Category Archives: John Daniell

Pressure, Pushing Down on Me*

In the US, one of the last major hurdles for Ph.D. candidates is defending their dissertations. I understand it’s the same in many other places, too. If you have a Ph.D. yourself, or you’ve sat in on one of these events, then you know it’s a very intense experience. As this is posted, it’s my ‘dissertation anniversary,’ which has me thinking about the process. Candidates spend weeks or even months preparing their presentations of their material, as well as responses to possible questions they may get from members of their dissertation committees (and, at times, the audience). And, of course, those questions may be about any aspect of the dissertation, so the candidate needs to be thoroughly familiar with every bit of the material. It’s nerve-wracking, to say the least.

The thing about defending a dissertation is that it’s a bit difficult to describe, since it doesn’t have a lot of obvious parallels in other fields. But a look at crime fiction can help give a few insights.

Getting ready to defend a dissertation is a little like rehearsing for a performance. Just as actors must know their lines and musicians must know their pieces, Ph.D. candidates have to have their presentations well-prepared. We see the intensity of rehearsal in a lot of crime fiction. For instance, Christine Poulson’s Stage Fright sees her protagonist, Cassandra James, asked to adapt a Victorian novel, East Lynne, for a stage production. She’s Head of the English Department at St. Etheldreda’s College, Cambridge, and her specialty is Victorian literature. So, she’s the right choice for the job. All starts out well enough, and rehearsals begin. But then, Melissa Meadows, who is to take a leading role in the play, tells James that someone is stalking her. Then, she goes missing. This throws rehearsals into chaos, and, when she doesn’t return, leads to the investigation of a possible murder.

Fans of Ngaio Marsh, Simon Brett, and Deborah Nicholson, among others, will know that their novels also take the reader ‘backstage.’ In such novels, we see how many times material has to be prepared and how important timing is. We also see the suspense, nerves and tension that come out under so much pressure. It’s the same when one’s preparing to defend a dissertation.

Defending a dissertation isn’t really entertainment, though. Candidates need to be prepared to address challenges to everything about their work. They need to examine each aspect of their dissertations, from the topic, to the data collection, to the data analysis, and more. In that sense, preparing to defend a dissertation is a little like preparing for a trial. A good attorney prepares thoroughly for each trial. That includes working with witnesses and, possibly, the defendant. It also includes looking carefully at each aspect of the case, and addressing possible weaknesses. Attorneys know that any serious weaknesses in a case will be exploited by the other side. So, they do everything possible to prevent that. Admittedly, the Ph.D. candidate doesn’t risk prison. But it’s still quite a high-stakes process.

We see that sort of preparation in work by, for instance Scott Turow, John Grisham, Robert Rotenberg, and Paul Levine. The writing team of ‘Perri O’Shaughnessy’ also explore this sort of pre-trial work in their Nina Reilly novels.

Presenting one’s material before the dissertation committee, and fielding questions, isn’t exactly like a trial. The role of the dissertation committee is to support the candidate. After all, if the candidate doesn’t do well, this reflects on the committee, too – in particular on the candidate’s advisor/tutor, who generally chairs the committee.

In that way, defending a dissertation is a bit like a major sports competition. On the one hand, the player has to work very hard, and coaches can be difficult to satisfy. The Olympic Games, the World Series, the World Cup, and other such contests, all require discipline and focus. And coaches and trainers push and challenge players to get the most from them. At the same time, their role is to be allies and support systems.

Alison Gordon’s crime novels give readers a good look at what it’s like to play for a Major League baseball team. Readers see how important the actual games can be, and what the roles of coaches and trainers are. John Daniell’s The Fixer offers some similar insight into the world of rugby. And there’s Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar series, which takes the perspective of a sports agent. In all of these novels and series, we see how pivotal a game or series of games can be. That stress and tension is quite similar to what it’s like to defend a dissertation.

As I say, it’s a little difficult to describe getting ready to defend a dissertation. It’s a singular experience, and it challenges Ph.D. candidates to think about their work in ways they probably wouldn’t otherwise. But there is nothing quite like being informed you’ve passed, and having your committee address you as ‘Doctor.’ I often think it would actually be a solid context for a crime novel. There’s tension, intense preparation, possible ego clashes, and there’s no telling what the candidate might uncover in pursuit of that all-important data set. If you went through this process, I’d love to hear your experiences. I still remember mine, even after a number of years.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Queen and David Bowie’s Under Pressure.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Christine Poulson, Deborah Nicholson, Harlan Coben, John Daniell, John Grisham, Ngaio Marsh, Paul Levine, Perri O'Shaughnessy, Robert Rotenberg, Scott Turow, Simon Brett

In the Spotlight: John Daniell’s The Fixer

>In The Spotlight: Martha Grimes' The Anodyne NecklaceHello, All,

Welcome to another special edition of In The Spotlight. For many people, New Zealand just wouldn’t be New Zealand without rugby. And plenty of Kiwis are true fans of the game. So it’s only natural that there’d be at least one rugby-themed book among this year’s finalists for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel. Let’s take a look at that book today, and turn the spotlight on John Daniell’s The Fixer.

Mark Stevens is a former member of New Zealand’s legendary All-Blacks. Heading towards the end of his career, he’s now playing for a French professional team, and planning for the end of his playing days.

One day, he gets word that someone wants to interview him for a magazine. That someone turns out to be Rachel da Silva, who works for a Brazilian magazine. She’s been sent to France to do an in-depth piece on rugby, its popularity, and the rugby life. Rachel is both smart and attractive, and she seems genuinely interested in getting her material, so Stevens is only too happy to meet with her.

Soon, Rachel tells Mark about a friend of hers named Philip, a wealthy man who’s apparently made quite a bit of money betting on rugby. In fact, she tells Mark that it was Philip who suggested she do the rugby story. Before long, Mark finds himself the object of Philip’s (extremely generous) gratitude, and Rachel’s (extremely personal) attention. Soon drawn in, Mark finds out that what’s at stake is betting on matches using his ‘inside information.’

The chance to shore up the future for his sister and her family (and to secure a comfortable retirement for himself) is too alluring, and Mark goes in with Rachel and Philip’s plan. Then things change. Now the plan is match-fixing, which to Mark, crosses the line. He’s very uncomfortable with the idea, and he knows what it’ll do to his reputation, both in the club and with his family. And for Mark, that matters.

The only problem is that by now, Mark is in deep, as the saying goes. What’s more, his family back home in New Zealand has been threatened. If he and his family are to come out of this intact, and if he’s to maintain any kind of integrity, he’s going to have to shake off the people who have pulled him in. And that could prove to be a fatal decision.

Rugby features heavily in this novel, and it’s an important element. Readers who understand the game and have played it will appreciate the authentic descriptions of the matches. Readers who don’t know much about rugby will find that there’s a lot of useful information about the game, and for the most part, it’s clear even to the uninitiated. Readers who dislike sport, and would rather not read about it, will notice the focus on rugby. That said, though, there’s as much emphasis on the suspense of betting on and fixing matches as there is on the game itself.

Because the novel is about rugby, there’s also some focus on the behind-the-scenes interactions among team members. There’s a unique camaraderie that comes from playing on a team, being on the road with those people, drinking with them after games, and so on. This isn’t to say that everyone’s close friends. But we do see how team members depend on each other, and how intimately they know each other in some ways.

The questions of betting and match-fixing are central to the novel, so, as you can imagine, there are some really interesting ethical questions. Most people would probably agree that betting on a sport with ‘inside information’ is at least ethically questionable. Match-fixing is, for plenty of people, even more ethically wrong. But what happens if the reason isn’t to become rich? What happens if the goal is to help family members who are in difficult financial situations? Daniell doesn’t make light of the choices that Mark makes. But we do come to understand why he makes them.

I’m not sure you could really call this a noir story, but it certainly has a few elements. For example, Mark is presented with a situation where there really is no easy, ‘correct’ alternative. Whatever he decides to do, there will be serious consequences. And things are not made all right again at the end. This isn’t one of those stories where a ‘bad guy’ is led off in handcuffs.

There’s also the character of Rachel da Silva. As is the tradition in many noir novels, you could consider her a femme fatale. On the other hand, Daniell makes it clear that she is, in her way, a victim, too. Or is she? Readers who prefer complex characters will appreciate that Rachel is neither presented as an ‘angel who’s trapped’ or an ‘evil temptress.’

Mark is from rural New Zealand, and Daniell shares that growing-up experience with readers. There are flashback scenes to his uncle’s farm, for instance, that show the reader what that life is like. Daniell uses that to explain Mark’s character, and to show his relationships with his family members. Readers who dislike flashbacks will notice this.

The rest of the story is told more or less sequentially, in present tense. Readers who have a tense preference will either appreciate or be disappointed in that choice. It’s worth noting, too, that Daniell sets the flashback scenes apart by using past tense for those, so that readers know when the different parts of the story occur.

The Fixer is an inside look at rugby, at who plays it, and what it means to the players and fans. It’s also a look at what happens when a person is faced with a set of choices that don’t really have any good outcomes. It features a skilled player who’s looking back on his career and trying to leave whatever legacy he can, and is set in the distinct context of a sport team. But what’s your view? Have you read The Fixer? If you have, what elements do you see in it?

 
 
 

Coming Up On In The Spotlight
 

Monday, 31 October/Tuesday, 1 November – Twister – Jane Woodham

Monday 7 November/Tuesday, 8 November – Montana, 1948 – Larry Watson

Monday 14 November/Tuesday, 15 November – The Eye of Jade – Diane Wei Liang

 

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Filed under John Daniell, The Fixer

We’re For Our Team, Yeah*

team-membersHave you ever played on a sports team? Oh, not necessarily a professional team. But perhaps you played football (no matter how you define that term), baseball, rugby or hockey in school. Or you might have played for a local club. If you did (or still do), then you know that there’s a unique relationship among the players on a team. They share the wins and losses, of course. But they also share a certain kind of intimacy that goes beyond that. And that’s the way coaches like it, since the best teams work together and support each other.

That team relationship can make for a really effective context for a crime novel, if you think about it. For one thing, there’s a disparate group of people who have to live at close quarters with each other. And that (plus the competition) can make for all sorts of effective conflict and tension. For another, team members often know things about each other that friends and families may not. So they’re often useful sources of information and good repositories of all sorts of secrets. Here are just a few examples of how the team dynamic can work in crime fiction. I’ll bet you’ll know of dozens more than I could remember.

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter, Sherlock Holmes gets an ‘inside view’ of a rugby team. Cambridge’s rugby coach, Cyril Overton, comes to Holmes with the news that his three-quarter, Godfrey Staunton, has gone missing. Of course Overton is concerned about the young man’s well-being. Beyond that, Cambridge is to face Oxford in a match the next day, and there’s little chance of Cambridge winning if Staunton doesn’t play. Holmes agrees to take the case, and starts to trace Staunton’s movements. Overton, of course, consults with Staunton’s teammates, but gets no help there. And other leads aren’t helpful, either. It’s not until Holmes makes sense of a cryptic telegram and a scent-dog that we learn what really happened to Staunton.

The first of Reginald Hill’s Andy Dalziel/Peter Pascoe series, A Clubbable Woman, has a rugby club as its focal point. One day, veteran player Sam Cannon is badly roughed up during a match, and suffers a concussion. He goes home and falls into a deep sleep. When he wakes, he finds that his wife, Mary, has been bludgeoned to death. As you might expect, Sam himself is the most likely suspect in her murder. But he claims to be innocent. As Dalziel and Pascoe begin to look into the matter, they find out that the key to this mystery lies with the rugby club. Once they untangle the network of relationships, and the backgrounds of the team members, they learn the truth.

As Alison Gordon’s The Dead Pull Hitter begins, Toronto sports writer Katherine ‘Kate’ Henry is returning to Toronto with the (American League) Toronto Titans baseball team. They’re about to host the Boston Red Sox for an important series of games that could get them into the championship series. After one key win, everyone’s celebrating when word comes that one of the players, Pedro Jorge ‘Sultan’ Sanchez, is dead, and his body’s been found in his home. On the surface, it looks as though Sanchez surprised a burglar, and Staff Sergeant Lloyd ‘Andy’ Munro and his team begin their investigation. Then, another player, Steve Thorson, is murdered. Now, Munro changes the focus of the investigation to the members of the team. And he and Henry find that they can be of help to each other. She can provide him with inside information on the team members, their interactions, and so on. And he can give her exclusive information on one of the most important baseball stories she’s written. It turns out that things happening on the team play a major role in the case.

In Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, we are introduced to Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy. They’ve been best friends for a very long time, with Addy serving as Beth’s trusty lieutenant. Now, Beth is captain of the cheerleading squad, and Addy is still her second-in-command. Together, they rule the school as the saying goes. That is, until the new cheerleading coach, Collette French, starts working with them. Before long, the other girls on the squad, including Addy, are drawn into the new coach’s world, and form a tightly-knit group. Beth, who’s been more or less left out of this new social group, naturally resents both the exclusion and her loss of power as the cheerleaders’ ‘queen bee.’ Addy, though, feels the ‘pull’ of the new coach and of the group of other cheerleaders who spend time with her. Everything changes for Addy when there’s a suicide – or is it? Among other things, this novel explores the intensity of teammate relationships, and the different (and not always) healthy forms they take.

And then there’s John Daniell’ The Fixer. In this novel, we meet Mark Stevens, who was one of the (New Zealand) All Blacks’ stars during his best playing years. Now that he’s getting a little older and closer to the end of his career, he’s taken a job with a French rugby club where the pay is good, and he can ensure that he’ll retire comfortably. Things go well until he meets Brazilian journalist Rachel da Silva. She’s in France to do a story on rugby for her magazine, and wants to do an in-depth piece. She wants Stevens to help her meet the other players and, of course, to give her his perspective. It’s not long before they’re in a relationship, but it turns out to be much more than Stevens bargained for originally. Rachel slowly convinces him that he can make a lot of money betting on matches. Then it becomes hints about fixing matches. And it’s not just a matter of his sense of ethics, either. The stakes get very high when his family back in New Zealand are threatened. One of the important plot lines in this novel is the set of relationships among the players in the club. They have a unique kind of a bond; and, in a way, that’s a big part of the problem for Stevens as he starts to walk a very blurred ethical line.

Teammates really do know each other in ways that lots of other people don’t. That relationship can get intense, and there can even be conflict (or worse). But that sense of team identity is part of what wins games.

 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from the Beach Boys’ Our Team.

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Filed under Alison Gordon, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Daniell, Megan Abbott, Reginald Hill

Goin’ to Southern Islands*

NZReading1Like any other kind of fiction, crime fiction benefits from the sound of fresh, new author voices. And trust me (oh, trust me!) it’s not easy to write that first crime novel, even if you’ve had experience writing poetry, short stories or non-fiction.

That’s why I am absolutely delighted to have been invited to join the judging panel for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel. The awards will be presented in August, and I can’t wait! What a thrill! Not only do I get to help with New Zealand’s most prestigious crime fiction awards, but I get to read some terrific Kiwi crime fiction. How lucky can a girl get?

As you can guess, I’m buried under some wonderful Kiwi crime novels *Pause for mental picture.*  I’m having a fabulous time, and I thought I’d share it with you by giving you a peek at the titles that are contenders for the Best First Novel Award. I’ll share half of the titles today, and the other half tomorrow. Ready to pull out your wish list??  Here goes:

 

Ray Berard – Inside the Black Horse

Blurb:Ray-Berard_cover_final-940x1417

A young man is waiting outside a pub on a cold winter’s night. There is a debt to pay and no options left.

What he does next drags a group of strangers into a web of confusion that over the course of a few days changes all their lives.
There’s the young Maori widow just trying to raise her children, the corporate executive hiding his mistake, the gang of criminals that will do whatever it takes to recover what they’ve lost – and the outsider sent to town to tease out the truth.
Stepping into the shoes of every player dragged into the fray, Berard takes the reader on a dangerous and desperate journey, where bonds are built and broken and we find out who, if anyone, will survive. 

 

Murder and MatchmakingDebbie Cowens Murder & Matchmaking

Blurb:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a mother in possession of unmarried daughters must be in want of wedding bells. Less well known are the lengths to which she might go to achieve that wish. 

 

 

 

 

 

John Daniell The Fixer

Blurb:The Fixer

Match-fixing is one of the biggest issues surrounding sport at this time. John Daniell, a former professional rugby player, has written the fascinating novel about Mark Stevens, a former All Black playing professional rugby in Paris. Moving toward the end of his career Mark is drawn, through his relationship with a beautiful journalist, first into betting on matches and then into match-fixing. From on his own experience, Daniell shows how an innocent player can be drawn into an illegal world, one where your actions place your family, half a world away, in danger.

 

 

 


Alexandra GastoneT.A. Maclagan – They Call Me Alexandra Gastone

Blurb:

When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?

Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.
She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.
Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.
For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.
But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.
Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.
Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?

 

Christodoulos Moisa – The Hour of the Grey Wolf

Blurb:Moisa - The Hour of The Grey Wolf (front)

The Hour of the Grey Wolf, is set in Cyprus during 1973. The CIA and its Greek Junta proxy are gunning for Archbishop Makarios, the democratically elected first president of the Republic, and because of this a civil war, where Greek would be fighting Greek, is looming. The narrator is Steve Carpenter, a New Zealand journalist of Cypriot descent. Wounded in Vietnam where he has worked for REUTERS, he chooses to go to Cyprus to recuperate. However, as a new chapter in Cypriot history unfolds, he becomes drawn into solving a murder that occurs in Mpalloura, the village where he is living. Knowing that he may be putting his own life at risk, Carpenter gingerly delves into the deadly politics of the time and the labyrinth-like complexity of a peasant village whose inner darkness one is rarely exposed to.

 

The Alo ReleaseGeoffrey Robert – The Alo Release

Blurb:

Nine days before the global release of a genetically modified seed coating set to make starvation history, the IT advisor for an environmental group receives a cryptic email from an old friend working for the seed corporation.
The email triggers a frantic manhunt from the glass towers of Los Angeles to the towering rainforests of New Zealand as the corporation’s security chief tries to track down and silence the English IT advisor and his colleagues – an American biologist and New Zealand eco-warrior.
As the clock ticks down to the much-anticipated and highly stage-managed release of the coated seeds, the trio are pitched against ruthless corporate thugs, law enforcement agencies, politicians, journalists and bloggers … and the overwhelming weight of world opinion.
Aided by an unlikely cast including a gun-toting geriatric, reclusive hacker, toothless lobster fisherman, Oxford-educated Maori elder, native hardwood poacher and extreme multisporter, the fugitive trio race the clock to unravel the truth behind the email.
In this debut novel, author, journalist and former communications advisor Geoffrey Robert delivers a pulsating thriller exposing the potential for public opinion to be manipulated during an international crisis. 

 

In the interest of not making this post too long, I’ll tell you about the rest tomorrow. But as you can already see, there’s a rich variety of new books out there!!! Little wonder I’m so delighted to be a part of the team.

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Southern Cross.

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Filed under Christodoulos Moisa, Debbie Cowens, Geoffrey Robert, John Daniell, Ray Berard, T.A. Maclagan