Friday, February 27, 2015

Review: THE LAST CHILD by John Hart

THE LAST CHILD by John Hart (John Murray, 2009)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

North Carolina attorney-turned-author John Hart had a meteoric rise to kickstart his writing career; earning an Edgar nomination for his first novel, KING OF LIES, before winning the whole shebang with his sophomore effort, DOWN RIVER. If that wasn't enough, his third book, THE LAST CHILD clean-swept both the Edgar Award (making Hart a rare dual winner) and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.

In THE LAST CHILD, Johnny Merrimon is a thirteen-year-old boy who looks ten but has seen and endured more than most sixty-year-olds. His twin sister disappeared a year ago, his father cracked under the pressure and left, and his mother has given up; turning to drugs and a relationship with a rich but abusive man. A burnt-out cop tries to help but has his own issues, and Johnny finds himself alone on a vigilante mission. Then another young girl goes missing, and a dying man’s last words fuel Johnny’s long-held hope.

Sometimes when I read a novel that has received so much praise, I can be left a bit underwhelmed, even if I enjoy the story. It's almost as if the expectations are raised too high, and the author has to knock it far out of the park to even make par (okay, mixed sporting metaphor there). But put simply, THE LAST CHILD is an exceptional novel; a literary crime thriller that is as much about its rich cast of layered, authentic and damaged characters as its intelligent and engrossing storyline. Hart writes beautifully, evoking aspects of the human condition alongside echoes of the Southern Gothic tradition, building his tale towards a surprising yet most fitting conclusion. Huckleberry Finn meets James Lee Burke, all in a strong and unique narrative voice.

THE LAST CHILD is a masterpiece, and Hart deserves all the acclaim he’s received.

5 STARS

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

9mm: An interview with Jeffrey Siger

Welcome back to 9mm. This week I have another new interview with a great author I met for the first time at the excellent Iceland Noir festival late last year. Two former corporate lawyers, one New Zealander now living in London, one East Coast American now living on the Greek island of Mykonos, meeting in Reykjavik. You've got to love the crime writing and reading community!

Jeff was born in Pittsburgh, and for many years was a Wall Street lawyer (a 'name partner' in his own firm), before migrating to Mykonos and becoming a mystery writer. Huh - I just realised that Jeff is kind of like the 'Robin Masters' character in one of my favourite TV shows growing up, Magnum PI - a popular mystery writer living on a tropical paradise (random note: though we never saw Robin in the series, we did hear him, and he was originally voiced by Orson Welles).

On his website, Jeff says that when he left law he wanted to "write mystery thrillers that tell more than just a fast-paced story" and that his novels "are aimed at exploring serious societal issues confronting modern day Greece in a tell-it-like-it-is style while touching upon the country's ancient roots". His Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series (six novels so far) has been praised for its evocation of both the picture-postcard scenery and political corruption in Greece. It has even been referenced in Fodor's travel guides.

Jeff is also one of ten crime writers from different locales around the world who regularly blog at the popular Murder is Everywhere website, and serves as Chair of Bouchercon, the world's largest mystery convention, as well as Adjunct Professor of English at Washington & Jefferson College, teaching mystery writing.

But for now, Jeffrey Siger stares down the barrel of 9mm.

Two lawyers turned writers: Jeffrey Siger
and Craig Sisterson at Iceland Noir
9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH JEFFREY SIGER

1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective? 
Many decades ago I’d hurt my back, and while laid-up for two months (I’m all better, thank you), I decided to read Victorian prose that came in relatively manageable chunks. Somehow I’d avoided mysteries until then, but settled upon The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes. As the days of reading wore on into weeks, I found myself thinking like Holmes and solving the mysteries along with him. That introduction to the genre is why I write what I do, and since his father’s first name is SIGER, how could I not consider Sherlock Holmes my favorite!

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why? 
Hailing as I do from the American city where the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers forms the mighty Ohio, I received dozens of copies of Huckleberry Finn as birthday and other special occasion gifts. It was a local tradition. And though memory fails me as to what made that book so special to me back then, perhaps it was memories—both real and imagined—of my grandfather’s horse and wagon huckstering days along those same Pittsburgh rivers that captured my heart.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles? 
I’ve always written creatively, though when I did as a lawyer it was stylistically, not factually so - at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Then fifteen years ago, when I decided to take the leap and commit to serious fiction writing efforts, I produced what are called “drawer” novels. Those are the ones in which you immerse your very being, finish with a flourish of pride, and banish to a drawer… while you struggle on to write a book that might actually get published. Thankfully, I had a very big drawer.

4. Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise? 
Free diving, working in the woods around my farm, and washing dishes. Not necessarily in that order, but all for the same reason: Each involves mindless physical work with a fixed beginning and end to any project. You catch your fish and you’re done, you clear away the brush and you’re done, you clean that final dirty dish and you’re done. Very little else in life offers such clear-cut conclusions to the tasks we take on each day.

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’ll assume by “hometown” we’re not talking about the place of my birth (Pittsburgh) or the place of my professional career (New York City), but the place I call home to my writing career, Mykonos. That Aegean Greek island consistently ranks as Europe’s most desired island destination, ahead of such other magical locales as Capri, Ibiza, and St. Tropez (not an island, though it feels like one). On Mykonos what I like doing most is strolling at sunset along a beach and looking across the sea toward the nearby Holy Island of Delos, the birthplace of Apollo, god of light, and his twin sister, Artemis, goddess of the hunt. As I walk where the ancients had once walked, watching the sun set into the sea as they must have done, I wonder how akin their thoughts at such moments might have been to mine.

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you? 
Anyone who might win an Oscar qualifies. Second choice would be Cary Grant, in any of his pre-interred states.


7. Of your writings, published and unpublished, which is your favourite, and why?  
As glib as this may sound, the truth is, “The one I just finished.”  I say that because I push myself very hard to make what I’m currently working on better than my last; driven no doubt by fear that if I don’t, instead of hearing, “This is your best one yet,” it’ll be, “Hey, what happened to you?”

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 online or physical bookseller’s shelf? 
My first reaction on seeing my debut book on a physical bookseller’s shelf was to buy it, so the seller would have to reorder another one. Actually, I was with my daughter in a New York City Barnes & Noble.  She promptly made me pose with a copy of my debut novel, Murder in Mykonos.  It was so obvious what was happening that a kind, thoughtful, elderly lady walked over, smiled, and said that she wanted to buy the one I was holding!  And she wasn’t my mother.

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival? 
My most unique experience was at a book signing in Athens for the second novel in my Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis series, Assassins of Athens. In it, I depicted violent social unrest and political events that later came to pass in real life. When a reporter from a major Athens newspaper attending the book signing asked me what role I thought my novel had played in precipitating those violent riots, all I could think of to say was, “I think the rioters were more into burning books than reading them.”


Thank you Jeffrey. We appreciate you taking the time to chat to Crime Watch

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You can read more about Jeffrey Siger and his crime novels here:
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Monday, February 23, 2015

Review: THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton

THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton (Victoria University Press, 2013)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm 

It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, The Luminaries is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

Obviously one of the most commented on aspects of THE LUMINARIES is the size. Clocking in at 830+ pages this is not a book for fans of thrillers, or fast reads, not just because of its sheer size, but because of the dense nature of the writing and the story. Set in 1866, this novel feels and reads exactly as if it was written in that time. Littered with so many of the elements that come into this sort of fiction: opium dens, families losing everything, illegitimate children, multiple identities, belief in the spirit worlds and illicit relationships, there's something utterly perfect about the evocation of time and place.

The other commented on element is the cleverness of the structure - with a decreasing number of pages in parts as the book proceeds. Undoubtedly quite a writing feat to pull off, and something that commentators are fascinated by.

The characters in this story are beautifully apt for their time, and their voices realistic. The sequence of events felt believable and everything about the setting works. The descriptive passages of both the people, their inner turmoil and the place in which they are located is beautifully done - in fact that's probably what this reader came away from THE LUMINARIES with. There are some absolutely beautiful words, built into some glorious sentences, that alas seem to suffer from not a lot of conviction in a large number of pages.

Perhaps it's because it is so very mannered, controlled and structured, genteel and staged that there seems to be such a lack of fire at the source. Certainly the tone struggled to hold this reader through the same sequence of events, from a number of different character perspectives, frequently hurried towards the end, but consistently passionless - rushing / or jumping to a conclusion for reasons to do with page count rather than motivation. Mind you, it's hard to put down a book which has each new chapter starting with the impact that they do. Yet so many of those chapters petered, padded or simply wandered around lost and vaguely disengaging. In the first half of the novel that journey too quickly becomes a series of long drawn out one on one discussions, explanations and explorations of the action, motivation and behaviour. It tipped too quickly into "tell, don't show" and that, for this reader, lead automatically to attention flagging, of finding excuses to put the book down, of a certain dragging feeling to say nothing of inevitability.

Add to that a tendency for some of the more curious characters to fade into the background, and the second half of the novel starts to draw out, which given the sheer size of it, becomes an increasingly daunting task. Whilst the beauty of the writing doesn't let go, the plotting and devices used bury much of that in a frantic desire for something, anything passionate, committed or unexpected to happen. Something that says that yes, these are people who believe in what they are saying / doing / commenting on.

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Karen Chisholm is one of the most respected crime fiction reviewers in Australia. An absolute stalwart of antipodean crime fiction, Karen created and has been running her Aust Crime Fiction website since 2006, highlighting a plethora of authors and titles from this part of the world, to the wider world online. It is a terrific resource - please check it out. 

Karen also reviews for other outlets, such as the Newtown Review of Books, and since 2014 has been a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel - the New Zealand crime writing award. Her reviews of New Zealand crime novels will now be shared here on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ngaio Marsh's name a mystery to US public

Ngaio Marsh appearing onscreen as part of a 1977 documentary. Credit: NZ On Air
Ngaio Marsh's name a mystery to US public
TOM HUNT - Dominion Post, 21 February 2015

She was a queen of crime, her name mentioned in the same breath as Agatha Christie. But the American public were baffled by detective novelist Ngaio Marsh. How, they wanted to know, was her name pronounced?

By the time Dame Ngaio Marsh died on February 18, 1982 - 33 years ago this week - she had published 32 detective novels. When, in September 1939, The Evening Post reported on the pronunciation debacle across the Pacific, Marsh was already a well-established writer, not to mention a thespian and painter. Her scholarly, gentlemanly English detective Roderick Alleyn had by then appeared in eight books and would appear in many more.

"Various startling attempts have been made to bend unaccustomed tongues round this pleasant Maori name," the newspaper reported. "Naggio" was overheard in one bookshop before her American publisher stepped in with authority. "Her name may be pronounced either 'Gay-o' or 'Guy-o'," they declared. READ FULL ARTICLE HERE

2015 Global Reading Challenge: My Reading Log

As I noted yesterday, I've officially signed up for the 2015 Global Reading Challenge, a terrific initiative set up by crime bloggers back in 2010, encouraging people to read more widely, to try new authors, to try books written or set in a range of different countries and regions.

I've chosen to go for the expert challenge: three books from each of seven continents, with each book to be from a different country/state.

I'll use this post here to update my progress throughout the year, listing the books I've read and reviewed under each continent, with links to the reviews I write both here on Crime Watch or elsewhere online. I'll also list the books on my bookshelf that I intend to read for each continent to complete the challenge, complete with current status. I'm fortunate that although I've only been in the UK for a few months, and have left more than 500 books on my TBR bookshelf/storage locker in New Zealand, that I've already acquired more than 60-70 books here in the UK, from a wide range of countries and author nationalities. So trying a new author or country/continent is as easy as walking over to my bookshelf (or digging through the packing boxes, as I've just moved house).

Participants can chose some parameters for themselves, beyond the one, two, or three books per continent requirement. In my case, I will focus on crime fiction for this challenge (though I will read other books this year), and I will generally list books by the setting first, while also seeking to read as many author nationalities as possible too - ie I will see if I can tick off the challenge on both fronts. I'll also go for books at least partially set in exotic/unusual places, although I will list them by their main setting first.

I am also restricting myself to books read after 1 January 2015, and not including books I read late last year but haven't reviewed until 2015 (which would have been helpful, ticking off several countries quickly).

Here's my progress so far, as of 21 February 2015.

AFRICA

  1. Botswana: DEATH OF THE MANTIS by Michael Stanley (Headline, 2011). When a series of bizarre deaths point to a nomadic bushmen tribe, Detective "Kubu" Bengu must journey into the depths of the Kalahari to uncover the truth. What he discovers there will test all his powers of detection . . . and his ability to remain alive. Author nationality: South African/USA  Status: On shelf/To be read
  2. TBC
  3. TBC


ASIA

  1. Yemen: THE ABRUPT PHYSICS OF DYING by Paul E. Hardisty (Orenda Books, 2015). An oil company engineer with a violent past is ensnared between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival factions as he tries to rescue his friend who was kidnapped by a wanted terrorist who thinks his employer is poisoning a local village. Author nationality: Australian/Canadian. Status: Currently reading. 
  2. Sri Lanka: IN THE LION'S THROAT by Bob Marriott. Motivated by the death of his younger brother, undercover Interpol cop Brett Sadler searches for a missing friend and wages war against the tidal wave of drugs flowing out of South-East Asia. Author nationality: New Zealand. Status: To be read
  3. TBC


AUSTRALASIA/OCEANIA

  1. Christchurch, NZ: FIVE MINUTES ALONE by Paul Cleave (Penguin NZ, 2015). Old police colleagues Theo Tate and Carl Schroder, both trying to put their lives back together after several tough cases that almost destroyed them, are in action once more as someone is helping violent crime victims exact revenge on their attackers. Author nationality: New Zealand. Status: Read
  2. Fiordland, NZ: POISON BAY by Belinda Pollard (Small Blue Dog, 2014). Aussie TV journo Callie Brown joins friends from the past on a trek into New Zealand's most brutal wilderness, in the hope of healing a broken heart. What she doesn't know is that someone wants them all dead. Lost in every sense of the word, the hikers' primal instincts erupt. Author nationality: Australian. Status: Read
  3. Australia: TBC


EUROPE

  1. Iceland: FROZEN OUT by Quentin Bates (Robinson, 2011). The discovery of a corpse washed up on a beach sparks a series of events that propels the village of Hvalvik's police sergeant Gunnhildur into the deep waters of a cosmopolitan world of shady deals, hired killers, government corruption and violence. Author nationality: English. Status: Read
  2. Glasgow, Scotland: BEYOND THE RAGE by Michael J Malone (Saraband, 2015). Glasgow criminal Kenny O'Neill is angry. Not only has his high-class prostitute girlfriend just been attacked, but his father is reaching out to him from the past despite abandoning Kenny as a child after his mother s suicide. Kenny is now on a dual mission to hunt down his girl's attacker and find out the truth about his father... but instead he unravels disturbing family secrets and finds that revenge is not always sweet. Author nationality: Scottish. Status: Read
  3. Greece: ASSASSINS OF ATHENS by Jeffrey Siger (Piatkus, 2009). When the body of a boy from one of Greece's most prominent families turns up in a dumpster in one of Athens' worst neighbourhoods, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis - now head of the Special Crimes Division - is certain there's a message in the murders. But who sent it - and why? Author nationality: USA. Status: On shelf/To be read. 


LATIN AMERICA

  1. Cuba: HAVANA GOLD by Leonardo Padura (Bitter Lemon Press, 2011). A 24-year-old teacher is beaten, raped, and then strangled. Lieutenant Conde is pressured by 'the highest authority' to conclude his investigation quickly. Set in a Havana of crumbling, grand buildings, secrets hidden behind faded doors and corruption. Yet also a eulogy to Cuba: its life of music, sex and the great friendships of those who chose to stay and fight for survival. Author nationality: Cuban. Translated: from Spanish by Peter Bush. Status: On shelf/To be read. 
  2. TBC
  3. TBC


NORTH AMERICA

  1. Washington DC/Virginia/Maryland (USA) + Iraq: THE NIGHT CREW by Brian Haig (Thomas & Mercer, 2015): Cocky US Army lawyer Lt Col Sean Drummond is forced to take a case with a fiercely anti-war civilian lawyer defending a naive or evil female prison guard accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners. As Drummond uncovers evidence that his client has been used as a pawn in a secret strategy involving torture, he realizes that he’s caught up in a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of government. Author nationality: USA. Status: Read
  2. Canada: TBC
  3. Pennsylvania, USA: DEATH FALLS by Todd Ritter (Avon, 2015, originally published by Minotaur as BAD MOON in 2011). Decades after nine-year-old Charlie Olmstead went missing, presumed drowned, on the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Perry Hollow Police Chief Kat Campbell is convinced by Charlie's brother to follow newfound evidence that Charlie might have been abducted, and that he wasn't the only victim. Author nationality: USA. Status: Read


THE SEVENTH CONTINENT
To be decided.


GENERAL COMMENTS AND LOG
21 February 2015: I'm on to my 12th book, and eighth crime novel of the year, and so far I've covered eight different authors of six different nationalities, who have set their thrillers in five different countries. So that's not too bad a start! I'm looking forward to a lot of great authors and books to come, and am excited about some of the new-to-me authors on my bookshelf.

Feedback welcome.