Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Paleontologists and pulled pork: an interview with Amy Lloyd

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the twelfth instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 184th 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 Welsh author Amy Lloyd, who has made a bit of a splash with her debut novel THE INNOCENT WIFE, a psychological thriller inspired by the recent surge of true crime podcasts and miscarriage of justice campaigns. Her book was chosen from among 5,000 entries as the winner of the Daily Mail-Penguin Random House First Novel competition in 2016, and published in hardcover earlier this year. That competition was searching for new writing talent, and Lloyd entered her tale of a British woman who becomes enamored with a convicted killer in the US and campaigns for his release, only to begin wondering if he's a innocent as many believe.

You can see Lloyd talking about her book in this short video:



You can read the prologue and first chapter of THE INNOCENT WIFE here.

But for now, Amy Lloyd becomes the latest crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH AMY LLOYD

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
It’s got to be Dexter Morgan of the Dexter books/TV shows. I love an anti-hero.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
The very first would be Roald Dahl’s THE TWITS. It was dark and nasty and funny. I think Roald Dahl was so good at getting that balance right, he really understood children’s minds and what made them laugh. That love for darkness that he inspired in me at a young age has never left me! So blame him.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I wrote short stories and personal essays but never had anything published. I had never really tried to get anything published. I had submitted one or two things to online magazines but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I studied creative writing at university so amassed a lot of these short stories and personal essays but didn’t know what to do with them. None of them felt like they fit anywhere that I could submit to. Still, every one of them was essential in finding my writing style and my confidence.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
READING! That is number one and it’s the thing I find most difficult while I’m writing my first draft. I find it hard to concentrate and my mind keeps slipping to my own book. I like to cross stitch – rock and roll – and I love a good nap. I go to the cinema at least once a week. I’m a total riot, I know.

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?
They should look for evening events going on in Cardiff University or the museum. There are free lectures on a range of interesting topics and paid-for events that are different to anything you’ll find elsewhere. The best night my boyfriend and I had last year was an evening at the museum where a paleontologist took us for a tour of the dinosaur exhibit and talked about all the displays. Then there was a showing of Jurassic Park in the lecture theatre – our favourite film. Plus there were pulled pork buns – the perfect evening.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Gemma Whelan! She makes me laugh and I make me laugh and so I think she would send me up quite well.

7. Of your writings, which is your favourite, and why?
THE INNOCENT WIFE will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first book and until I had written it I never really believed I was capable of writing a book. That being said, I feel like the characters in my new book are so complex and fully-formed that there is something magical about seeing them tell their story. So, maybe, book number two is my new favourite!

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?
It’s funny because the book was accepted for publication before I had actually finished it, so although I was happy to know it would be published I knew I had a long way to go. I don’t remember how we celebrated though I know we must have. We were still VERY POOR when I won the Daily Mail competition so it would have been a modest celebration!!

We more than made up for that the day it was on the shelves. We went for a big meal and had champagne and went to every store we could to take photos of it on the shelf.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
I’m such a small-fry, I really don’t have any cool stories yet! The very first author event I went to was surreal because I got to meet Lisa Jewell, Anthony Horowitz, Tony Parsons, all these huge authors. I felt like a gate crasher! It was amazing because Araminta Hall was there and there were proof copies of her book OUR KIND OF CRUELTY, which I had read about and was dying to read. I got to take one home and I started reading it on the train and I felt like such a big deal getting to read this highly-anticipated book months before it was released. And it is such a good book! Getting proof copies is the best perk about being an author!


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

Monday, April 16, 2018

Review: TURN A BLIND EYE

TURN A BLIND EYE by Vicky Newham (HQ, 2018)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A twisted killer has a deadly riddle for DI Maya Rahman to solve in this pulse-racing thriller, the first in an addictive new series set in East London. A headmistress is found strangled in her East London school, her death the result of a brutal and ritualistic act of violence. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept: "I shall abstain from taking the ungiven".

At first, DI Maya Rahman can’t help but hope this is a tragic but isolated murder. Then, the second body is found. Faced with a community steeped in secrets and prejudice, and with a serial killer on her hands, Maya must untangle the cryptic messages left at the crime scenes to solve the deadly riddle behind the murders – before the killer takes another victim. 

Trying a new crime writer, especially a debutant, is always an adventure. I was excited about reading TURN A BLIND EYE after hearing a fair bit about Newham's first novel online in recent months. Would I find a promising author, an accomplished tale, or something that needed more seasoning?

Overall, I really enjoyed TURN A BLIND EYE. It has a very contemporary, current feel, delving into some challenging social issues with a good sense of its London setting and introducing an interesting main character who I could definitely see being the spine of an ongoing series.

DI Maya Rahman is a Bangladeshi-British cop who has recently from her ancestral homeland, having had to deal with a deep personal tragedy. As she settles back into East London life, a murder strikes close to home: the headmistress of Maya's old high school is found strangled, on the school grounds. It's a crime that shocks the community, causing lots of ripples and raising lots of questions. Maya has to deal with vulturous reporters, stunned teachers, and untrusting students and families. Suspicion swirls, as do rumours. The investigation pulls at many veneers, exposing secrets that may or may not have anything to do with the crime. At the same time Maya is having to deal with a new colleague that's been foisted upon her from overseas, and a boss who causes more problems than solutions.

There's an awful lot to like about Newham's debut. It flows really well - the kind of book where you think 'I'll read one more chapter' but are still reading 100 pages later. There's kind of an addictive, x-factor quality to the writing that you can't easily deconstruct or explain. Told in a straightforward manner that still has some elegance, it powers forward. Highly absorbing, more than rip-roaring.

Newham excels with her descriptions of her debut's culturally diverse London setting. TURN A BLIND EYE is deeply set among the children-of-immigrant communities of East London, where cultural clashes and misunderstandings loom, just out of sight, before flashing into life. It's a minefield for Maya and her colleagues to navigate, of different beliefs, values, and sensitivities. They're hampered by mixed relationships between the community and the police. There's a real sense of currency and authenticity to the way Newham textures her tale with its setting, bringing it to life.

The plotting was good, well-woven overall, and the character of DI Maya Rahman and her police colleagues fitted the tale perfectly, while showing plenty of promise for an ongoing series. We learn a fair bit about Maya, while still getting the sense that there's much more to learn. She's had and has a complicated family and personal life, without being a cliched alcoholic/divorced/troubled detective. There's a freshness to the character, some sense of difference without just being different for the sake of it. There's a good sense of 'realness' to the characters as much as the setting.

Overall a good read that's a very adroit debut. Vicky Newham is a writer to watch, and I look forward to seeing how she and DI Maya Rahman grow as the series continues.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Review: THE CALLER

THE CALLER by Chris Carter (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

After a tough week, Tanya Kaitlin is looking forward to a relaxing night in, but as she steps out of her shower, she hears her phone ring.  The video call request comes from her best friend, Karen Ward.  Tanya takes the call and the nightmare begins.

Karen is gagged and bound to a chair in her own living room.  If Tanya disconnects from the call, if she looks away from the camera, he will come after her next, the deep, raspy, demonic voice at the other end of the line promises her.

As Hunter and Garcia investigate the threats, they are thrown into a rollercoaster of evil, chasing a predator who scouts the streets and social media networks for victims, taunting them with secret messages and feeding on their fear. 

Chris Carter is one of those crime writers that has a big online following, and really ardent fans. Years ago I read his debut THE CRUCIFIX KILLER, and was left with mixed feelings, like he had all the puzzle pieces for a good crime story but stylistically his debut didn't quite gel, showing plenty of promise but also coming across a little cliched or derivative of many other writers.

In a way, it was like a band still trying to find its own unique sound, while playing covers of others. Or early-in-the-season American Idol contestant still looking for their own distinct voice or artistry.

At the same time, I understand I read a lot more crime fiction than most, as well as judging awards etc, so may have a different perspective to casual crime readers, eg things I think are cliched, clunky, or derivative and pull me out of the story flow may not bother or be noticed by others.

Recently, I decided to give Chris Carter another go, after many online recommendations from big fans of his, and read THE CALLER, his latest bestseller. I was hopeful. What I found was a good solid crime read that I really wanted to love, but just kinda thought was okay.

Carter has a cinematic storytelling style, packed with plenty of action and twisting plots. THE CALLER is vivid at times, and the page whir. He creates characters with plenty of traits or abilities that on the surface should be very interesting. But for whatever reason it all just feels a bit thin to me. Things had improved a little since his debut, but many of the flaws in that book were still present.

I'm trying to nail down exactly what it is about Carter's writing that just doesn't click for me (NB it clicks for many, many other readers), but in the end maybe it's just the sense that I've seen similar things done so much better by many other authors, and that the books feel very 'author hand' rather than particularly authentic or organic. I find myself rolling my eyes too often, or feeling like it's a quite-exciting film where you're still glancing at your watch in the cinema now and then. Not wholly absorbed, entranced, or so caught up that you lose track of time.

Carter is particularly good with pace, and tells fast, twisting stories - which I think mitigates or masks the various flaws for many readers. The story blazes by. But for me there's just a feeling that there's 'something missing', some heart or character depth or emotion or ... something.

Overall, I'm glad I tried Carter's Robert Hunter series again. It was a solid, fast crime read. For whatever reason (I've tried to elucidate above, perhaps poorly), it's just one of those 'not for me' series so far. But it is one that a lot of other readers like. Some reviewers I respect really love it, and he sells tonnes. So give it a go and make up your own mind. We all like different things.

I might even give the series another go myself, at some stage.


Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Review: FATAL VOYAGE

FATAL VOYAGE by Kathy Reichs (William Heinemann, 2001)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Investigating a plane crash in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan discovers in a most disturbing way that the evidence doesn't add up. Tripping over a coyote-chewed leg at the crash scene, she performs a little mental arithmetic and realizes that this victim wasn't on the plane. Once again, Brennan's high-tech DMORT snaps into action faster than you can say "Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team." 

Long before the Bones television series became a long-running hit show, Kathy Reichs had been writing about her fascinating forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan. I really enjoyed this fourth novel in a series that later this year has its twentieth instalment (one of the books being a short story collection).

For those who aren't as familiar with both the book world that Reichs created and the TV world inspired by her books, it's worth noting the two worlds are very different in many ways (for me, I prefer the book series while still enjoying the TV show, and the book 'Tempe' character is more interesting - but I can understand how different people will have different preferences, eg especially if they're big fans of the actors, or characters that are in the show that aren't in the books).

FATAL VOYAGE begins with a mess of bodies in the wilderness, the wreckage of a plane crash where forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is on scene, using her skills to help with the horrifying task of trying to help identify some of the victims. It's a nightmare scene for all involved.

Reichs writing flows well, she draws us in to the situation and the life of her characters, which then become more complicated when remains are found that aren't from the plane crash. Brennan's own life is in danger, and she has to juggle the heartbreaking job of identifying the plane crash victims while dealing with various other personal and professional challenges. There's a lot going on in FATAL VOYAGE, multiple threads which might bother some crime readers who prefer things more straightforward or simple, but I enjoyed this aspect and felt Reichs wove things together well.

Brennan's job as a forensic anthropologist splitting her time between duties in North Carolina and Quebec (mirroring Reichs' own resume) offers opportunities to take readers into all sorts of situations and 'worlds' over the course of the series. In FATAL VOYAGE brings the reality of plane crashes and all the things that are involved with dealing with them to stark life. She doesn't pull any punches, giving readers insights beyond what's gleaned from headlines and news stories. It's macabre at times, but handled well and you feel you're learning some fascinating things while intrigued by the mystery.

As I mentioned above, the Temperance Brennan of the books is much different to the one portrayed by Emily Deschanel in the TV series. The characters share a name and occupation, but that's about it. Book Tempe is older, a divorced recovering alcoholic who has an adult daughter, is far less socially awkward, and lives and works in North Carolina. Family is important to her - her sister, niece, daughter, and ex-husband all feature regularly throughout the series. She has an on-off relationship with Detective Andrew Ryan, and has a tendency to act like a teenager sometimes, even if she's a middle-aged woman who's at the very top of her profession, nationally and beyond. She's incredibly smart in some ways, but a little naive or prideful at other times, causing herself some grief.

In other words, she's a very human and quite relatable character.

If you enjoy forensic thrillers, then I think you'd like FATAL VOYAGE. Reichs is a good writer who took the baton from Patricia Cornwell's groundbreaking Dr Kay Scarpetta series, and ran with it. Temperance Brennan (books world) is a fascinating, at times frustrating, character whose viewpoint we follow in first-person, taking us behind-the-scenes into intriguing, sometimes horrifying, worlds - all done with some sense of humour and humanity that helps keep the morbidity at bay.

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: ON A BODGIE BIKE

ON A BODGIE BIKE by David McGill (2018)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Matt Delaney and his mate Ante Vukovich steal a precious religious vessel and in the course of the burglary a man is killed, setting in motion personal and political mayhem. It is 1955 and they just want to be milk-bar cowboys  against the squares and their suffocating rules banning unmarried sex and excessive speed and anything worth doing. 

Matt's uncle Dan Delaney is out of the police and in a dead-end job when Matt's alcoholic mother begs Dan to sort out a charge of murder against her son. They live in what's called West Auckland's Dallie Valley, Ante is Dalmation and his Croatian relation has arrived to reclaim the religious icon that could utnite his homeland challenge to Yugoslav communist rule. Dan Delaney's only ally against corrupt and brutal police is an ex-Commissioner of Police assisting the National Government clean up the police and establish a separate security intelligence service. 

Dan Delaney is back, but he’s not the earnest young lad who longed to be a detective who we first met in 1935, nor the more mature Dan we next met in Wellington in the mid-1940s. It is now 1955, and Dan is living back with his Dad in Auckland and working in the “choking confines” of a wool store, having given up on a brief stint at teaching when the liberal use of the strap reminded him too much of the Nazi atrocities he witnessed in a POW camp during WW2. This Dan doesn’t want a bar of getting back into security work, and is turning into a cynical and prejudiced man of his times.

The New Zealand Dan now lives in is bleak: there is a generational divide with not much respect given either side, society is conservative and homophobic, most people are ugly, there is corruption in the Police Force, and politics are post-war weary, nervous of the ‘yellow peril’, and fraught with the baggage brought in by various immigrant groups.

Dan’s brother has scarpered to Australia, leaving his wife and two children behind. Dan grudgingly keeps in touch with Janet, with whom he had a pre-war one-night stand, and with her sons, Matt and Malcolm. He quite likes Matt but he has no time for poor Malcolm, the overweight younger son, who is suffering under a depressed, drinking and therefore neglectful mother.

Matt is a bit of a larrikin, and he gets into all kinds of trouble when he agrees to help an idiot friend steal a Catholic monstrance, hoping to make money. The monstrance, if genuine, is extremely valuable both monetarily and politically. It hails from Croatia, and if it finds its way back there it could strengthen the rallying cry for revolt against Tito’s Communist rule. Ante, the ‘brains’ behind the theft, is Dalmatian, as is his sister, Mira, who Matt has fallen crazily for after seeing her in a production of Romeo and Juliet, and after discovering teenage hormones and a vocabulary from the Bard to declare his love and feed his deliriums.

When the theft goes horribly wrong, and Mira and Ante’s uncle is killed and the monstrance goes missing, all parties – the Church, the Dalmatians, and Dan’s bĂȘte noire, Haas – who could be working for any number of foreign governments, the fall of Tito’s independent Communist regime being of benefit to both the left and right – all join the fray to capture Matt and find the treasure.  And Janet pleads with Dan to try and help her son.

ON A BODGIE BIKIE is told at breakneck speed from the point of view of Matt as well as Dan, and is a gripping read full of fascinating history – it is also quite a distasteful read given how far social sensibilities have moved since the 1950s, and there are some very violent scenes. The narrative is thick with 1950s slang and outlook, the only relief coming in the form of a couple who live out of the mainstream, and who help Matt and his mates when they are on the run. The contrast between the kids’ own lives and Robbie and Wai’s is extreme, and the fact that Robbie and Wai “were no friends of the authorities”, reinforces the feeling that society is unstable and untrustworthy.

I thought ON A BODGIE BIKIE was going to be a story of redemption – after all there is a lot of Catholicism and lost faith described. But at the end, although the mystery has been resolved, there are still many unanswered questions and unresolved issues for Dan Delaney, for example his relationship with his brother and his nephew Malcolm, his guilt over Janet, his unhappiness with his work. There is a glimmer of an improvement for Dan personally, albeit involving a Dalmatian Policewoman “just about young enough to be his daughter”, and some possibly transformative news about his own family situation.

ON A BODGIE BIKIE is a good gripping read about a depressing post-war New Zealand, but I did miss the feisty idealistic Dan of old – maybe his story of redemption is in a future outing?



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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Review: EXPLOSIVE EIGHTEEN

EXPLOSIVE EIGHTEEN by Janet Evanovich (Bantam, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Stephanie Plum's got a one-way ticket to trouble... After a holiday from hell, Stephanie's heading back to New Jersey and life as a bounty hunter feeling worse than before. And that's before she finds out the man in the seat next to her was brutally murdered on their layover, and she may hold the key to his death. 

With both the fake FBI and the real FBI on her tail, not to mention sometimes-boyfriend Morelli and more-than-a-mentor Ranger, Stephanie's beginning to wonder if she might need a holiday from it all... 

Janet Evanovich is one of the most successful of several highly successful female American authors who've shifted gears from romance writing to crime and mystery writing over the course of their authorial careers. With more than 200 million copies of her books in print, Evanovich's long-running mystery series starring department store lingerie buyer-turned-accidental bounty hunter Stephanie Plum is loved by millions of readers, and regularly hits #1 on the New York Times bestseller lists.

I've heard from long-time fans and other reviewers that the books become a bit 'samey' after a while, but as I've only read three of the 24 titles so far, things are still relatively fresh for me.

I enjoyed this read. It's a fun, fast read that doesn't take itself too seriously. While it doesn't rise to the heights of many of Evanovich's 'big name' bestselling peers in the crime world, I can see why the series is so popular. Stephanie Plum is an intriguing character, pretty distinctive, and easy to follow along with on her mishaps and adventures. There's plenty of humour threaded throughout, keeping the overall tone light and the darkness of some of the serious criminal acts at arm's length. I tore through the book quite quickly, and usually had a smile on my face throughout.

In EXPLOSIVE EIGHTEEN, Plum is returning from a Hawaiian holiday, keeping her friends and readers in suspense about the whole story of what really went on there. She's quickly distracted by plenty of action 'back home', as her seat-mate on the flight home disappears and is later found dead, her workplace at the bail bonds is blown up, and her and eccentric pal Lula still have bail bonds to catch though. An interesting name crops up in their sights, Plum's arch-enemy Joyce Barnhardt.

There's plenty of action and lots going on in EXPLOSIVE EIGHTEEN. Evanovich slips in some nice zingers and funny moments, subtly at times, to keep a smile on readers' faces as the pages whir. Things are interesting and slightly off-kilter, in a fun way - this isn't a series that focuses on tonnes of characterisation or social commentary. It's pure entertainment, a light and fun read with plenty of action and some interesting characters that you could very well want to revisit again and again.


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, April 11, 2018

Claire Danes and big ideas about injustice and mortality: an interview with Julia Dahl

Kia ora and haere mai, welcome to the eleventh instalment of 9mm for 2018, and the 183rd 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 award-winning New York crime writer Julia Dahl to Crime Watch. Dahl is a crime writer in multiple senses of the word; along with being the author of the Rebekah Roberts mystery series, Julia is a longtime journalist. She has been a freelance reporter for the New York Post, an associate features editor at Marie Claire, and the deputy managing editor of The Crime Report. She now writes about crime and criminal justice for CBSNews.com. She's also been published in Salon, O, The Oprah Magazine, the Boston Globe, and Seventeen, among others.

Julia says she's always been a 'story chaser', and in 2014 her first novel, INVISIBLE CITY, was published. Introducing Rebekah Roberts, a New York tabloid reporter who investigates the murder of an Hasidic Jewish woman from Brooklyn - a case that hits close to home for Roberts and causes her to dig further into her own heritage - that book went on to be shortlisted for an Edgar Award, and win the Barry, Shamus, and Macavity Awards for Best First Novel. It was followed by RUN YOU DOWN in 2015, and then late last month the third in the series, CONVICTION,  hit the shelves.

In CONVICTION, Roberts investigates a racially charged killing from 22 years before, from a time when riots had broken out between black and Jewish neighbours in Crown Heights. New York Magazine calls it "a murder mystery for our tumultuous times".

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


9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH JULIA DAHL

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Is it cheating to say that I love Tana French’s Murder Squad?

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
STARRING SALLY J FREEDMAN AS HERSELF by Judy Blume. It’s about a Jewish pre-teen girl in post-WWII America who dreams of being a movie star. I think I read it three times in a single month one summer. I saw myself in Sally. Like me (and maybe lots of kids) Sally felt that her life should be playing out on a bigger stage than the suburban world where she lived. And like me, she made up wild stories about the people around her. As with so many of Blume’s books, STARRING SALLY J FREEDMAN AS HERSELF introduced me to big ideas about injustice and mortality, but felt so familiar that reading it was a tremendous comfort and inspiration.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’ve been a reporter for nearly 20 years so I’ve written countless articles. In my 20s, I wrote a novel that was never published – which is good, because it’s pretty terrible. After I finished that, I wrote half of another novel, then a screenplay, then gave up on fiction for a few years. I’m very thankful I eventually came back!

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I have a toddler, so I spend a lot of time in playgrounds and parks near my house. I’m also sort of a closet foodie. Whenever possible, my husband and I find a great restaurant and spend too much money. I love to swim, too, and when the weather warms up you’ll find me in water. I’m not picky: public pools, swimming holes, lakes, the ocean – if it’s wet, I want in!

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’m sort of ashamed to say that I haven’t been to my hometown – Fresno, California – in a decade, and I haven’t lived there in 20 years. In my adopted hometown of New York City, however, I recommend getting out of Manhattan. Take the subway to Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and explore Prospect Park, then pick one of the half-dozen neighborhoods around the park (Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Ditmas Park…) and start walking. I promise you’ll have a great day.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I have a lifelong crush on Claire Danes. I was in high school when My So-Called Life aired and I think I wept at the end of every episode – it felt true in a way I’d never experienced with television. Then, Claire (we’re on a first-name basis in my head) was a year behind me at Yale and we had a course together. It was a lecture course and we never spoke, but I’ve always fantasized that we’ll become friends someday – maybe when she plays me in a biopic!

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
This is like asking which of your children do you like best! I love them all for different reasons. I loved getting to know Rebekah and creating my alternate version of New York City in INVISIBLE CITY, and I loved that I got to tell Aviva’s story in RUN YOU DOWN. What I love about CONVICTION is that i was able to live inside the minds of several people in addition to Rebekah: a teenager , a shady landlord, a killer, a crack addict. I’m sort of hooked on getting to do multiple points of view now, and that’s how I’m writing the fourth book in the series.

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?
I was picking up dry cleaning when my agent called to say my US publisher had just offered to buy my manuscript in a two-book deal. I was in shock as I walked the two blocks home, then when I got inside and told my husband I started screaming and jumping up and down like a crazy person. I drank a lot of champagne that week.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
While I was pregnant, I went on a mini book tour to promote my second novel, RUN YOU DOWN. Attendance was good at my first event in Arizona, but when I got to the San Diego bookstore where I was supposed to read and sign, there were four people there. And two were my cousins. It was humbling.


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

You can learn more about Julia, her journalism, and her Rebekah Roberts novels at her website

You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: ANGEL'S FLIGHT

ANGEL'S FLIGHT by Michael Connelly (1999)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

An activist attorney is killed in a cute little L.A. trolley called Angels Flight, far from Harry Bosch's Hollywood turf. But the case is so explosive--and the dead man's enemies inside the L.A.P.D. are so numerous--that it falls to Harry to solve it. Now the streets are superheating. Harry's year-old Vegas marriage is unraveling. And the hunt for a killer is leading Harry to another high-profile L.A. murder case, one where every cop had a motive. The question is, did any have the guts?

With season four of hit crime drama Bosch, starring Titus Welliver as Michael Connelly's iconic detective, about to drop, it seemed an ideal time to revisit one of Connelly's backlist novels that forms part of the spine of the upcoming season. ANGELS FLIGHT is the sixth Bosch novel (in a series that's now been going for more than 25 years), and it still holds up marvellously well even though it's almost 20 years old. It has a timeless sense that doesn't feel dated, even though technology and other aspects of modern life and the LA setting have evolved and moved on, and underlines Connelly's storytelling talent.

The novels begins with Harry Bosch called out in the middle of the night to a crime scene that by rights shouldn't be his. A man and woman have been shot to death in an historic cable car known as 'Angels Flight'. It's the identity of the man that gets Bosch called to the scene: notorious attorney Howard Elias, a thorn in the side of the LAPD who has made a living suing the department. Elias has recently been building a case against several LAPD detectives, and Bosch's bosses want him to take point on the homicide investigation, given all the conflicts of interest involved. A poisoned chalice?

Harry fumes that there's far too much politics involved; he might be getting set up as the fall guy if it all turns to custard, and there's the small matter of his two partners being black, so it doesn't hurt the LAPD PR machine to have a couple of black detectives investigating this particular murder, given Elias's ethnicity and that he'd regularly gone after the department for its treatment of minorities.

But while many worry about 'optics', Harry has a case to solve, even if it seems like many of those most likely to want Howard Elias dead are Harry's own brothers in blue. This creates some very dangerous waters for Harry and his team to navigate, as the black community seethes at repeated injustices and the city is a powder keg just waiting for a stray spark to ignite into race riots.

ANGELS FLIGHT is a tremendous read, rich and textured as well as providing page-whirring entertainment. Many of the characters, not just Bosch as the main protagonist, are complex, flawed and incredibly well-drawn. Connelly brings late 1990s Los Angeles to vivid life; the place and its people and the simmering concerns and conflicts that form the capillaries beneath its surface.

Connelly has a particular knack for 'telling details', nailing a character or place with a pithy description that brings it vividly to life, rather than pages of details which can lose the impact. This, along with his storytelling, creates pace with depth, and a great sense of forward energy. ANGEL'S FLIGHT is a fast read that doesn't feel 'thin', a page-turner with plenty of texture and depth. There's a lovely balance to Connelly's writing: great characters, great sense of setting, relevant underlying social issues as well as personal issues for characters, and good plotlines.

In baseball parlance, Connelly is 'a five-tool superstar', someone who is extremely good at a lot of things, not just specialised in one or two. It was a real pleasure to go back and read this earlier Bosch book and be reminded just how great the series has been since its earliest days.



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