Friday, April 21, 2017


THE BONE FIELD by Simon Kernick (Century, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

When the bones of a 21-year old woman who went missing without trace in Thailand in 1990, are discovered in the grounds of an old Catholic school in Buckinghamshire, an enduring mystery takes on a whole new twist. Her boyfriend at the time, and the man who reported her missing, Henry Forbes, now a middle-aged university lecturer, comes forward with his lawyer and tells DI Ray Mason that he knows what happened to Kitty, and who killed her.

So begins a hunt for the truth that will focus on a ruthless crime gang, a rich, dysfunctional family with a terrible past, and a highly ambitious man so cruel and ruthless that he must be brought down at any cost...

If you need a shot of adrenaline in your reading life, then grab a Simon Kernick novel. The British thriller writer is a master when it comes to helter-skelter plotlines that quicken the pulse as the pages whir. Someone really needs to turn some of his novels into movies or TV - they seem ideal for screen adaptation: exciting plots, interesting characters, plenty of action.

THE BONE FIELD brings two of Kernick's intriguing past characters together in one book. DI Ray Mason, from THE WITNESS, has moved from counter-terrorism to homicide but is still a somewhat-rogue, do-whatever-it-takes cop. Tina Boyd, who featured in many of Kernick's thrillers, is no longer with the police force, but working as a private eye. Over the course of Kernick's oeuvre, Boyd grew from  minor role to major star - like Mason she was a maverick cop with bucketloads of issues, so the pairing of the duo is like a lit fuse burning down towards a stack of dynamite.

Kernick's 'good guys' are often more anti-hero than hero, but he leaves no doubt with his villains. They're beyond bad, and THE BONE FIELD features some real nasties. It's kicked off when Mason is contacted by middle-aged Henry Forbes, whose girlfriend went missing in Thailand a quarter century ago. So how come her body now gets found in England? Before Forbes can confess to Mason what he knows, or what he did, their meeting is violently interrupted by professional killers.

From there, we're off to the races. Mason knows something bigger is going on, and is determined to find out, regardless of the danger. He needs to colour outside official lines, and that's where Boyd and her skills come in. Simple plans shatter. Each quickly finds themselves neck-deep in danger.

There's a particular sinister killer in this one, and the secrets that get uncovered are pretty dark. Kernick thatches an intriguing plot, keeps the narrative pedal to the metal, and had me engaged with the dynamic between Mason and Boyd. It's not flawless, but there's a heck of a lot to like.

There are many different kinds of thriller writers, so how you feel about Simon Kernick may depend on where your preferences fall. He's very good at what he does, one of the best. If you're keen on action-packed reads that'll have you laminated to your seat, that delve into the darker parts of the criminal underworld, and where you're riding a rollercoaster with damaged heroes, give this a try.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Murder in the Library - Lower Hutt - 2 May

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with the New Zealand Book Council and Hutt City Libraries, invites booklovers to an event featuring three talented local crime writers. 

2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards entrants Cat Connor, TA MacLagan, and LJ Ritchie will discuss how they create memorable characters, craft page-turning plotlines, and infuse their exciting storytelling with real-life issues. Steph Soper of the New Zealand Book Council will umpire.

WHEN: Tuesday 2 May 2017
WHERE: War Memorial Library, 2 Queens Drive, Lower Hutt
WHEN: 6.15 for a 6.30pm panel discussion

This is a free event.

Cat Connor’s ‘byte’ books starring FBI Special Agent Ellie Conway have been described as “fast-paced techno-thrillers with black humour, likable protagonists, full of twists and turns”.

TA MacLagan is a Kansas native who immigrated to the bush-clad hills of Wellington. Her series starring a reluctant teenage spy has been called "page-turning, slickly written, and full of intrigue".

LJ Ritchie's LIKE NOBODY'S WATCHING centres on a group of teens who use computer skills to combat bullies, only to be seduced by their new-found power. "An engaging story about the line between heroes and villains, and the abuse of social media".

Murder in the Library - Waitakere - 25 May

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with the New Zealand Book Council and Auckland Libraries, invite Auckland booklovers to an event featuring three talented local crime writers. 

Over the past century, crime writing has evolved from puzzle-like entertainment into modern novels delving deeply into people, places, and psychology. Still the world's most popular form of storytelling, crime fiction can take readers into all aspects of society, providing page-turning entertainment and memorable characters while also addressing real-life social issues.

2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards contenders Jonothan Cullinane, Katherine Dewar, and Simon Wyatt will discuss what drew them to crime writing, how they craft authentic characters and narrative tension, and the impact of setting on tales of crime and mystery. Coast FM book reviewer and Ngaio Marsh Awards judge Stephanie Jones will play referee and prosecute the offenders.

WHEN: Thursday, 25 May 2017
WHERE: JT Diamond Room on Level 2, Waitakere Central Library, 3 Ratanui Street, Henderson
WHEN: 6.15 for a 6.30pm panel discussion

This is a free event.

Jonothan Cullinane's RED HERRING is a noir novel set against the politics of the 1951 Waterfront Strike, and has been described as "a deft mix of politics and history with a local twist on the usual private-eye tropes" (New Zealand Herald).

Katherine Dewar's political thriller RUBY AND THE BLUE SKY blends feminism, rock music, and climate change concerns into an exciting tale that has been praised as thrilling and beautifully written while addressing a variety of social issues (Culture Vulture).

Simon Wyatt is an ex West Auckland detective who wrote his THE STUDENT BODY while recovering from a life-threatening condition. The New Zealand Herald called his debut "a compelling tour through the mean and moneyed streets of West Auckland".

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


RESURRECTION BAY by Emma Viksic (Echo Publishing, 2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside - watching, picking up telltale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss. When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This is a highly original Australian crime debut that thoroughly deserved the acclaim and awards it racked up last year. On one weekend Viskic found herself accepting four awards - three Davitts (Best Debut, Best Novel, Readers Choice), along with the Ned Kelly Award for Best Debut. RESURRECTION BAY had also won iBook Australia's Crime Novel of the Year for 2015.

That's quite a pedigree. But it raises a question: is RESURRECTION BAY a great find for a wide range of crime readers, or one of those books more appreciated by aficionados and awards judges?

As someone who's been an awards judge as well as a longtime crime omnivore who enjoys a wide range of crime novels, including some that would get short shrift in awards but are just fun reads, I think that RESURRECTION BAY is a terrific book that would appeal to many crime readers.

'Deaf Man Investigates Friend's Death': an obvious headline, but this book is about much more than just its main character's deafness. It never feels like Viskic uses Caleb's disability as a character quirk to make him memorable or stand out in a crowded crime field. It infuses his personality and his story, and feels an organic part of a greater whole, rather than something thrown in to 'be original'. There's a real sense of authenticity, while at the same time Caleb isn't just a 'deaf hero' in a token way.

In fact Caleb's deafness doesn't so much define him, as it plays into how he interacts with the world around him, and it reacts to him. He's an intelligent observer, who reads other people's body language and perceives nuances that others miss. But then he also misses things himself.

Caleb is a well-crafted character that is much more than the sum of his traits, but he's not the only well-drawn character in RESURRECTION BAY. Viskic does a great job bringing her entire cast to vivid and authentic life. Her setting, Melbourne and the rural and small-town areas surrounding it, is populated with a diverse cast that epitomises that cultural melting pot of modern-day Australia.

This is a book that will get a reaction from you. Viskic draws us into Caleb's tale, and makes us care. Makes us get frustrated with characters, feel for them, fear for them. Powered by lean but fresh prose, it's an interesting, assured and excellent debut with very few missteps, which also brings a deaf perspective on the world to life on the page. I'm looking forward to more crime novels from Viskic.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, appeared at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


THE CHINESE PROVERB by Tina Clough (2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Army veteran Hunter Grant thought he had left war behind in Afghanistan – a conflict that left him with physical and psychological scars. But finding an unconscious girl in the Northland bush and gradually untangling her story involves him in a war of a different kind in his own country.

Hunter sets out to find and punish the man Dao calls Master, but he soon discovers there is more to this than enslavement. Before long he himself is being hunted by the boss of a drug empire whose sole objective is to kill Dao – she knows too much.

Protecting Dao and waging war while trying to keep the police from stifling his enterprise takes all Hunter’s ingenuity and determination and exposes him to deadly jeopardy. He enlists his old army buddy Charlie and her helicopter to help him, but things become complicated when Dao disappears.

Once I had grasped that THE CHINESE PROVERB is a simple piece of storytelling I started to really enjoy it. Hunter Grant has nightmares from his time serving in Afghanistan; he lives a semi-solitary life organising security for anyone who can afford it “from dictators to drug cartel bosses”. He has a supportive family, two sisters living close by his Auckland home and his parents further away. He hangs out with his dog Scruff, retreats to his cabin out of Auckland whenever he can, and occasionally sleeps with a woman with whom he has nothing in common.

But his numbing life is jolted into focus one day when he is walking near his cabin and Scruff finds what Hunter fears is the dead body of a young boy. But the body is alive, and not a boy: Dao is a young woman of indeterminate age who has been enslaved since she was a child. The combination of Dao’s childlike naivete, fierce intelligence and hard-earned survival skills hits Hunter where he lives, and she in turn becomes slavishly attached to her saviour.

THE CHINESE PROVERB is the story of Hunter, with the help of his mates, making sure Dao’s tormentors get their comeuppance. There is no mystery to solve, no surprises in terms of who are goodies and who are baddies, no angsting over the fact that Dao is being pursued by the sorts of people Hunter employs to provide security for his clients – mercenaries who “will do anything if you pay them enough”. The goodies are interesting: Hunter’s sisters, the lawyer Willow and the student Plum; his old army buddy Charlie, solid as and whose loves are her partner Kristen and her Eurocopter Squirrel AS350; and even the cops are caring, understanding and good sorts.

As for the baddies, they are really bad and we don’t get to find out anything about them apart from their badness. I was expecting twists for a while – someone to be not who we think they are – but nope they are exactly what we read. The energy of the story comes solely from the ongoing threats to Dao and Hunter, but this wouldn’t be enough to keep the reader engaged if it weren’t for the character of Dao. She is as fascinating for the reader as she is for Hunter.

Dao knows nothing about how to navigate her newly discovered world, but also has none of the dissembling or conniving that goes with that world. She has a native wit and intelligence which has enabled her to teach herself complex maths and a facility with machinery. She is interesting enough that you can believe that she would turn Hunter’s world upside down in just a few days. There is a great denouement, scary and eerie, but for me the novel ended too abruptly. But maybe that just means Dao and Hunter will be re-appearing in another tale? Which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

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

Murder in the Library - Christchurch - 30 May 2017

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with the New Zealand Book Council and Christchurch City Libraries, invite booklovers to an event featuring four talented Canterbury authors. 

Crime writing has evolved from the puzzle-like mysteries of Agatha Christie and Christchurch's own Dame Ngaio Marsh to modern novels delving deeply into people, places, and psychology. It has continued to be the world’s most popular form of storytelling.

2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards entrants Katherine Hayton and Mark McGinn will be joined by 2016 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalist Tanya Moir and 2016 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel winner Ray Berard. The foursome will discuss what drew them to crime writing, how they craft memorable characters and page-turning stories, and the impact of our New Zealand setting on tales of crime and mystery.

WHEN: Tuesday, 30 May 2017
WHERE: Sydenham Room, South Library, 66 Colombo Street
WHEN: 6.30pm panel discussion

Entry: Free event but bookings required
RSVP: or (03) 941 7923

Ray Berard's INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE was praised by the Ngaio Marsh Awards judges as “a lucid and potent portrait of good people and gangsters that is unmistakably Kiwi in flavour and tone... a fine story with considerable depth".

Katherine Hayton has two books in her new series starring part-Maori policewoman Ngaire Blakes entered in this year's awards, THE THREE DEATHS OF MAGDALENE LYNTON and THE SECOND STAGE OF GRIEF.

Mark McGinn's PRESUMED GUILTY is the third book in his series centred on feisty lawyer Sasha Stace. McGinn, who has written several novels, had a lengthy career in the New Zealand court system and in psychological assessment.

Tanya Moir has written several books across a number of genres. THE LEGEND OF WINSTONE BLACKHAT was described by Ngaio Marsh Awards judges as "an unusually subtle treatment of crime ... brilliantly paced and plotted, very seriously discomforting reading".

Getting Murderous in Takapuna

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, in association with Auckland Libraries and the New Zealand Book Council, invites booklovers to an event featuring three talented Auckland writers. 

As crime writing has evolved from puzzle-like mysteries to novels delving deeply into psychology, people and places, it has continued to be the world’s most popular form of storytelling. But what makes the crime genre so fascinating?

2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards entrants Jennifer Barraclough, Gordon Ell, and Robert Glancy discuss creating characters, how they explore real-life themes through fictional tales, the impact of setting, and what drew them to crime writing. Sarah Ell prosecutes the offenders.

WHEN: Wednesday 19 May 2017
WHERE: Takapuna Library, 9 The Strand
WHEN: 6pm for light refreshments, 6.30pm panel discussion

RSVP: Helen Woodhouse, (09) 890 4903 or
Entry: by koha.

Jennifer Barraclough is a British doctor who immigrated to New Zealand in 2000. She has interests in psychology and natural remedies, and writes about a diverse range of topics. Her novel UNFAITHFUL UNTO DEATH is a light-hearted mystery in a medical setting.

Gordon Ell is an author, photographer, and publisher of a broad range of books about New Zealand's natural and historic heritage. THE ICE SHROUD, a murder mystery set in the scenic countryside near Queenstown, is his first novel.

Robert Glancy was born in Zambia and raised in Malawi. His second novel, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB, delves into the parallels between corrupt dictatorship and modern PR spin in distracting the public with showmanship.

Books will be available for purchase and author signing courtesy of Glenfield Paper Plus.


THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD by Belinda Bauer (Atlantic, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

TV crime reporter Eve Singer’s career is flagging, but that starts to change when she covers a spate of bizarre murders—each one committed in public and advertised like an art exhibition. When the killer contacts Eve about her coverage of his crimes, she is suddenly on the inside of the biggest murder investigation of the decade. But as the killer becomes increasingly obsessed with her, Eve realizes there’s a thin line between inside information and becoming an accomplice to murder—possibly her own.

This is an elegantly written chiller from one of Britain's best crime writers. Several years ago I was part of a team of reviewers for a leading magazine that selected Bauer's impressive debut, BLACKLANDS as one of the very best novels - of any kind - for that year, and Bauer has gone from strength to strength since.

There's just something about her writing that elevates it above the many British crime novels that fall into the 'good to very good' category. Bauer's prose is deceptively simple, yet packed with power. Her characterisations draw us deeply into her tales, strapping us down for a creepy ride. There's something of a literary quality to her work, even when it's drenched in serial killers and other genre tropes. This is slickly written crime fiction that is much more than slickly written crime fiction.

Eve Singer makes her living from death. She's the eyes and ears of a voracious public, eager to devour the details of murders and horrific ends that befall their fellow citizens. Eve treads a fine line looking to out-scoop her competition in order feed the monster with the juiciest, gory details that will see ratings, and therefore her own value in the business, soar. But how complicit is she in turning tragedies into something even worse for those living with the after-effects of crime and murder?

It's a question that comes into stark relief when Eve is contacted by a serial killer with an artistic bent. Someone who thinks they are putting on a show for the public. Just like Eve does.

How will Eve, who is juggling plenty of pressure at work and home (caring for her aging and addled father), navigate her way through this dangerous game? Can she benefit her career without putting the investigation in jeopardy, and the lives of herself and those she loves in grave danger?

Without losing her own humanity along the way?

THE BEAUTIFUL DEAD is a cracking good read that flows along beautifully while providing plenty of substance amongst the style. Eve is a character who could be dislikable, given her profession and some of her attitudes, but Bauer elicits plenty of empathy, and Eve is someone we want to ride along with as the story unfolds. The other characters, from Eve's cameraman and conscience Joe, to her ratings-obsessed boss, her younger rival, the police, her father, and others, are all fleshed out and are never one-note characters. They're full chords, and together, a symphony.

Another top read from one of Britain's top crime writers.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed more than 180 crime writers, discussed crime writing onstage at arts and literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, and is the Judging Convenor of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson