess get her story out, despite her wanting him to leave her once they escape – as she is horrified that others have died trying to help her.

Tess and Flynn ricochet from danger to more danger. The size of the operation working against Tess means Flynn has to use all his training and instincts to keep them safe. And of course, along the way the physical attraction between the two builds – and that on top of the adrenaline rush from being in minefields, in the sights of heavy weaponry, and from not knowing who they can trust, all adds to a pretty giddy ride. The two characters are a good match, with Tess being a good strong player, and the narrative point of view swaps between the two. The heightened action allows you to just roll with the more unlikely scenarios, and also accept the slight repetitiveness of some of the dialogue.

Edge of Truth is a great adventure read, the conspiracy, although pretty mind-blowing, is actually quite believable given how wacky our political world has become. And the novel deals a lot with journalistic integrity, and also personal motivation, whatever your role in war might be – soldier, journalist, materiel supplier. As with Deception Island, we learn a lot about the main characters and why they might have difficulties trusting those around them. Rafe and his crew also make an appearance, as do some of Tess’ colleagues, so the plotting has a nice build of both action and cast. Add to that the wonderful location of Harar, Ethiopia, and you have a luscious read.

I understand Kelly has another volume on the way, this one dealing with two of the secondary characters in this novel – yippee!

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

Friday, January 5, 2018


THE CONTEST by Carne Maxwell (2017)

Reviewed by Carolyn McKenzie

Martin Fallaway is dying. With no family to whom he can leave his surplus fortune, he holds a contest on his tropical island, where ten families compete to be the last team left in order to claim the prize of thirty million dollars. Arriving on the island, the contestants’ need for shelter is paramount, but the warm, sunny days, powder-white sand and crystal clear waters cloak their perspectives. When a storm hits, causing the first departure, the remaining contestants realize their time on the island might not be as idyllic as they first thought.

As the days tick slowly by, hidden dangers begin to manifest themselves; insecurities creep in, personalities change, inquisitive minds take over and secrets become lies. Reckless decisions made change their lives forever and when the unthinkable happens and their very existence is threatened, the island becomes their darkest nightmare. With time running out and the remaining contestants’ trust in one another challenged, can they bury their consciences and risk everything, or will the emotional sacrifice be too great? 

Like survivors of a shipwreck, ten hugely disparate families are conveyed to an idyllic deserted island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. All they have to do is build a shelter and survive for three months. At the end of that time, the families that are still on the island will have a chance to win $30,000,000.

To help them survive, each family has some supplies provided by the contest organiser and some more supplies that they have chosen themselves. As well, the island has plenty of fresh water, an abandoned orchard providing exotic fruit, and chemically designed green bins.

The contest is the idea of Martin Fallaway. Although he is dying of cancer, his love of adventure and mischief prevents him from simply donating his fortune to the needy. Instead he has pitted these families, chosen at random, against nature and each other.

Once conveyed to the island, the dangers of the tropics emerge along with the nastier side of human nature. In The Contest Carne Maxwell’s families interact with each other, figuring out who to like and trust and who to avoid. Inevitably there is deceit, spitefulness and kindness; mistrust, bigotry and romance.

Maxwell uses a range of unfortunate events and misadventures to gradually reduce the number of competing families, but right down to the last pages there is no real clue of how the contest is going to end. Maxwell keeps up the pace, alternating tragedy with moments when the teams come together and forget they are competing, or when the adults and teenagers muse on their feelings and their family dynamics.

The Contest is a well-written, easy but suspenseful read. As well, it is a showcase for Carne Maxwell’s many talents. Not only is she the book’s author: she painted the cover illustration (a slightly sinister abstract scene that is a warning that while the setting may be very beautiful, there is something menacing lurking in paradise) and designed the book’s layout and cover, and did the typesetting.

Carolyn McKenzie is a freelance proofreader, copy editor, and Italian-English translator. She also offers holiday accommodation for writers and others in Thames, New Zealand and Ventimiglia Alta, Italy.  This review was first published in FlaxFlower reviews, which focuses on in-depth reviews of New Zealand books of all kinds, and is reprinted here with the kind permission of Bronywn Elsmore and Carolyn McKenzie. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018


MURDER ON BROADWAY by John Rosanowski (2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

It's Broadway in Reefton, the new, booming 1870s gold town. Suspiciously, Gordon Trembath, a naive young police constable, has been left in charge over Christmas and New Year.  He is immediately faced with investigating a murder carried out by sly-groggers in the valley. 

In the meantime, the town has been invaded by "a collection of scamps, card sharps, liars and cheats, who have come to town for the pickings available in the holiday season".  Among them is Duke Dixon, a Yankee con-man and gambler determined to carry out a swindle to empty the pockets and bags of gold of the unsuspecting citizens of Reefton. How will the young policeman deal with so many problems - including more murders - in this story of the gold rush frontier. 

MURDER ON BROADWAY is a crime novel peopled with crooked publicans and cops, cheerful ex-convicts, hard-nosed prostitutes, confidence tricksters, white collar criminals and a quadruplet team of acrobats.

Murder on Broadway is a rollicking wild West Coast goldfields tale of murder and mayhem. When the obnoxious Reefton Police Sergeant Mackworth Snyder leaves Reefton in the hands of his new Constable Gordon Trembath, in the days leading up to the 1877/78 festive season, the reader just knows the hapless cop is going to have to deal with serious goings on. Fortunately, Trembath has the “town idiot”, Abe, to watch his back, along with Abe’s friend, the town drunk, Little Jimmy.

The refrain “he said it would be quiet over Christmas” is used to good effect, as the plans for thievery, swindlery, sly-groggery and all sorts of other nefarious business are being made in Reefton and abroad.  The main target for most of this activity is the annual Reefton Boxing Day Race Meeting, and tensions rise as the reader becomes aware of various scams being set up.

Rosanowski’s plotting verges on the operatic, and is very satisfying.  His writing style is straightforward and is from a self-deprecating point of view:
“If his words were to be trusted, this show was going to be on a par with anything ever seen in London, Paris or Vienna.  He could also have said, “or Hokitika,” because that’s where they had been performing before Reefton.”

Murder on Broadway is a very blokey tale, told from a blokey perspective, and in the omniscient mode; the reader is sometimes asked to remember things, as they will become of relevance later in the story. But for all that, the tale is quite nuanced, with young Trembath becoming aware that things are not always black and white, right or wrong – that just because people are in a position of trust doesn’t mean you should trust them, or just because everyone says someone is stupid or a waste of space, that they necessarily are.

The picture of the times is drawn as a slice of history that was part of the international wave of gold rushes: California, Ballarat, Otago, the West Coast. And the narrative is flecked with mentions of real historical figures such as Bully Hayes. And Abe’s friend Little Jimmy also features in Rosanowski’s novel Treachery Road, set 10 years earlier, about the Maungatapu murders.

But knowing about historical figures or the history of the West Coast goldfields is not required to enjoy this book. All the characters are given robust backgrounds, and you get the feel of the muddy turbulent mess of the bustling goldfields service towns, with their mix of hardworking people hoping for a break, petty scoundrels, total blackguards, and entertainers. And you also get a feel of the surrounding bush, in a time when the now declining bush robins would flutter around you as you walked.

A very enjoyable read.

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Thank you and Merry Christmas

Seasons greetings to all our crime-loving readers. I'll be taking a little break over the festive season, spending time with friends and family back home in New Zealand for a few weeks. I may post occasionally, but won't be back to regular posting until February. Lots to look forward to in 2018 - we've got some great new 9mm interviews coming up, plus plenty of reviews and more.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, spending time with friends and family and full of holiday cheer. Thanks for reading this year. From the beginning Crime Watch has been a 'passion project' on the side of whatever else I've been doing, and gone through lots of ebbs and flows. I appreciate you all for reading, sharing, and commenting (or sending me feedback in other ways).

Have a lovely holiday season. See you again in 2018!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


HUNTRESS MOON by Alexandra Sokoloff (Thomas & Mercer, 2014)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can't believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of "accidents" and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial. 

Roarke's hunt for her takes him across three states...while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be. As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

A few weeks ago, the fifth instalment in screenwriter-turned novelist Alexandra Sokoloff's ripsnorting 'Huntress/FBI' series, Hunger Moon, was released. If you're new to the adventures of vigilante killer Cara Lindstrom and FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke, then lucky you: you've got lots to look forward to! When I first tried one of these books, I ended up buying and devouring three titles back-to-back-to-back in one weekend.

Compelling is a reviewer cliche; here it's an understatement.

Sokoloff is a master storyteller, who keeps action and pace high while threading her dark tales with plenty of thought-provoking themes, vivid imagery, and memorable characters - all while keeping we readers wobbling on the edge of our seats, unsure quite what to think or feel as events unfold.

The series began with Huntress Moon, which adroitly managed some impressive sleight-of-hand: it upends some classic serial killer thriller tropes while in of itself being a superb serial killer thriller.

There are many very impressive aspects to Huntress Moon, which all add up to it just being a heck of a good read. The storytelling is seamless, and works on multiple levels. If you're looking for a fast-paced, adrenalin-pumping tale, then Sokoloff delivers spectacularly on that front. But then she layers in much more too: issues and themes that are unsettling and stay with you beyond the final page. There's depth and richness to the settings, the characters, and the underlying story. It's the kind of book that matches 'airport thrillers' for pace and suspense, but feels much 'bigger' and richer.

I found myself cajoled, concerned, compelled. Different readers might identify more with Lindstrom or Rourke, the two main characters. For me, I found both fascinating in different ways, and their growing interplay hints at fireworks to come in the ongoing series. Huntress Moon is the kind of book that immediately has you rushing out to add the rest of the author's work to your bookshelf.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He's interviewed almost 200 mystery writers and discussed crime writing onstage at festivals on three continents, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards (Australia), the McIlvanney Prize (Scotland), and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (New Zealand). You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


HOT FLUSH by Rosy Fenwicke (Wonderful World, 2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Euphemia Sage watched helplessly as Jane, covered in blood, clutched her precious jewelry and was bundled into the Mercedes. Just a few days earlier she’d discovered that Alison, her mousy receptionist at Sage Consulting, had been working as a loan shark on the side. And now Alison, her husband and those thick-necked men in the cheap suits wanted the money back.

When a desperate Jane had come to Euphemia, of course she had to help. After all, wasn’t this what she was supposed to do? Euphemia had waited more than twenty years to find out if the story in the mysterious letter she’d received on her thirtieth birthday was true. So when at 53 her first hot flush triggered a genetic switch and gave her unexpected powers, she felt more than ready to save Jane and deal to Alison. But what had seemed simple suddenly became complicated when Alison produced a gun. 

Euphemia Sage has been receiving strange letters over the years – from her deceased aunt, the woman who raised her when her mother ran off.  The letters have been spookily aware of Euphemia’s circumstances at the time she reads them, and they speak of strange powers that she will possess once she hits menopause. Euphemia is looking forward to seeing if the letters are true, but unsure how she will use such powers – her life being relatively uneventful. She runs a consultancy business with her golf-crazy husband, and has two daughters, one a police detective and the other a cyber-whiz who works in the family business. She finds enjoyment in her family, her work, running, and in Petal her pug. But that all changes when the hot flushes start.

Euphemia’s annoying but efficient receptionist turns out to be running a loan shark business along with her obnoxious husband – using the Sage’s business to target clients. And an old school rival, Jane, ends up at risk of having her legs broken by the loan shark’s heavies. When Kenneth, Euphemia’s husband, goes off on a golf trip with a group that includes Jane’s husband, Euphemia thinks she has everything under control and can help Jane. But that is before she sees Jane beaten and bundled into a car at gunpoint – and before the heinous baddies take Petal as an additional hostage. After that, things go from terrible to dire, and Euphemia can’t go to the Police, so from the Police point of view she is starting to look like part of the problem.

Hot Flush is a great romp, you find out more and more about the characters as you read, and the story is unveiled layer by layer, with things turning out to be not at all what they first appear to be. Greed, manipulation, and playing the long game, all underpin the story. The writing is very funny, and it is great having the drivers of the plot for the most part being strong women – and having ageing, change of life, and mitochondrial inheritance focussed on in a positive way. There are also unanswered questions and lots of unfinished business, which promises there are more adventures of Euphemia Sage to come – excellent!

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving librarian in Nelson. This review will also appear on her blog, which you can check out here