NZ Crime and Mystery Writing

A big night tonight for New Zealand crime and mystery writing – the annual Ngaio Marsh Awards will be presented at the Word Christchurch festival. Congratulations to all the authors short-listed. (https://wordchristchurch.co.nz/programme/the-ngaio-marsh-awards/)

New Zealand is brimming with terrific writers, many of whom don’t get the recognition they deserve. I suppose, like most things, it comes down to the huge hype and marketing dollars channelled into overseas blockbusters.

So why not make a resolution to read more local stories? If you need inspiration, there is no better place to turn than to “Crime Watch”, Craig Sisterson’s fabulous website, which reviews kiwi crime fiction (https://kiwicrime.blogspot.com/).

Personally, I have a fairly low tolerance for explicit violence and gore, which rules out a lot of crime writing, but there are still plenty of cleverly plotted novels with engaging characters to dive into. I’d recommend Vanda Symon’s “Overkill” for a true kiwi crime experience. The lead, Sam Shephard, is a young female police officer, who is not afraid to kick a few ute tyres and face down the trials and tribulations of her small rural town in Southland.

If you like historical mysteries, you might like to read the “Sergeant Frank Hardy” series by Wendy Wilson. The first book “Not The Faintest Trace” is a free ebook, set in the rugged backcountry of 1870s New Zealand, with characters as diverse and gnarly as the scenery.

Or try a dive into a classic ‘Golden Age’ mystery by our very own Ngaio Marsh, New Zealand’s grand dame of the genre. She wrote 32 crime novels between 1934 and 1982 and ranks alongside the greats of this era, like Agatha Christie.

Happy reading!

Kate Mosse, Carcassonne & Arles at Christmas

Who else is jumping with excitement at the prospect of reading the next book by Kate Mosse? The City of Tears is the sequel to The Burning Chambers (2018) and hits the shelves 14 January 2021 (https://www.katemosse.co.uk/).

The City of Tears is set in 1572 at the height of the Wars of Religion between the ruling Catholics and the minority Hugenots. It features Catherine de Medici (see my Chenonceau blogpost) and the Feast Day of St Bartholomew’s, so is certainly won’t be lacking in historical drama!

Kate Mosse is one of my favourite authors and very hard to beat if you’re into French history and eloquent storytelling. I was hooked as soon as I read Labyrinth (2015), set in 1209 in the medieval fortress town of Carcassonne in southern France, at the time of the religious persecution and massacres of the Cathars. Labyrinth is a gripping dual-time tale of a mysterious book and the young woman who must keep its secrets safe.

I enjoyed the book so much that Carcassonne went to the top of my travel bucket-list. Here are a few photos, which only hint at the splendour of the place.

We were there just before Christmas, which is wonderful time to travel in France if you don’t mind a spot of cold weather, far fewer tourists and divine Christmas markets. By one of those incredible pieces of luck that befall travellers with flexible plans, we arrived in Arles during their Christmas Festival, on the very night the old town square was transformed into a stunning piece of acrobatic-operatic-visual artistry. Even if you don’t make the Christmas extravaganza, Arles is well worth a visit for its Roman amphitheatre and theatre (still in use) and its Vincent van Gogh links, amongst many other attractions.

The surrounding area of Provence remains firmly on my post-vaccine bucket-list, as we didn’t have time for Camargue Nature Park Nature Park (flamingos and wild horses) and Avignon.

Old Books and a Rocking Chair

Dear friends are renovating at present, which leaves me in the blissful position of caring for a lovely old rocking chair and a pile of books.

With so many tempting new books published every year, it’s easy to forget the delicious pleasure of re-reading an old favourite.

My fingers felt that old tingling when I found ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, 2008) in the pile.

Now, I have to admit a tiny addiction to the film version, to the point that the book version was a dim memory. What a pleasure to pick it up again one night and read until the wee hours. Characters bursting with genuine character, the allure of an island setting, the historical back-drop of WWII, and lashings of heart-warming romance and laugh-out-loud humour.

High Tide in Tucson’ (1995) was in the pile too. I’m a fan of Barbara Kingsolver – ‘Poisonwood Bible’ makes my all-time favourites list – but this was one I hadn’t read. Here’s an extract from the blurb of this beautifully-written and eclectic collection of musings on society  (http://www.kingsolver.com/books/high-tide-in-tucson.html):

‘In these twenty-five newly conceived essays, she returns once again to her favored literary terrain to explore the themes of family, community, and the natural world. With the eyes of a scientist and the vision of a poet, Kingsolver writes about notions as diverse as modern motherhood, the history of private property, and the suspended citizenship of humans in the animal kingdom. Her canny pursuit of meaning from an inscrutable world compels us to find instructions for life in surprising places: a museum of atomic bomb relics, a West African voodoo love charm, an iconographic family of paper dolls, the ethics of a wild pig who persistently invades a garden, a battle of wills with a two-year-old, or a troop of oysters who observe high tide in the middle of Illinois.’

Writers will savour the ‘Not-So-Deadly Sin’ essay about letters from fans who suspect her stories are autobiographical. As she so amusingly points out, why would she risk using her family and friends as fodder for stories, when it is so much more fun making stuff up? Or as she puts it, with far greater eloquence: ‘Now I spend hours each day, year after year, sitting at my desk with a wicked smirk on my face, making up whopping, four-hundred-page lies. Oh, what a life.’ So true!

For anyone facing challenging times (and who isn’t?), the ‘High Tide in Tucson’ essay is a joy to read. Lessons in life from a displaced but determined hermit crab and a grinding stone abandoned in a desert cave – exquisite!

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