DWRF 2017 Showcase Gala: Metamorphosis

Although I arrived 20 minutes into the ‘drink and nibbles’ introduction to this event, it was clear upon entering the beautiful Toitu Settlers Museum building that things were pumping. Gala Showcase: Metamorphosis was a sold out event, and the room was packed. When the call was made for the audience to take their seats, the attendees had to make their way from one end of the museum to the other – a canny move as this meant the best of the museum was showcased before the event had even started.

Kate De Goldi emceed this meditation on ‘metamorphosis’ and introduced each author before they responded to a selected book (or books) that embraced this concept. Whilst it was a treat to hear each author give mostly prepared talks on this topic, it was also an excellent ‘taster’ as all authors have further events this weekend.

ian-rankin_5Ian Rankin (left) was the first to speak, and his thoughts centred around metamorphic considerations in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. He talked of how his books were influenced by this one, and shared anecdotes of macabre body snatchers and dichotomous laboratories in the times before bodies could be legally left to science.

Stella Duffy gave an impassioned speech about the power of words and the way they can change readers. She used the touchstones of Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban and Janet Frame’s fiction to explore this concept in her own life. She particularly marveled at the way these texts created music for the reader through words alone – no mean feat.

John Lanchester was softly spoken but exceptionally articulate in explaining the effect the poetry collection Ariel by Sylvia Plath had on him as an 18 year old school leaver. He talked of the way Plath took seemingly nebulous emotions and feelings and nailed them to the page in astonishing ways. His explanation of the literal metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly was beautiful and a fitting metaphorical end to his talk.

hannahkent-2016-credit-lauren-bamford_origThe story Hannah Kent (right, photo Lauren Banford) wove about her school exchange from South Australia to Iceland was atmospheric and gripping. She explained how she felt literature saved her life in the early days of that time, in the dark winter days next to an Icelandic fjord. She talked of how To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf opened up her understanding of what it means to be human, and how, ultimately, this is what people are searching for.

When Bill Manhire stepped up to the microphone few would have expected his choice – The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton – but his exceptional discussion of Blyton’s dreamlike sequences in this selection convinced many of the extraordinary value of transformation in children’s texts.

The night ended with Victor Rodger speaking to his experiences in mid-1980’s Christchurch as a closeted gay, half-Samoan teenager and the moment of reckoning and solace found in Another Country by James Baldwin, the gay, African-American author with anger in his veins. It was great to have Rodgers back in Dunedin, as he almost feels like ‘ours’, having been the Burns Fellow in 2016.

All of these showcased authors have events on this weekend, and, after seeing what was on show tonight, I highly recommend attending. I’m sure you will be in the hands of experts.

Reviewed by Lara Liesbeth

Events with Ian Rankin (also at WORD Christchurch and Auckland Writers Festival)
Events with Stella Duffy  (also at WORD Christchurch and Auckland Writers Festivals)
Events with John Lanchester (also at Auckland Writers Festival)
Events with Hannah Kent
Events with Bill Manhire (also at Auckland Writers Festival)
Events with Victor Rodger


Book Review: Dead Joker, by Anne Holt

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_dead_jokerDead Joker is the fifth of a planned nine books in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series by Norwegian author Anne Holt.

After several years with the Oslo Police department, Holt set up her own law firm then went on to serve as Norway’s Minister for Justice for two years. This background is evident in her writing, as the descriptions of procedures and the frustrations of policing are believable.

Holt grabs the reader’s attention right from the start, when Chief Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen is called in after the wife of Chief Public Prosecutor Sigurd Halvorsrud is found decapitated in the family home. Halvorsrud is covered in blood and his fingerprints are on the weapon, but he claims the murderer was Ståle Salvesen, a man he’d prosecuted years before.

Despite the seemingly overwhelming circumstantial evidence, Wilhelmsen is unconvinced of Halvorsrud’s guilt – until a witness says he saw Salvesen commit suicide by jumping off a bridge, days before the murder.

Dead Joker has a number of stories running alongside the murder that at first seem unconnected – a well-known journalist with a past he takes great care to keep hidden; Halvorsrud’s mentally ill daughter who seems more worried about her father being in jail than the death of her mother; and a reclusive author who cut off his ears when he was 13 – but when a second body is found beheaded while Halvorsrud is on bail, the plot moves into deeper and darker territory.

Just when things start to become clear, another twist is thrown into the mix to muddy the waters. Deciding who is on her side is driving Wilhelmsen crazy, and her superiors are starting to question her ability.

While she and long-term police colleague Billy T. struggle to make sense of all the evidence, Wilhelmsen also has to come to terms with the fact Cecilie, her partner of 20 years, is terminally ill. Who or what will win the battle for her attention?

This fast paced novel is up there with the best crime fiction. Hard to put down, Dead Joker is a great read, with every plot line neatly resolved by the final page. If you enjoy Stieg Larsson, Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham, you will love Anne Holt.

Don’t let the fact this is the fifth book in the series deter you; after reading my first Rankin book (about the eighth he’d written), I went back and read them in order and I also plan to do that with Holt’s books – she’s that good.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Dead Joker
by Anne Holt
Published by Corvus
ISBN: 9780857898142