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

Book Review: Black Water-lilies, by Michel Bussi

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_black_water_liliesMichel Bussi writes French detective novels, some of which have been translated into English. He is one of France’s bestselling writers of this genre. Black Water Lilies was first published in French in 2011 as Nympheas Noirs.

A widow who sees everything but whom no one sees narrates part of this book. She observes and stores the information she sees. As she watches the people in this small close knit community she manages to merge into the local landscape, to remain almost invisible. A dog Neptune is her only companion. We are told that the story will cover 13 days, and will begin and end with a murder.

In the village of Giverney, where the artist Claude Monet lived and painted his famous water lily pictures, a body is found face down in a stream. The strange thing is that cause of death is not necessarily as it seems. The body may have been moved. Why did it have a gash to the skull with the head under the water, and a wound to the heart? Did he drown or did he die from the blow to the head or the cut from the blade? The victim is local bigwig Jerome Morval, a well-known ophthalmologist. Inspector Laurenc Serenac and Inspector Sylvio Benavides are between them, investigating Morval’s death.

Jerome Morval had been born and grown up in the village and was married to a local girl Patrica Cheron and appears on the surface to have had a happy marriage. He came back to Giverney after he had finished his medical studies. Morval also had a roving eye and was not averse to flirting with a pretty woman. The two inspectors visit the widow showing her a postcard with the typed message “ELEVEN YEARS OLD. HAPPY BIRTHDAY” with some strange words underneath: “The crime of dreaming, I agree to its creation.” The postcard had been found in one of her husband’s pockets. Patricia has never seen the postcard before and has no idea what the words mean.

An envelope is delivered to the police station with 5 photographs in it. Jerome Morval is present in every one but none of the women in the photos are his wife. The only woman that is able to be identified is the local school teacher Stephanie Dupain. The detectives have to follow every possible lead from trying to ascertain whose boots belong to the footprint recovered from the crime scene and if a jealous lover or husband has committed the crime.

The story then becomes rather muddied. We find ourselves following a story-line of the village children; Fanette a young talented artist and her friends Camille, Vincent and Mary. I initially couldn’t understand where this part actually fitted into the story, but then, the penny dropped. This is a book you really have to think about. The past and the present become intertwined. The ending is shocking.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Black Water-lilies
by Michel Bussi
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN 9781474601757

Book Review: The Trap, by Melanie Raabe

cv_the_trapAvailable now at bookshops nationwide.

It’s no surprise to hear that Melanie Raabe won the Stuttgarter Krimipreis (Stuttgart Crime Prize) for best crime debut of the year for her novel, The Trap.

Twelve years ago Linda Conrad’s sister Anna was brutally murdered. Linda swears she saw the killer’s face as he escaped but he was never identified or caught. Despite being a successful author, her sister’s death affected her so badly that she became a recluse, refusing to step foot outside her home or give interviews. She’s never forgotten the killer’s face though, and one night she recognises him – he is by now a well-known journalist – when he appears on television.

She can’t let go of her belief he killed Anna, so she decides to set a trap for him the only way she knows how, writing a thriller called Blood Sisters about the unsolved murder of a young woman. The book is a departure from her usual style and her publisher thinks she risks alienating her regular readers, but Linda is determined to go ahead.

When the book is completed, she grants just one interview, which comes with strict conditions. It will take place in her home, and the man whose face she has etched on her memory must be be the interviewer.

The Trap is a unique crime novel that had me almost skim-reading it because I was so impatient to find out what happened next. It is incredibly fast-paced and very well written. While I was sceptical of the plot at first, Raabe managed to make the story believable and right up to the last few pages I was still not sure who had murdered Anna. Was it the journalist? Or had Linda murdered her own sister and blocked out that fact, inventing the fantasy of a mysterious killer to cover her tracks?

Two stories run parallel in The Trap – each features two sisters, a police officer, and a murderer – varying slightly in the details. I thought this would make it difficult to follow, but very early in the book I realised it worked perfectly, giving the reader time to digest the nuances of each separate story before the next chapter (or instalment).

Raabe apparently wrote her novel in secret while working as a journalist in Cologne. If The Trap is an example of how well she writes, I sincerely hope she continues. Film rights to the novel have been acquired by TriStar Pictures (a division of Sony Pictures): further proof of how good this book really is.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

The Trap
by Melanie Raabe
Published by Text
ISBN 9781925240870

Book Review: Private Paris, by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

cv_private_parisAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

A piece of tagging, appearing anywhere and everywhere among the streets of Paris, seems innocuous enough…its meaning obtuse, but not overtly offensive; more a puzzle, really, or a code, with no meaning – yet. Not exactly a top priority for either the Paris La Crim force or the Private, Paris agency.

Jack Morgan arrives in Paris from Berlin, but what was a routine office visit becomes a case involving Kimberley, a missing girl, possibly kidnapped, who may or may not want to be found.

While tracing Kimberley, Jack discovers Paris’s hidden world of crime, murder, cultural clashes, arms trading – all among the idolatry of its cultural icons of the arts, fashion and culinary expertise. The missing girl’s case becomes secondary to a world of pseudo-terrorism, and Kimberley is pivotal to both.

There are many characters for the reader to keep track of as they come and go, but the plot easily meshes together all the elements of an incredible conspiracy. This is the eleventh of the Private series, another I’ll have to pick back up from number one, and was written with Mark Sullivan.

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Private Paris
by James Patterson
Published by Century, for Penguin Random House
ISBN:  9781780892795