Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: AUKATI

AUKATI by Michalia Arathimos (Makaro Press, 2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

“There was Polly’s tokotoko on the ground. Carved and polished, with its eel head, the snout inlaid with pāua. Alexia picked it up and cracked it across the cop’s shoulders. She raised it again and hit and hit. She would stop this.” Alexia is a law student escaping the Greek family that stifles her, and Isaiah is a young Māori returning home to find the family he’s lost. Cut loose from their own cultures, they have volunteered to help Isaiah’s Taranaki iwi get rid of the fracking that’s devastating their land and water.

The deeper Alexia and Isaiah go into the fight, the closer they get to understanding the different worlds they inhabit. But when a protest march becomes violent a boundary is crossed, and they need to decide where they stand and fast. It’s clear the police have been tipped off, and the activists gathered at the marae suspect they’re being watched or, worse, there is an informant in the group. Can Alexia and Isaiah be trusted? And more – can they trust themselves?

What I loved about this book was its uncompromising life-like messiness; things don’t go as planned, there are long periods in the doldrums, sex is sometimes not that great, something happens and suddenly one of the characters finds himself in a world he doesn’t understand: “he’d fallen out of the kind of story he knew and into a new one entirely”.

Regardless of the specifics of this book, we can all relate to its underlying themes of hopelessness and confusion in turbulent times, and in the face of bland authority.  It might even seem dystopic at times, until one recalls the 2007 police raids carried out under the Terrorism Suppression Act, or the fact that our Deputy Prime Minister recently said some New Zealanders have fewer human rights than others.

Autaki means border or boundary – and the story is that of protest against the forced alienation of tribal land, and the subsequent abuse of that land.  A group of protesters travels to a Māori community to help the fight against a fracking operation.  The operation is on ancestral land that was taken from the tribe long ago – the tribe is already disinherited – but the current land use is endangering the water, land and crops of the community, and the stability of the whole region.  The boundary of the title is geographic, but also cultural, gender, class …

The protesters are a jumbled lot – some very experienced, some with Police records, some new to protest, some suspected of being undercover Police, and all totally conflicted about not only the scope of the protest (environmental, historical?) but also about the nature and extent of the protest (legal, direct action?).

Woven between the endless meetings and re-drawings of plans are the stories of what becomes a temporary community.  The underpinning story for the newcomers is revolution; there are open relationships, railing at current injustices, wanting to blow stuff up, wanting to save the world.  The story for the inhabitants is one of a continuation of the degradation of their land, the annoyance at non-Māori speaking on their behalf but them having to push non-Māori in front of the media so their concerns are not seen as ‘just’ indigenous, the fear of doing anything that will once again bring reprisals that will traumatise their children, make further inroads into their lives, possibly even kill them.

The book is framed around two main characters.  Isaiah is part Māori and returning to his home marae – he finds there are expectations of his role there, which he struggles with, as he has grown up in the city and doesn’t speak Te Reo.  Haunted by the lack of knowledge of his own past, and the fate of his father, Isaiah is transformed through the novel.  Alexia is a law student about to sit her bar exams, she is fleeing from her Greek family’s expectations of her moving in with her grandmother after the death of her grandad.  She looks a little bit Māori and is forced to sing a waiata when the outsiders are welcomed onto the marae – Pokarekare ana is the only one she knows.  She is an outsider who is gradually accepted, and who realises how much she has changed when late in the novel she observes her fellow protesters outside a court:

“… with their tino rangatiratanga placards, and the activists with their patches, with Polly, Te Kahurangi, Matiu and Rangi, for whom the city was nothing and their poisoned corner of land everything.  During her placement she would have studied them curiously, possibly taking notes on behalf of a senior lawyer … She would have mentioned them in passing to her friends: the case that gripped the nation, etc.  But they would have remained cut-outs.”

Alexia also experiences synaesthesia – in her case seeing music as colours.  The ebbing and flowing of her synaesthetic experiences run almost like a barometer through the novel – echoing the intensity of Alexis’ feeling and the changes to the land.  The colours sometimes emerge for her from the sounds of the bush, linking her to the stories of the local patupaiarehe, fairy-like beings who can protect you as well as lead you astray.  So fitting, as the hopelessness and confusion of the novel stems in large part from uncertainty around whom the characters can trust, or what they can have faith in.  A challenging read but I loved it.



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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review: THE PLEA

THE PLEA by Steve Cavanagh (Orion, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Fraud. Blackmail. Murder. It's all in a day's work for Eddie Flynn. For years, major New York law firm Harland & Sinton has operated a massive global fraud. The FBI are on to them, but they need witnesses to secure their case. When a major client of the firm, David Child, is arrested for murder, the FBI ask con-artist-turned-lawyer Eddie Flynn to secure Child as his client and force him to testify against the firm.

Eddie's not a man to be forced into representing a guilty client, but the FBI have incriminating files on Eddie's wife, Christine, and if Eddie won't play ball, she'll pay the price.

When Eddie meets David Child he knows Child is innocent, despite the overwhelming evidence against him. With the FBI putting pressure on him to secure the plea, Eddie must find a way to prove Child's innocence while keeping his wife out of danger - not just from the FBI, but from the firm itself. 

Irish human rights lawyer Steve Cavanagh hit the ground running with his terrific debut, The Defence, which introduced hustler and conman turned criminal lawyer Eddie Flynn.

That novel had a pedal-to-the-metal opening with Flynn getting abducted by the Russian mob and having a bomb strapped to his back, with orders to find a way to get it into a New York courthouse to prevent a star witness testifying in a big trial. Cavanagh's sophomore novel has a similarly action-packed opening, as Flynn endures an OK Corral-esque shootout in a prestigious law firm.

If you wanted a Hollywood style tagline, try: "Scott Turow meets Lee Child".

Cavanagh cements his status as a terrific new voice in legal thriller writing with this sequel; his blend of courtroom twists and high-stakes action shakes up standard tropes and has real freshness.

In The Plea, Flynn finds himself at another dangerous crossroads when he is pressured by the FBI to convince David Child, a man charged with murder, to hire him, in order to arm-twist the accused into taking a deal in order to help bring down prestigious New York law firm Harland & Sinton. The Feds claim the firm has been operating a massive global fraud, which is about to boil over.

The catches are many. 

David Child is a major client of Harland & Sinton, who have their hooks in him and are unlikely to let go, as he could threaten their plans. The FBI hoists a sword of Damocles above Flynn’s wife Christine, on staff at the firm, who signed documents as a naïve young attorney that could put her in prison. Then there’s the fact that Flynn starts to believe that Child might be innocent of the murder. 

But the FBI still wants Child to plead guilty, and is happy to strong-arm Flynn. 


Cavanagh has a real talent for escalating tension, and Eddie Flynn is a terrific creation well worth following. There are shades of Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) in his engaging, likable hustler persona, while Flynn is also a unique character all of this own. 

The Plea is a propulsive read that'll have you soldered to your seat, pages whirring throughout. 


Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review: TESS

TESS by Kirsten McDougall (VUP, 2017)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Tess is on the run when she’s picked up from the side of the road by lonely middle-aged father Lewis Rose. With reluctance, she’s drawn into his family troubles and comes to know a life she never had. 

Set in Masterton at the turn of the millennium, Tess is a gothic love story about the ties that bind and tear a family apart.

A middle-aged man with a rifle in his car decides to pick up a young woman on the highway. He is just wanting to help; she is about the same age as his estranged daughter. The young woman sees accepting the lift as a failure of spirit, she has a blade concealed in one of her rings, she is running from something and wants to be totally self-reliant. But shortly after being dropped off in the man’s home town she is harassed by local thugs and the man once again comes to her rescue.

The man, Lewis, and the woman, Tess, end up cohabiting, innocently – but when a middle-aged man cohabits with a woman the same age as his own daughter there is inevitable tension, and suspicions from others.

We learn of Tess’ unusual background; that she was abandoned by her drug addicted mother to the care of her loving earth-mother grandmother, that she is now fleeing from a series of violent incidents, which are revealed gradually.  And Lewis is a man in mourning; his wife died in horrific circumstances, he is estranged from his daughter, Jean, his mother is living with advanced dementia in a rest-home, and Jean’s twin brother is in residential care.

We learn that Tess is a drifter because she has a ‘gift’, and whether that really is a gift that helps those she meets, or whether it is a curse that leaves chaos in her wake is the central issue of this book.

The book starts off in a slow and considered way, with a measured revealing of the characters and their histories, but when Jean arrives at her father’s house the novel alters, the pace picks up and we are soon at a fast denouement.

The different story lines are inventive and the characters of Lewis, Jean and Tess are engaging. But the change of pace left the length of the novel a disappointment for me – it ended up reading like a too long short story rather than a novel – and I really wanted to spend longer finding out more about these intriguing people.

Maybe Tess will wander into someone else’s world and I will get another chance?  Tess is well worth a read.



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

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: AMPLIFY

AMPLIFY by Mark Hollands (2015)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Music promoter Billy Lime is in trouble. The tour of rock legends, The Pagan Virtue, is the biggest in music history. Their concerts in Australia should be a career highlight if Billy can keep the warring musicians off the drugs, out of the bars and on the stage.

When lead singer Jet Kelly is poisoned, Billy's world starts to crumble. Motorcycle gang the White Sharks has stashed $100 million of cocaine inside the band equipment bound for Sydney, and the cops mark Billy as a killer and drug runner. How will Billy Lime keep the show on the road ...

This was a very pleasant surprise; a rip-roaring debut full of vivid characters and happenings that was a very enjoyable read; unique, interesting, and action-packed. Amplify takes us backstage into the world of rock music and events promotion, and is pretty sex, drugs and rock'n'roll in style.

It's not a perfect book by any means - there are occasional moments which are a little cheesy or over-written, veering 'airport thriller' in nature, but Amplify is just a lot of fun, a compelling page-turner. I actually read this last year, and did a 'mini-review' at the time. It was one of my favourite finds of 2016, a real gem, thanks to its unique setting and viewpoint, and tense, entertaining storyline.

Amplify is peppered with plenty of nasty, dark deeds, but maintains a fun, almost light-hearted vibe throughout. Almost a bit tongue-in-cheek, like an Oceans 11 or Guy Ritchie-style movie.

Caper-esque and full of crazy characters, humour and high-stakes action. It would have been easy for the set-up and setting to fall into cliche, but I thought debutant Hollands did a terrific job balancing plot, character, and setting - throwing in some unique touches and depth, without slowing the pace.

Music promoter Billy Lime lives a sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll life. He's no wallflower; he drives a bright lime green sports car, and has associates that span all sorts of spectrums, from bikers to money managers to rock stars. The rock industry can be big business, and plenty of people want a piece.

Lime's plans are thrown into disarray thanks to tax investigations and the lead singer of an aging band whose upcoming tour is going to rake in the dough getting poisoned. Under pressure on several fronts, Lime is forced to hustle to work out what's the heck has been going on, and how he can keep his head above water. A can of worms opened - or even Pandora's Box.

One heads-up: this is set in a realistic version of the rock'n'roll world, covering everything from the corporatisation of artists to the dingy backstage hook-ups and hotel parties. It also delves into biker gang life and other quite masculine areas of the world. There's misogyny and unlikable characters, people treating women carelessly or badly, amongst plenty of partying, fun and engaging personalities. For some readers this might not be a setting they enjoy or approve of, although I thought it read quite authentic. There are several strong female characters that balance out the airhead groupies and biker molls, including managers and more who help Lime and hold things together.

Overall, an exciting debut in a fascinating setting that provides tension, action, and laughs.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes for leading magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 crime writers, appeared onstage at literary festivals in Europe and Australasia, on national radio and popular podcasts, has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Review: THE DRY

THE DRY by Jane Harper (Flatiron Books, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well...

When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, he is loath to confront the people who rejected him twenty years earlier. But when his investigative skills are called on, the facts of the Hadler case start to make him doubt this murder-suicide charge.

And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, old wounds start bleeding into fresh ones. For Falk and his childhood friend Luke shared a secret... A secret Falk thought long-buried... A secret which Luke's death starts to bring to the surface.

If there was an X-Factor for crime debutants, then Jane Harper would get a standing ovation and cries of ‘you’ve just got something special’ from ecstatic judges. And we’d all definitely want to see more.

Harper’s remarkable debut, set in the parched rural landscape of Australia, combines exquisite slow-build storytelling with a terrific sense of place and richly drawn characters that provoke a range of emotions in the reader.

Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his drought-stricken hometown Kiewarra for the funeral of a childhood friend. Luke Hadler seems to have broken under the strain, shooting his wife and son, then himself. It’s a shocking event, even in a community that faces life and death choices every day. Falk’s visit is meant to be fleeting – he has no desire to linger in a place he and his father fled twenty years before after accusations swirled following the suspicious drowning of a young woman.

But as Falk and a local detective begin to doubt the murder-suicide scenario, he stays, only to find that his digging into this latest tragedy unearths secrets from the past, from a time when Luke provided him with an alibi. With townsfolk who still harbour plenty of unpleasant beliefs, and a community struggling to survive in a tinder-dry landscape, Falk must tread a tightrope as he lights a match to seek the truth.

The Dry is a tale of a man versus the environment, a town, and his own past. Beautifully written, Harper teases us with trickles before we grab the bottle to gulp our way to an exciting finish.

Note: this review was first published in Mystery Scene. This weekend, THE DRY won yet another award, the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel. 

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features and reviews for a wide range of magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 mystery writers, discussed crime writing onstage at festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Talking to bookshelves and things to reveal: a 9mm interview with Louise Penny

Welcome to the latest instalment in the 9mm series! I'm very grateful to all the terrific crime writers who've generously given their time over the past few years. You can see the full index of author interviews here. If you've got a favourite author who hasn't yet featured, leave a comment, and I'll make it happen.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome one of mystery fiction's modern greats to Crime Watch, the Queen of Canadian Crime, Louise Penny.

Where do I begin when introducing Louise Penny? Hers is a truly remarkable story among crime writers - and arguably the biggest success ever to come out of the CWA Debut Dagger Award programme, where unpublished authors submit portions from their manuscripts. That award has been running for 15 years now, and Penny was one of about 800 entrants from all over the world back in 2004. She made the longlist for Still Life, which would become her debut, went to London for the ceremony - and although she didn't win (she came second), she met lots of people in the mystery writing community, and from there found an agent and was signed up for multiple book deals in the UK and North America (you can read more here).

To be honest there probably wouldn't be room for a CWA Debut Dagger on Penny's mantlepiece nowadays - her Inspector Gamache series set in smalltown Quebec has gone on to win a record SIX Agatha Awards, as well as five Anthony Awards, to go along with CWA Dagger, Dilys, Barry, Macavity, and Arthur Ellis Awards too. Paying it forward, she helped launch an award for aspiring Canadian mystery writers in her home country, the Unhanged Arthur, in 2009.

Penny's books, which are modern Canadian spins on the classic Golden Age village mysteries, have sold millions of copies, been translated into 25 languages, been #1 New York Times bestsellers, and received plenty of critical and reader acclaim, to go along with all of the awards.

Such is the success and global reach of Penny's mysteries, that in 2013 the Canadian Government named her to the Order of Canada, for "contributions to Canadian culture as an author shining a spotlight on the Eastern Townships of Quebec".

Louise Penny's fourteenth book, and latest tale starring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, is Glass Houses. You can read an extract here.

But for now, Louise Penny becomes the 169th crime writer to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


9MM: AN INTERVIEW WITH LOUISE PENNY

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Ann Cleeves Vera.  Far from alone in that.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Charlotte’s Web was the first novel, though I also loved the Winnie the Pooh stories and AA Milne poems.  So gentle.  I was a fearful child, so that rhythm and reassurance was calming.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything): unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’d tried to write a book every decade of my life, from the age of 8. But I really had nothing to say. It was only in my mid-forties, after I’d lost both parents and fallen deeply in love with Michael, that I realized it wasn’t about ‘saying’, it was about revealing. And I finally had things to reveal.

Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I love traveling. But because my life is so structured and I need to be so disciplined, when I travel, I love not having a schedule. My favourite days are ones with nothing in the agenda. I now have a flat in London, and when I’m there I love just walking… often ending up at the Chelsea Physic Garden. For peace.

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?
Go to the St Benoit du Lac monastery and sit quietly in the chapel for one of the masses done in chant. (Then visit the monk’s shop in the basement for some of the best cheese you’ve ever had!)

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Meryl Streep.  Or maybe George Clooney.  I’m not picky.

Of your books, which is your favourite, and why (not which you think is best, but which has a special meaning, for whatever reason)?
Impossible to say, of course.  Though I will always have a special place in my heart for the first, STILL LIFE.  It seemed, when I’d finished writing it, a miracle.

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 bookseller’s shelf?
I wept.  Poor Michael – I spent a lot of time in tears that year.  Of joy, of course, but he still found it upsetting.  But then, that first launch event, I looked over at him, and he was crying too.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Well, I once spoke to no one.  There wasn’t a soul at the event – years and years ago, in San Francisco. But I decided, screw it. And got up and talked to the bookcases. Even the booksellers weren’t there. I think they were alternately embarrassed for me, then afraid of me.

As I talked. To no one.


Thank you Louise. We appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch

You can read more about Louise Penny and her books at her website, and keep up to date by liking her Facebook page




Saturday, September 2, 2017

Review: TWO KINDS OF TRUTH

TWO KINDS OF TRUTH by Michael Connelly (Orion, 31 October 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Harry Bosch is back as a volunteer working cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department and is called out to a local drug store where a young pharmacist has been murdered. Bosch and the town's 3-person detective squad sift through the clues, which lead into the dangerous, big business world of pill mills and prescription drug abuse.

Meanwhile, an old case from Bosch's LAPD days comes back to haunt him when a long-imprisoned killer claims Harry framed him, and seems to have new evidence to prove it. Bosch left the LAPD on bad terms, so his former colleagues aren't keen to protect his reputation. He must fend for himself in clearing his name and keeping a clever killer in prison.

Twenty-five years ago gruff LAPD detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch first burst onto the page, investigating the murder of a fellow Vietnam ‘tunnel rat’ in a drainpipe in Mulholland Dam. 

He was already middle-aged then, a maverick not because he was a youthful upstart, but a man in his early 40s who had a very strong sense of who he was and what was important to him. To Harry Bosch, it's people who matter, the victims and finding justice, more than the rules and systems of his superiors. 

Then and now, Bosch lived by the credo 'everybody counts or nobody counts', and felt his mission to find justice for victims deep down in his bone marrow. 

Plenty of murky water has flowed under the bridge in the quarter-century since The Black Echo. Nowadays, Bosch is a volunteer for the tiny San Fernando PD, spending his days in a converted jail cell combing over cold cases then getting out on the streets to investigate, unable to give up being ‘a closer’ even if the LAPD has jettisoned him and he now qualifies for Social Security. 

Various elements from his past come calling in Two Kinds of Truth, a marvellous tale that clearly demonstrates that shows Bosch and Connelly, two of the very best at what they do, are both still at the very top of their considerable game. 

There's a lovely mix of familiarity and freshness - a tough balance to strike in a long-running series: give long-time readers what they've loved over many books plus something new, but not so new or 'out of the box' that it jolts or feels try-hard or 'wrong' in a world carefully created over many years. 

Connelly squarely hits that difficult sweet spot in Two Kinds of Truth

While mulling a cold case disappearance and probable murder that still haunts his new boss in the San Fernando PD, Bosch finds out that one of his own old cases has reared back into ugly life. 

New DNA evidence links a dead rapist to a vicious killing that resulted in a young Bosch helping put another man on death row. Now that 'innocent' man might be released, but Bosch is certain he was right, then and now. As those in power look to throw Bosch under the bus for what could become a massive, and costly, legal mess, he also heads down a deadly path investigating a double-murder at a local farmacia alongside his SFPD colleagues, who aren’t used to this kind of crime.

Connelly masterfully balances the twin investigations, past and present, providing a rollicking story for new readers and long-time fans. Several ‘guest stars’ from past books make a welcome return, underlining the holistic fictional LA world Connelly has crafted over a quarter-century. 

Add in Harry Bosch, approaching septuagenarian status, still facing fresh challenges and being put to new tests externally and internally despite his vast experience, and that equals one of the all-time great crime series continuing to grow its greatness. Perhaps the Pappy Van Winkle of modern crime? 

Note: this book is not published until 31 October 2017, and I usually wouldn't post a review so far in advance, but I received an ARC yesterday, read it immediately, and was so impressed I just had to share my thoughts straight away. Head to your favourite bookshop, brick and mortar or online, and pre-order a copy. You won't regret it.  

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features and reviews for a wide range of magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 mystery writers, discussed crime writing onstage at festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can find him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

Review: DECEPTION ISLAND

DECEPTION ISLAND by Brynn Kelly (HQN Book, 2016)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Rafe Angelito thought he was done with the demons from his past—until his son is kidnapped. Blackmailed into abducting an American heiress, the legionnaire soon finds himself trapped in paradise with a fiery, daring beauty who's nothing he expects…and everything he desires. But when he uncovers her own dark secret, Rafe realizes he's made a critical mistake—one that could cost him everything. 

Playing body double for a spoiled socialite was supposed to be Holly Ryan's ticket to freedom. But when she's snatched off her yacht by a tall, dark and dangerous stranger, the not-quite-reformed con artist will make a desperate play to turn her captor from enemy to ally, by any means necessary... When they're double-crossed, they'll have to risk trusting each other in ways they never imagined…

There are several popular bestsellers in the crime writing world, including Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritsen, and Tami Hoag, who began their careers writing romantic suspense and romantic thrillers before turning more and more to the 'dark side'. Brynn Kelly (a pen name for a Kiwi journalist) treads those same borders between the world's two biggest genres in her debut novel, Deception Island.

So much so that there are two different covers for this book, one that's more 'thriller-y' (above) and a paperback version that's more 'romance-y'. As a crime reader but not a romance one, I wasn't quite sure what I'd think of Kelly's debut, or how she'd blend what the differing audiences might enjoy, but overall I thought Deception Island was a smoothly told tale with plenty of action, and some heat.

It was a good solid read, a very promising debut. Kelly clearly has storytelling chops, and drops us straight into a fascinating situation, as Rafe, a French legionnaire with a murky past is forced by figures from his past into kidnapping a woman, only for plans to go haywire when the woman isn't who she seems. There's lots of nefarious things going on behind the scenes, and Rafe and Holly have to walk a tightrope in relation to each other, as well as various figures who're using them as pawns.

Deception Island kind of blends an action-packed jungle thriller, with lots of conspiracies and murky goings-on, with an unlikely slow-burn romance between two leads that are thrown together because of others, and have to work together even if they don't trust each other. In a way, it reminds me a little of the movie Romancing the Stone, with some swashbuckling action, a little humour, and a couple of interesting main characters who are put under pressure by challenges external and internal.

Like that movie too, it's best to just park your disbelief, and enjoy the unfolding tale for what it is. The action ebbs and flows, but overall Kelly held my interest throughout, and I thought the 'romance' aspects were handled pretty well, without overwhelming the thriller story. I can't speak for readers coming from the romance spectrum about whether for them there is too much or too little 'heat' and romantic action between Rafe and Holly. But I note Kelly recently won a couple of romance writing awards for Deception Island, so it must have impressed those romance-minded judges.

A good, exciting read with plenty to hold your attention, whatever 'genre' you enjoy.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features and reviews for a wide range of magazines and newspapers in several countries. He has interviewed almost 200 mystery writers, discussed crime writing onstage at festivals in Europe and Australasia, and on national radio and top podcasts. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can follow him on Twitter: @craigsisterson