Wednesday, 29 August 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Vanda Symon

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


for her Overkill blog tour

to share her BEST OF CRIME ...

Gah, this is a hard question. There are so many I love, and I am such a fickle beast that most of the time my favourite crime author is the one I’m currently reading. I know, I know – it’s a cop-out answer, but it’s the honest one!

This one is easy. The Silence of the Lambs. This was the first real psychological thriller I ever saw and boy, did it make an impression. Oh my God, the tension, the cinematography, the unfolding, oh lordy, look out, look out Clarice!

I seem to have a thing for retro, I have always had a soft spot for Midsomer Murders, and I have binge watched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries more times than I would care to admit – What’s not to love about Miss Fisher, and don’t get me started on the vintage fashion, and the shoes, OMG, the shoes.

This is a hard one to discuss without giving away massive spoilers, so I will simply say Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

I shall refer again to Miss Phryne Fisher, the charismatic, boundary pushing, charming, sophisticated, generous, empathic, liberated, adventurous, go get ‘em private detective created by Kerry Greenwood. Phryne Fisher would eat James Bond for breakfast.

Ngaio Marsh in Vintage Murder (1937) The victim was killed by a rigged swinging jeroboam of champagne. It wasn’t a case of him hitting the bottle, quite the opposite!

Ngaio Marsh again - Queen of the bizarre murder. Overture to Death(1939) What’s not to love about the poor victim meeting their demise during a public performance in the village hall when the carefully-rigged-and-hidden-in-the-piano revolver is set off by a touch of Rachmaninoff. Yes, death by piano. 

I don’t actually use the internet that much for research. If I do the websites tend to be news sites or sites that help me with the physical locations – very pictorial things like Google Maps and Street View, tourism sites. On the whole, I prefer to research with books, or talking to people, or getting out in the fresh air and beating the feet. Much more fun.

Sit your butt in the chair and write.

Pretty much anything goes, so long as it is washed down with copious quantities of tea.

Vanda Symon is the best-selling author of four Detective Sam Shephard crime fiction novels, published in New Zealand, including Overkill (Penguin, 2007), The Ringmaster (Penguin, 2008), Containment (Penguin, 2009), Bound (Penguin, 2011), and the stand-alone psychological thriller, The Faceless (Penguin, 2012). She is a three-time finalist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction Novel. Her books have also been published in Germany.
Vanda is the producer and host of Write On, a monthly radio show on matters literary on Otago Access Radio, and she also reviews books for National Radio. She is very involved in the New Zealand writing community, having been chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors, and is currently the Chair of Copyright Licensing New Zealand. Vanda also has participated in celebrity debates, acted as speaker, reader or chair in literary events and festivals in New Zealand and Australia, and toured with The New Zealand Book Council’s Words on Wheels.
Vanda has a professional background as a pharmacist and has recently completed a PhD in science communication, examining the communication of science through crime fiction.

Find Vanda Symon on her website, on her Facebook page and on Twitter - @vandasymon


Publisher's description
When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems. Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast said her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands. To find the murderer... and clear her name. A taut, atmospheric and pageturning thriller, Overkill marks the start of an unputdownable and unforgettable series from one of New Zealand s finest crime writers.

Read a snippet of my review
'I loved this crime thriller from the moment I started reading the chilling prologue, through every spellbinding chapter and right through to the shocking ending.'

To read the rest of my review, click here.

Overkill is out in ebook now and is being published by Orenda Books on 6 September 2018.

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Follow the Blog Tour

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

After He Died by Michael J Malone

After He Died
By Michael J Malone
Published by Orenda Books (E-book - out now; paperback - 20 September 2018)

Publisher's description
When Paula Gadd’s husband of almost thirty years dies, just days away from the seventh anniversary of their son, Christopher’s death, her world falls apart. Grieving and bereft, she is stunned when a young woman approaches her at the funeral service, and slips something into her pocket. A note suggesting that Paula’s husband was not all that he seemed…
When the two women eventually meet, a series of revelations challenges everything Paula thought they knew, and it becomes immediately clear that both women’s lives are in very real danger.

My verdict
Yet again, Michael J Malone has written a complex and compelling domestic noir thriller with a social conscience.

Paula is grieving after her husband Tommy's sudden death. Without any close family of her own, she has very few people to give her any support. Tommy's death brings back memories of their son Christopher's death, seven years earlier, which led to her and Tommy growing further apart. Yet despite all of this, Paula believes they had a good marriage without any secrets. It's only when a young woman, Cara, approaches her after the funeral that Paula wonders how well she really knew her husband.

After He Died kept me entertained from beginning to end. Michael J Malone gets right into the heads and hearts of all of his characters, particularly Paula and Cara, with chapters switching between the two. I felt like I was feeling Paula's emotions alongside her, experiencing her pain and anger, confusion and fear. I was just as intrigued as she was to find out what (if anything) Tommy had been up to behind her back.

There is so much bubbling under the surface in After He Died. Just when I thought I had it sussed, Michael J Malone threw something else into the mix. The suspense escalates until the final crescendo - as all of the strands come together, Paula's world falls apart and things turn much more sinister. A reminder that we don’t always know the ones we love as well as we think.

There are also some powerful social messages here. An insight into independent advocacy services created a sense of realism and kept the plot grounded. It provided a deeper understanding of inequality and the social divide, and how some people help to make the world a better place for those in need.

After He Died is a thought-provoking read - well researched, well written and well done!

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Lingering by Susi Holliday

The Lingering
By Susi Holliday
Published by Orenda Books (Ebook - 15 September; Paperback - 15 November)

Publisher's description
Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The local village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune has been established, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history.
When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set off, and it becomes clear that they are not all that they seem. As the residents become twitchy, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, and someone is seeking retribution…

My verdict
Writer Susi Holliday combined with publisher Orenda Books is a winning formula for me. Susi is one of my favourite authors, and I love her writing, having watched it develop from her Banktoun Trilogy crime series through to last year's festive crime novel The Deaths of December and now The Lingering, a cleverly plotted ghostly thriller that left me tingling. This certainly proves her versatility as a writer, and I can't wait to see what's coming next.

I don't want to give away too much about The Lingering. For me, it was all about thrills, chills and surprises, and I wouldn't want to deprive anyone else of that experience. But I will say that it has an amazing sense of foreboding from the start and one particular 'gasp out loud' game-changing moment somewhere along the way before the end.

The characters are very real, from newcomers Jack and Ali to 'Fairy' Angela and Smeaton - a group of people who have made Rosalind House their home, a self-sufficient commune where they can escape from their previous, often-troubled lives. I found myself right inside their heads, whether chapters were written in the first or third person. Susi Holliday has created one of the most 'seemingly ordinary' evil protagonists I've come across for a while.

Rosalind House is a key component of the story, bringing the characters together and also the past and the present. This former psychiatric home has a disturbing history and is filled with secrets. When newcomer Ali experiences some strange happenings, it makes her (and made me, as the reader) wonder what horrors took place there, what evil lingers there and whether it is the house itself or the occupants, past or current, causing the darkness within its walls. The vivid descriptions made me feel like I was there too, experiencing some shocking moments - there are couple of scenes in particular that have remained in my head.

The Lingering is a dark, creepy story delving into the true nature of evil. Is it born, taught or guided? Nature or nurture? And can you ever escape from your past mistakes? Susi Holliday has created a brilliant combination of psychological thriller and ghostly mystery - a 'chiller thriller' or 'ghostly noir'.

Put this on your shopping list!

Monday, 13 August 2018

The Story Keeper by Anna Mazzola

The Story Keeper
By Anna Mazzola
Published by Tinder Press (26 July 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher


Publisher's description
Audrey Hart is on the Isle of Skye to collect the folk and fairy tales of the people and communities around her. It is 1857 and the Highland Clearances have left devastation and poverty, and a community riven by fear. The crofters are suspicious and hostile to a stranger, claiming they no longer know their fireside stories. 
Then Audrey discovers the body of a young girl washed up on the beach and the crofters reveal that it is only a matter of weeks since another girl disappeared. They believe the girls are the victims of the restless dead: spirits who take the form of birds. 
Initially, Audrey is sure the girls are being abducted, but as events accumulate she begins to wonder if something else is at work. Something which may be linked to the death of her own mother, many years before.

My verdict
The Story Keeper was a joy to read - magical and mythical, creepy and addictive, intriguing and tense. Anna Mazzola has carefully woven together dark fairytales and folklore with crime and social history to create a brilliant gothic mystery.

Set in 1857, The Story Keeper felt authentic from the start, with vivid evocative scenes, an atmospheric, claustrophobic setting, beautifully written descriptive passages and realistic dialogue. Audrey Hart is a well-rounded protagonist - determined and focused, inquisitive and sensitive, with an unsettling past of her own. I felt like I was on the Isle of Skye in the mid-19th century, visiting those crofter cottages alongside her, learning about the locals, their culture and their beliefs and prejudices.

I loved everything about this book with its subtle (and not so subtle) twists and turns. A haunting sense of unease flowed through the pages, enchanting me and sending shivers down my spine. I held my breath at various moments and gasped at others. At times, I had no idea what to believe and who to trust.

Does magic exist? Through Anna's amazing writing, it certainly does. Buy the book and discover the magic for yourself!

Thursday, 9 August 2018

BEST OF CRIME with Nathan Blackwell - finalist in the Ngaio Marsh Awards 2018

Welcome to my latest BEST OF CRIME feature, looking at crime writers' top picks, from their favourite author and fictional detective to their best writing tip. 

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


finalist in the Ngaio Marsh Awards 2018

to share his BEST OF CRIME ...

I love moody, dark, gritty stories so I think I’m going to have to keep things European here - Ian Rankin, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, Val McDermid... all feature very high. Great characters, great plots... but crucially, I love the atmosphere these greats conjure up.

The Silence of the Lambs. In all ways brilliant. I didn’t sleep well after that. I also struggled to eat chicken livers for a while. I love atmospheric so I’m going to mention Se7en. And of course I’m a sucker for twists and unreliable narrators so... The Usual Suspects is going to sneak in here as well. 

No contest - True Detective, the first season. I was hooked at the opening credits. The steamy, rural Louisiana backdrop, the horrific plot, the incredible combination of the two leads... this show helped me write. Setting took on a whole new meaning for me.

Hannibal Lecter. Thomas Harris, I pray at your statue every morning. 

Rust Cohle from True Detective... what a character. Nihilistic, offensive ... yet incredibly good at what he does. And despite his hatred for humanity and himself, he can’t step away from his job. The whole show is pretty much about how this character develops over time. If I was murdered ... I’d want this dude on the case.

The chainsaw drop in American Psycho.. clever use of a gardening tool that. More original than that other guy that just cut several people up with one in Texas.

When Leo DiCaprio’s character dies in The Departed... those lift doors open, and that bullet to the head just comes out of nowhere. Totally unexpected, incredibly powerful. As for just plain horrific... I’m just going to say... Saw. And the sequels. I hope those films don’t give anyone any ideas. They’re gross.

I haven’t actually used any yet for writing ... I usually start with a subject I have some knowledge about, or a place... and then I’ll go have a look or speak with people more in the know than me to make sure I’m on the right track. So I guess I enjoy talking to people rather than checking out the internet?

Read. Read constantly. The more you read, the more you find out what you like... and more importantly ... what you don’t like. And listen to that inner voice of yours.. because that’s how other people think too. Find it, then exaggerate it and expand it. Characters are born that way.

Coffee. Pineapple lumps. Pancakes. Fried chicken. You can’t write on an empty stomach, can you? No. No you can’t.

Nathan Blackwell was raised in Auckland, New Zealand and had a ten-year career in the New Zealand Police. Seven of those years were spent as a Detective in the Criminal Investigation Branch, where he was exposed to human nature at its strongest and bravest, but also at its most depraved and horrific. He investigated a wide range of cases including drug manufacture, child abuse, corruption, serious violence, rape, and murder. Because some of his work was conducted covertly, Nathan chooses to hide his true identity. THE SOUND OF HER VOICE is his first novel. 

Find Nathan Blackwell on his Facebook page.


Publisher's description
For Detective Matt Buchanan, the world is a pretty sick place. He has probably been in the job too long, for one thing. And then there’s 14-year-old Samantha Coates, and the other unsolved murder cases. Those innocent girls he just can’t get out of his head. When Buchanan pursues some fresh leads, it soon becomes clear he’s on the trail of something big. As he pieces the horrific crimes together, Buchanan finds the very foundations of everything he once believed in start to crumble. He’s forced across that grey line that separates right and wrong – into places so dark, even he might not make it back.

THE SOUND OF HER VOICE was first published in New Zealand in August 2017 (Mary Egan Publishing). It is a finalist for both Best First Novel and Best Novel in the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards. It will be published in the United Kingdom during 2019. 

Ngaio Marsh Awards judges comments
“Even by cop-turned-novelist standards, this is gritty, intense and unsparing in its account of the worst humans can do to each other. It’s also shockingly polished as a well-structured thriller and a portrait of a man with right on his side and wrongdoing all around him. There is a lot to be impressed by, most of all the touching honesty of the view Blackwell allows into the mind of his protagonist – cop stories don’t come more authentic (and Kiwi) than this.”

“If this is a debut then goodness gracious me. Raw, emotional, gut-wrenching in places, yet nuanced and well balanced, this is an amazing piece of work, from an under-represented perspective.”

Look out for more BEST OF CRIME features coming soon.

Click here to read more BEST OF CRIME features.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Coffin Path by Katherine Clements

The Coffin Path
By Katherine Clements
Published byHeadline (8 February 2018)
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher

Publisher's description
Maybe you've heard tales about Scarcross Hall, the house on the old coffin path that winds from village to moor top. They say there's something up here, something evil.
Mercy Booth isn't afraid. The moors and Scarcross are her home and lifeblood. But, beneath her certainty, small things are beginning to trouble her. Three ancient coins missing from her father's study, the shadowy figure out by the gatepost, an unshakeable sense that someone is watching.
When a stranger appears seeking work, Mercy reluctantly takes him in. As their stories entwine, this man will change everything. She just can't see it yet.

My verdict
I chose to read The Coffin Path as I was looking for a break from all of my usual crime reads. I wanted something to frighten me and surprise me. What a perfect choice! I don't scare easily, but this book certainly left me with an underlying sense of unease and a temptation to check for monsters under the bed.

The Coffin Path is a gothic ghost story. It's compelling and chilling, with evocative descriptions that triggered tingles down my spine, goosebumps along my arms and a deep ache in the pit of my stomach. I felt like I was also up there on those bleak moors and at creepy Scarcross Hall, surrounded by darkness and shadowy figures.

The book's mix of claustrophobic setting, local superstitions and ghostly apparitions stimulated the dark side of my imagination, with an ending that chilled me to the bone. I admit that I guessed a twist in the tale, but this didn't dampen my enjoyment at all. Brilliant stuff, and I'm now searching for some more creepy ghost stories to read!

Monday, 6 August 2018

After He's Gone by Jane Isaac

After He's Gone
By Jane Isaac
Published 18 June 2018
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the author

Author's description
You think you know him. Until he’s dead.
When Cameron Swift is gunned down outside his family home, DC Beth Chamberlain is appointed Family Liaison Officer: a dual role that requires her to support the family, and also investigate them. 
As the case unfolds and the body count climbs, Beth discovers that nothing is quite as it appears and everyone, it seems, has secrets. 
Even the dead…

My verdict
After He's Gone is the first in a new series by Jane Isaac, featuring DC Beth Chamberlain. I already love her DI Will Jackman series, so couldn't wait to get stuck into her new book. I certainly wasn't disappointed.

The book begins with a bang - literally, as a man is gunned down outside his family home. But what looks like a fairly clearcut case takes Beth Chamberlain on a twisty journey to discover the truth. She's a brilliant new protagonist, with her combination of investigative skills and genuine care for the families she's supporting. It's great to see a crime investigation from a different angle.

As expected, as with all Jane Isaac books, the complex plot is authentic and gripping, with lots of twists and turns. Her gorgeous writing is highly compelling and her characters are believable and realistic - in particular, the family's grief as they struggle to cope with tragedy. How well do you know the ones you love - and how do you cope when they're no longer there?

I've said this before about Jane Isaac's books, and I'll say it again - she writes fast-paced page turners with plenty of heart and is one of my favourite crime fiction authors. Her books keep you guessing and are filled with secrets and lies.

I'm looking forward to following her Beth Chamberlain series.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Member of the Family by Dianne Lake (and Deborah Herman)

Member of the Family: Manson, Murder and Me
By Dianne Lake (and Deborah Herman)
Published by Harper Element (8 March 2018)

Publisher's description
Following the recent death of Charles Manson – the leader of the sinister 60s cult – Dianne Lake reveals the true story of life with Manson and his ‘family’, who became notorious for a series of shocking murders during the summer of 1969.
In this poignant and disturbing memoir of lost innocence, coercion, survival, and healing, Dianne Lake chronicles her years with Charles Manson, revealing for the first time how she became the youngest member of his Family and offering new insights into one of the twentieth century’s most notorious criminals and life as one of his “girls.”
At age fourteen, Dianne Lake—with little more than a note in her pocket from her hippie parents granting her permission to leave them—became one of “Charlie’s girls,” a devoted acolyte of cult leader Charles Manson. Over the course of two years, the impressionable teenager endured manipulation, psychological control, and physical abuse as the harsh realities and looming darkness of Charles Manson’s true nature revealed itself. From Spahn ranch and the group acid trips, to the Beatles’ White Album and Manson’s dangerous messiah-complex, Dianne tells the riveting story of the group’s descent into madness as she lived it.
Though she never participated in any of the group’s gruesome crimes and was purposely insulated from them, Dianne was arrested with the rest of the Manson Family, and eventually learned enough to join the prosecution’s case against them. With the help of good Samaritans, including the cop who first arrested her and later adopted her, the courageous young woman eventually found redemption and grew up to lead an ordinary life.
While much has been written about Charles Manson, this riveting account from an actual Family member is a chilling portrait that recreates in vivid detail one of the most horrifying and fascinating chapters in modern American history.

My verdict
It took me a while to get through Member of the Family. Not because I didn't 'enjoy' it, but because there's a lot packed within its pages, and I felt a need to process everything I was reading by taking a short break every-so-often.

The book doesn't explore the gruesome murders by the Manson family. But it does look at the horrific experiences of a young girl, who is neglected by her own family and then taken in by Charles Manson and his cult. Fourteen-year-old Dianne Lake didn't really have a chance at a normal life when her hippy parents introduced her to drugs and then abandoned her to a travelling lifestyle. The book is split into three parts. The first part focuses on Dianne Lake's early family life, the second part focuses on her 'Manson years' and the third part focuses on her recovery.

Dianne Lake is honest and open about her experiences, right through to her eventual rescue and recovery. This is a difficult and graphic read in places, covering child abuse (physical, emotional and sexual), drug addiction and brainwashing/control. Photographs in the book of Dianne, her family and several key locations triggered a sense of sadness and despair in me - that parents could abandon their daughter so readily and there was no one there to keep her safe at such a young and impressionable age.

Like many people, I have grown up hearing of Charles Manson and his cult. Dianne Lake wasn't involved in his crimes, and doesn't go into huge detail about them, but her story gives an overall insight into the psychological and physical control he had over his cult members.