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Spike in Local Crime Welcomed

By Craig Sisterson

With New Zealand Book Month now upon us, it’s the perfect time to take the opportunity to support and celebrate local writing by reading some recently published New Zealand fiction. It’s unfortunate that, despite New Zealand having local writing talent capable of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) to create world-class tales (appreciated overseas, even contending for and winning international awards), overall we don’t (yet) seem to encourage, promote, and buy our own stories in the way many other countries do theirs.

It’s a real shame; we have no problem accepting, even expecting, our countrymen to excel on the world stage in other arenas, such as several sports, but many of us still seem to have the erroneous belief that our own storytelling isn’t as interesting or as good as that originating overseas. Fortunately, this (unwarranted) cultural cringe seems to have lessened recently when it comes to New Zealand music and film – so hopefully, we’ll soon similarly mature when it comes to buying more (quality) local fiction.

This under-appreciation of New Zealand tales seems exacerbated when it comes to ‘popular’ or ‘genre’ fiction. Despite our fiction bestseller lists being dominated by international crime and thriller fiction (and NZ crime writer Paul Cleave currently sitting in the Top 10 on the Amazon Germany bestseller list, just behind Dan Brown’s latest and the Stieg Larsson trilogy), New Zealanders as yet don’t seem to have a similar appetite for locally penned tales of murder, mystery, and mayhem. Perhaps this month is a good time to start changing that?

Cut & Runby Alix Bosco
Penguin, $37

The thriller-writing debut from a “successful writer in other media” writing under a pseudonym, Cut & Run introduces Auckland-based heroine and legal researcher Anna Markunas, who will apparently spearhead a planned series.

Middle-aged Markunas has been easing herself back into work, and equilibrium, after recovering from a breakdown suffered after years of will-sapping social work in South Auckland, the suicide of her husband, and the problems of her P-addicted son. Now a legal researcher for a defence lawyer friend, she finds herself looking into the circumstances of a celebrity murder.

When rugby star Alex Solona, who began life on the tough streets of South Auckland, is murdered in the arms of beautiful socialite Mikky St Claire, it seems an open-and-shut case of a drug deal gone wrong. A view bolstered by Solona’s former friend and rugby teammate Kamal Fifita confessing to the crime. But as Markunas begins to research Fifita and Solona’s backgrounds, she begins to suspect something far more sinister.

Overall, Cut & Run is a very enjoyable thriller that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages. Bosco sets the scene by name-dropping a lot of real-life central Auckland locations and historic urban footnotes in the early chapters, before also taking the story to South Auckland and the Coromandel. There’s also a sense that some of the high-profile characters, including celebrities and QCs, may be amalgams of real-life New Zealanders, which can create a fun game of ‘I wonder who that is based on?’

But the bigger question is, ‘does it work as a thriller?’ And the answer to that is a resounding yes; Bosco creates an enjoyable page-turner not only through the ‘did Fifita really do it?’ plotline hook, kicked up a notch when subsequent discoveries put Markunas in danger, but through her creation of characters with some nice depth and complexity.

The more we learn about Markunas, the more we want to follow her (in this book and the ongoing series). The supporting cast could read like a caricature list: lawyers (honorable and not), cynical restaurant reviewers, violent gang members, jaded policeman, troubled youngsters, airhead socialites, but Bosco imbues them all with something more. She does a great job setting us up and then upturning our assumptions about not only the plot, but some of the characters. I look forward to the second in the series.

You can read the first chapter of Cut & Run here.

Blood Bond by Michael Green
Arrow/Random House, $37

Last month, the second instalment in computer consultant, professional speaker, and keen yachtsman Michael Green’s ‘Blood Line’ trilogy was released. Blood Bond continues the story of two branches of the Chatfield family (one based in England, the other in New Zealand) who appear to be the only survivors in the aftermath of a fatal global pandemic.

Blood Bond begins with some of the New Zealand branch having rescued several British family members from the repressive medieval-style regime established by Nigel, a tyrannical patriarch, at Haver Hall near Kent, England. The fleeing group sails back to the Southern Hemisphere, facing unexpected dangers and fracturing relationships at stopovers in South Africa and Australia as they search for supplies and other survivors.

Meanwhile, the family remaining in England battle to survive Nigel and his sons’ wrath at the escape, before planning a coup – but would a new ‘democratic’ regime be any better than Nigel’s dictatorial one, or would self-interest and retribution lead to political short-cuts, power plays, and eventual savagery?

Although it’s the second in a trilogy, Blood Bond is a thrilling and enjoyable read even for those that haven’t read Blood Line (the first in the series, published in 2008). I quickly picked up the backstory, and increasingly found the pages whirring as Green intercut between the events unfolding at Haver Hall, and those on the yacht Archangel.

One of the best things about the novel, apart from the exciting events, is the way in which Green raises questions, in amongst the twisting plotline, about how humans interact with each other, especially when under tremendous pressure. When everything is stripped away, what would we do when it comes to protecting our family? How interested in the good of the group would even the most community-minded amongst us really be?

Green, who lives on his yacht Raconteur in Gulf Harbour, has written the series to help raise funds for LifeLine, the telephone counselling charity. Regardless of the great cause, it’s a book many thriller fans would enjoy, and should consider buying.

You can read an extract from Blood Bond here.

These reviews were first published in the 2 October 2009 issue of NZLawyer magazine, and are reprinted here with permission.

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Craig Sisterson is an Auckland-based writer who contributes articles and book reviews to publications in New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. He is the creator of the NZ crime/thriller-focused blog “Crime Watch“.