Late one night at the University library, a troubled man tumbles headlong over the guardrail and is impaled on the glass of the stairwell far below. SLate one night at the University library, a troubled man tumbles headlong over the guardrail and is impaled on the glass of the stairwell far below. So begins this intriguing debut from Adam Sarafis, the pen-name for a collaboration between acclaimed Swedish-born novelist Linda Olsson and award-winning young playwright Thomas Sainsbury.
Sam Hallberg is muddling through life as a mechanic, having given away his role as a government terrorism advisor following a personal tragedy. When he’s beseeched by Jade, a young sex worker, to investigate the death of her friend (ruled a suicide by authorities), he reluctantly becomes involved in a hunt for answers, and a missing manuscript. Is it just Jade’s grief talking, or is something really rotten? Simultaneously, Sam’s friend, business journalist Lynette Church, is getting stonewalled by the powerful as she delves into dirty politics in relation New Zealand’s meat exports to Europe.
Something is Rotten is an assured first offering, combining page-turning storytelling with some thought-provoking themes, including how we deal with tragedy, the nexus between politics, big business, and the media, and the power imbalances in society. I look forward to the next in the series. ...more
New Zealand author Thomas had quite the auspicious authorial start, with her self-published historical romance The Keeper of Secrets selling tens of tNew Zealand author Thomas had quite the auspicious authorial start, with her self-published historical romance The Keeper of Secrets selling tens of thousands of copies before being snapped up by a big publisher. Now she shows a deft hand for multiple genres as she spins an intriguing yarn in this, her first crime thriller.
Described as “blackly comic”, Blood, Wine & Chocolate is certainly a tale with moments dark and light, though comic is a bit of a stretch. Former East End semi-hard nut Vinnie Whitney-Ross has found middle-aged bliss as a Waiheke Island winemaker married to his chocolatier sweetheart, an idyll a world away from his former life on the periphery of one of London’s most psychotic gangland families. But his Kiwi lifestyle dream was bought with the betrayal of a childhood pal who won’t forgive or forget, and soon Vinnie faces a collision between lives old and new. There will be blood… and wine, and chocolate.
Thomas skillfully evokes the gritty violence of Vinnie’s East End life before switching gears as he moves from small-time hood to loved-up wine merchant. The food and wine descriptions become mouthwatering. A thriller that’s more a mixed case of quality quaffables than a bottle of Petrus, Blood, Wine & Chocolate is an enjoyable read. ...more
I was very intrigued by the idea behind Brisbane journalist Belinda Pollard's debut novel - a 'who's the unknown killer in the group' adventure thrillI was very intrigued by the idea behind Brisbane journalist Belinda Pollard's debut novel - a 'who's the unknown killer in the group' adventure thriller set in one of New Zealand's most ruggedly gorgeous national parks: Fiordland. A sort of And Then There Were None in the heart of majestic Lord of the Rings locations. So there was a lot of promise behind the premise, and setting.
Unfortunately, for me, the book only semi-delivered, falling short of what it could have been. At the beginning, I couldn't quite pick what was bothering me. The story starts with a historic day in Queensland, a group of high school friends witnessing a tragedy. Then it kicks forward to Callie Brown, one of those high schoolers but now a successful television journalist, contemplating a long-planned reunion of sorts with those same friends, many of whom she hasn't spoken to in years, in the wilds of southern New Zealand. She's not sure if she, and some of the others, can hack such an arduous adventure trip. Or if she wants to confront some of the longheld mixed feelings she has about some of the others in the party.
It's a good set-up for what could be a great thriller. As the story unfolded however, I found myself regularly pulled out of the tale by bouts of unnatural and over-expository dialogue. Things were laid out for the reader - and not in subtle or subtextual ways - in the characters' conversations. At other times long-simmering misunderstandings were neatly resolved with a few 'confess all' statements that just didn't seem to ring true. The author's hand was evident a lot, rather than things seeming to naturally unfold from the set-up and characters and storylines. Things felt a little 'on the nose' and forced - and subsequently a little 'thin'.
Despite being irritated by this, and other faults, I was intrigued by the story set-up, and Pollard created enough of a 'I want to know what happens' effect, a bit of narrative drive, that I found myself persevering and continuing to turn the pages. I was rewarded as the action picked up, and death(s) were visited upon our intrepid adventurers. There were also some nice descriptions of Fiordland, and ideas of how the wilderness, for all it's phenomenal beauty, can be a very tough and unforgiving place. As those left behind begin to worry about the missing hikers, and we cut between those in town and those in the bush, Pollard did a great job of keeping me hooked on what was happening. I wanted to know how it would turn out.
There are also some interesting themes that arise throughout the story, such as the nexus between media coverage and tragedies, the complications of childhood friendships and secrets withheld, and how we can be quick to (mis)judge those around us. Overall, POISON BAY was a pretty good read that I imagine many readers would enjoy, but for me I was left with a feeling that the pieces were there for something more, and another edit or partial rewrite could have polished it to something really great.
New Zealand's internationally bestselling Crown Prince of Crime Fiction is at it again with another pulsating, violent thriller set in his near-dystopNew Zealand's internationally bestselling Crown Prince of Crime Fiction is at it again with another pulsating, violent thriller set in his near-dystopian version of Christchurch. Wonderfully complex protagonist Theo Tate has been resurrected, as a cop and a human being, after recovering from a coma. The death penalty has been reinstated, and now someone is disposing of society’s worst offenders, giving the victims of their crimes a chance for the proverbial ‘five minutes alone’ that so many want. Or think they want. But vigilantism is never as straightforward as it seems, and Tate finds himself hunting someone he can sympathise with, as he juggles his wife’s slipping recovery. Cleave beautifully brings together many threads in a taut and terrific tale full of wounded characters that raises questions about crime, justice, and whether we are more than our worst acts. His prose crackles like a campfire, darkly hypnotic and dangerous. Top notch, highly recommended. ...more
Sixteen years. It was a long time between the third and fourth drink from the Ihaka fountain for the godfather of Kiwi crime, but thankfully Thomas haSixteen years. It was a long time between the third and fourth drink from the Ihaka fountain for the godfather of Kiwi crime, but thankfully Thomas hasn’t repeated the dose after winning the 2013 Ngaio Marsh Award for Death on Demand.
Tito Ihaka is a fascinating character: an unpinned grenade of a man who regularly rubs both friends and foes the wrong way. Demoted to sergeant for insubordination, Ihaka is charged by his long-suffering mentor with solving a long-forgotten murder – that of a teenager at a ritzy 1987 election night party. Meanwhile a journalist uncovers information that Ihaka’s trade unionist father may not have died of natural causes, and disgraced ex-detective Johan van Roon, Ihaka’s former best mate, is hired by a shady millionaire to investigate the sighting of a notorious political powerbroker who vanished back in 1987.
Fallout showcases Thomas’s talent for mixing wit, action, and brevity. His prose crackles with energy, and like our hero, the story itself has almost a cavalier smirk. Thomas nicely evokes 1980s and modern-day New Zealand as Ihaka comes to term with the lack of black and white in himself and others. Good thrillers need a pacy, exciting plot. Great thrillers have much more. Fallout is superb. ...more
Glasgow stands on the precipice: of hosting the Commonwealth Games; of a nationwide vote on Scottish independence; and of an explosive rekindling of aGlasgow stands on the precipice: of hosting the Commonwealth Games; of a nationwide vote on Scottish independence; and of an explosive rekindling of a brutal gangland war. Enter Gerry Conway, the protagonist of McIlvanney’s superb debut thriller ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN. Returned to the Glasgow Tribune after three years marooned in PR, Conway is the golden child fallen. A jaded, jobbing journo in a dying industry, clinging to the coat-tails of his once-protege Martin Moir. But when Moir’s body is found in a quarry as a big story breaks, Conway is thrust once more to the forefront. A dangerous place, as gangsters, politicians, and other predators swirl around. Terrific, page-turning storytelling imbued with quality prose and a fantastic sense of place and pressing societal issues. One of the top thrillers I’ve read this year. Highly recommended. ...more
First-time Kiwi crime writer St John, who has written in other genres under another name, explodes onto the scene with this dark and thrilling young aFirst-time Kiwi crime writer St John, who has written in other genres under another name, explodes onto the scene with this dark and thrilling young adult tale.
Jack “Spade” Miller is a wayward teenager left looking for answers when his ex-girlfriend Ella Lewis is found dead. While others lay some of the blame for the apparent suicide on Spade, he can’t believe Ella would kill herself, and sets out to find the truth. A dangerous quest that scratches at the veneer of stable suburbia and takes him deep into the Auckland underworld, where nefarious deeds are committed behind closed doors.
St John isn’t scared to take readers into some pretty dark and nasty places in this terrific debut; although it’s tabbed as a young adult read, with a teenaged ‘hero’, there are some very adult themes. Spade is a compelling centerpiece in a fearlessly told tale packed with intriguing characters. A new voice well worth listening to....more
He’s baaaa-aaack. Joe, the charming and brutal serial killer who masqueraded as a slow-witted police janitor while terrorising Christchurch in Cleave’He’s baaaa-aaack. Joe, the charming and brutal serial killer who masqueraded as a slow-witted police janitor while terrorising Christchurch in Cleave’s raw but outstanding 2006 debut, THE CLEANER.
In the years since, Cleave has gathered awards and acclaim in New Zealand and abroad for his gripping and gory thrillers, yet for Joe only one year has passed. Joe awaits trial on multiple murder charges, but sees himself as the victim. Stuck in prison, unable to continue his ‘work’, forced to liaise with lawyers and psychologists as he plots a defence that he wasn’t in control of his actions. And then there’s the movement calling for the reintroduction of the death penalty, with him as posterchild for the hangman, as well as former cops, victims’ family, and a sociopathic ex-girlfriend all coming for him.
Cleave writes vividly and violently, ratcheting up the tension as we wonder what will happen to Joe, and all those whose lives he touches. Ferocious and fun. ...more
Antipodean Cleave is becoming the Crown prince of international crime writing’s darker edge, scooping up awards in Australasia and Europe, and broad aAntipodean Cleave is becoming the Crown prince of international crime writing’s darker edge, scooping up awards in Australasia and Europe, and broad acclaim for his bestselling thrillers; he’s a master of delving into the troubled psyches of conflicted characters, ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ alike.
Cleave’s outstanding sixth thriller centres on Theo Tate, a truly fascinating protagonist whose resume includes cop, private eye, and prison inmate. Fifteen years after Tate stood in the Canterbury snow at his first crime scene as a fledgling cop, the murder of a young girl, he finds himself helping his old colleague Detective Schroder, on the trail of a killer and kidnapper looking for justice delayed. Three young girls’ lives are on the line, painful pressure-points for a father whose professional decisions have come back to haunt him.
The Laughterhouse blends brutality with brilliance, so won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it is a blood-stained high point in Cleave’s already impressive oeuvre. Ferocious storytelling that makes you think and feel, the pages whir, but you care too. There’s a bleak nobility to Tate’s smudged shades of grey and stumble towards redemption, and a gut-punch of a finale. Superb storytelling for readers willing to explore the darkness on the edge of town. ...more
This debut thriller from local writer Jack Eden was apparently inspired by the actions of some police officers during the Crewe murder inquiry and subThis debut thriller from local writer Jack Eden was apparently inspired by the actions of some police officers during the Crewe murder inquiry and subsequent campaign to free Arthur Alan Thomas. A young Kiwi shaped by delinquency and imprisonment in Australia finds himself trying to unpick the cause célèbre conviction made by his childhood tormenter, an overly determined cop. Furt Bent from Aldaheit is packed with intriguing characters, and nicely mixes moments of darkness and humour as it hums along. A solid first effort that would entertain and delight many readers.
This review was originally published as part of a monthly crime fiction round-up in the Herald on Sunday newspaper in New Zealand, on Sunday, 17 June 2012...more