Tuesday, September 28, 2010


By Brian Jacques

In the search to find cool things to read to the boys at bedtime I took the recommendation of a nephew, and we have just completed Redwall, by Brian Jacques. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, think Wind in the Willows with teeth and swords. We have Matthias and his warrior mice and woodland creatures defending the abbey of Redwall from Cluny the Scourge, an evil rat and his rat and stoat hoards. Throw in an adder named Asmodeussssssss, a mad as a meat axe hare named Basil Stag Hare, and my favourite character of all, a young sparrow called War-beak, a very warlike character who when captured tells every one I killee, I killee you, and it makes for a rollicking adventure. I don't know if it's a good thing but we've been wandering around the house telling each other I killee you, you no lookie and I killee! This is what you get in a crime writer's household.

Next up is Treasure Island...

Monday, September 27, 2010


Mr Ten-year-old made the transition into Mr Eleven-year-old last week, so naturally we had to mark the occasion with a party, and the only reason they get parties is because I like to make cakes! The birthday boy decided he wanted a Mythbusters party theme, which was great because it meant we got to do experiments and do things that went bang. The Coke and Mentos experiment was a bit of a fizzer, but blowing up plastic bags with baking soda and vinegar worked a treat!

For the cake I felt obliged to do mean things to Buster... Birthday boy was amused....

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saints of New York

By R.J. Ellory

New York detective Frank Parrish is a man who has seen a lot of evil and feels bringing criminals to justice is his reason for being. When a drug dealer turns up shot dead Parrish thinks it's a standard homicide. But when the dealer's teenage sister is found strangled to death Parrish realises the stakes are a lot higher. When he notices the similarities between her death and those of other ordinary seeming teenage girls he knows he's on to something big. What they have in common is truly alarming.

Parrish is not what you'd call a team player. His new partner has got his work cut out as Parrish is gruff, rude and not altogether sharing. He's a risk taker who feels he has nothing to lose. He's already on disciplinary for being insubordinate and has been forced to see the police shrink.

Through these sessions we begin to realise Parrish not only gets to live with his own demons, but he has to live in the shadow of his late father, a legendary New York detective who everyone held up as a saint, one of the detectives who brought the mafia under control, but one who Parrish knows was as corrupt as they come.

This novel combines two elements for me - a satisfying crime novel, but also a human drama. We have this internal struggle going on within our character coming to terms with hiss father, and also his family dynamics with a bitter ex-wife and strained relationships with his children. Both elements succeed without overshadowing each other. It makes for a great read- I loved this book and keep thinking about it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Murder at the Vicarage

By Agatha Christie.

Hello to visitors from Mysteries in Paradise Agatha Christie Blog Tour! We're celebrating a month long tribute to Agatha Christie on the 120th anniversary of her birth. Go here to see the other stops on the tour.

Recently Dunedin had the pleasure of Scottish crime writer Val McDermid coming to town. I blogged about the visit, and the fine time I had out to dinner with Val, fellow Dunedin writer Liam MacIlvanney and friends. One of the intriguing things in Val's talk at the Settler's Museum was her recounting books that had influenced her life, and one of those mentioned was Agatha Christie's, The Murder at the Vicarage. Val's family didn't have the luxury of many books at home. The library became Val's lifeline when she was a child, but one of the books they did happen to have at home was Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage. The result of this was that the book became Val's default book when she couldn't find anything else to read. In fact she had lost count of the number of times she had read the book and said she enjoyed it every time. So one has to think Agatha Christie had quite an effect on the one-day-to-be best-selling crime writer.

So, I thought, if it's good enough for Val, I had better see what it was all about...

Oh, the goings on in the little village of St Mary Mead when Colonel Protheroe is shot dead in the Vicarage. Len Clement, the vicar, is appalled that such a thing should happen in his village, let alone in his home. A local artist with a reputation with the ladies promptly confesses to the crime, and then so does the not-so-grieving widow. When the timing shows it couldn't have been either of them, who knows who to believe? In the midst of all this chaos and confusion are the ever vigilant eyes of Miss Jane Marple, one of a quartet of old biddies in the town who know everyone's business. But Miss Marple's skills prove rather valuable.

Oh, the intricacies of this book; clues, red herrings, diversions, coincidences, multiple schemings, I was at a loss until the last few pages. Christie's skill in plotting certainly shows it self in this novel, as do her colourful characters, from the Vicar's much younger and vivacious wife, Griselda, to the ahead of her time Gladys Cram, a young single woman employed as a secretary to a visiting archaeologist and with a penchant for short skirts. I do have to say I was quite surprised at how harsh Miss Marple comes across in The Murder at the Vicarage. This is the first Miss Marple book I have read, and I gather she softens in later novels, but in this one she was really quite bitchy!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I think I'll even have to do a Val and read it again. I'll look out for all the clues with the advantage of foresight.

In a nice little bonus at the end of the novel, the edition I read had an advertisement for my favourite Kiwi girl Ngaio Marsh and her novel The Nursing Home Murder, so happy happy all around.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Book launches are always fun and tonight I got to enjoy the launch of Cloudcatcher into the world. Cloudcatcher is the baby of Sue Wootton and illustrator Carla Braun-Elwert.

A large and jovial crowd packed into the University Book Shop to help Sue and Carla celebrate this gorgeous children's book. Publisher Roger Steele from Steel Roberts added to the festivities. It was also apt there were also plenty of kids enjoying the occasion.
Sue Wootton is best known as a poet, and her skills show in the musicality and flow of words, which roll off the tongue with delight. Cloudcatcher is a book to be read aloud. Mr Bellavista is a proud tomato grower who goes to extremes to keep the sun on his tomatoes. In fact he invents a machine to catch the clouds, with unforeseen results.

The illustrations are beautiful, and it was a special treat to see framed full sized versions of the pictures displayed around the book shop. Made me wish I could take one home.

So congratulations to Sue and Carla. It was a delightful evening celebrating what is a truly beautiful book.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bad Boy

by Peter Robinson

This is Peter Robinson's 19th Detective Chief Inspector Banks novel, and it's the first I have read. I really enjoyed it.

Bad Boy starts with DCI Banks in America on holiday and while he is away all sorts of trouble is brewing on the home front. His daughter's best friend triggers a disastrous series of events when she, in a moment of pique, sneaks off with her boyfriend's gun. He is a very charming and dangerous young man and when Tracy Banks, who fancies him, decides to warn Jaff about the police attention coming his way, she ends up on the run with him.
It all starts out as a bit of thrilling fun for her, off with the bad boy, until it turns deadly serious and he shoots DI Annie Cabot in front of her. Tracy then realises just how bad her bad boy is.
DCI Banks comes back from America to find his partner shot and his daughter on the run and implicated in the crime. It all becomes very personal.
This was a great read, fast paced and with compelling and interesting characters, including a couple of particularly nasty fix-it men. It is one of those stories where you can see the inevitable escalation of events and the slide out of control for the players. There are some very nasty moments, but they are done well.
I have to say I did get a shock when it all wrapped up because of how suddenly it ended, for me a little too soon, but it was still finished in a satisfying kind of way.
It was a good read, and I'll certainly look out for some of Peter Robinson's other novels.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Trick of the Dark

By Val McDermid

Dr Charlie Flint is a psychologist whose career is in tatters and who is under investigation by her professional body after her recommendation sets a killer free to go on and murder four women. She's asked by her former Oxford tutor Dr Corinna Newsome to look into the background of Jay Macallan Stewart, a celebrity memoirist and now lover of her daughter. Newsome's daughter, Magda, has had the unthinkable happen - her husband murdered at their wedding. Newsome can't reconcile herself with the fact her daughter has found solace in the arms of another woman, especially Jay Stewart, another former student.
As Charlie digs into jay's past she starts to find an alarming number of people who stand in Jay's way end up dead.

I thought this was a fabulous novel, beautifully written and full of strong women characters. It's a novel that keeps you guessing. Is Jay Stewart a psychopathic killer? Or is she just unlucky and bad things happen to people around her? The story is told from different character's perspective and also from Jay's memoirs, one she is currently writing and one published which weaves throughout the novel, giving great insight into her character and the truths she's filtering, and adding doubt and confusion for the reader.

It gives a fascinating insight into collegiate times in days gone by in Oxford, McDermid's old stomping ground, so she's gone back to her roots and had fun with it.

I'm a squeamish reader, so I loved that this novel doesn't have blood and gore, but it builds up tension beautifully and as all of the narrators are pretty unreliable and busy deceiving each other, it keeps you guessing. Great read.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

RJ Ellory - Oh how the sparks flew...

Dunedin has had a veritable feast of visiting crime writers in recent weeks. Yesterday it was the turn of British crime writer RJ Ellory. Roger is a writer I've only recently become aware of with his novel A Simple Act of Violence winning the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel Award. He was in Dunedin promoting his novel Saints of New York.

A cosy crowd turned out to hear him talk at the Dunedin City Library, and I have to say it was a real treat to listen to him. Roger is a natural storyteller, and he held everyone captivated with his entertaining and generous answers to our questions. His story of how he came to be published was one of sheer exasperation and pig-headed determination. I think he wins the award for the most rejections received by an author, which means nowadays when he's making a living out of doing what he loves, he gets to have the last laugh. I think that is one of the main things I came away with from the night was his sheer passion and enjoyment of writing.

He said he writes about human drama, and wants his novels to resonate and stay with the reader well after they've finished. He wants his characters to be memorable, real. He certainly achieved that in Saints of New York, a novel I loved and haven't been able to get out of my head.

Naturally I had to get my shameless groupie shot with the author and my book autographed, but I also had the pleasure of getting to pre-record a radio interview with him for the Write On Radio Show. And that is where the sparks flew...

I bowled up to his hotel at 9.00am this morning, armed with Toroa Radio's mini-disc recorder (it's a high tech station, really!) I got it all set up at a table in a quiet corner of the hotel restaurant, Roger rocked up, looking very tolerant for someone who had to get up for an interview at 9.00am on a Saturday morning. I went to hit record...and nothing. Hmmm, it was working a few moments ago, but no, the display had disappeared, and for all intents and purposes the minidisc recorder appeared dead.

I pushed a few buttons;


I gave it a few cautious taps.


Minor humiliation and panic start to set in.

I gave it a hearty slap.

Still nothing.

Mr Ellory looked amused.

Then we started to smell the acrid tang of smoke.


I pick up the power transformer and watched in fascination as pretty electrical arcs spark across the exposed wires where they connected with the box.

At this point self-preservation set in and I pulled the plug out of the wall and looked nervously up at the sprinklers above the table. Thanks god the smoke detectors didn't go off.

Mr Ellory looked very amused at this point.

So alas, no interview. But I did get to have a lovely informal chat about the virtues of Facebook, among other things.

There you go. I now go down in history as the person who did her jolly best to electrocute RJ Ellory!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Write On Radio Show, Wednesday

What a crazy up and down week it has been. The Christchurch earthquake must have been terrifying to experience there, because the shaking was scary enough here in Dunedin! They have announced the cancellation of The Press Christchurch Writer's Festival, and with that, the announcement of the winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime fiction. The organiser is trying to figure out something special for that, so we'll keep you posted.

I'm bummed out that the festival is no longer to be, as I was so excited about it, but I am relieved not to be traveling to Christchurch when they are still getting aftershocks ranking in the 5's on the Richter scale.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is Write On Radio Show Day, which is live on Toroa 1575kHz AM radio in Dunedin at noon, or live streamed from the Toroa Radio website.

Scottish crime writer extraordinaire Val McDermid was recently in Dunedin and I had the pleasure of recording a radio interview with her, as well as doing a spot of socialising. In the interview we talk about her life as a crime writer, as well as her newly released novel Trick of the Dark.

Sue Wootton is best known as a poet and short story writer, but she has now added children's book writer to her list of achievements. We'll talk about her new children's picture book Cloudcatcher, and also her passion for poetry and short fiction.

Listen in!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Emerging for spring air...

Once again, I find myself apologising for being strangely silent on the blog front. So this is me waving my hand around saying hi guys, yes, I'm still alive.

So what's been going on...?

I've been busy putting the finishing touches on the post grad thesis, just about there, just waiting on the last bit of feedback. When it's handed in you'll hear the whoop and hollering of delight from your place!

I'm expecting the edits back on Bound from the publisher any day now. Any thoughts of a week or two off before they arrive has gone out the window!

Found out I'm not going to be the Robert Burns Fellow next year, damn it. Ah well, I'll just keep on applying...

Speaking of keeping on applying... applications for Creative New Zealand funding close on Friday.

I pre-recorded a telephone interview with Peter Robinson about his writing and his new book Bad Boy.

Next week I get to interview RJ Ellory.

I did book reviews for Jim Mora's Critical Mass programme on Radio New Zealand yesterday

The garden is blooming lovely - every spring flower you can imagine. This is the excitement of a new home - seeing what pops up in the garden.

My mum's come to stay on holiday!

And now I'm counting down to next Friday, and the Christchurch Writers Festival, and the announcement of the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime fiction novel! In the meantime I've got to think about the really important questions of life, like what on earth am I going to wear!!!