A blend of science fiction and stylish mystery noir featuring a robot detective: the stand alone sequel to Made to Kill.
Another golden morning in a seedy town, and a new memory tape for intrepid PI-turned-hitman--and last robot left in working order-- Raymond Electromatic. When his comrade-in-electronic-arms, Ada, assigns a new morning roster of clientele, Ray heads out into the LA sun, only to find that his skills might be a bit rustier than he expected....
Fans of MADE TO KILL will already know all about Ray Electromatic, Ada and his line of work. Set in the 1950s, KILLING IS MY BUSINESS is the second in the trilogy based around Ray Electromatic. Part crime fiction, part science fiction, Ray is a robot, Ada is his controlling computer, and together their business, is killing. The first novel MADE TO KILL readers were introduced to Ray, the last robot in America, who covers his hired assassin persona with a day job as a private detective.
The trick here is that Ada wipes Ray's memory (? banks) every night so and must therefore be reminded every day by Ada of ... well everything. In the first novel that was an interesting idea, a way of perhaps turning a robotic assassin into something more robotic, with no chance whatsoever to question his allocated profession. By the second novel, not only does it wear a bit thin as an idea, it's not nearly as well executed and there are more than a few "well how would he know that" moments - enough to make you think that the wiping appears to be opportunistically selective at least.
KILLING IS MY BUSINESS also has a convoluted idea at the centre of the plot - after a couple of hits go wrong, Ray takes on a job getting close to a mafia boss to learn his secrets before then killing him. Leaving aside the whole idea of Ray not knowing what he'd already gleaned if his memory was constantly being wiped, there's the question of why a mafia boss would get that close to a random private detective robot in the first place. Needless to say for a lot of this novel to work you're going to have to pack up those niggles and file them under "silly fun".
Having said that, for this reader the first novel was great fun, this one considerably less so. There's nothing wrong with the writing, nor the mismash of genre's. The fifties feel is spot on, the voices of the character perfect. It's just that the central pillars seem to be tilting.
Aukati, Michalia Arathimos
“There was Polly’s tokotoko on the ground. Carved and polished, with its eel head, the snout inlaid with pāua. Alexia picked it up and cracked it across the cop’s shoulders. She raised it again and hit and hit. She would stop this.”
Alexia is a law student escaping the Greek family that stifles her, and Isaiah is a young Māori returning home to find the family he’s lost. Cut loose from their own cultures, they have volunteered to help Isaiah’s Taranaki iwi get rid of the fracking that’s devastating their land and water.
Author Michalia Arathimos has Greek-New Zealand heritage which is strongly reflected in her novel AUKATI. Set in New Zealand, this is a crime novel based around the scourge that is fracking.
Featuring two main characters, Alexia, a law student with a controlling Greek family, and Isaiah, a young Maori man trying to reconnect with his own family. Cut loose from their backgrounds, and their cultures, they are drawn into the fight to protect Isaiah's Taranaki iwi from the devastation that the fracking is causing. As a protest march turns violent, and the group start to suspect an informant, everyone becomes tense, suspicious and wary.
A refreshingly new approach for a crime novel - the threat here is multi-faceted and the sense of dislocation strong. Descriptively written, it is steeped in sense of place and both cultures - using a liberal amount of Greek and Maori terminology to tell the tale. Perhaps a little too much, as readers from outside those communities are going to have to work hard to maintain understanding at points, as the insider speak is so dense concluding meaning will sometimes require effort.
Effort worth devoting if you're of a mind to persist as AUKATI explores consequences and disruption on all sorts of different levels - individually for each of the main characters and their families, within failing romantic and friend relationships, amongst the activist community as trust breaks down, and between activists and law enforcement, and pro-fracking proponents. It's a complicated mix that ebbs and flows naturally, that sparks friendship, resentment, and inter-generational tension, all contained within that insider speaker.
The Sound of Her Voice, Nathan Blackwell
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.
Cop-turned novelist, Nathan Blackwell (true identity hidden due to covert police operations) has written a debut novel, THE SOUND OF HER VOICE, which is intense, unsparing, realistic, brutal and will stay with the reader for a long time.
Every year the Ngaio Marsh awards for New Zealand crime fiction throw up an unexpected perspective, something brave and unusual that will set you back on your heels and make you think. For this reviewer, this year, that book was THE SOUND OF HER VOICE. In what's a combination of police procedural, and tragic police perspective, Detective Matt Buchanan has been in the job too long, and he's had a gut full of the nastiness of human nature. Unsolved murder cases haunt him, people being bastards haunt him, everything haunts him. He's bitter and he's well on the way to being twisted, and the murder of 14 year old Samantha Coates puts him on the trail of something big, and even nastier than he had even thought possible.
If you're a fan of crime fiction that glosses over reality, pulls punches, draws veils then THE SOUND OF HER VOICE isn't the book for you. This book is real to the point of "drag you down a back alley, whisper abuse in your ear and belt you over the head" real. It's also a book in which the central hero is flawed and tricky, a man surrounded by bad, with right on his side, and decisions to make. Every step of the way in Buchanan's head is an uncomfortable place. It's impossible to not empathise with a man dealing with all this crap on an hourly basis, it's even possible to understand some of the wrong moves he openly chooses to make. If it's possible to empathise with the end justifies the means, then this is a novel that gives the reader a lot of opportunity to go down that path, hotly pursuing Buchanan's own conclusions.
Obviously this is dark, unrelenting reading, and it's a debut. It's not a 100% pitch perfect, slick as, totally perfectly crafted piece of crime fiction, but then again I'm not sure any of that would have served this author's aims. What we have here is raw, full of realistic emotion, reactions and voices. It's as about as authentic a police perspective as you'd get, somehow managing to maintain it's essential Kiwiness, whilst exploring a descent that's probably all too real for law enforcement the world over.
The Therapy House, Julie Parsons
On Sundays peace was restored. He would lie down, dream and remember. He would enjoy. And later on the bell would ring. He would get up and walk downstairs. He would open the front door. And his life would come to an end . . .
Garda Inspector Michael McLoughlin is trying to enjoy his retirement – doing a bit of PI work on the side, meeting up with former colleagues, fixing up a grand old house in a genteel Dublin suburb near the sea.
Kiwi-Irish author Julie Parsons book THE THERAPY HOUSE is an intricate pscyhological observation, interweaving current day crime with Irish history to great effect.
Exploring history and crime in terms of it's impact on survivors and/or families and on society in general, THE THERAPY HOUSE is absorbing, chilling, intricate and beautifully written. At the heart of the novel, Garda Inspector Michael McLoughlin is attempting retirement, doing a bit of PI work on the side, but mostly restoring a beautiful old house in the Dublin suburbs - a house that turns out to have as complicated a past as McLoughlin himself. McLoughlin's father was murdered many years ago, supposedly getting in the way during an IRA robbery, an event that haunts him to this day, especially as the killers now have a high profile part to play in Irish politics and the peace process.
The house which plays a big part in keeping him grounded, safe and occupied, is known as "The Therapy House" because of its past use as a counselling and medical practice. In a further sign that history is never far away from him, next door lives John Hegarty, retired judge, having had a distinguished legal career and importantly, the son of Dan Hegarty, colleague of well known Irish independence figure Michael Collins. Until he is killed, and McLoughlin discovers his brutalised body. The family hire McLoughlin to look into Hegarty's background, although the agreement is part hiring, part bribing with the suggestion that there is something in that past that relates to the death of McLoughlin's father.
Needless to say, layering and interconnections are a big part of style of THE THERAPY HOUSE. Slowly and intricately dissecting those layers and connections is part of what makes this novel so absorbing, as is the way that readers are frequently left to draw conclusions, and answer many of the questions posited by the author. The pace is leisurely, the sense of place strong, and sense of culture all consuming. The way the past affects the current is elegantly done as well with everything - from the therapy house itself, the location, the Hegarty and McLoughlin families, Ireland's troubled background - blending together to create echoes and portents, guidance and regret.
In the end there's a lot of regret thoroughout this novel, there's a real sense that it doesn't matter sometimes how often we're given a chance to learn lessons, we're going to be too old to do anything about it by the time we remember them.
The Trials of Minnie Dean : a verse biography, Karen Zelas
Minnie Dean: the first – and only – woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Baby farmer and child murderer, or hardworking wife and mother, supporting her family by caring for unwanted children in a society that shunned her?
Karen Zelas explores the trials of Minnie Dean using a myriad of voices, including Dean’s own, from her childhood in Scotland to the gallows in Invercargill, 1895.
It is rare, but not unknown to encounter a crime fiction novel in verse. Dorothy Porter's written some of the best examples of this that I've been fortunate enough to read, but I think this might be the first biography of a true crime figure in verse I've come across. Equally beautifully written and wonderfully laid out on the page, THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN is fascinating reading.
Minnie Dean 1872
an open face one
could say dark hair
drawn back nothing to hide
a little lace at throat & cuff
hands rest loose on bentwood back
gaze into the camera eyes
soft & open brow deep
sole adornment in her hair
staining face or dress
Minnie Dean, as the blurb explains, was the first and only woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Baby farmer and child murderer or hardworking wife and mother, supporting her family by caring for unwanted children in a society that shunned her?
The story of Minnie is told in a combination of verses, images, handwritten snippets, all of which have had particular attention paid to their layout on the page. It's a feast for the eyes, although given this combination it's obviously not an indepth exploration of all that could ever be said about Minnie Dean, her background and her alleged crimes. There is, however, more than enough here for the reader to consider - from Minnie's background and reactions, statements and reactions of the police involved in the investigation and trial, even a short snippet from the hangman and her descendants.
All the way through though there is Minnie's voice and it's desperately sad, and sometimes quite chilling.
that inquest made me
a social outcast a
there is no law
to stop me taking babies
to my heart & home
I may take as many
as I want charge
whatever fees I wish
& keep them
in the manner of my choosing
so long I don't neglect or mistreat
that is all
let them try and stop me
Eventually, obviously, they did stop her in the most final of ways. Not having previously heard of Minnie Dean I was interested to find a Wikipedia entry and some historical facts about her, suspicions about her activities, and the final events that lead to her trial and execution.
THE TRIALS OF MINNIE DEAN is a beautifully constructed, extremely thought-provoking and moving book. It is one that I've now revisited many times since my initial reading.
Murder Most Malicious, Kitty Jackson
When the good-natured Mr Mancini discovers a dead woman in the Winter Garden Glasshouse on a winter’s morning in 1909, he is horrified. Even more so when the brittle-tongued Detective Haynes implies he is a suspect. That same day, when the guest speaker at the book group doesn’t appear, Mancini suspects she is the corpse. But with no identification, and with the speaker having come from a different city, right from the beginning it becomes a difficult case and one full of intrigue.
Set in the early twentieth century in mannered and beautiful Dunedin, New Zealand there are plenty of similarities between the stories of Mr Mancini and the delightfully idiosyncratic Hercule Poirot. A cerebral solver of crime, his collaboration with the acerbic Detective Haynes is a nice pairing, and then there is his sounding board, and escaper of tyrannical sisters, neighbour and dog lover.
An interesting piece of historical crime fiction, MURDER MOST MALICIOUS is entertaining reading. Great characters, a lovely sense of the time and place, and a good plot into the bargain, I certainly hope this is intended as the opening of an ongoing series. There is a particularly large cast here though, so you will need to pay attention, particularly as the body of the woman found in the Winter Garden Glasshouse is identified and connected to a group of would be writers that Mr Mancini belongs to, so his investigation starts to work it's way through friends, acquaintances, fellow would-be writers and locals.
There's good pace, a great sense of place and a nice balance between the personal back story of Mancini and his colleagues, as well as the victim and her contacts in the local community. Mancini's connection with the police is well handled and all in all there is a lot to really like about MURDER MOST MALICIOUS.
Death on D'Urville, Penelope Haines
Death on D’Urville is the first novel in a new mystery series featuring Claire Hardcastle, commercial pilot and flying instructor, who operates out of Paraparaumu airport in New Zealand.
Claire Hardcastle is fiery, clever, daring —and she’s trying to prove herself in a man's world. Recently recovered from a disastrous relationship with her ex, she’s determined from now on to live on her own terms.
Book One in the Claire Hardcastle series DEATH ON D'URVILLE, the second book STRAIGHT AND LEVEL was released in 2017. Operating out of Paraparaumu airport in New Zealand, Hardcastle is a commercial pilot and flying instructor, which gives the author an opportunity to play with a number of recurring themes including women working in what's traditionally been a male dominated industry, people with the sorts of nerves of steel required to fly and stick their nose into tricky investigations and the complications of dealing with (and being) an alpha personality type; as well as the freedom to move Hardcastle into different locations, and different groups of people with ease. Add to that a disastrous previous relationship and there's lots of ingredients in this debut book.
Easy reading, with a casual, almost chatty style and an engaging central character, DEATH ON D'URVILLE ticks the boxes you'd want on something that's leaning towards the romantic suspense side of the genre. There's the budding personal relationship between the two main protagonists, there's a reasonably intricate plot with heaps of local colour and flavour. And there's the nice little twist of a dead novelist at the centre of a locked room style mystery.
The only downside for this particular reader was that this agreeable romantic suspense novel got a bit melodramatic towards the end, although that could very much be an issue of personal taste. Regardless, definitely a series that romantic suspense readers may find very appealing.
Review - Red Herring, Jonothan Cullinane
Murder, political intrigue, bent cops and the fate of a nation - a thriller set in the murky underworld of 1951 New Zealand.
A man overboard, a murder and a lot of loose ends ...
In Auckland 1951 the workers and the government are heading for bloody confrontation and the waterfront is the frontline. But this is a war with more than two sides and nothing is what it seems.
Into the secret world of rival union politics, dark political agendas and worldwide anti-communist hysteria steps Johnny Molloy, a private detective with secrets of his own.
Historical crime fiction with a political basis, Jonothan Cullinane's RED HERRING is set in 1950's Auckland during a time of confrontation between workers and the government. Based on the waterfront it's fascinating how this sort of pitched battle resonates in difficult places, across different decades. At that time the external threat was Communism, the battleground New Zealand's place in the world - especially as a reliable supplier of farm products "home" to England, still in the thralls of post-War austerity. But battle lines have been clearly drawn and vocally drawn: unions and workers on one side, Government and authorities on the other.
Somewhere in the middle is Johnny Molloy, soldier, turned private eye, he naturally feels more sympathy for the union side than that of the authorities, which becomes a challenge when he finds himself up against Fintan Patrick Walsh from the Federation of Labour, and the local Communist Party boss. But he's been hired to find a supposedly dead man, spotted in photographs of strike organisers, and Molloy is a good private detective. His investigation, and that of young reporter Caitlin O'Carolan collide and they find themselves both under threat, and under pressure to find out what the IRA bomber Frank O'Flynn is doing in New Zealand.
Styled as a noir tale, firmly embedded in a period of real New Zealand History, RED HERRING is dryly funny in places, deliberately dark and sparse, and an absolute page turner. It's a combination of history, mystery and reality set in something almost cinematic in quality, with heaps of dark places, a few light touches and some extremely good characters. Yet again it's taken an embarrassingly long time to realise that this review hadn't seen the light of day - and the book really should hit reading lists a lot quicker than that.
Lifting, Damien Wilkins
Amy is a store detective at Cutty’s, the oldest and grandest department store in the country. She’s good at her job. She can read people and catch them. But Cutty’s is closing down. Amy has a young baby, an ailing mother, and a large mortgage. She also has a past as an activist.
LIFTING is one of those books that is charming, slightly eccentric, sad, happy, and wonderfully engaging. Set primarily within the walls of the oldest department store in New Zealand, Wellington's Cutty's is an institution that's been marked for closure. Non-New Zealander / Wellington readers will be forgiven if you can't help but feel this is a real place, renamed for the purposes of fiction, as there is so much about the store and it's history, and the affection that the staff and customers have for it that feels real, and very heart-felt. For those on this side of the ditch there's something vaguely Georges about the place - right down to the staircase, and if they didn't have a piano being played in the foyer, than they jolly well should have. But marked for closure Cutty's is, and the staff who work there are confronted with the short lead in time of a couple of months to get used to the idea.
The story evolves from the point of view of Amy, store detective, her four years at the store is nothing compared to the life long service of many employees. But she really likes the job, loves the store and she's pretty good at what she does. On the home front she's married, recently had a child and only just gone back to work. With a very ill mother and all the problems of balancing child care, home life and work, Amy's voice is beautifully done in this novel. She's got more than enough to deal with, without throwing in, very late in the stage, a suprise dead body.
But really, LIFTING isn't about crime. It's about people, and lives lived, and pasts, presents and futures. It's about disruption and change, and slipping standards, and chaos. At work, at home, and in small ways as well as major. Losing your job is chaotic, especially through no fault of your own. Losing your job when getting it in the first place was a minor miracle is even more unsettling, and Amy's background as an activist means her boss really took a chance on her as a detective. The fallout through family, relationships and everything is hard to avoid, as is the loss of friendships and working relationships established.
For something that's addressing chaos, LIFTING has a gentle, laid back, soft styling. Which makes some of the revelations even more elegantly done. From activist to store detective, from young single woman to mother, wife and worker, Amy's journey is laid out in a most engaging manner. Surrounding her with some wonderfully colourful characters made it even better, and frankly, some of the revelations into how people go about shoplifting were staggering - international cabin crew uniforms and all.
A little on the eccentric side, LIFTING is a really lovely little novel full of great insight, humour, sadness and joy. I'm not 100% sure I'd call it crime fiction but it's certainly entertaining fiction.
The Maori Detective, D.A. Crossman
He’s lost his wife, his job, and his mana. So what now? A PI? He really couldn’t get used to it. Traipsing around after unfaithful wives and little old ladies’ lost dogs? Was this the future for Carlos Wallace? And what of the beautiful matakite? Wasn’t it a sin to fall in love with your cousin?
Major earthquakes aren't new in Christchurch, but the last really big one left massive destruction, dislocation and death in its wake. As a setting for a crime novel that time and place make enormous sense, giving an author the chance to delve into a society in flux, and the reality of endings and new beginnings for its citizens.
D.A. Crossman has used that time and setting to imagine a new beginning for ex-cop Carlos Wallace who is dealing with a full hand of changes. Dead wife, lost job and a return home to New Zealand. On the upside the unexpected inheritance of a house and chance to reconnect with family. On a more even keel, a new job as a PI which doesn't quite feel right to Wallace, even with his capable, new side-kick, Ginny Andrews. On the downside the case of a missing French girl is at least a change from unfaithful spouses and missing dogs, but it soon gets very messy. Did this girl simply lose her life in the February earthquake or is there a lot more to this than the simple answer everyone has opted for up until now?
Setting in this novel is obviously a major factor, and post earthquake Christchurch looms large. The sense of dislocation and loss of community and place is reflected nicely in the character of Carlos Wallace. He's surrounded by a good supporting cast as well - uncles, aunts, cousins, and an extended family and community that look out for each other, yank each other's chains if required, and generally rub along together. Add in a working partner who is up to the job of keeping the investigation on track and Wallace in line. You may find things are a little slow to get moving, given a big cast of characters and a lot of complex relationships and interactions there's a bit of set up to get through, but stick with that and you'll soon find the investigation side of things taking over, with action and a strong sense of Maori culture along the way.
The idea behind the major case is also an interesting one. Priorities and resourcing are stretched, pushed and moved around in the chaos of the aftermath of any natural disaster, and it takes a dedicated mind to sift the facts around one dead girl from everything else going on. Local authorities may have been forced to accept everything at face value in the pressure of the moment, but her family aren't, and a dedicated PI looking at just that particular case is able to find out much that anybody with a dozen disasters on their hands isn't always going to recognise. The case isn't however, as straight-forward as you'd think and sinister undertones soon start to emerge and you realise there are plenty of people willing to turn any set of circumstances into advantage.
A debut novel, THE MAORI DETECTIVE has bitten off a lot and does a pretty good job at keeping it moving forward, although there are some ancillary byways that could have been pulled back to keep the story more focused. The setting is well drawn, and the effect that the devastation has had on everyone palpable. All in all, THE MAORI DETECTIVE is a really good start to what you'd hope the author is intending to be an ongoing series.