Wednesday, 02 September 2015 12:09

brokenwood mysteries

Small towns—even the most seemingly idyllic of them—can be hot-beds of deceit, betrayal, and, of course, murder. We mystery readers know that from the novels we read and, of course, from certain TV shows.

The Brokenwood Mysteries from New Zealand is set in a quiet country town that has a population of about 500 people. While it is always in danger of veering into Murder, She Wrote territory where it seemed that everyone in Cabot Cove was either a victim or a villain, The Brokenwood Mysteries avoid those pitfalls by focusing more on character and the exotic location.

The Brokenwood Mysteries, Series 1 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Acorn. This DVD four-disc set and the Blu-ray two-disc set each feature four feature-length mysteries plus bonus cast interviews ($59.99, 376 minutes, The second season currently is in production. Each of the four stories is two hours in length.

New Zealand doesn’t have a tradition of detective television series, so The Brokenwood Mysteries were a revelation for that country’s viewers when it aired in 2014 as it will be for American viewers. This is not the Hobbit’s New Zealand.

The town of Brokenwood is located in a farming belt where the landscape ranges from flat to nearby mountains. Wheat crops, sunflowers and wineries are located in just a few miles of each other.
brokenwoodmysteries shepherd
There are actually smaller townships near Brokenwood and each has its own flavor.

And the residents are a varied bunch, from retirees to hippies, from those who have quit their high-powered big city jobs to those who run health spas, wineries and horse riding schools.

Taking care of Brokenwood is Detective Senior Sergeant Mike Shepherd (Neill Rea), who has been assigned to the small town.

An experienced cop, Shepherd has more than his share of quirks, including too many ex-wives to count, a seemingly endless collection of country music cassette tapes and a 1971 “classic” car on which to play his music. (Notice I didn’t say the car was beautiful.) He also talks to the deceased for inspiration on finding the killer—a gimmick that plays better on the screen than on paper. The small town’s slower pace actually suits him better than he will admit.

Shepherd’s new partner, Detective Kristin Sims (Fern Sutherland), is at first annoyed by him and a bit resentful at having him as her boss. But Sims, who is nearly 20 years younger than his car, soon grows to respect his unorthodox ways, which are the exact opposite of her by-the-book approach to crime detection.

Theirs is a true professional partnership not one of those will-they-or-won’t-they setups. Shepherd is no Richard Castle.

The first episode revolves around the death of a local farmer; the second delves into the wine industry; the third takes place at a golf club and the fourth involves local hunters.

None of these episodes break new ground in detective shows, but the stories get a fresh spin and the twists are realistic. And Rea and Sutherland make for a good team you will want to watch.

The Brokenwood Mysteries unfold at a more leisurely pace than do U.S. detective shows. Still, the stories are interesting and there is no lag time during the two-hour episodes.

The Brokenwood Mysteries, Series 1 on DVD and Blu-ray from Acorn. The DVD four-disc set and the Blu-ray two-disc set each feature four, two-hour long films plus bonus cast interviews ($59.99, 376 minutes,

Photos: Neill Rea and Fern Sutherland, top; Rea, second photo. Photos courtesy Acorn.



Sunday, 30 August 2015 09:08


lagercranz girlinspider
On Tuesday—Sept. 1, 2015, for those of you reading this later—Lisbeth Salander, that much tattooed “girl” and journalist Mikael Blomkvist make their return in a new novel with a most long-winded title.

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series by David Lagercrantz practically deserves its own sentence.

The author of this novel that continues what most of us call The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series is, of course, not Stieg Larsson, who died of a heart attack in 2004 at age 50.

Larsson, a Swedish journalist and writer, didn’t live to see the publication of his first novel. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as well as the other two novels in the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire and title The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, were published posthumously.

Like Larsson, Lagercrantz also is a Swedish journalist and author who has worked as a crime reporter. He has several novels to his credit, and has won awards for his work in Sweden.

My first question is for Mystery Scene readers: Will you be buying and/or reading this new continuation of the story? My second question is why?

I don’t plan to read or review The Girl in the Spider's Web.

I don’t understand the need to continue this series after Larsson’s death. Larsson gave us three intriguing, though overwritten novels, and an unusual and compelling character in Lisbeth. Unfortunately, he died before he could continue the novels, so let’s be content with what he left.

I loved the Larsson’s novels, though I thought each needed a heavy editing and were too long. But the creation of Lisbeth overcame any problems and made me want to read all three novels.

I can understand the readers’ interest in more stories that began with Robert Ludlum, Robert B. Parker, Ian Fleming because those authors’ works were in the public for a longer time.
Instead, publishers and readers should be looking for new stories and new authors, and there certainly are enough around.

Instead of this new book, I think we should celebrate what Larsson’s original trilogy meant to readers.

First, it showed the world what mystery readers have long known: This community of readers is among the most highly educated and discerning of readers. They will accept any character, even one outside of their comfort level, if the stories are engaging enough. Lisbeth certainly falls into this area—an antisocial hacker with mad computer skills given to violence and heavily tattooed. And we wanted to know more and more about her.

Second, it reaffirmed that international settings are big with mystery readers. Publishers such as Soho Crime have long known this and delivered provocative crime stories set in countries other than Great Britain.

Larsson’s novels didn’t start the trend of more crime fiction set abroad and published in America. But his novels made publishers realize this was an untapped market that continues to grow.

So if you are looking for a few authors with novels with an international setting, here are a few to consider, in no particular order. I also wrote about other international writers on a previous blog. Find it here.

And please feel free to add your favorites. I am sure I missed some:

Elizabeth Hand, Available Dark set in Finland and Iceland

Cara Black, Paris

Arnaldur Indridason, Iceland

Martin Limon, Korea

Barry Lancet, Japan (and San Francisco)
Qiu Xiaolong, Shanghai

Nele Neuhaus, Germany  


Jussi Adler-Olsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

Karin Alvtegen, Sweden

Sara Blaedel, Copenhagen, Denmark

K.O. Dahl, Oslo, Norway

Ake Edwardson, Gotesborg, Sweden

Kjell Eriksson, Libro, Sweden

Karin Fossum, Norway

Anne Holt, Oslo, Norway

Matti Joensuu, Helsinki, Finland

Lene Kaaberbol, Copenhagen Denmark

Mons Kallentoft, Fjallbacka, Sweden

Lars Kepler, Tumba, Sweden

Camilla Läckberg, Sweden

Asa Larsson, Sweden

Henning Mankell, Sweden, among other locales

Liza Marklund, Sweden

Jo Nesbo, Oslo, Norway

Hakan Nesser, a country much like Sweden

Kristina Ohlsson, Stockholm, Sweden

Hakan Ostlundh, The Intruder, Fårö, off Gotland, Sweden

Anders Roslund, Stockholm, Sweden

Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Reykjavik, Iceland

James Thompson, Finland

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, Sweden

Helene Tursten, Gothenburg, Sweden

Jan Costin Wagner, Turku, Finland

Tuesday, 25 August 2015 11:08

foxcandice eden
From the land Down Under come the 2015 Ned Kelly Awards. Actually, these come from the Australian Crime Writers Association.

And this is the 20th anniversary of the Ned Kelly Awards, which are Australia’s oldest and considered its most prestigious prizes to honor the country’s crime fiction and true crime writing.

The winners are chosen by judging panels comprised of booksellers, book industry luminaries, readers, critics, reviewers, and commentators.

The 2015 winners are:
Fiction: Eden by Candice Fox
First fiction: Quota by Jock Serong
True crime: This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial by Helen Garner
S.D. Harvey short story: "Short Term People" by Andrea Gillum

The awards began in 1995 after a group of crime writers, academics, publishers, and journalists hatched the plan over a long Sydney lunch, according the association’s web site.

The awards are named after Australia’s most infamous criminal, who lived during the late 1800s. Not to simplify, but Ned Kelly was kind of like Robin Hood or Jesse James, considered part criminal but also part folk hero, pushed into crime by circumstances beyond his control.

According to several sources, Ned was one of eight Kelly children. The family was poor and saw themselves as victims of police persecution. Ned Kelly served three years in prison for stealing horses.

He and his brothers became outlaws after fatally shooting three policemen who supposedly were harassing the family. In a final showdown with the police, Ned Kelly dressed in homemade metal armor and a helmet; he was wounded in the arms and legs by the police and eventually hanged.

nedkelly movieposter
At the time of his execution—as well as now, Ned Kelly was a controversial figure. Opinion was divided on whether he really was harassed by the police to the point that he had no choice but to turn outlaw, or if he was just a thug.

And like Robin Hood and Jesse James, Ned Kelly has been the subject of several films. The 1906 Australian film The Story of the Kelly Gang ran for more than an hour and was, at that time, the longest narrative film to be released.

Mick Jagger played him in the 1970 movie Ned Kelly; take it from me that film is so dreadful you can’t stop watching it. Heath Ledger played him in the 2003 film that was also called Ned Kelly—it was marginally better.

Singer Johnny Cash and the band Midnight Oil have sung about Ned Kelly.

Peter Carey’s novel True History of the Kelly Gang, told from Kelly’s perspective, won the 2001 Man Booker Prize.