Blog Archives

Revenge, arguments and silliness, Bernard Carpinter

Marlborough Man
Alan Carter
Fremantle Press, $38.00,
ISBN 978125164534

Presumed Guilty
Mark McGinn
Merlot Publishing, $33.00,
ISBN 9781513618609

The Empty Coffin
Gary Moore
Mary Egan Publishing, $30.00,
ISBN 9780473388959

Fans of New Zealand crime fiction can add one more name to the rather compact list of excellent local writers. The name is Alan Carter, and he’s actually an import, but his Marlborough Man is authentic Kiwi through and through. Originally from Sunderland in northeast England, Carter, emigrated to Perth in 1991, later began splitting his time between Perth and the Marlborough Sounds, and now lives in Havelock at the base of the Sounds.

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Back in the day, Gavin McLean

Moo and Moo and the Little Calf too
Jane Millton (Deborah Hinde illus)
Allen and Unwin, $20.00, ISBN 978877505928

Allis the Little Tractor
Sophie Siers (Helen Kerridge illus)
Millwood-Heritage Productions, $20.00, ISBN 9780473329594

The Viaduct Postcard
Susan Price (Judith Trevelyan illus)
Millwood-Heritage Productions, $20.00, ISBN 9780473369224

Sky High: Jean Batten’s Incredible Flying Adventures
David Hill (Phoebe Morris illus)
Penguin Random House, $25.00, ISBN 9780143770367

Aotearoa: The New Zealand Story
Gavin Bishop
Puffin, $40.00, ISBN 978043770350

Children’s books do not feature strongly in my childhood memories. Avis Acres was selling New Zealand-themed ones, but I mostly recall British books, full of their steam trains and villages. There were also books you brushed with water to bring up their pallid colours. But the real revolution came with the widespread adoption of Asian printing, making the highly colourful “picture flat” (and these all are) affordable to a wider audience. Think lots of colour, big pictures and big formats.

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Fighting a good fight, Tatjana Schaefer

Flight Path
David Hill
Puffin, $20.00,
ISBN 9780143770527

The Traitor and the Thief
Gareth Ward
Walker Books, $20.00,
ISBN 9781925381504

Helper and Helper
Joy Cowley (Gavin Bishop illus)
Gecko Press, $23.00,
ISBN 9781776571055

In this, the last year of the WWI centenary, it should not seem unusual to be reviewing three books that all have war or conflict as their central themes. The questions of what defines an enemy and how they are to be dealt with are addressed and (thankfully) not always answered, at least not in a didactic sort of way. Interesting in the present selection is the variety of approaches, not only to the topic of war and strife, but also to questions of friendship and belonging in the face of conflict.

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Writing the self, again, John McCrystal

Charlotte Grimshaw
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143771821

“Long ago”, the central character of Mazarine, Charlotte Grimshaw’s latest novel, writes, “I’d had an idea for a series of books in which the narratives were linked in the shape of a flower, with a central point and petals growing off it, because stories aren’t necessarily linear …”

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The chase of the thrill, David Hill

Annaleese Jochems 
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9781776561667

The Man Who Would Not See
Rajorshi Chakraborti
Penguin Random House, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143771784

Money in the Morgue
Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy
HarperCollins, $30.00,
ISBN 9780008207113

“I hear you like a good thriller, David,” said New Zealand Books’s courteous email. “Is that right?”

I responded with the dignified aloofness that marks all my exchanges with editors and publishers. “Oh yes. Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Actually, the resident thriller expert is my wife. Beth has shelves solid with crime classics: Christie, James (P D, not Henry), Rex Stout, Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, Anthony Price. She’s numbered their spines according to publication dates. She can discourse about Allingham’s aristocratic scion Albert Campion developing as books pass, whereas Price’s MI6 agent and middle-class fellow David Audley doesn’t. She and her friend since high school, Elizabeth Smither (name-dropper? moi?), talk about how Poirot’s patent-leather shoes mean he has to operate cerebrally rather than physically; how traumatic it was to see Nero Wolfe shedding weight to elude an assassin; how Agatha Christie’s other narrators, Tommy and Tuppence, need a good smack.

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The deep discomfort of remembering, Ann Beaglehole

All This by Chance
Vincent O’Sullivan
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776561797

All This by Chance is not a Holocaust novel nor a Jewish one, according to author Vincent O’Sullivan. It is a Kiwi story. But the book is most likely to be seen as a Holocaust novel: “about the legacy of the Holocaust” for three generations of Jewish women, as the promotion states.

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Fred Dagg meets Henry David Thoreau, Nicholas Reid

Moonshine Eggs
Russell Haley
Titus Press, $34.00,
ISBN 9781877441578

If a novelist calls his main character Rejekt, he can rationalise the name as part of his character’s Czech gypsy heritage. But obviously the late Russell Haley, in this posthumously published novel, wouldn’t be dealing with Harry Rejekt, if Harry wasn’t a reject from wider society. A solitary. A guy living on his own and not quite getting the hang of connecting with other people.

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Darkening and deepening, Catherine Robertson

Through the Lonesome Dark
Paddy Richardson
Upstart Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781927262986

Paddy Richardson takes a risk with her latest novel. By setting it in Blackball, a mining town on the West Coast in the early 1900s, she raises expectations of another Denniston Rose, and for well over 100 pages, readers could be forgiven for believing that they are reading a similar tale of a spirited young woman in trying circumstances. 

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Lies, damned lies, and fiction, Mark Broatch

False River
Paula Morris
Penguin, $35.00
ISBN 9780143771630

A couple of years ago I asked English essayist and novelist Geoff Dyer if he thought a man he and his wife picked up while driving through a desert in the United States of America was a serious criminal. In the story, White Sands, a sign warned drivers not to stop for hitchhikers because of prisons nearby. They did, instantly regretted it, and had to drive off at a gas station to get rid of him. Dyer wasn’t willing to confirm that they really did pick up a hitchhiker. “Is it fiction, is it a story? If so, at what point does it become fiction? If it is fiction, why isn’t it behaving like we expect stories to behave?”

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Knowing one another, Maggie Trapp

The Beat of the Pendulum: A Found Novel
Catherine Chidgey
Victoria University Press, $35.00,
ISBN 9781776561704


Kirsten McDougall
Victoria University Press, $25.00,
ISBN 9781776561001

Gabriel’s Bay
Catherine Robertson
Black Swan, $38.00,
ISBN 9780143771456

Imaginative writing takes the hurly-burly of life and boils it down to something at once contained and capacious, and stories – whether real or imagined – allow us to see and feel lives other than our own. In their new novels, Catherine Chidgey, Kirsten McDougall, and Catherine Robertson present compelling, intimate accounts of New Zealanders. These works are about ostensibly everyday lives. Yet these ordinary characters reveal the extraordinary that we all live within. These stories, each in its own way, speak to our need for story. 

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