Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave

Publisher: Random House, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-86325-598-1

First line: Blue fingernails.

Christchurch private investigator Theodore Tate is attending the exhumation of a man who died two years before. Suddenly bubbles appear on the surface of the small lake in the middle of the cemetery, and several bodies slowly rise to the surface.

When the exhumed coffin is opened, it does not contain the expected occupant. And as the identities of the lake bodies are established, their graves are dug up to reveal further unexpected corpses. Could this be the work of the Christchurch Carver who has been terrorising the city for the past two years, or is there another serial killer on the loose?

The cemetery caretaker has disappeared, and Tate is sure that the priest of the little church next to the cemetery knows a lot more than he is willing to say. The police try to warn Tate away from the investigation, but his curiosity is aroused, and he can’t help but delve deeper and puts his own life in danger as a result. He steps on a number of toes in the process, and even his sympathisers in the police force begin to tire of his interference.

Tate is an intriguing, but very flawed character. A former police officer, who left the force under a cloud, he is still dealing with the consequences of the accident, caused by a drunk driver, which destroyed his family. He drinks heavily, is hardly coping with life, and for much of the book seems bent on self- destruction. The reader shifts between feeling great sympathy for Tate, and utter frustration with him. There are moments of great poignancy, particularly in the scenes with his severely brain damaged wife, when we get a glimpse of the person Tate used to be. There are also moments of incredible stupidity!

Cleave’s Christchurch is a much darker and nastier place than the Christchurch of the tourist brochures. The action is centred on the cemetery and adjacent church, mostly amid swirling mists in the dead of night, creating a very atmospheric mood. There is plenty of suspense in this book, although there is a section in the middle where the plot goes off on a bit of a tangent and the story loses its focus a little. However, it’s not long before things get back on track as we head to the thrilling conclusion.

Cemetery Lake is Cleave’s third book, after The Cleaner and The Killing Hour. It is an exciting thriller, and I look forward to Paul Cleave’s next offering.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Crime and Justice Festival - Sunday

After a two dog night* at Karen's, Sunday started (not so) bright and too early, but after a reviving shot of caffeine, we were ready for our very full day.

A Conversation with Peter Temple. A great start to the day with Temple discussing a wide range of topics from his start as a journalist and editor to his writing crime novels. He had many amusing anecdotes about agents, publishers and dealing with film and television producers. One tale was about finding a publisher who loved his first Jack Irish novel and wanted to publish it, except could he maybe just get rid of the football, and the cabinet making, oh, and the horse racing too. After doing this there would have no book left! Luckily he found another publisher who genuinely loved the book as it was. The good news is he said he's in the final stages of his follow up book to The Broken Shore, and it should be available early next year.

Matters of Procedure with P.D. Martin, Garry Disher and Barry Maitland. All the authors write police procedural novels, or in the case of Phillipa Martin, an FBI procedural. They discussed the methods they used to get their stories to ring true, while avoiding getting bogged down in boring detail. They discussed the research they did (or didn't do) to get their facts right, with Martin showing an impressive range of large reference books she uses to help with the authenticity of her books.

Writing from Life with Leigh Redhead, Angela Savage and Dorothy Johnston. Three very interesting women discussed how their own life experiences have influenced their writing. They all have a background in the sex industry in one way or another. Redhead talked about her days as a stripper, and how she created Simone Kirsch because she wanted to write a book that gave an accurate picture of women in the sex industry, and not as the victims they are usually shown as. Johnston uses her personal knowledge of brothels, particularly the most recent book, Eden. Savage has spent many years as an HIV health worker in a number of Asian countries. Her books feature a female private investigator in Thailand.

Nigel Latta's Darklands. This session was a last minute substitution after the original one we'd booked was cancelled. And what a great session it was! Latta is a forensic psychologist based in Dunedin New Zealand, and his stories of some of the cases he's had to deal with were mind boggling, horrific and hilarious all at the same time. He has a wonderfully dry sense of humour that obviously helps him cope with these difficult cases. His book, Into to the Darklands, has been made into a television series, which has apparently recently been bought by an Australian network. So hopefully we'll get to see it before too long.

Trivia Quiz. The last session of weekend was a crime fiction trivia quiz. There was a disappointing turn out for this, with just the four of us (Karen and her other half, Sunnie and myself). This obviously gave us very good odds for a win, but it would have been more fun with a larger group of participants. Amazingly Sunnie, Karen and I tied for first place. The prize was a large box of books worth several hundred dollars. We carted the winner's spoils off home and proceeded to divide up the goodies between us. Here is a picture of my haul for the weekend - it includes a couple of books that were not part of the prize winnings.

With that, sadly, the Festival was over for this year. We all went home feeling quite elated after a terrific weekend. Thanks to Karen for her wonderfully warm hospitality and to her, her hubby, and Sunnie for the great company.

*Australian bushie expression indicating a very cold night, and yes it was a very cold night (this is Melbourne in the middle of winter after all), but I also mean that Karen's two Australian terriers decided Aunty Helen's bed was the place to be, and spent both nights clamped to my side. They were deliciously warm and the three of us slept soundly all night.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Crime and Justice Festival - Saturday

Back from Melbourne after a fabulous weekend attending the inaugural Crime and Justice Festival. A similar event held last year was the forerunner to this festival. What could be better than spending a weekend immersed in crime fiction, surrounded by like-minded souls (well ok, I could probably think of one or two things that might be better!)

The Festival was held at the lovely old Abbotsford Convent, whose history includes being a home for orphans and 'fallen women'. On arrival, almost the first thing I saw was a sign pointing to the Magdalen Laundry which immediately made me think of Ken Bruen's terrific book 'The Magdalen Martyrs', and made me sincerely hope that conditions here weren't as bad as those he depicted in his book.

The organisers at Reader's Feast Bookstore put together a marvellous programme and should be congratulated. The hour break between sessions gave plenty of time to talk to authors, get books signed or get some nourishment at one of the cafes or the bar. Although attendee numbers were not high, they were quite reasonable for a first time. Hopefully publicity and word of mouth will boost attendance next year. The small numbers helped make the whole event more relaxed and friendly than any other literary festival I've attended. Authors hung around before and after their sessions, attended other authors' sessions, hung around the bookstore and chatted with readers, and were happy to sign books at any time.

The following reports on the sessions are from memory (as appalling as it is), as I took no notes. The sessions we attended on Saturday were:

Keeping it Local with Leigh Redhead, Garry Disher and Jarad Henry. The three authors all set their books in Melbourne and surrounds where they also all live. They talked about how Melbourne inspires their crime writing - it's architecture, it's atmosphere and it's weather were all integral to their stories and their characters. It was felt that if they had set their stories anywhere else they would be very different books. Leigh Redhead is the author of three books in the Simone Kirsch, ex-stripper PI, series. Garry Disher is the author of too many books to mention, most recently the Challis and Destry police procedurals. Jarad Henry is a new author with his second book featuring Detective Rubens McCauley published recently.

Crime and Verse with Dorothy Porter. Porter is the author of numerous books of poetry including two crime verse novels, The Monkey's Mask and El Dorado. One thing she mentioned was the unexpected connection between crime fiction and poetry, about how many crime authors have a passion for poetry, and vice versa. And, as the weekend progressed, we noted a number of the other authors mentioning their love of poetry.

Spotlight on Declan Hughes. Irish author, Hughes was hugely entertaining as he spoke on all manner of topics including his life as a playwright, the frustrations of screenwriting, and what led him to writing crime fiction. He got quite worked up at times, having to stop himself at one point before he got too carried away. :) One of the interesting things he said was that crime fiction brings the high and the low of society together, and this is what makes it fascinating. He is the author of three books in the Ed Loy series.

Crime and Humour with Lenny Bartulin, Robert Gott and Leigh Redhead. This session explored the wit and humour present in many crime novels, whether they are deliberately funny or just use the incidental humour that forms part of our everyday lives.
Lenny Bartulin is a new author with his first book, A Deadly Business, published earlier this year. Written in the style of the old noir hard-boileds it has a hero and a femme fatale, and lots of dry humour. His protagonist, Jack Susko, is a second-hand bookseller who gets mixed up with with a wealthy family's deadly doings.
Robert Gott is the author of three books in the William Power ("dickhead hero") series. According to Gott, the humour in his books comes from the fact that his hero is so completely self-centred that he genuinely has no idea just how clueless he is.
Leigh Redhead's protagonist, Simone Kirsch, is a stripper turned PI. Her stories show us not only the seedy side of Melbourne's adult entertainment industry, but also the inherent humour in it.
Highlight: Leigh Redhead demonstrating how female PIs, errr, manage to, umm, go, while on stakeout. Her shuffling about in her chair while describing the use of funnel and bottle were hilarious and certainly left most of the men in the audience a little flushed.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Crime and Justice Festival, Melbourne

I'm off to Melbourne for the weekend to attend the Crime and Justice Festival. It has a great programme with a mix of real life justice issues and crime fiction. And an added bonus will be meeting up with AustCrime Karen and Sunnie, and if past get-togethers are anything to go by, there's bound to be plenty of food, booze and laughter.

This is the second year the festival has been held. Two of its patrons are Ian Rankin and Kerry Greenwood. The international guest this year is Irish author Declan Hughes, and local authors include: Peter Temple, Barry Maitland, Leigh Redhead, Garry Disher, Jarad Henry, Lenny Bartulin, Robert Gott, P.D. Martin, and more. This should be a fabulous weekend.

So, the packing's all done, the wake up call booked, all I have to do is snatch a few hours sleep ... and decide what books I'm taking. Throwing a few clothes in the bag is no problem, but deciding what books get to make the trip with me is much a much more agonising process. There's the books for reading, and the books for signing. And how much room will I need to leave for new acquisitions?

We're attending nine sessions in all, so I'm bound to be exhausted at the end of the two days, but the really great thing is I get to do it all again in a month's time at the Melbourne Writers Festival. The programme's just out today, and although there are a few bright spots, overall it's rather disappointing for crime fans. Still the gathering of 'the coven' is always a lot of fun, and this time we have a couple of newbies joining us, so I'm sure we'll find fun ways to fill in the time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Writing Class by Jincy Willett

Published: Scribe, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-921372-11-7

First line: Lumbers into class five minutes late, dragging, along with her yard-wide butt, a beat-up vinyl briefcase stuffed with old notebooks.

Amy Gallup, is overweight, middle-aged and since the death of her first husband and the failure of her second marriage, has lived the life of a recluse with only her basset hound, Alphonse for company. Her only contact with people is the weekly adult education fiction writing class she teaches.

Her class this term has all the usual types, the overly enthusiastic student, the undiscovered talent, the slacker, the politically correct, the lonely. But this class looks like being a particularly good group, everyone seems to be working well together, producing some lively in-class discussion. Unfortunately a malicious prankster, dubbed the Sniper, looks like spoiling it all.

It starts when Amy receives a nasty phone call, then one of her students is sent a spiteful parody of a poem she read out in class, and others receive a vicious peer evaluation and a crude drawing. But things escalate when one of the students ends up dead.

Amy, concerned for the rest of her class, decides to tell them all what has been going on. Everyone decides to continue with the classes, aware that the murderer is one of them, and try to find a way to discover his or her identity.

With 13 students in the class, this book has a large cast of characters, and Willett has done an excellent job of making each of them come alive as distinctive personalities. But it is Amy who really makes the book. She is a wonderful character, a loner who is afraid to be alone. She found success as a writer at a young age, publishing 4 novels before losing her muse more than 20 years ago.

She describes herself on her blog, Go Away, as ‘an aging, bitter, unpleasant woman … who spends her days editing unreadable text and her nights teaching and not writing. Sometimes, late at night, in the dark, she laughs inappropriately.’ I found Amy anything but unpleasant. She may be a little embittered by how life has turned out for her, but her wicked sense of humour, and sharp observations of herself and others reveal her as someone acutely interested in life.

Book addicts will find a kindred spirit in Amy. I envy her book shelves – unable to part with any of her books, and with little floor space, she has built a single shelf book height from the ceiling that snakes around all the walls in her house.

While The Writing Class is alive with humour, there is an underlying poignancy too. With its appealing characters, engaging plot and humour, The Writing Class is a delight to read.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Three authors I couldn't live without

I've been tagged again by Karen over on AustCrime. I don't know how I can limit it to 3, but I'll give it my best shot. I'm spreading my choices around geographically.

Ian Rankin. I've loved Rebus since forever, and now he's retired I'm looking forward to seeing what Rankin gets up to now.
Runners up in the British category: Reginald Hill, Ken Bruen.

Jo Nesbo. Hopefully Rebus won't be jealous, but I've grown rather fond of Harry Hole. He may be a complete mess, but he's my kind of (fictional) guy. Nesbo is a brilliant writer ... and he is sort of dishy in a rugged crop-haired kind of way too. happy smiley
Runners up in the Scandinavian category: Arnaldur Indridason, Karin Fossum.

Peter Temple. Wonderful wonderful writer. The Jack Irish books are fabulous and The Broken Shore was nothing short of brilliant.
Runners up in the Australian category: Michael Robotham, Adrian Hyland.

There we are, I did it, only three!!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Book of Murder by Guillermo Martinez

Published: Abacus, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-349-12092-8

When a young Argentinian writer with a looming deadline breaks his wrist, his editor suggests employing a typist to help him complete his work. Coincidentally it happens that a very competent typist who usually works for the famous but reclusive crime novelist, Kloster, is free for the next month while he is away at a writers’ retreat. And so the young and pretty student, Luciana comes to work for the unnamed narrator of this very unusual story.

Ten years later, he gets a phone call from a distraught Luciana asking for his help. Everyone close to her is dying in unusual circumstances and she is accusing Kloster of murdering them. She claims that Kloster is punishing her because she sued him for sexual harassment, which led to a devastating personal tragedy for him. Luciana begs for his help to stop Kloster before the last two members of her family die.

Against his will the narrator finds himself drawn into Luciana’s problems, and at her insistence, confronts Kloster, who he finds has a credible explanation for all of Luciana’s accusations.

The reader, like the narrator swings between believing and disbelieving Luciana. Is she mad, paranoid or completely sane? Is Kloster totally innocent or an extremely clever killer? The line between fact and fiction became extremely blurred, and by the end it was really no clearer.

The characters didn’t really engage me, none of them being particularly likable, and the story was strange and a little confusing. The Book of Murder kept me reading, although ultimately I found it a little unsatisfying.

Guillermo Martinez has a PhD in Mathematics and lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Book of Murder is his second novel.