Friday, March 23, 2018

Review: THE HUSH

THE HUSH by John Hart (St Martin's Press, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s been ten years since the events that changed Johnny Merrimon’s life and rocked his hometown to the core. Since then, Johnny has fought to maintain his privacy, but books have been written of his exploits; the fascination remains. Living alone on six thousand acres of once-sacred land, Johnny’s only connection to normal life is his old friend, Jack. They’re not boys anymore, but the bonds remain. What they shared. What they lost.

But Jack sees danger in the wild places Johnny calls home; he senses darkness and hunger, an intractable intent. Johnny will discuss none of it, but there are the things he knows, the things he can do. A lesser friend might accept such abilities as a gift, but Jack has felt what moves in the swamp: the cold of it, the unspeakable fear.

John Hart is one of the kings of US 'rural noir', a master storyteller who's never really written typical thriller novels. From when he first broke through 12 years ago with the Edgar-shortlisted debut THE KING OF LIES, Hart has offered readers an intoxicating mix of lyrical prose, richly drawn North Carolina landscapes, captivating crime storylines, and chasm-deep characters. Hart, one of only two living authors to have won two Edgar Awards for Best Crime Novel (the other being James Lee Burke), is the kind of writer compared to literary maestros as much as fellow crime bestsellers.

But even given that resume, Hart throws crime readers a couple of major-league curveballs with THE HUSH, his new tale. After a series of remarkable standalones, for the first time ever Hart has brought a protagonist back. THE HUSH sees the return of Johnny Merrimon and Jack Cross, childhood best pals and adolescent heroes from THE LAST CHILD, a Southern Gothic mystery masterpiece that swept the Edgar, CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, and Barry awards, among other accolades. In that tale, Johnny and Jack teamed up as Johnny searched for his twin sister, who'd vanished a year before.

A decade later, Johnny and Jack are young men. Johnny has retreated to a self-sustaining lifestyle in a remote cabin on the swampy, sprawling property of Hush Arbor that was in his family more than a century ago, and passed to him after the events in THE LAST CHILD. Johnny's land-rich, but cash poor, and many vultures are circling, eyeing up the rugged landscapes he calls home. Johnny is living life the way he wants, on his own terms, and Rowan County locals view him as as wild and untamed as the land he inhabits. Books have been written about his exploits; he even has groupies.

Jack, who was the wilder of the pair as kids, has turned himself around from teen tearaway to young lawyer starting his career at a well-regarded local firm. He's Johnny's only link to normal life, but even he finds himself questioning his old friend's insularity, and his strange attachment to Hush Arbor, a place full of dark and mysterious history, that seems to affect visitors in bizarre ways.

As Johnny's ownership of the land comes under threat from multiple angles, Jack wants to help his old friend, but also worries about the dangers that lurk among the swamps and trails of the Hush.

And it's those dangers that provide a further curve ball. Hart has always had a strong sense of the rural environment in his thrillers, the places and the people who populate them, but in THE HUSH that sense of place casts a long shadow. Not just a 'character-like shadow', it is pretty much a character in itself, with a swirling, malevolent personality. There's an elemental feel to THE HUSH, an ancientness, or mysticism. It's a thriller with more than a touch of magic realism.

So a few curve balls, and several places where the author could strike out. But in Hart's hands, he connects. Beautifully written, with that vivid, elemental sense of place and populated by an eclectic cast of richly drawn rural characters: blue-collar workers, rich landowners, entitled businessmen who fly in for hunting, a range of local lawyers, outdoors enthusiasts, and strikingly poor people that feel a great connection to land where their ancestors spilt blood or were enslaved (or both).

THE HUSH can at times feel like a bit of an experiment from Hart, but for me, it worked.

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


DOUBLE MADNESS by Caroline de Costa (Margaret River Press, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

As local residents and authorities in Far North Queensland assess the damage in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi, a woman's body is found in bizarre circumstances deep in the rainforest.

Cass Diamond of Cairns CIB is on the team investigating the murder of fashionista Odile Janvier and it's not long before she uncovers a disturbing connection between the victim and the local medical profession. 

This was an intriguing debut novel from a newer Australian author which grabbed me promptly at the start, but had some wobbles as it went on. There's plenty of originality in the characters, setting, and story, and a strong sense of place and the world in which the novel unfolds, but a few jarring notes pulled me out of the tale at times.

A Cairns doctor and his wife take an unusual shortcut through a national park forest outside of the city, become bogged down among post-cyclone terrain and have to abandon their car and walk out, only to stumble across the body of a Frenchwoman, tied to a tree with expensive Hermes scarves.

As the police look into the case, it emerges that the women's husband is missing, having vanished before the cyclone. Strangely for a place like Cairns, which has a 'small-town' feel, the local community doesn't seem to know much about the Janviers. With the couple estranged from their sons (on in prison, one in another state), the cops struggle to form a picture of the pair.

When they do, it takes them in some unexpected directions, including into the disturbing private lives and behind-closed-doors world of some among the Far North Queensland medical profession.

There's much to like about De Costa's debut. Her central character, Cass Diamond is distinctive and  feels authentic, rather than a composite of traits put together to 'be different' in the crime field. An aboriginal woman in her 30s, raising a teenage son as a solo mother, Cass has plenty of challenges on the personal and professional fronts. We learn about her in a fairly natural way, and there are moments of attitude and humour that make her quite engaging, and feel very real.

Unfortunately some of the other characters don't fare so well, even occasionally feel like stereotypes or caricatures, moving pieces just orbiting around Cass and the crime for the sake of the story.

There's a really strong sense of place in DOUBLE MADNESS; the people and places in Far North Queensland may be from the same country, but are very different to shiny Sydneysiders or hipster inner city workers of Melbourne. De Costa captures a variety of that local flavour well.

There is a tendency to pass information to the reader through character conversation, sometimes in a straightforward way that can veer info-dumpy or a bit clangy, dialogue-wise, at times. That pulled me out of the story now and then, disturbing the flow, but may not bother other readers as much.

Overall, a good solid debut novel that with a few tweaks could have been really, really great. De Costa shows a lot of promise as a crime writer, with flashes of brilliance, and Cass Diamond is the sort of character that you could easily see helming an ongoing series. I'd certainly read more.

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

Thursday, March 22, 2018


DEATH GOING DOWN by María Angélica Bosco, tr: Lucy Greaves (Pushkin Vertigo, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Frida Eidinger is young, beautiful and lying dead in the lift of a luxury Buenos Aires apartment block. It looks like suicide, and yet none of the building’s residents can be trusted; the man who discovered her is a womanising drunk; her husband is behaving strangely; and upstairs, a photographer and his sister appear to be hiding something sinister. 

When Inspector Ericourt and his colleague Blasi are set on the trail of some missing photographs, a disturbing secret past begins to unravel…

More than sixty years after it was first published as La muerte baja en el ascensor (Death Takes the Elevator), this Emecé Prize-winning debut from the 'Argentinean Agatha Christie' is now available for English-speaking readers for the first time (it had also been re-issued in Spanish in recent years, as part of a collection bringing 'significant titles' back into print).

This is an intriguing read that gives a flavour of post-war Argentina and the tailend of the 1940s-1950s Peron presidency. Unusually for Latin American crime fiction, it leans strongly towards classic Golden Age murder mysteries in tone, pacing, and atmosphere, with some local flourishes, rather than hardboiled crime detectives or social novels packed with police and political corruption.

Because of that, it can read a little slow or dated at times, but it is an interesting book from a talented and rather overlooked author. Bosco (1917-2006) became famous in Argentina later in her writing career for her strong female protagonists, upturning macho Latin stereotypes, and the way she tweaked mystery conventions - but this first novel of hers has a more traditional feel, starring a 'thinking male detective' (though that was unusual in of itself in Latin American crime).

Inspector Ericourt is an older, experienced Buenos Aires policeman who seems to work slowly and methodically but is often a few steps ahead of where he seems. His younger colleague, Blasi, is keen as mustard; more impatient, action-oriented, and with a tendency to jump to conclusions.

Together they investigate the death of a young woman, discovered by a drunk man in the elevator of an apartment block in a wealthier part of post-war Buenos Aires. Some signs point to suicide, but that raises questions and mysteries in of itself. Who is the woman, why was she in the building? Was she upset after visiting someone there? Is her death evidence of a dangerous liaison, or something else?

DEATH GOING DOWN is a slim novel, but not necessarily a quick read. It's more absorbing than page-whirring, as Ericourt goes about his investigation in a very measured way, looking at the residents of the luxury apartment block and others who knew the dead women. There are plenty of suspects, secrets, clues, and red herrings for fans of classic Golden Age mysteries to enjoy.

More deaths follow, and secrets are poked at until Ericourt gathers the survivors together to re-enact the crime and unmask the killer. Clearly not ground-breaking in format for English-speaking readers, but it was a much lesser-used trope for Latin American writers (given that readers over there were traditionally much more distrustful of their police forces, so classic detective fiction was a rarity).

There's nothing particularly stand-out with the 'puzzle' aspects of DEATH GOING DOWN, but I enjoyed the insights Bosco gives readers into post-war Argentine life. Modern readers may pounce on suspicions about German and other European immigrants in Buenos Aires, or wonder why a death by cyanide poisoning is considered more likely to be suicide than murder (answer - it was quite a common method of suicide at that time), but Bosco's short novel, written in the 1950s, gives us an idea of how things were seen then, as opposed to an historic mystery novel set in those times but written by a modern-day author who has the benefit of hindsight but a lack of firsthand knowledge.

A good read, that brings an overlooked crime writer to English-speaking audiences. From what I've read about Bosco, I understand her later crime novels were bolder and more ground-breaking, so I certainly hope that Pushkin Vertigo will continue to bring out more of her oeuvre in English..

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Southern sharecroppers and Japanese gardens: an interview with Naomi Hirahara

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the eighth instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 180th 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.

If you've got a favourite crime writer who hasn't yet been part of the 9mm series, please do let me know in the comments or by message, and I'll look to make that happen for you. We've got a few more interviews with cool writers 'already in the can' that will be published soon, so lots to look forward to over the coming weeks and months.

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Edgar Award-winning author Naomi Hirahara to Crime Watch. I first came across Hirahara's work a couple of years ago when I read SAYONARA SLAM, the sixth mystery in her series starring Mas Arai, an elderly Hiroshima survivor working as a gardener in Los Angeles and moonlighting as an unlikely amateur sleuth. Arai is a unique and unforgettable hero, who first appeared in SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI (2004), Hirahara's debut novel after the former journalist had edited and written several non-fiction books focused on Asian-American figures (gardeners, strawberry farmers, business figures, doctors in wartime detention centres).

Hirahara is herself the daughter of a Hiroshima survivor. Her maternal grandfather was killed by the nuclear blast. She was born in California and grew up in Pasadena, before studying international relations at Stanford University, Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo, and volunteering in Ghana.

Earlier this month, the seventh and final Mas Arai tale, HIROSHIMA BOY, was published. In that book, the curmudgeonly octogenarian returns to Hiroshima to deliver his best friend's ashes, only to become entangled in the mysterious death of a teenager, a boy about the same age Mas was when he survived the nuclear bombing, many decades ago. Stubborn as always, he feels he can't return to California until he sees justice done. It will be interesting to see where Hirahara goes after this, if it really is goodbye to Mas Arai. She has also written a young adult drama and two other mystery novels featuring rookie LAPD bicycle cop Ellie Rush, who dreams of being a detective.

But for now, Naomi Hirahara becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
BOOKS: Easy Rawlings, TV: Vera

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
COTTON IN MY SACK by Newbury Award winner Lois Lenski. Her depiction of a sense of place - Southern farms - as well as the hardscrabble lifestyle of a sharecropping family. Probably subconsciously I could relate to it as the daughter of a gardener! I recently went back to read Lenski's work and her stories are soaked in Southern dialect. (I don't think it could be published for children today.) It's no wonder I resonated with her work.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Well, I was a journalist, off and on, for 10 years, so lots and lots of articles. I wrote quite a few short stories, pretty bad ones, that were published in the same ethnic newspaper. I'm a bit embarrassed by those efforts, but I also see that I was honing my craft. And by having them published, I felt like a real fiction writer.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I enjoy cooking, eating street food, going to sporting events - mostly basketball and baseball games, reading (of course!), travel to local history spots and gardens, and watching movies. My husband and I are movie fiends. We actually go to a movie theater once a week. Oh, I love taking daily walks with my dog, Tulo.

5. What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
I feel like I have two hometowns: Pasadena, California, and Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles. Pasadena: Take a hike in Eaton Canyon to a 40-foot waterfall.

Little Tokyo: Visit the James Irvine Japanese-style garden on the basement level of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Garden. Green in the middle of concrete.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Spiritually, James Cagney. More realistically, Kelly Marie Tran.

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
Probably my first, SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI. Took 15 years to conceive. Enough said.

8. What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
Happy dance, of course! We went to a fancy restaurant. I don't remember what we ate, but it was expensive.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
A man interrupting me and starting to talk about how the Japanese could kill you with one finger. It happened to be on Pearl Harbor Day, so I was a bit rattled inside. Later I realized that people said that about martial artist Bruce Lee. That wouldn't be a bad skill to have sometimes.

Thank you Naomi. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch. 

You can learn more about Naomi Hirahara and her Edgar-winning Mas Arai mysteries at her website, and follow her on Twitter


A PRESENT FOR THE CZAR by Edmund Bohan (Hazard Press, 2003)

Reviewed by Dorothy Hunt

In the spring of 1885, as New Zealand and Australia are gripped by fears of imminent Russian invasion, tension is heightened even more by the arrival in Lyttelton of a Russian scientific expedition under the command of Prince Alexis Gregorovitch Romanov - once known as the ‘Butcher of Warsaw’ but now intent on collecting rare Maori artifacts for his cousin the Czar of Russia.

This not only poses major political and security problems for the Colonial Volunteer Defence Force’s commander, General Sir George Whitmore, and his assistants the veteran Colonel Jamieson and Inspector Patrick O’Rorke, but Romanov’s visit stirs deep and dangerous passions amongst the country’s small Polish community. It also alarms local Maori seeking the return of priceless taonga stolen from their ancient and sacred burial sites of Murihiku, and their fears are increased by the simultaneous appearance in Christchurch of the mysterious and sinister Boyland the Collector and a second buyer of artifacts, the Prussian Count von Krefeld.

Written by New Zealand author Edmund Bohan, this is a detective story set in New Zealand in 1885. It is the fifth Inspector O'Rorke novel. It is the first I have read, but it certainly won't be the last.

It can be summed up as on the back of the cover as dealing with "a complex web of murder and mystery". It could also be described as a novel in which a complex web of themes is involved, and a wide range of characters realistically portrayed. Indeed it is a novel to be read with careful concentration so that the relationships among the characters whom Inspector O'Rorke encounters in his investigation can be recognised as far as their disguises will permit. There are new New Zealanders who have come from different and sometimes violent backgrounds and achieved success in the young country. Some strong women fearlessly defy Victorian conventions and express their concern about rights for women. Maori are deeply concerned about the theft and export of ancestral taonga (treasures). Some Polish refugees are trying to build a new life away from Russian domination while others seek vengeance against the Russians who have treated cruelly people in their homeland. The country is alarmed about the threat of Russian invasion. Into this explosive mix come high-ranking Russian visitors from a scientific expedition seeking a present for the Czar.

This gripping story is excellent reading for anyone who enjoys detective stories, but there is even more to this book than the gripping story line and the powerful mix of themes. It flows seemingly effortlessly from one chapter to the next, but this is no superficial story. It is a detective story in a historical setting and when I had finished reading it I realised how convincingly I had been drawn into identifying with life in the late nineteenth century. The details of the buildings and their furnishings, the transport, the lighting, and the means of communication combined to build up a picture which was made more real because of the clear presentation of social interaction in Victorian society and the impact of rank, social position and rituals.

The setting of the story was clearly the work of a social historian.

The author has the gift of creating a scene and by his skilful use of language conveying the visual setting, the sound, the atmosphere, the emotional tensions.

This is clearly seen in this passage on Page 153.

"She had already drawn back the long curtains from the windows so that the room was bathed in light. Birds were singing in the trees outside, the sun was already blazing, and the great nor'west arch high above the distant mountains foretold another stiflingly hot day. Yet for her the bedroom remained cold as an ice-house. Then as a new wave of shadows seemed to flow out from the mirror and swirl around her, threatening, stifling and imprisoning, she slammed the door fast and stumbled towards the stairs. Outside and clear of the house, with the warm wind bathing her face and the morning heat freeing her body from the deadening cold of her haunting, she started to run without caring in which direction she ran."

I strongly recommend this book for any readers interested in detective fiction and life in nineteenth century New Zealand and there is a romantic interest there too as Inspector O'Rorke has finally to choose between two beautiful women in his life.

Dorothy Hunt was the founder and editor NZine, a groundbreaking online magazine that began in the mid 1990s. Passionate about embracing and sharing stories of New Zealand life (travel, business, history, geography, social issues, and more) with the growing online community, Dorothy and her husband Peter grew their magazine for fifteen years. I interacted with Dorothy in the early days of Crime Watch. Unfortunately both Dorothy and Peter passed away in recent years, and the website they poured so much heart into fell defunct and is no longer online. In their honour I've decided to republish Dorothy's review of this New Zealand crime novel she enjoyed. 

Monday, March 19, 2018


DEATH BY WATER by Kerry Greenwood (Allen & Unwin, 2005)

Reviewed by Shane Donald

'Who are you?' asked the doctor. 'You are not the standard cruise passenger, I can tell you that.' 'Thank you,' said Phryne in a self-possessed manner. 'You are correct. I am a lot of things, some of which do not concern you, but mostly I am Phryne Fisher.' 

The nice men at P&O are worried. A succession of jewellery thefts from first class passengers is hardly the best advertisement for their cruise liners, particularly when it is likely that it is a passenger who is doing the stealing. Phryne Fisher, with her Lulu bob, green eyes, Cupid's bow lips and Chanel travelling suits, is exactly the sort of elegant sleuth to take on a ring of jewellery thieves aboard the high seas - or at least, aboard the SS Hinemoa on a luxury cruise to New Zealand. With the Maharani - the Great Queen of Sapphires - as the bait, Phryne rises magnificently to the challenge.

There are shipboard romances, champagne cocktails, erotic photographers, jealous husbands, mickey finns, blackmail and attempted murder, all before the thieves find out - as have countless love-smitten men before them - that where the glamorous and intelligent Phryne is involved, resistance is futile.

I discovered Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series several years ago browsing at the Time Out Bookstore in Mt Eden. The novel was URN BURIAL, book eight in the series. I think it was the cover that grabbed my attention and after reading the novel, I visited Kerry Greenwood’s website. In the FAQ section, it mentioned that the novels had been optioned for the screen but that Kerry Greenwood didn’t think it likely that much would happen in that direction.

Since then Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries has become a successful TV show that screens in several countries. It’s a funny thing when a book series you’re familiar with becomes a TV series or movie; the character on screen doesn’t necessarily match the one you construct as you read. For example, my idea of Harry Bosch doesn’t look like Titus Welliver. With Phryne Fisher, Essie Davis has become, over time, my idea of that character. Having enjoyed the TV series adaptation, I recently read my first Phryne Fisher novel since the books were turned into a series.

DEATH BY WATER is set on a P & O cruise ship SS Hinemoa, bound for New Zealand from Australia. Miss Fisher has been hired to find who has been stealing jewels from first class passengers. With all of Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher novels, it is clear that she has spent a great deal of time researching the setting and time period in which her novels are based (the 1920s). It’s a world of social hierarchies and proper etiquette which Phryne Fisher flouts in order to work effectively as a private detective and live as a woman of independent means.

Besides the name of the ship, there are further links to New Zealand in this story as the ship arrives in New Zealand and the passengers disembark to experience a Maori cultural show and see something of the landscape. This section reminded me of Ngaio Marsh’s VINTAGE MURDER in which Roderick Alleyn learns something of Maoritanga and the landscape serves as a representation of characters’ psychological states. Something similar occurs here with Phryne seeing in Maori culture an authentic expression of self that contrast with the facades presented by people on the ship. She develops a relationship with her cabin attendant and the stokers in the ship’s boiler room, learning more of their Maori culture and coming to appreciate the wildness of the New Zealand landscape, as it relates to her own nature.

As always, Miss Fisher brings the criminals to justice with style and flair. This is number fifteen in what is a long-running series that shows little sign of slowing down. Not all novels have been adapted for television (including this one) so for readers who like the show but don’t want to read the novel used in an episode, this one might work.

This is an entertaining series that has a point to make about social justice, inequality and the role of women. They’re a fun read and provide the reader with a great deal of knowledge of a time gone by.

Shane Donald is a New Zealander living in Taiwan. An avid reader with 3,000 books in his home, he completed a dissertation on Ngaio Marsh for his MA degree, and also has a PhD in applied linguistics

Friday, March 16, 2018


GREEN SUN by Kent Anderson (Mulholland Books, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Hanson thought he had witnessed the worst of humanity after a tour of duty in Vietnam and a stint as a cop in Oregon. Then he moves to Oakland, California to join the under-funded, understaffed police department.

Hanson chooses to live - alone - in the precinct that he patrols; he, unlike the rest of the white officers, takes seriously his duty to serve and protect the black community of East Oakland.

He will encounter prejudice and hate on both sides of the line... and struggle to keep true to himself against powerful opposition and personal danger. 

Kent Anderson’s first novel in more than twenty years sparkles darkly, like California iron sands shimmering under the baking heat of a midsummer sun; beautiful yet dangerously hot to the touch. It’s mesmerizing - violent and thought-provoking, full of flashes of brutality yet gorgeously written. Captivating and brilliant.

Green Sun belatedly continues the story of Hanson, who first came to the page in Anderson's debut novel, Sympathy for the Devil, way back in 1987. In that book Hanson was a young man, a poetry-loving college student turned Green Beret who discovers the savagery within himself as he scrabbles to survive the horrors of the Vietnam War. Perhaps surviving hell, too well. Anderson, who himself was a special forces soldier in that terrible war, earning two Bronze Stars, delivered a thunderclap of a war book, called an all-time classic in some circles, laying bare the seductive violence of war.

Ten years later, Hanson returned in Anderson's second novel, Night Dogs, this time as a police officer in Portland, Oregon (another reflection of Anderson's own real-life resume). Similarly authentic, chilling, and powerful, that book juxtaposed war-time violence with violence in the inner city.

Two books, two classics, a decade apart. And then two decades passed.

In Green Sun, Hanson is now approaching forty years old, but after a stint teaching at college, he's signed up for the Oakland police academy, looking to get back on the beat. He needs an outlet for the darkness and violence flooding his veins, while bringing a completely different mindset to the job than the young recruits. Despite his brutal past, Hanson sees himself as a social worker with a gun; he's someone willing to actually be a 'peace officer', as police were originally meant to be.

The Oakland streets of the early 1980s can resemble a war zone, and Hanson has colleagues as well as criminals gunning for him. He just wants to survive, get his months in, and move on.

Anderson tells Hanson's tale as a series of vignettes, slices of life for an unusual street cop. There’s not so much a central storyline to Green Sun as there is an accumulation of experiences that give us a startlingly raw look at the realities of cop life at that time and place. There’s a gritty authenticity rising to the surface among the spare beauty of Anderson’s prose. Hanson is an unusual, unforgettable character that’s easy to follow even as events and choices get sharp.

A searing insight into life on the streets, from a master storyteller.

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

Review: KEEPER

KEEPER by Johana Gustawsson, tr: Maxim Jakubowski (Orenda Books, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Whitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. 

London 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before. 

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman's body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims. 

Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down.

French crime writer Johana Gustawsson is a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing. She takes readers into some terribly dark places, based upon real-life horrors from the past and contemporary nightmares, but she does it so elegantly with her flowing prose seasoned with humour you don't fully comprehend until later just how black (noir, in French) some of the content is in her crime novels.

Following on from her excellent, award-winning debut, BLOCK 46, which blended contemporary crimes in Sweden and the UK with historic horrors from Buchenwald concentration camp, KEEPER sees the return of Canadian profiler Emily Roy and French true crime writer Alexis Castells in another disturbing case spanning borders and decades. This time Gustawsson takes readers back even further, to the late nineteenth century and one of the world's most notorious true crime sprees.

Gustawsson adroitly weaves several threads together. It can be easy for a book that leaps about in time, place, and point of view as much as this one to feel disjointed, but KEEPER flows effortlessly, building tension as we learn more about both the past and present. Gustawsson does a particularly good job bringing late nineteenth century London to life, in all of its sour and infested 'glory'. For the majority of Londoners, life wasn't the genteel fantasy portrayed in some nostalgic period pieces, but instead a Dickensian life of sordid, grimy horrors and a hard-scrabble, cut-throat fight to survive.

I liked this book a lot. It's a great read. Interestingly, I felt a little at a distance from Emily Roy and Alexis Castells, admiring and enjoying them as characters rather than feeling I was completely alongside them (yet), but this didn't take away from me thoroughly enjoying what is a terrific read.

The connections between the UK and Sweden, which mirror Gustawsson's own life (she's a French writer married to a Swede, living in London), never feel forced or 'author hand', instead very smooth and authentic. It may surprise some to learn that one of Jack the Ripper's real-life victims was from Sweden (we forget, in our modern world of easy international travel, that many working-class people immigrated to new countries more than a century ago; it wasn't just famous explorers who roamed the world, even if the journeys back then were much harsher and took much longer than nowadays).

Gustawsson does a great job bringing us into the lives of everyone involved, from the victims and families and investigators of the modern cases in London and Sweden, to the realities of living in Whitechapel at a time a brutal maniac was hunting women among the fluid-stained alleyways.

A very good read. I look forward to more from Gustawsson, Roy, and Castells.

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