Book Review: Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_earthly_remainsDonna Leon shows mastery in sewing together this delightful crime thriller Earthly Remains which is set under the vivid heat of the Venetian sun. With an engaging and charming narrative, the 26th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery will add intrigue to a sun-soaked holiday or transport you away on a lazy rainy day.

Following a foolhardy reaction in the interrogation of a slippery suspect, Commissario Brunetti finds himself on a prescribed hiatus from duty. Questioning his judgment and contemplating a change in lifestyle, Brunetti gladly banishes himself to the empty house of a distant relative in the Venetian laguna for some time out. The house, on the island of Saint Erasmo, is tended for by gentle caretaker Davide Casati, who Brunetti quickly befriends. Forged over ten days beneath the stifling sun, the two men form an easy friendship based on a shared passion for rowing and an unspoken mutual respect for one another. Casati appears a man of grace and radiates a strong sense of morality, yet Brunetti soon notices hints of a markedly different man lingering in Casati’s past. When Casati suddenly goes missing, Brunetti is compelled to unravel the loops and ties sullying his new friend’s disappearance.

Leon weaves Brunetti through the laguna with a beautifully economical narrative that lets the reader feel the oppressive swelter of summertime Venice and taste the richness of the Italian alfresco table whilst nimbly unravelling the truth behind Casati’s disappearance. On the small islands where ‘there are no secrets’ Brunetti must now follow his hunches to uncover the mysterious past of a man he barely knew. But the truth is not quite ready to give itself up.

Serving as my introduction to Donna Leon’s mystery series, I sincerely hope Commissario Guido Brunetti discovered reinforcement for the job he so loved over the course of Earthly Remains: I will be keeping an eye out for more in the series in airport bookstores as the perfect accompaniment to a holiday.

Reviewed by Abbie Treloar

Earthly Remains
by Donna Leon
Published by Penguin Random House
ISBN 9781785151378

Advertisements

Book Review: Hide and Seek, by M J Arlidge

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_hide_and_seek.jpgArlidge’s style has me determined to get my hands on each novel in the D. I. Helen Grace series of crime stories. His characters – both the police team members, and each title’s new cast members – are well and truly alive on the page – real, and human with their foibles and fancies.

In Hide And Seek, our favourite police officer-no-more is in her worst possible place: the world behind the bars of Holloway. Both the guards and the inmates (some of whom are there because of Helen) have already adjudged her as a rotten copper – before her trial – and as just another crim.

When the inmate of the cell beside Helen’s is found dead in her bed, left by her killer in a bizarre and ghastly state, it is Helen who has to remind the inmates that none of them are safe. Helen is driven to watch both guards and inmates alike in her effort to identify the killer.

She faces suspicion and hostility from both sides. The second and third kill creates a frenzy among the inmates. An understandable error of thinking delays her eventual discovery of the murderer, which she learns the hard way. Seriously, the hard way.
The unwarranted (as in, not official) actions of loyal D. C. Charlie Brookes are what decides the sequel*.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Hide and Seek
by M J Arlidge
Published 2016, by Michael Joseph, for
Penguin/Random House
Hardbound:  9780718183837
Paperback:  9781405925624

The Series:
Eeny Meeny
Pop Goes the Weasel
The Doll’s House
Liar Liar
Little Boy Blue
Hide And Seek
* Follow My Leader, later in 2017

Book Review: The Chinese Proverb, by Tina Clough

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_chinese_proverb.jpg‘If you save somebody’s life, you are responsible for them forever’. This is the Chinese proverb at the centre of this gripping, very readable action thriller. Hunter Grant, retired army veteran at the age of 38, looking for the peaceful life after a bruising time in Afghanistan, finds himself back in a conflict zone, taking on the responsibility of saving, then looking after, the life of another.

A single man, he lives in Auckland, and also has a cabin deep in the bush north of the city. While staying at his place in the bush for a few days, he and his dog Scruff stumble upon a young woman, almost dead, exhausted, hypothermic, malnourished, terrified, and clearly abused. This is Dao, the one whose life Hunter saves, and whom he becomes totally responsible for.

The writer skilfully reveals the bare details of Dao’s story while Hunter does his best to give her immediate care, warmth and food. She has been held captive by a brutal man called Bram on a remote coastal farm – chained, beaten, abused, threatened, alone, in a constant struggle for survival – her mother having died. The real person in charge however, is a sinister and frightening character called the Boss, who turns up from time to time at the farm wearing a Darth Vader mask, thus unrecognisable, calling the shots.

Even though she has escaped, Dao is still in danger, Hunter in turn now also finding himself the target of the bad guys. The story takes place over 15 days, with Dao and Hunter trying to stay alive, while Hunter tries to find out Dao’s history, where she came from, her real name, and ultimately, uncovering exactly what has been going on at the farm. Everything around Dao is scary and unfamiliar, thanks to her having been hidden away for so many years. Even though the reader is familiar with city life, shopping malls, driving, eating out, for Dao this is all very unfamiliar. We see this through Dao’s eyes, giving a slightly sinister undertone to the urban/suburban scenes, threatening and a little unsettling, this view contributing perfectly to the evil brewing.

The main focus of the story is on the relationship between Hunter and Dao. It could easily become exploitative, with Hunter having the position of power, especially considering what Dao has come from, what is normal to her. But not once is there any hint of impropriety, taking advantage or exploitation. This Hunter is one heck of a guy, taking his position of guardianship very seriously, at all times aware of the peculiar and compromising position he is in. He has some great women in his life – his two sisters Willow and Plum, and his best friend Charlie, who was in Afghanistan with him. These three women help him in his care of Dao. As Dao’s confidence, trust and self-worth blossom, the nature of the relationship between Hunter and Dao changes, but it is never sleazy, uncomfortable or weird. Perhaps because the writing is by a woman?

I doubt if the plot would move so fast in a real-life situation – this is one very damaged young woman, still in considerable danger – but it is a great 15 day ride. Plenty of action, great characterisation and very believable characters. This is a thriller, a whodunnit, at times scary and violent, edge of the seat stuff but constantly tempered by the relationships between Hunter and Dao, Charlie and the two sisters. So much packed into 300 pages. It is a great story, which deserves to be widely read and publicised.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

The Chinese Proverb
by Tina Clough
Published by Lightpool Publishing
ISBN  9780473379261

Book Review: Cold Earth, by Ann Cleeves

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_cold_earthSeveral people had told me that I’d enjoy Ann Cleeves’ books and I wish now I’d sought her out earlier. Cold Earth is Cleeves’ thirtieth novel and the seventh in her Shetland series, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

Set in the Shetland Islands, the book begins with a landslide at a funeral. Local detective inspector Jimmy Perez is at the graveside of his old friend Magnus when the landslide hits, and he watches it sweep away part of an old croft further down the hill. Unsure if anyone had been renting the croft, Perez goes to check. He spots a flash of red amongst the debris and finds the body of an exotic woman in a flowing red evening dress – not your usual Shetland winter apparel.

When investigations reveal the landslide didn’t kill her, that she had been murdered, Perez becomes obsessed with uncovering who she is and who killed her. Due to the damage inflicted by the landslide, finding clues in the croft isn’t easy. Two photos and a letter addressed ‘Dear Alis’ are all he has to go on. He invites Willow Reeves, a senior detective from the mainland, to join him and his sidekick Sandy Wilson. When Reeves arrives, it soon becomes clear there is unfinished business between her and Perez, but neither will let it get in the way of the investigation.

There are many inhabitants with many secrets, meaning there are also many suspects. The team uncovers evidence the dead woman had links to a number of locals, but does this mean one of them killed her? We learn a bit about most of the characters and once the dead woman’s identity is revealed, it seems almost every one of them could have had a motive for wanting her dead.

Just when you think you think you’ve got it sussed, a snippet about another suspect casts doubt in your mind.

I found the book really readable, and once I started I found it hard to put down. Having said that, I did feel the conclusion was a little rushed and a little melodramatic. It hasn’t put me off wanting to read more of Ann Cleeves’ books though, even if just to find out what happens between Perez and Reeves!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Cold Earth
by Ann Cleeves
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781447278214

Book Review: The Bone Collection, by Kathy Reichs

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_bone_collectionMost readers and viewers of crime and thrillers would have come across Kathy Reichs at some point. For those who haven’t heard of her yet, now would be a good time to check her out. Shifting from novels to short stories, the Number One New York Times Bestseller has recently published a new book, The Bone Collection. This exciting book comprises four short stories featuring North Carolina forensic anthropologist, Temperance “Tempe” Brennan. Tempe is the well-known protagonist of the eighteen novels of the Temperance Brennan series, as well as in the hit television series, Bones.

In the first short story, “Bones in her pocket,” Tempe investigates the bones of a young woman, Edith Blankenship, found in the woods. In “Swamp Bones,” a case leads Tempe to the Everglades of Florida, where human remains are discovered in the stomach of an eighteen-foot Burmese python. In the third short story, “Bones on Ice,” Tempe examines the human bones of a young female climber, found on the top of Mt Everest. The final short story, “First Bones,” is the prequel to Reichs’s first novel, Déjà Dead, and concerns Tempe’s first encounter with her current profession. Instead of pursuing a career in academia, Tempe is pulled into the dark, grisly world of murder and deception after a well-loved physician, Keith Millikan, goes missing.

In reading these short stories, I was drawn to the values that bind Tempe to her work. Her determination to uphold justice through the laboratory is rooted in her belief that her John and Jane Does were once living and breathing, only to have their existence on earth abruptly terminated by people who considered their own lives more important than those of their innocent victims.

Reichs’s writing style boasts a balance between terseness and descriptiveness, reflective of her complex experiences in the field of forensic anthropology. Like Tempe, Reichs subdues the cold objectivity of each forensic case with warm, human empathy. Her concern for all animal and human life on the planet is evident in her notes to the reader, where she reflects on the inspiration of, and meticulous research preparation for, each of her short stories. In her notes, Reichs reveals that she undertook a great deal of research into international and regional law, and branches of zoology such as ornithology and herpetology. The learning process doesn’t stop there; Reichs provides additional links and interesting information to the reader.

For those partial to crime and thriller fiction from the likes of Richard Montanari and John Grisham, this gripping and educational read would make a great summer reading addition.

Reviewed by Azariah Alfante

The Bone Collection
By Kathy Reichs
Published by William Heinemann
ISBN 9781775432784

Book Review: The Rules of Backyard Cricket, by Jock Serong

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_rules_of_backyard_cricketDon’t be deceived by the title…this is not a guide to playing cricket.

Actually, to quote Serong (from an interview with crime writer Sandi Wallace) “It’s a story told in the first person by a guy locked in a car boot, and headed for his own execution.”

From the first passage on the first page, I was drawn into this narrative as into no other. I love a good crime story, yet the structure of this is unusual for the genre. It is a fictional biography of Darren Keefe as he relates his cricket-playing years with his brother Walter, who rises to the top. It’s the tale of him becoming embroiled in a match-fixing scandal as he follows his more talented elder brother through the ranks to national representative level.

The book is entertaining, and a fascinating insight into the workings of the manipulation of players for match-fixing or side gambling. Darren’s fall from grace after a match accident (look for Squiggly) is secondary to his seeming naïvety when choosing friends and what he tells. But he’s content to see Walter rise through the player ranks, remembering how everything they each know about playing they learned together playing in their childhood backyard.

Then, things go seriously wrong, and the finale is awesomely disturbing. I mean, seriously unsettling, disturbing, uncomfortable, and not for the queasy. I loved it.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

The Rules of Backyard Cricket
by Jock Serong
Published by Text Publishing Company
ISBN: 9781925355215

Go…buy…read…enjoy!

WORD: Making it Overseas, with Ben Sanders, Tania Roxborogh and Helen Lowe

Event_Making-it-OverseasAll New Zealand authors dream of making it overseas – these three have. Tania Roxborogh has her historical novel (set in the time of Macbeth) Banquo’s Son in the UK, USA and Asia. Ben Sanders is Auckland-based, and his fourth novel, American Blood, is in the Australian, NZ, US and European markets. Helen Lowe is Christchurch-based, and all of her fantasy books have been published overseas, rather than in New Zealand. They are in the USA, UK, Australia and NZ and European markets.

Lowe was told straight out of the gates, that nobody in New Zealand would publish a fantasy series. After trying to sell her series to publishers in Australia and the USA herself, she gave up (she stopped counting rejections after 15) and realised a full series from an unknown author was too much of a gamble for any publisher to take at that point. She needed to write a stand-alone book. An Australian editor she had spoken to with her series advised her that she should try the US market, and find an agent. In response to a later question about how she found her agent she said – I looked at who the writers who wrote in my genre used: this triangulated at The Writer’s House, so that’s where I started and lucked out. Her new agent sold Thornspell in just three weeks, and the series sold after that, after about 4-5 months. Being published in the US opened up the world.

I had seen Ben Sanders’ rise over the past couple of years and thought he must have just been plucked from obscurity when Warner Brothers saw the unpublished manuscript of American Blood and optioned it. Oh no, it was a bit deeper than that! He had an agent offer to represent him after his first three books were published through HarperCollins NZ, and checked them out before accepting (note to readers: if somebody is offering to sell your book, always check them out first). His agent is through Wordlink. It took three years to get a book accepted, and happened mainly because he met an editor at Pan Macmillan personally while on holiday in New York. He had to set this book in America – hence American Blood, which was published last year in the US.

It took Tania Roxborogh seven years to be an overnight success. Her super-enthusiastic agent came on board in May 2009. It took until October 2014 to have any luck placing the novel with a publisher: by 10 January in 2015 she had a contract, with an advance of $10,000 US. It took a lot of persistence, and a lot of trust on both her agent’s and her part; but she got there!

Things she has learned: the Australian market is more accepting if NZ writers come via the UK publishing houses. And the sales are so much bigger than the NZ market: by the end of its run in 2015, Banquo’s Son had sold 5,600 copies. Internationally within 2 months in the UK market, 9,500 copies had sold. Vanda quipped, “You have finally harnessed the machine.”

All three of our guests have found having an agent essential, though none have experienced the ‘dream agent’ experience. The most helpful things with agents is they know what is being pitched, and they know what is being published by whom. Sanders said his agent was essential to get him contacts in New York. “Having an agent is like any business relationship, you have to go into it with your eyes open”, says Helen Lowe.

Vanda then asked whether being an author from a small country was an impediment to being published overseas. Not really, was the general agreement. Sanders’ Auckland crime novels weren’t picked up internationally until he agreed to ‘Americanise’ them. He is currently doing this, changing ‘petrol stations’ for ‘gas stations’, and the bonus of this is that he can change any errors he finds along the way. Sanders adds, “It’s not just a matter of if the editor says ‘yep I like it’ – that person needs to talk to the Editorial Director, and so on all the way up the commissioning chain.”

For Helen Lowe, she never had to worry about where they are set: she writes Fantasy, set in different worlds. And Thornspell was set in Middle-ish Europe. The US doesn’t even change the language in her books, they just change the spelling. Her UK publisher simply publishes it, US spelling and all, knowing their market doesn’t mind.

Lowe also addressed the idea of self-publication in the Fantasy genre. She thinks this only really works if you already famous: the main thing traditional publishing has over self-publishing is distribution. “And if you are doing it yourself, you will be locked into Amazon’s rights model, possibly not in favourable circumstances.”

This was a fascinating discussion, about something I’d long been curious about. In my day job at Booksellers NZ, I frequently post up announcements about the sales of US / UK rights: now I understand exactly why this is such a fantastic achievement for those hard-working authors that it happens to. Well done to Helen Lowe, Ben Sanders and Tania Roxborogh for being Olympic-class writers!

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

Making it Overseas – Ben Sanders, Helen Lowe and Tania Roxborogh

Daughter of Blood
by Helen Lowe
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356500058

Thornspell
by Helen Lowe
Published by Random House
ISBN 9780375844799

American Blood
by Ben Sanders
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781760291570

Banquo’s Son
by Tania Roxborogh
Published by Thomas & Mercer
ISBN 9781503945821