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Preview: Overkill


Thoughts from the mind of a serial crime writer

Updated: 2018-02-09T17:57:15.324+13:00


Hello Blog, remember me?


Well, it's been a while, dear Blog. I know I have neglected you while I've been concentrating on that other piece of writing - the PhD thesis. But hey, that's almost done and dusted, so you know, er, I'm back... No hard feelings, I hope...

Why crime writers struggle to write theses


This academic writing business is strange. And you'd think that someone who is accustomed to sitting herself down and writing 1000 words a day on a novel would have a distinct advantage when it came to the long haul of writing a thesis. But apparently not! And it is my crime writer side that is struggling the most.

Want to know why? (of course you do, but it was only polite to ask.) As a crime writer it is my goal to surprise you at the end, so you don't know until the last who did the dastardly deed, so that you get that aha moment and you think, of course the clues were all there, but I still didn't see that coming. If I can achieve that aha moment for my readers and I have satisfied them as they turn those last pages, I am a happy gal.

Academic writing is the opposite. Academics don't like surprises. I am supposed to tell them what happens in the first sentence of the paragraph. I am supposed to be upfront about where it is going and guide my readers through my thought processes. Can you imagine how much that grates a crime writer?!!! Every creative urge in my mind fights against it.


Hello world!


I'm resurfacing for air briefly to say, yes, I'm still alive and although I've been noticeably absent from the literary world, I have been very busy in the academic world. Doing a PhD seemed like such a good idea at the time, but now I am down to the business end of things, writing up a thesis, I have discovered like most writing projects, it consumes your life. But that's OK, all means to an end.

On the plus side, from an author's perspective I have come across fantastic material to use in my novels, and have a list of ideas for more Sam Shephard novels, psychological thrillers and also a children's novel that insists on getting my attention.

So hello world, I'm still here, I'm just a little distracted...

Wake by Elizabeth Knox


(image) Wake

By Elizabeth Knox

Elizabeth Knox is the very popular New Zealand Author of books such as The Vintner's Luck, Billie's Kiss, the Dream Hunter books and very recently Mortal Fire. In Wake she ventures into the territory of horror, and rips into it from the opening pages. It is one of the more spectacularly gory starts to a book I have read, when what is best described as a mass insanity overtakes the small settlement of Kahukura, near Nelson, and the residents set about destroying one another. Disturbing and blood-thirsty as this start is, it perfectly sets the scene, and the horrified, scared and bewildered mindset of the small number of survivors. They find themselves physically trapped within the town and its surrounds by a mysterious force field they call the no-go. They are completely cut off from the outside world, have no idea what they are up against, what caused the others to become homicidal, and if it is over. With bodies everywhere and the risk of disease that have to set about dealing with the dead while also taking care of the differing needs of the living.

Wake provides a window into the way people cope with crisis or don't cope, as the case may be. They are a diverse bunch of people, from a police officer and a nurse, to a DOC worker worried about her kakapo, a man in mourning for his wife murdered in the first wave, a woman who seems to have split personalities, a lawyer, a teenager, a mother & daughter. Add into the mix the realisation that they are trapped in this town, trapped with something, something invisible that is playing them, picking at them, unraveling them. And there is the mystery man, the man in black, who they are unsure is a friend or foe.

I found this to be a cracker of a book that had me staying up way too late at night. It combines perfectly horror, science fiction and psychological thriller with human drama. Elizabeth Knox throws these characters into a seemingly hopeless and unsolvable situation and picks away at them, unraveling them until they distill down and we see who fades and who finds strength.

Because of its graphic beginning I think this is a book that will divide opinion. But I for one, after getting over the shock of that, loved it. It showed how humanity can flourish or fade under adversity and also the extremes people will go to to survive or to protect others. It is superbly written, but above all else, it is a great story.

The Farm by Tom Robb Smith


(image) The Farm

By Tom Robb Smith

The Farm is an interesting thriller. Daniel gets a panicked and tearful call from his father Chris to say his mum is sick, mentally sick, that she'd been committed to a mental institution near where they live on a farm in Sweden, but had convinced the doctors to discharge her and she's gone missing. He warns that if she turns up at Daniel's home in London, that she is unwell and saying all sorts of false things, making accusations, and not to believe her.
Then Daniel gets the call from his mother, Tilde. She is at Heathrow, he  must pick her up. He finds her there, calm, lucid, fearful and she insists on telling her story, step by step, from the first days of their retirement to Sweden and the farm, to the slow unraveling and sinister details of the conspiracy to cover up a crime - a crime she says Daniel's father is somehow involved with.
So we have Daniel caught in the middle. Does he believe his father - that Tilde is psychotic and that all this evidence she is building is all in her head and that she's making something out of nothing? Or does he believe his mother - the woman before him with her bag full of her evidence, calmly and systematically building up the chain of events? It is an awful situation for Daniel to be in and ultimately he has to make a decision - who does he believe?
The Farm is an unusual book. It's structure is quite different to any I've read before and it slowly builds up tension. As the reader you are listening to Tilde tell her story, and sometimes you think what she is saying is palusable, then at other times you question if she is a reliable narrator, and you can't make up your mind. It is a book that is quietly dark and brooding and because of that I wasn't quite sure what I thought of it.
I tend to love a book or hate a book, and this one left me somewhere in between. I'm definitely glad I read it, but I am uncertain as to where it sits on my spectrum of enjoyment. I guess you'll have to make up your own mind...



(image) I'm a gal of ceremony, I like the little rituals that make things special - frilly tea, clinking a wine glass and proposing a toast. I always look forward to New Year's eve - that roll over from one year to the next. Sure, it may be an arbitrary second, ticking over to the next, same as any other, but for me there is something cathartic about waving ta-ta to one year and welcoming the next. This year, it was quite frankly, a relief.

2013 was a very challenging year. It was a year of recovery and one I never felt I got on top of. Recovering from the snapped achilles, and then dealing with a monster DVT (ugh, injecting yourself in the belly with heparin is no fun, and warfarin...shudder) left me feeling life was a bit adrift, and made me realise I was mortal after all!

So on New Year's Eve, when the clock struck midnight and the fireworks lit up the sky, one of the biggest cheers was from me, saying good riddance 2013, rock on 2014, and my big resolution for the year... to have more fun!

The Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction ... Finalist!


(image) I'm rapt with the news The Faceless has been names as a finalist in the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction.

My fellow finalists for the award this year are:

Paul Thomas - Death on Demand
Paul Cleave - The Laughterhouse
Julian Novitz - Little Sister

The winner will be announced on the 2nd of December.

Here's the link to the official announcement via Beattie's Book Blog.

(image) It is brilliant that the New Zealand crime fiction award bears the name of Ngaio Marsh. As you all know, I'm a bit of a fan of Ngaio's and feel extraordinarily proud to be a finalist.

Where the Dead Men Go, by Liam McIlvanney


(image) Where the Dead Men Go

By Liam McIlvanney

Journalist Gerry Conway is back at the Glasgow Tribune three years after losing his job courtesy of a story gone bad and a fall from grace. This time he is stranded reporting politics while his former underling, Martin Moir is the paper's top crime reporter. But when Moir goes missing and then turns up dead in his car in the bottom of a flooded quarry Conway and Moir's widow aren't convinced by the police conclusion of suicide. Conway embarks on a mission to find the truth and look into the stories Moir had been investigating.

Liam McIlvanney has swapped the wilds of Scotland for the wilds of Dunedin to take up the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand, but despite residing on the other side of the world makes full use of his knowledge of his old stomping ground and the politico-social environment of Glasgow. Where the Dead Men Go combines the pressing issues facing the city - the upcoming Commonwealth Games, the Scottish referendum on independence and the politics surrounding them and throws in a dose of organised crime to produce an edgy and relevant thriller. Gerry Conway is a hugely appealing character and with the story told in first person, his head space is a great place to occupy.

I thoroughly enjoyed Liam's first novel, All the Colours of the Town, and I enjoyed Where the Dead Men Go even more. Highly recommended.

Kathy Reichs in the Antipodes


I had the great pleasure of interviewing Kathy Reichs for the Dunedin leg of her tour of Australia and New Zealand promoting her latest Temperance Brennan novel Bones of the Lost. What fun, getting to be in the hot seat asking all the questions of a woman whose work I hugely admire. Kathy was brilliant to interview, warm, witty and generous with her stories. We covered her professional life as a forensic anthropologist, the Tempe Brennan novels, Bones TV series and the perils of working with your children, as well as the new book. An hour went very quickly!

(image) I also reviewed Bones of the Lost on National radio recently - here is the review:

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If I Tell You I'll Have To Kill You


(image) If I Tell You I'll Have to Kill You.

Australian's leading crime writers reveal their secrets

Edited by Michael Robotham

This book gives open access to the writing lives of 21 of Australia's leading crime writers. They share a look into their writing world, from beginnings, to what drove them to crime, to their day to day writing lives. Each writer tackles their brief in a different way, so you get many different viewpoints and such a range of backgrounds, tips, stories and inspirations. Each writer also gives their rules of writing and five books they would recommend.

I love books like this. As a writer I love peeking into other writer's worlds, satisfying my nosiness at how others approach their writing, and discovering they have just the same fears and worries as everyone else. There are stories of triumphs, trials, hard slog and laughter.

We get to see how far some writers go in the name of research, for example Tara Moss, who wanted to know what it felt like to be choked unconscious, so she could describe what Mak was feeling, so arranged for a professional fighter to oblige.

I love the quirky things you find out, such as Kerry Greenwood, writer of the Phryne Fisher series, now televised, having a tricorne writing hat, so everyone knows she is writing and do not disturb.

One of my favourite bits was Lenny Bartulin talking about not taking yourself too seriously, and relating how his four year-old was asked what does daddy do, and he said 'typing.'

This is a great book that will appeal to lovers of crime fiction and to those who want to write. It has great tips and stories and is uplifting and funny. A must read.

I reviewed this on National Radio on 13 August. The link is here.

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The Ghost Riders of Ordebec


(image) By Fred Vargas

I reviewed this novel on National Radio today.

Fred Vargas is a French novellist who is a historian and archaeologist. I'd have to say she is one of my favourite writers. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec is her latest novel featuring Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg, who is known for his vague and drifting style of detection where he observes and lets his sub-conscious do a lot of the processing until ping, he sees the connections.

Adamsberg is based in Paris, but this case pulls him to the village or Ordebec, where a young woman has a vision of the legendary ghost riders whose visitations over the centuries have been associated with death. Sure enough, the death toll starts to mount. This case also intertwines with a high profile case in Paris where a rich businessman is burned alive in his car and all the evidence points to Mo, a young man with an arson habit, but of course, all is not what it seems.

Fred Vargas finds the most intriguing people as characters in her novels, and this is no different. From Adamsberg's colleagues - Danglard with his encyclopaedic knowledge of everything but a weakness for wine, to Retancourt, an amazonian woman they are all in awe of and slightly afraid of. There is a recovering pigeon, and a pivotal role for Zerk, the adult son Adamsberg only became aware of weeks before. We see the interplay of these two people making acquaintance with each other, while seeing they are from the same mold.

Some readers may find Adamsberg's unusual, mildly eccentric, go with the flow method of crime solving annoying, but I really enjoy it, and combined with great storytelling and a colourful cast of characters, it made for a great read.

The John Lennon Letters


(image) Edited and with introduction by Hunter Davies.

John Lennon is known as many things, a Beatle, musician, singer songwriter, poet, artist, peace activist, and this beautiful volume brings to life all of the different aspects of this man through his letters. He wrote a lot, and still took the time to hand write notes and replies to fans when well on the road to fame. Hunter Davies has tracked down letters written by Lennon from collectors, fans and relatives, as as illustrated in his introduction, it wasn't an easy search. The word letters is used very loosely as the book also includes everything from post cards to lists, forms he filled and play lists.

As well as giving a biography of John Lennon across defined periods of time, Davies also gives the story behind the letter, who it was to and the context in his life. Some are short, many sharp, and some, especially correspondence to Paul and Linda McCartney during difficult times is emphatic. The letters to Apple Music give insight into the music business. You get to see the undercurrents from inside The Beatles.

All of this correspondence is absolute gold. In this modern age of twitter, Facebook and email, this kind of material for the current cop of stars will be rare, which is a great shame. From the handwriting, scrawlings, crossings out and doodling of John Lennon you get a sense of the man as a person, a real human human being. It really does illustrate the power of the pen, in every sense.

I loved this book. Not only is it a beautiful object, it gives a unique insight into the life of a fascinating man.

Janet lurking down dark alleyways...


Dunedin has some pretty cool alleyways, many adorned with great murals. I've been out of action for a while courtesy of the Achilles tendon snap, so when I finally got into town to one of my favourite watering holes, Nova Cafe, I was delighted to find a very large portrait of Janet Frame in the alleyway next door.


I like the way she is spotlit to look angelic.

Retail Therapy


Because sometimes life throws you curve balls, and you just need to shop...

Write On Radio Show day


Tomorrow (Wednesday) is Write On Radio Show day and in this summer holiday show I will be replaying two interviews from 2012; with Scottish Crime Writer Ian Rankin, who I caught up with on his November tour promoting his new book Standing in Another Man's Grave, and Dunedin writer Maxine Alterio, chatting about her novel Lives We Leave Behind.

(image) If you are blessed enough to live in Dunedin you can listen in at noon on Otago Access Radio on 105.4 FM, or if you are elsewhere on the planet, the show is streamed live from their website here.

Congratulations - Diane Brown ONZM


(image) I had a very pleasurable time yesterday afternoon at Diane Brown and Philip Temple's home to celebrate her receiving a New Year's ONZM honour for her services to literature. I know I have benefited greatly from Diane's services.

Way back when I was a budding writer but had no idea what I wanted to write I did an extramural creative writing course with the New Zealand Institute of Business Studies. I was very fortunate to have Diane as my tutor, and she was one of these fabulous tutors who told you the truth! My poetry was overdone, my short stories too flowery, but she enjoyed my long prose work and offered lots of constructive criticism that set me a great foundation for my writing career.

When I had the fabulous but terrifying experience of actually getting a publishing contract for my first novel, Overkill, Diane and Philip were kind enough to sit down with me and go through the contract, pointing out potential barbs but also explaining what the whole thing meant. That was hugely reassuring at an exciting but daunting time.

Diane has given so much to writers in New Zealand, nationally through the NZSA and also at an individual level, taking so many under her wing. Congratulations, Diane, your honour is so richly deserved!

Judging the best of NZ books...


(image) I was extremely chuffed when I was invited to apply to be a judge for the NZ Post Book Awards for 2013, and delighted when I was confirmed, and then totally flabbergasted when the reality of 121 books arrived with the courier (who made the wry comment that these would keep me out of trouble for a while) The knowledge that more books were to arrive in March made my eyes bulge even more.

The family thought it was like Christmas, and had a wonderful time exploring the boxes, pulling books out going ooh, look at this, and wow - look at that. I had a little sit down!

So I have the exciting and daunting task of selecting the best fiction, poetry, non-fiction and illustrated non-fiction that New Zealand produced in 2012/13.

My fellow judges are:

John Campbell - convenor
Bernadette Hall
Guy Somerset
Paora Tibble

We are a diverse bunch of passionate book lovers. It's going to be a fun ride!

Lives We Leave Behind.


(image) Lives We Leave Behind.

By Maxine Alterio.

The First World War has been the theatre of many novels and in Lives We Leave Behind, Maxine Alterio brings to life the stories of the nurses through the eyes and lives of New Zealand Nursing Sisters Meg Dutton and Addie Harrington. These two women come from very different backgrounds and have little in common apart from their nursing, yet through the trials or war and all it brings they form a firm friendship.

The story takes us from Wellington, and the anticipation of what is to come, to Egypt on the hospital ship Maheno, into the harshness and realities of war in Egypt and France. The author doesn't hold back on the awful effects of war, from the injuries inflicted upon the soldiers and the harsh conditions in which medical staff were having to provide miracles as well as dealing with the psychological effects on people and the vast amount of death. She does it in a way that is eye-opening, but not grim, as we experience it all through these very different women - Meg who wears her heart on her sleeve and Addie, who is quiet and introspective and finds solace in her books. We see how war changes them, and how love and relationships flourish and suffer in such unforgiving surroundings.

The short sections jump and pull you along, giving a sense of the turmoil and rapid changes thrown at them. They are also interspersed with short segments about the women written from the perspective of the men around them. I thought these weren't necessary as the women's stories conveyed the men's impressions already.

I found this a very rewarding read. At times harrowing, at times very sad, but overarching all of this, the warmth and spirit of the women shone through.

Lives We Leave Behind brings a valuable perspective of war through the eyes of the nurses and is a book I really enjoyed and recommend. 

The Search for Anne Perry


The Search for Anne Perry

By Joanne Drayton

Anne Perry is known as a best-selling writer of historic crime fiction. In 1994 the revelation that she was, in fact, Juliet Hulme, the teenager who along with Pauline Parker was convicted for murdering Pauline's mother, shocked the world and turned Anne's new life upside down. Anne Perry was understandably cautious when it came to allowing interviews, especially as most focused on the murder, so it was an absolute coup for New Zealand writer Joanne Drayton to gain permission to write this biography and have the opportunity to spend time with Anne. The result, in my opinion, is a fascinating insight into the woman and her writing.

Drayton has approached the work as a biography of Perry's writing, weaving in the events of her childhood, illness, the murder and her imprisonment in a way that neither sensationalises nor minimises it, and that lets the reader see how Anne Perry expressed elements of her past through her characters and writing. In this biography we see her all-consuming friendship with Pauline Parker and the events that lead up to that fateful day. We also see how she rebuilt her life in another identity, how vital her novel writing was to that and the impact of her past life being revealed and fears of how people would now perceive her.

I found The Search for Anne Perry to be a fascinating and sensitive biography, but also one that asked and answered the hard questions.

Well heeled...or not


Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Mine came while fencing at the National Champs in Christchurch, in the women's teams gold medal match, I was fencing the Commonwealth champion, we were in the lead when...SNAP...good bye Achilles tendon.

An operation and an enormous plaster cast later I find my self laid up for the next 6 weeks, and then the long road of rehab.

So what am I going to do for all that time, going stir crazy on the sofa, not being allowed to be up and about? Got a few ideas and they involve a lot of catching up on reading, and writing (woohoo - perfect opportunity to concentrate on the new novel) and some blogging. I know I've been very slack of late, life has been insanely busy, but I now find myself forced to slow down and given a chance to catch up on a few things I have neglected.

Pretty dramatic way of getting a break!

All the best, Bill...


On Saturday night I had the pleasure of mixing and mingling with friends and booky people at the University Book Shop for Bill Noble's retirement do. It was great to see the affection and esteem everyone held for Bill and what he has achieved as a book seller.

Bill Noble talking to his adoring crowd.

Anyone who reads this blog will now I loooove the University Book Shop - it's my home away from home, and Hubby reckons I must be a shareholder by now, because I spend way too much money in there. I love UBS because it is a fabulous book shop - I'll often pop in just to breathe the books, and I love UBS because it is so supportive of its local writers. The fabulous staff recommend our books, and they have a big table, right in front of the door where everyone who walks in has to trip over the NZ latest releases. I've loved having my book launches there - they let you drink wine and eat food amongst the books! (They say the wine loosens people's wallets) They look after me so well.

So farewell, Bill. Thanks for everything! And looking forward to UBS with a new captain at the helm.

Christchurch Writers' Festival


Wow, what a wonderful event the Christchurch Writers' Festival was. Big bouquets to the organisers for putting on a fabulous event. I enjoyed sitting in on several sessions, and then had my moment on the stage for The Great Crime Debate on Saturday night (great fun!)(my team lost, but we lost with style) and then nervously awaiting the announcement of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction novel. Alas, I didn't come away with the trophy, huge congratulations to Neil Cross, who won the big one with his novel Luther: The Calling. You can read all about the event at Crime Watch. I had a great time catching up with friends, and meeting new ones, and came away with very find memories of Christchurch.

Must go pack my bag...Hubby and I are off for our first ever overseas trip together - San Francisco here we come!!!!

The End of The Wasp Season


(image) The End of the Wasp Season 

by Denise Mina

I had the pleasure of meeting Scottish crime writer Denise Mina at the Wellington Festival of the Arts this year, so when I read that The End of the Wasp Season had just won the Theakston's Old Peculier Best Crime Book Award I had to go buy a copy. Theakston's Old Peculier is a beer, by the way, and the award trophy is a miniature beer barrel!

Glaswegian Mina is renowned for her depiction of the mean streets of Glasgow, much like Rankin with Edinburgh, and I can see why. In this book her series character Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow is investigating the brutal murder of a young woman in her own home in a wealthy Glasgow suburb. Alex not only has to deal with a very nasty crime, where she feels her colleagues don't care enough about the victim, but also departmental politics and the fact she is rather pregnant with twins.

From the outset the reader knows the crime was committed by two teenagers from a very posh private school, but Mina cleverly weaves in their stories, making the reader sympathetic towards them, and she also weaves in plenty of twists and tangles along the way. When I started reading this book I thought it rather grim and wondered if I could hack it, but I was soon drawn in and captivated by the characters.

Denise Mina is fabulous at describing the social classes, inviting you into their homes, seeing how they live, breathe and tick, from the poor, hardworking and genuinely caring but with everything stacked against her single mum of four teenagers, to the over-privileged but emotionally bankrupt Lars Anderson and how his suicide leaves his already broken family in tatters.

I thought this book was fabulous, and especially thought the way the author made us empathise with the good and the evil was incredibly well done. I can see why it won the beer barrel.

Bound - Ngaio Marsh Award finalist


(image) The finalists have been named for the 2012 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, and I am delighted to say Bound is among them!

The finalists are:

Bound by Vanda Symon
Collecting Cooper by Paul Cleave
Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross
By Any Means by Ben Sanders

For more information visit Crime Watch.

The award to the winner will be presented at the Christchurch Writers Festival on the 1st of September...


Fate & Philosophy


(image) Fate & Philosophy

By Jim Flynn

Emeritus Professor Jim Flynn brought us The Torchlight List a couple of years ago - his recommended reading list to give a broad taste of literature, and life. Fate & Philosophy is the second book in what is to be his Modern World , the purpose of which is to get people to think about their place in the world. Flynn hasn't taught philosophy but is passionate about it and sees it as very personal. So this book very much reflects his beliefs, but also gives an overview of the beliefs of others. As he puts it in one chapter,

'Today is my seventy-seventh birthday, so it has taken me sixty-five years to replace Catholicism with a personal philosophy I can live with.'

In the book he looks at the big questions such as 'what is good?' Is it moral reality or language that tells us what is good, or economics, or ourselves? 'What is possible?' 'What exists?' And what tells us what exists? Religion? Science? Instruments? Or our own sensory experience? Does God exist?

In writing this book Flynn is trying to get us to think beyond what we have been told or brought up to believe by our parents, or religion, or society. To question what we thoughtlessly accept.

I did not find it an easy read, in fact for me there was quite a bit of mental gymnastics and re-reading required - but that probably says more about me than the book. I have no background in philosophy and a little knowledge would have been handy. In saying that, I am glad I read this book, in fact I will re-read it to help digest some of the argument. In this reader Jim Flynn has certainly achieved his aim, in getting me to think more about my perceptions of the world and my place in it. An interesting and challenging read.