Cleveland-based private eye Lincoln Perry is asked by convicted murderer and former parolee Parker Harrison to investigate the 12-year old disappearan...moreCleveland-based private eye Lincoln Perry is asked by convicted murderer and former parolee Parker Harrison to investigate the 12-year old disappearance of the founder of a unique residential program for released killers. A woman whose brother is a suspected underworld kingpin, and whose husband’s skeletal remains, Perry quickly discovers to his dismay, have recently been unearthed. Perry finds himself scratching at the scab of a sordid family mystery, intertwined with decades-old threats and past and present police and FBI investigations, and unwittingly following a trail that leads to more deaths.
Koryta weaves a nicely-paced and engrossing tale with some unexpected twists, but like the very best in the genre, his storytelling is much more than just page-turning plotlines. Perry is an intriguing and complex protagonist, whose struggles with not only this investigation, but also his commitment to even being in a job that has brought danger to his few loved ones, give him a humanity that will resonate with many readers. The supporting cast is full of interesting and reasonably well-rounded characters; authentic and distinct personalities, perspectives and voices.
Koryta makes you want to turn the page, for the characters and the story, and when you get to the end, you want to go out and immediately find another of his books.(less)
Horse-loving journalist, poet and children’s author Lindy Kelly adopts the old adage, ‘write what you know’, with her crime debut Bold Blood, parlayin...moreHorse-loving journalist, poet and children’s author Lindy Kelly adopts the old adage, ‘write what you know’, with her crime debut Bold Blood, parlaying her youthful experience as an international eventing rider into a suspense tale set amongst the stables, saddles and sorrels of the New Zealand equestrian world.
Dr Caitlin Summerfield is happily living a hectic Wellington lifestyle, accessorised with overseas travel and a rich boyfriend. Her rural Nelson childhood has been left far behind, along with her emotionally abusive mother.
A fall and a phone call destroy Caitlin’s reverie, and she takes the bunny-hop flight across Cook Strait to return ‘home’. Playing caretaker at her comatose mother’s horse farm, helped by rugged neighbour Dom and multi-pierced teenage groom Kasey, Caitlin scratches beneath the surface of high-tech horse trailers and well-fed thoroughbreds to discover looming financial ruin, and a shot at a million-dollar breeding contract. A contract someone is willing to do anything for. Even kill.
Having published more than 100 short stories, sixteen children’s books, 36 poems, and had her writing feature on National Radio and performed on stage, Kelly told me she had one goal for her first adult thriller. “I wanted to write the sort of book that I like to curl up with for sheer pleasure… something with excitement and adventure, likable strong characters… a few mysteries, a bit of romance, humour, and passion.”
Overall she succeeds, spinning an engaging tale that carries the reader along. She strikes a nice balance - peppering local references, without over-seasoning in any contrived attempt to foist ‘Kiwi-ness’ onto a universal story. Populating a plot of assaults, arsons, horse theft and murder with a diverse cast, Kelly impresses most with her rich portrait of life in the eventing world, along with the way the horses aren’t mere props; but full-blown characters with personalities in their own right.
Although there is the occasional plot misstep, Bold Blood is a good debut – a must read for horse-lovers, and an enjoyable read for anyone.
This review was originally published in the 3 April 2009 issue of NZLawyer magazine(less)
Fans of high quality international crime fiction won’t be disappointed by this New Zealand fare. Symon wastes no time, immediately stunning readers wi...moreFans of high quality international crime fiction won’t be disappointed by this New Zealand fare. Symon wastes no time, immediately stunning readers with an opening-pages haymaker, as during the prologue an intruder forces a stay-at-home mother to submit to her own death, in order to save her baby daughter. Who knew the farming town of Mataura could harbour such evil?
Soon after, stroppy sole-charge rural cop Sam Shephard finds herself co-ordinating the search for the missing mother, her ex-lover’s wife. Once the body is found, she is left tidying up then investigating the looks-like-suicide drowning. The case is complicated by stroppy Sam’s frequent clashes with authority, her unclear relationship with her ex - the widower, and the public finger of blame beginning to creep her way.
Sam soon feels like a pariah, and finds herself right in the manure (literally in one case) amongst the salt-of-the-earth citizens of small-town Southland.
Overkill is an excellent first novel from a talented storyteller. Symon nicely balances action, character and story in a well-drawn rural setting, and realistically speckles the book with light-hearted moments and humour throughout. Symon drops Sam right in it and the reader can’t help but be taken along for the ride, willingly and wonderfully.
Symon builds the book to a satisfying conclusion, weaving throughout real issues relevant to agricultural communities, along with the loves, hates, hopes, and fears universal to people anywhere. Good crime novels set in an authentic rural setting are rare, as is quality Kiwi crime fiction (at least until recently). Overkill ticks both boxes. Highly recommended.
Parts of this review were originally published in the April 2009 issue of WildTomato magazine(less)
Blue fingernails. Cleave begins his third novel with two simple, evocative words. Two words that bring Theo Tate to an exhumation; two words that send...moreBlue fingernails. Cleave begins his third novel with two simple, evocative words. Two words that bring Theo Tate to an exhumation; two words that send the world-weary private investigator on an unpredictable journey intersecting a present-day serial killer with well-kept suburbanite secrets, and Tate’s own troubled past.
Tate is only present at the exhumation because his former police colleagues are too busy trying to catch the Christchurch Carver, the grisly serial killer from Cleave’s debut novel, The Cleaner (Random House, 2006). Tate’s simple assignment becomes anything but when three bodies bubble up from the cemetery lake. When the coffin reveals the wrong body, two unpalatable possibilities emerge; the Carver has struck again, or there’s a second psychopath on the loose.
Though sidelined by the police, Tate finds himself sucked into the vortex, attempting to atone for sins of his past. As the case advances, and stolen evidence, the police, the media, priests, his own personal demons, murder and suicide all roadblock Tate, he finds himself compounding bad choices and devolving into a man he’d always despised.
Cemetery Lake is an impressive novel from a talented writer. Cleave creates compelling characters that ring true. Even when events become outlandish, Cleave doesn’t lose the reader, because he’s spun wholly-formed characters and lets us gaze a little into their worldview. He avoids the poor writers’ mistake of substituting quirks for characterisation; instead his characters do things for their own reasons, not just to serve the plot. We can understand the worst acts, because we see we might consider the same choice, in the same circumstance.
A feature of Cemetery Lake is the character-like shadow of Christchurch itself. Cleave weaves a strong sense of place, although his is a darker version: “Christchurch is broken”. Mirroring the real-life dichotomy of international renown for friendliness alongside ‘murder capital’ status, Cleave’s Christchurch is full of gardens and glue-sniffers; long-held secrets and closeted debauchery hidden behind suburban doors and old English architecture.
Cleave makes you want to turn the page, and when you get to the end, you want to go out and immediately find another of his books.
This review originally appeared in the 14 November 2008 issue of NZLawyer magazine(less)
Dunedin writer Vanda Symon’s follow-up to her excellent debut Overkill (Penguin, 2007) finds heroine Sam Shepherd having moved to Dunedin from Mataura...moreDunedin writer Vanda Symon’s follow-up to her excellent debut Overkill (Penguin, 2007) finds heroine Sam Shepherd having moved to Dunedin from Mataura; bridges burnt. Undertaking detective training, Shepherd’s on the bottom rung of the ladder, battling her grudge-holding boss for any involvement.
The Ringmaster opens with a murder in the Botanic Gardens, before switching to stroppy Sam’s first-person narration. Marginalised, she struggles to participate in the investigation, working in her own time and feeding off the scraps her partner Smithy smuggles her way. She eventually uncovers a link between the visiting circus, and a series of deaths throughout the lower South Island.
Of the many admirable aspects of Symon’s storytelling, chief is her creation of Sam Shepherd, a protagonist you want to follow; headstrong, passionate, and flawed. A talented detective, but not infallible. Shepherd puts herself out there, cares, makes mistakes, and has real emotions; fear, jealousy, anger, sadness. She’s human, real, and well-rounded.
Symon shows a talent for creating rounded characters throughout, from Shepherd’s friend Maggie, the ‘voice of reason’, to nemesis characters such as DI Johns and circus owner Terry Bennett. Symon ensures that even the antagonists ring true; they have good points as well as bad, and have understandable motives for their objectionable behaviour.
Another impressive facet is her use of the Dunedin setting. From the opening murder beside the Leith, to Highlanders games, and student life, Symon brings alive this southern city. When interviewed, Symon has said, “a town will have a feel, a social background. I like using Dunedin. It has a vibrancy and an edge with the students and all that brings with it.”
The Ringmaster is a great read. Symon populates a good story with great characters, and unique touches in a distinctly Kiwi setting. It comes together a little quickly at the end, but leaves you wanting more of Sam Shepherd.
And, taking a leaf out from her international contemporaries, Symon provides just that; the first chapter of the next Sam Shepherd adventure, Containment, is included. I can’t wait.
This review was originally published in the 14 November 2008 issue of NZLawyer magazine(less)
Dunedin crime writer Vanda Symon, who will be appearing at the upcoming The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival, brings back her feisty local heroine...moreDunedin crime writer Vanda Symon, who will be appearing at the upcoming The Press Christchurch Writers’ Festival, brings back her feisty local heroine Sam Shephard for a third instalment in what has become an excellent detective series.
In Containment the junior detective is investigates a bizarre death - what seems a routine diving accident before forensics reveal the man didn’t die from drowning and his body was stuffed in its wetsuit afterwards - that might be linked to the grounding of a container ship on the Aramoana coast. A grounding that causes near-riots on the beach as the citizens of Dunedin pillage the wreckage, and leaves Shephard nursing wounds from an unexpected walloping.
Containment once again shows Symon’s talent for well-rounded characters, unique set-pieces, and Dunedin touches that give readers a strong sense of the student-packed southern city, while fleshing out even more about Shephard’s personal life. Enjoyable, and well worth reading.(less)
London-based former glam rocker Chris Carter opens his authorial account via a twisted serial killer tale set in Los Angeles. An isolated and grisly c...moreLondon-based former glam rocker Chris Carter opens his authorial account via a twisted serial killer tale set in Los Angeles. An isolated and grisly crime scene gets a whole lot worse for LAPD Homicide Detective Robert Hunter, when a strange double-cross is discovered on the body of a sadistically tortured murder victim. The ‘signature’ of the infamous, and executed, ‘Crucifix Killer’; a signature never publicly revealed. Hunter, a former wunderkind profiler who has fallen off the rails, and his rookie partner are charged with tracking down a vicious killer whose actions raise disturbing questions about the original investigation, arrest, and execution.
So what’s the verdict on this debut crime thriller? In short; disappointing and mediocre. Overall, Carter’s writing skills don’t yet match his storylines, which at times can be exciting. However, disturbingly regular outbreaks of clanging dialogue void of subtext, along with clichéd or bland description, and annoyingly redundant adverbs and attributions, pull you out of the story as much as his reasonable knack for hooks and set-ups can pull you along. While reading, some of Carter’s writing made me cringe far more than any of the plot’s dark deeds ever did.
If you’re browsing booksellers’ shelves, hankering for a fantastic dark or gritty crime fix, my advice is that when you get to the “C” section, do yourself a favour - skip over this book and grab something by Michael Connelly or Paul Cleave instead. (less)
British comedian Mark Billingham burst onto the crime-writing scene in late 2001 with one of the most exceptional debuts in recent memory. Sleepyhead...moreBritish comedian Mark Billingham burst onto the crime-writing scene in late 2001 with one of the most exceptional debuts in recent memory. Sleepyhead featured a chilling serial ‘killer’ putting people into persistent vegetative states, and introduced gritty yet layered Detective Inspector Tom Thorne and his investigative adventures set amongst the seamy world of greater London.
After taking an impressive detour in 2008 with standalone thriller In The Dark, Billingham returns with the eighth instalment in his award-winning DI Thorne series. And what a return it is.
In Blood Line, a seemingly unremarkable domestic killing becomes far murkier when a bloodstained X-ray sliver is found in the victim’s hand - a dead women whose mother was murdered by a notorious serial killer years before. As the body count rises and more slivers appear, Thorne tries to hunt a twisted psychopath and prevent further deaths, while stumbling over his own feelings in the aftermath of unexpected personal tragedy.
Once again Billingham delivers crime fiction of paramount quality. In a genre where some writers focus on breathtaking plots, others create fascinating characters, while still others shine with great dialogue or well-evoked settings, the best of the best, such as Billingham, consistently deliver across all fronts.
Populated with a rich cast of authentic, layered, characters, Blood Line is an exciting, well-constructed tale filled with texture and an undercurrent of social commentary bubbling beneath. The dialogue is natural, packed with subtext. Dark crime is peppered with dark humour. The twists are surprising but realistic, never forced or gimmicky.
DI Thorne continues to evolve as a character, and Billingham’s continuing excellence makes his creation arguably the best-written detective in British crime fiction today. Put simply: Blood Line is a taut tour de force, from a true master
This review was originally published in the August 2009 issues of WildTomato magazine(less)
With Buried, his sixth DI Thorne novel, Billingham eschews the grisly serial killers of his early work, and turns his storytelling talents to the tale...moreWith Buried, his sixth DI Thorne novel, Billingham eschews the grisly serial killers of his early work, and turns his storytelling talents to the tale of missing teenager Luke Mullen, who unknowingly finds himself at the centre of an elaborate spider-web of historic secrets and present-day fears. On special assignment to the Kidnap Unit, beleaguered DI Thorne finds his desperate search for the boy, son of a retired DCI, complicated by an unpredictable kidnapper, Mullen snr trying to steer the investigation away from certain leads, tenuous links with a racially-motivated murder, and Thorne’s unresolved grief over the fiery death of his own father.
Once again Billingham delivers crime fiction of paramount quality, tightly weaving a gripping plot amongst an authentic world of multi-layered characters and well-evoked setting, with an undercurrent of social commentary bubbling beneath. Billingham’s early excellence saw him compared to all-time greats of the crime genre. The quality of books such as Buried means others should now be compared to him. (less)
The third in the DI Tom Thorne series of novels that over the past decade has established Billingham as one of the true stars on the UK crime writing...moreThe third in the DI Tom Thorne series of novels that over the past decade has established Billingham as one of the true stars on the UK crime writing scene. Explosive, gritty, well-plotted and full of fascinating and realistic dialogue and absorbing characters.
In Lazy Bones, Tom Thorne and his London-based serious crimes unit must track down a serial killer who is targeting rapists. The book takes a look at how the killer came to be, not just who they are, delving into the ongoing effects of childhood trauma.
When the forensics team can't find "the life sentence hidden in a dustball," Thorne must follow up a mountain of less-than-promising leads while generating a sea of new ones in an investigative cycle that starts afresh with each body found bound, gagged, mutilated, and violated. Already beset by slow-witted bosses, minuscule resources, and a tabloid press rooting for the killer, the detectives are further hobbled by problems in their own personal relationships.
The investigators are notably rounded, human, and fallible. They question themselves and the passion they have for their jobs - they're not supercops who don't put a foot wrong.
If you haven't yet discovered Mark Billingham... pick one of his novels up and read it today - see why he has attained a seat amongst the upper echelon of contemporary crime writers. (less)
When it comes to crime and thriller writing, there are few bigger names than Michael Connelly – a man critics have called “the greatest living America...moreWhen it comes to crime and thriller writing, there are few bigger names than Michael Connelly – a man critics have called “the greatest living American crime writer”, and the heir to Raymond Chandler. Whether it’s his series featuring LAPD detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch or his acclaimed standalones, Connelly’s mix of engrossing plots, vividly-drawn characters and well-evoked settings (all sprinkled with wider issues) is loved by readers, critics, and literary awards judges worldwide.
The fifteenth and latest Bosch novel, Nine Dragons, marks something of a shift in the series; not only is it arguably the most personal storyline yet for the embattled detective, but he also finds himself an ocean away from his LA home, battling to cope in a completely unfamiliar environment.
A seemingly straightforward case of an elderly Chinese liquour-store owner gunned down in South LA becomes far more dangerous when Bosch uncovers potential Triad involvement. After ignoring a warning to back of, Bosch receives a chilling message that spurs him to rush to Hong Kong. He’s now got to find not only a killer, but a kidnap victim; his own teenage daughter.
Nine Dragons is another solid addition to the Connelly canon. Although some of the dialogue and description falls short of his usual very high standards early on, the book quickly hits its stride and readers will find the pages whirring, and be glad they’re on another enjoyable adventure with one of the best-written detectives of modern times. An ideal summer read.
This review originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of WildTomato magazine (less)
I always find it interesting to read recently-established crime writers’ first novels - absorbing the first raw notes of a (hopefully) unique voice. E...moreI always find it interesting to read recently-established crime writers’ first novels - absorbing the first raw notes of a (hopefully) unique voice. Each time I cross my fingers, hoping to uncover a gem worth following through books and years to come.
Advertiser-turned author Jack Kerley’s debut tale hits like a hammer right from the opening pages, quickly moving from missing fingers to missing heads, all in the sweltering heat of Mobile, Alabama. Detective Carson Ryder is both admired and loathed by colleagues and superiors, having hitched onto the fast-track following a successful serial killer pursuit the year before – seemingly thanks to Ryder’s innate understanding of “crazies and freaks”.
Two headless bodies scrawled in barely decipherable ranting spark Ryder and veteran partner Harry Nautilus onto the trail of another serial killer, one that dredges up past secrets for many people, including Ryder himself.
The best storytelling strikes a balance between the familiar and the unique, and matches engaging characters with exciting plots and well-drawn settings. Kerley’s writing puts a huge tick in all boxes, but more importantly, brings everything together into a gripping tale unfolding naturally from the characters, backstory and setting – never feeling forced by an authorial puppet-master. A gem uncovered. (less)