Friday, April 29, 2016

Review: NIGHT VISION

NIGHT VISION by Ella West (Allen & Unwin, 2014)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson


Viola was born with a genetic condition that makes sunlight deadly. In the dark of night, when most teenagers are tucked up in bed, Viola has the run of her parents' farm and the surrounding forest. She is used to seeing hidden things through her night-vision goggles, but one night she sees something that could get her into a whole lot of trouble...

Like the rare Kiwi or even rarer Kakapo (native New Zealand birds), young Viola is a truly unique creature living a nocturnal life exploring the New Zealand bush. Born with unusual genetic condition Xeroderma Pigmentosum, XP for short, Viola is at risk from anything that emits ultra-violet light, including the sun. Burning, blistering, alterations to her DNA, cancer.

In danger from daylight, Viola is one of 'the moon children', and while her parents sleep she explores the family sheep farm and surrounding forest by night, sharing the natural world with the moreporks, possums, and other creatures prowling the darkness.

One night, she witnesses a vicious and violent crime, and sees the perpetrator bury a sack of money. With her parents in financial difficulties and in danger of losing their farm, Viola decides to take the money to help her family, drip-feeding it to them over time. While the Police are looking in the wrong direction, Viola finds herself in the criminal's crosshairs after a newspaper interview about her and her condition tips off the local drug dealer as to just who might have taken his money. 

I think Night Vision would be a superb mystery thriller for adolescent readers (middle graders for those in the United States) but can also be enjoyed by older teenagers and adults. I certainly liked it a lot, even though it's quite a bit 'simpler' than the adult crime novels I usually read. The tale is smoothly written and West does a great job weaving in lots of interesting characters, themes, and setting in among the page-turning 'how will Viola outwit a dangerous criminal?' plotline.

Viola is the heart of Night Vision, a unique adolescent who's had to face many challenges and restrictions in her young life and has no chance to live the life of a 'normal kid', no matter how much she might want to. Her first person narration draws us into her world, her perspective, her life. Viola's a remarkable 14-year-old who still feels very real, mature for her age but still her age and not too adult or 'author in a teen body' (a flaw in some young adult books). She's engaging and interesting.

I also enjoyed the way West brought the New Zealand rural setting to life, life on the farm and in the forest. The nocturnal perspective on the local bush, the dual serenity and danger of nature, was well evoked and created an atmospheric backdrop to the tale. Night Vision has an eerie elegance to it, absorbing more than helter-skelter thrilling in tone, full of interesting characters and information that is adroitly parsed out in an engaging manner that doesn't disrupt the way the storyline unfolds.

From medical conditions to music, nature to questions of natural justice, Night Vision tickled my mind as I turned the pages, just as Viola tickled my heart. A very good read from a talented storyteller.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Craig Sisterson is a New Zealander who writes for newspapers and magazines in several countries. He has interviewed 150 crime and thriller writers, discussed the genre at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: THE JADED KIWI

THE JADED KIWI by Nick Spill (Amazon, 2016)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

The summer of 1976 in Auckland, New Zealand. There is a severe marijuana drought. Two couples; a gynaecologist and a physicist, together with a violinist and an actress meet by accident in a pub and help a Maori evade the police. A group of Maori plans to deliver a truckload of cannabis to Auckland. A Chinese family has harvested four greenhouses of enhanced sensimilla. A criminal mastermind plots to start a drug war. A police Inspector hunts a fugitive Maori. The war on drugs starts in New Zealand.

A gynaecologist, a physicist, a violinist and an actress all walk into a pub and help a Maori leader evade the police. With no apologies to anyone for the pun because really, that's part of what THE JADED KIWI is all about. An absolutely madcap plot, peopled with a cast of seeming thousands and a lot of crazy behaviour.

Heaps of pace where it mattered really helps what's not so much a complicated plot, as a complex execution, scamper along. Many of the rapidly expanding character set are wonderfully engaging, if not slightly over the top. Whether it's the gynaecologist paired up with the physicist who find themselves back in his (the physicist's) home territory, or the bear like violinist with a heart of gold and concern for his musician's hands, who has gone to New York and back to rescue his girlfriend with the Asian background. All of whom meet up with the Maori fugitive from the law, and somehow find themselves at the centre of a drug war/organised crime sort of plot with stolen cars, mysterious phone calls, and much sneaking around in the back streets and byways.

It's a very busy story though, and readers will have to concentrate hard to keep up with what seems like an ever expanding cast, to say nothing of some incredibly complicated connections. For this reader, a little pairing down of some of the byways and offshoots may have uncomplicated some elements, allowing the central themes more concentration - and therefore a little more clarity.

However, everything is delivered with great verve, almost gusto, papering over any potential logical cracks with sufficient engagement to make you wonder if you actually saw what you thought you might have just seen. The added bonus is a real feeling of affection for New Zealand and it's people. All of which makes THE JADED KIWI a debut thriller which shows promise, delivered as it is, with a slightly tongue in cheek, very New Zealander sort of sense of humour, style and language.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime NovelShe kindly shares her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

Friday, April 22, 2016

Put down the smartphone, turn off the TV, and read a book: Earth Day reads

So today, 22 April, along with being my mother's birthday, is Earth Day, marking the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement back in 1970.

Kickstarted as a national day in the United States by a Senator dismayed by a massive oil spill the year before, (and looking to harness the passion and energy for the student anti-war movement towards environmental concerns), Earth Day is now an annual celebration of this glorious planet we get to live on. A reminder that in among all the stresses, distractions, and busy-ness of everyday life, we should do our best to not just use but also look after the natural world.

Janet Rudolph of Mystery Fanfare has today shared a list of crime novels with environmental themes, for readers keen to explore some of these issues via the pages of an exciting story. Adding a little New Zealand flavour, here are three locally written eco-thrillers you might want to try.

MILKSHAKE by Matt Hammond (2011)
The globally renowned New Zealand dairy industry is put under threat when it intersects with the fuel industry in this eyebrow-raising thriller from Nelson author Matt Hammond. Here's the blurb:

"On the day David Turner is supposed to emigrate to New Zealand, he witnesses a savage murder and becomes caught in a ruthless global conspiracy.

A thirty year-old technological discovery threatens his own future and jeopardises the lives of millions of others as David discovers that starting a new life is about to become a deadly game of cat and mouse... and cows.

Modifying milk so ethanol can be processed from it could be the solution to the impending global oil crisis, but drinking it will kill you. Can the truth be uncovered before an entire country is sacrificed to satisfy the world's demand for bio-fuel?"

You can read my full review of MILKSHAKE here, and buy the novel here.

ECHOES IN THE BLUE by C George Muller (2006)
An eco-thriller from a New Zealand wildlife biologist that won a Silver Medal at the Nautilus Book Awards. Here's the blurb: "Ignoring a 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan sends its whaling fleet deep into the Antarctic to kill whales under the guise of ‘scientific research’.

Thrust into this volatile situation is an unlikely hero accompanying a whale research expedition. On the High Seas he must confront a terrifying adversary - a ruthless fishing industrialist who would wipe out entire species to satisfy an insatiable lust for money and power. From the windswept Southern Ocean to the opulence of corporate Japan, the battle has many fronts.

Mirroring a real-life tragedy looming in our own lifetime, this is a haunting exploration of mankind’s continual conflict with nature, and the heroism of those who would risk everything to defend a future threatened forever."

Based on the real-life battle that went on in the Southern Ocean between Japanese whalers and environmental activists (Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, etc), and written before the Whale Wars television series, ECHOES IN THE BLUE provides readers with a page-turning tale that also illuminates what has been going on in our oceans. You can buy it here.


THE ALO RELEASE by Geoffrey Robert (2015)
Nine days before the global release of a genetically modified seed coating set to make starvation history, the IT advisor for an environmental group receives a cryptic email from an old friend working for the seed corporation.

The email triggers a frantic manhunt from the glass towers of Los Angeles to the towering rainforests of New Zealand as the corporation’s security chief tries to track down and silence the English IT advisor and his colleagues – an American biologist and New Zealand eco-warrior. As the clock ticks down to the much-anticipated and highly stage-managed release of the coated seeds, the trio are pitched against ruthless corporate thugs, law enforcement agencies, politicians, journalists and bloggers … and the overwhelming weight of world opinion.

Aided by an unlikely cast including a gun-toting geriatric, reclusive hacker, toothless lobster fisherman, Oxford-educated Maori elder, native hardwood poacher and extreme multisporter, the fugitive trio race the clock to unravel the truth behind the email. In this debut novel, author, journalist and former communications advisor Geoffrey Robert delivers a pulsating thriller exposing the potential for public opinion to be manipulated during an international crisis. You can buy it here.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Petrona shortlist: six superb tastes of Scandi-crime



CRIME NOVELS from Finland, Norway and Sweden have made the shortlist for the 2016 Petrona Award for the Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year, announced today. 

It's celebration time for six Scandinavian authors who have today been named on the shortlist for the prestigious Petrona Award, which will be presented at the upcoming Crimefest in Bristol on 21 May. The Petrona Award celebrates the very best in translated Scandinavian crime fiction, as well as remembering prolific British book reviewer and blogger Maxine Clarke, who sadly lost her battle with cancer a few years ago. Last year's winner was Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

On a personal note, I had the privilege of getting to know Maxine in an online sense - we shared and discussed our opinions about crime fiction (not always agreeing - in fact sometimes vehemently disagreeing) and both reviewed for some of the same outlets. Maxine was a real force in the world crime fiction blogging when it was just getting started, and it is terrific that this award, celebrating the Scandinavian novels she particularly loved herself, continues her remarkable legacy every year.

Without further ado, here are the six books now in the running, with judges' comments:

THE DROWNED BOY by Karin Fossum tr. Kari Dickson (Harvill Secker; Norway): Fossum’s spare prose and straightforward narrative belie the complexity at the heart of this novel. After the drowning of a young child with Down’s Syndrome, Chief Inspector Sejer must ask himself if one of the parents could have been involved. The nature of grief is explored, along with the experience of parenting children with learning difficulties. There’s a timeless feel to the writing and a sense of justice slowly coming to pass.

THE DEFENCELESS by Kati Hiekkapelto tr. David Hackston (Orenda Books; Finland): The second in Hiekkapelto’s ‘Anna Fekete’ series is an assured police procedural rooted in the tradition of the Nordic social crime novel. Its exploration of immigrant experiences is nuanced and timely, and is woven into an absorbing mystery involving an elderly man’s death and the escalating activities of an international gang.  A mature work by a writer who is unafraid to take on challenging  topics.

THE CAVEMAN by Jorn Lier Horst tr. Anne Bruce (Sandstone Press; Norway): this book begins with the discovery of a four-month-old corpse just down the road from William Wisting’s home. Troubled by his neighbour’s lonely death in an apparently uncaring society, the Chief Inspector embarks on one of the most disturbing cases of his career. Beautifully written, this crime novel is a gripping read that draws on the author’s own experiences to provide genuine insights into police procedure and investigation.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB by David Lagercrantz tr. George Goulding (MacLehose Press; Sweden): The late Stieg Larsson created the groundbreaking, two-fingers-to-society, bisexual anti-heroine Lisbeth Salander. When Larsson’s publishers commissioned a fourth book, they turned to David Lagercrantz, whose The Girl in the Spider’s Web often reads uncannily like Larsson’s own text. His real achievement is the subtle development of Salander’s character; she remains (in Lagercrantz’s hands) the most enigmatic and fascinating anti-heroine in fiction.

SATELLITE PEOPLE by Hans Olav Lahlum tr. Kari Dickson (Mantle/Pan Macmillan; Norway): An accomplished homage to Agatha Christie, Satellite People adds a Nordic twist to classic crime fiction tropes. References to Christie novels abound, but Lahlum uses a Golden Age narrative structure to explore Norway’s wartime past, as Inspector Kristiansen and Patricia investigate a former Resistance fighter’s death. Excellent characterisation, a tight plot and a growing sense of menace keep the reader guessing until the denouement.

DARK AS MY HEART by Antti Tuomainen tr. Lola Rogers (Harvill Secker; Finland): Tuomainen’s powerful and involving literary crime novel has a mesmerising central concept:  thirty-year-old Aleksi is sure he knows who was behind his mother’s disappearance two decades ago, but can he prove it? And to what extent does his quest for justice mask an increasingly unhealthy obsession with the past? Rarely has atmosphere in a Nordic Noir novel been conjured so evocatively.


A few thoughts about the shortlist. Firstly, as an awards judge myself, I understand just how tough it is to select longlists, shortlists, and winners for crime writing awards. It is rare to have clear-cut decisions when there are very often a large number of very good and very different books out there - far too many for too few spots. So there are bound to be strong differences of opinion among keen crime fans about who should win, or books that 'should' have been there instead of some that are.

At first glance though, I think that is an incredibly strong shortlist, with six very fine authors (I haven't read all these specific books, but am familiar with all six authors). Interestingly, given a deserved recent rise in profile, Yrsa Sigurdardottir winning last year, and plenty of critical praise for Arnaldur Indridason and Ragnar Jonasson, there are no Icelandic crime writers on this year's shortlist. Just goes to show what a tough 'competition' it is among Nordic authors.

Three of the shortlisted authors were also shortlisted last year (Hiekkapelto, Horst, and Lahlum), so that's a very fine achievement regardless of who takes home the trophy. I'm very pleased to see David Lagercrantz's novel make the shortlist, as I felt that was a very good book that was rather unfairly maligned by many Larsson fans in a knee-jerk manner, on principle, but judging it simply on its own merits, was very well written story and a great continuation of the Millennium trilogy.

I'm also pleased to see that some high quality Nordic authors who don't yet have the broader following of compatriots like Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Liza Marklund, Camilla Lackberg and others are getting much-deserved attention. All the authors on this shortlist are excellent writers and storytellers, and I think there's something there for any crime fan, regardless of style preferences.

Congratulations to organiser Karen Meek (Eurocrime) and judges Dr Kat Hall (Mrs Peabody Investigates, CRIME FICTION IN GERMAN: DER KRIMI) Sarah Ward (Crimepieces, IN BITTER CHILL), Barry Forshaw (Crime Time, The Financial Times, NORDIC NOIR, DEATH IN A COLD CLIMATE, EURO NOIR, etc) on the fine job they've done and all the effort that does into it.

You can read more about the Petrona Award, including past winners and shortlistees, here.

Review: THE LOCK ARTIST

THE LOCK ARTIST by Steve Hamilton (Orion, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Taunted as a freak because he was unable to speak, school is a nightmare for Michael until he discovers that he has a special talent that makes people sit up and take notice: he can open locks. But breaking into the house of a rival school's quarterback lands him in hot water, and he soon finds himself on a downward trajectory.

Michigan author Steve Hamilton steps away from his Alex McKnight series with this Edgar Award-winning standalone (that also won the CWA Steel Dagger and Barry Awards). Centred on Michael, who has been mute since surviving a terrible accident as a child, it's an intriguing tale that is a pretty fascinating character study of a unique young man with talent and troubles, as well as providing plenty of thrills and chills as the plot unfolds.

After the accident that took his parents and rendered him mute, school becomes unbearable for Michael, until he discovers he has an eye-catching skill; he can open locks with ease. A teenage prank gone wrong, burglarising a rival quarterback’s house, brings him into contact with a man, and his daughter, who will end up changing his life. Perhaps not for the better, as he has to graduate to safe cracking and put his skills to use to save the daughter, under threat thanks to the father’s debts.

The narrative of THE LOCK ARTIST switches between two key time periods in Michael's life, with Hamilton building the tension well as we roll along. It's a very interesting, intriguing story, although occasionally I felt that I admired the tale more than feeling totally connected and drawn fully into it. Michael is a fascinating character, a troubled young man who's seen a lot in his life - far beyond his years, and Hamilton certainly delves deep into his unique view and experiences of the world. I definitely felt that the reader was brought fully into Michael's world, the way he looks at things.

THE LOCK ARTIST flows very well, even as it blends crime with elements more akin to a coming of age tale and a love story. Michael is a young man trying to get out from under his tough life, wanting nothing more than a fresh start with a girl he adores. It's a unique crime tale, and I can see why it attracted a lot of acclaim from award judges. A very good book.

I read and really enjoyed this book when it was originally released in 2011. At the time I wrote a short review for the Herald on Sunday. This is an extended review based upon my notes from the time and further thoughts. 

Craig Sisterson is a journalist from New Zealand who writes for magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed 150 crime writers, discussed crime fiction at literary festivals and on radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Review: SHELTER

SHELTER by Harlan Coben (Indigo, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Mickey Bolitar's year can't get much worse. After witnessing his father's death and sending his mom to rehab, he's forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools. A new school comes with new friends and new enemies, and lucky for Mickey, it also comes with a great new girlfriend, Ashley. 

For a while, it seems Mickey's train-wreck life is improving - until Ashley vanishes. Mickey follows her trail into a seedy underworld to discover this seemingly sweet, shy girl isn't who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey's father.

Harlan Coben's first foray into the young adult market, following 20 thrillers that have scooped awards, topped bestseller lists, and sold tens of millions of copies, is a very assured one. Coben not only introduces a new teenage hero who offers plenty of interest in this book and plenty of possibilities for an ongoing series, he also gives longtime readers a different perspective on his popular sports agent cum investigator Myron Bolitar,

Mickey Bolitar is faced with that crushing teenage situation: being the new kid at high school. He's come to live with his Uncle Myron after a series of family tragedies, and he's truculent, disgruntled, angry. Despite his uncle's best efforts, he doesn't want to talk about it, and doesn't want to be there. Fortunately some unlikely new friends at his new high school alleviate the pain for a while, providing light at the end of a dark tunnel. Along with his new girlfriend Ashley, there's goth-girl Emma and the quirky 'Spoon'. So when Ashley disappears, Mickey is understandably determined to find her - he can't lose another person he cares about from his life. But when Mickey discovers Ashley might have been lying to him all along, will uncovering the truth be an even bigger blow for this troubled teen?

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book is that - unlike John Grisham's THEODORE BOONE - I didn't feel Coben had dumbed his style down or oversimplified things for his target audience of younger readers. This is a book that adults can enjoy as much as teens, without feeling shortchanged. SHELTER may centre on a group of high school kids, but it contains plenty of the twist-filled storylines, intriguing cast of characters, wry humour, and thematic touches (old secrets, loss, redemption) that have made Coben’s adult novels so popular with readers and critics alike

There is some pretty dark and gritty stuff in SHELTER, as the world Mickey finds himself investigating is not one for kids, even if kids can get caught up in it. But Coben nicely balances this with regular doses of humour too, so the book felt pretty balanced to me. I appreciated that Coben didn't shy away from some tough topics, addressing a number of things in SHELTER.

It was also interesting to get a different perspective on Myron Bolitar - who is usually the relatively assured, competent, and cool hero of many Coben novels. Here, seen through the eyes of his disillusioned teenage nephew, he's an annoyance, a bumbling uncle who gets in the way, and isn't half as wonderful as most people in Myron's life think he is. The relationship between Mickey and Myron is quite a fascinating one, and once again Coben draws us in with an intriguing family dynamic and focus on very human characters alongside his page-turning mystery/thriller plotline.

Overall, I heartily enjoyed SHELTER, and would recommend it to any younger reader who would like a bit of high quality crime and thrills in their reading, rather than just dystopian worlds or vampire love stories. A good read for adult crime fans too.


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I read this back in 2011, but didn't fully review it at the time as I was writing a feature on Harlan Coben for the New Zealand Listener. This new review is based on notes, a mini-review I did in the feature, and further reflections. 


Craig Sisterson is a New Zealander who writes for newspapers and magazines in several countries. He has interviewed 150 crime and thriller writers, discussed the genre at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Review: PRAYER FOR THE DEAD

PRAYER FOR THE DEAD by James Oswald (Michael Joseph, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A missing journalist's body is found in a sealed chamber deep in of Gilmerton Cove, a mysterious network of caves and tunnels sprawling beneath Edinburgh. Inspector McLean knew the victim, and feels there's a lot more to the bizarre and baffling murder than meets the eye. A lack of forensics due to the cave environment is only one problem, and McLean finds himself teaming with an unlikely and unwelcome ally as he tries to track down a killer driven by the darkest compulsions. 

With the fifth book in the Inspector McLean series, James Oswald has crafted a wonderful, twisting crime tale full of both interesting characters and a gripping plotline that underlines the Scottish farmer-writer's growing place in the upper echelon of the genre.

In a crowded and diverse genre, there are those authors who seem to have an innate touch for balancing character, plot, narrative voice, setting, tone, and theme/issues. They craft crime fiction that is well-rounded, that delivers across the board, rather than leaning too heavily in one direction while overlooking other aspects of storytelling (there are plenty of authors who do the latter too, of course, many of which are still enjoyable to read for what they are).

Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Tim Hallinan, and Mark Billingham are a few good examples of the type of crime scribes who offer plenty on all fronts, whose books always leave me broadly satisfied: great characters, intriguing plots, thought-provoking issues bubbling away beneath the storyline, a nice evocation of the physical and social geography of the setting. I raise this point because after reading Prayer for the Dead I think Oswald slots into that same 'talented all-rounder' or 'overall master' category: he puts a strong tick in each box in this assured tale.

In Prayer for the Dead, Oswald brings hints of something larger and broader than just the crimes under investigation to his story, with touches of the supernatural, along with possible links to the Freemasons and religious fanaticism. I found that he did this adroitly, and it all adds to the police procedural aspects, never getting too gimmicky. I was also impressed by the intriguing cast of characters that orbit Inspector McLean, from his fellow coppers like Grumpy Bob, Sergeant Christie, and PC MacBride to transvestite fortune teller Madame Rose. There's plenty there to hold readers' interest through this book and beyond, as the various personalities clash and combine.

Overall I felt that Oswald draws the reader in with intriguing early scenes, creating a real narrative drive, and powers his story with quality prose and characters. In a crowded field of crime writing, which can range from superb to sub-par, the Scotsman has pushed himself towards the upper tiers.

I read this book in March 2015, and wrote a short review elsewhere, but hadn't yet written a more in-depth review of the book here on Crime Watch. This review is based on my original thoughts, notes, and further reflections. 

Craig Sisterson is a New Zealander who writes for newspapers and magazines in several countries. He has interviewed 150 crime and thriller writers, discussed the genre at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Review: POP GOES THE WEASEL

POP GOES THE WEASEL by MJ Arlidge (Penguin, 2014)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The body of a middle-aged man is discovered in Southampton's red-light district - horrifically mutilated, with his heart removed. Hours later - and barely cold - the heart arrives with his wife and children by courier. A pattern emerges when another male victim is found dead and eviscerated, his heart delivered soon afterwards.

The media call it Jack the Ripper in reverse; revenge against the men who lead sordid double lives visiting prostitutes. For Grace, only one thing is certain: there's a vicious serial-killer at large who must be halted at all costs ... 

It's fitting that MJ Arlidge's second Helen Grace thriller shares a title with a James Patterson book, as the two authors have a bit in common when it comes to their crime storytelling. Frankly, Arlidge would be a great "If you like James Patterson then you should try..." option for fans of Patterson's Alex Cross books who are looking for a new author to try, as the British author delivers the same staccato chapters, action-packed plotting, and veering over-the-top psychopathic villains the popular American is famous for, while also offering a bit more when it comes to character depth.

Pop Goes The Weasel follows closely on the heels of Arlidge's dark and twisted debut Eeny Meeny, which made quite a splash - it was a summer pick of the influential Richard & Judy Book Club and became the bestselling British crime debut of 2014. In the first book in the series crime readers were introduced to DI Helen Grace of the Southampton Police, a motorcycle riding hard-ass who has a far different way to relieve stress and process the darkness she sees than the typical alcoholic detective.
As I noted in a feature about Arlidge for the New Zealand Herald last year, with its disturbing themes, cinematic storytelling and breakneck pace, Eeny Meeny was very much "Saw meet James Patterson", to coin a screen-style comparison. In that book a serial killer abducted people who knew each other, starved them, and forced one to kill the other to survive. The case ended up hitting far closer to home for Grace than the detective, a fairly damaged personality herself, could imagine.

In Pop Goes The Weasel, Grace and her colleagues are still recovering from the aftermath of events in Eeny Meeny. The show must go on for the police detectives, of course, as new crimes are committed and need to be solved, but there is a shadow, a taint, from what was experienced.

While much of the team is intact, Grace has a new boss, Ceri Harwood, and the pair don't see eye to eye on several issues, adding extra stress to Grace's life. When a religious man is found in a park frequented by prostitutes, his chest torn open, then his heart is delivered to his family, Grace and her colleagues know they are in a race against time with another twisted psychopath on the loose.

I thoroughly enjoyed Pop Goes the Weasel. It's a quick read with plenty of action, centered on an intriguing heroine that brings a bit of freshness to the British police procedural genre. Being blunt, like Patterson, Arlidge is unlikely to earn acclaim for the elegance or lyricism of his writing - this is plot-centric crime fiction mainly focused on pace, tension, and visuals - entertainment first and foremost. There's nothing wrong with that though, and although some other crime writers may delve much more deeply into character, setting, or social issues, Arlidge does a good job giving enough of a veneer of those elements without ever slowly down the helter-skelter pace and propulsive narrative.

Helen Grace, in particular, is a standout creation. She's a leader but also a loner, keeping people at a distance, and with a tough shell. She is pretty intriguing as she juggles her insecurities with the competent and confident exterior she tries to maintain at work. Getting the job done while verging on coming apart at the seams. Arlidge has created a nice mix of strength and vulnerability that is very human, so that despite Grace's courage and kick-assery, she never feels like a cartoon supercop.

If you're looking for a fast-paced crime thriller that entertains as the pages whir then you might want to give Arlidge's Helen Grace series a go. I'll certainly be reading more myself.

Craig Sisterson is a New Zealander who writes for newspapers and magazines in several countries. He has interviewed 150 crime and thriller writers, discussed the genre at literary festivals and on national radio, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Award. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson