CategoryNgaio Marsh

Rousing Rotorua Noir

A festival with the X factor.

The kiwi no 8 fencing wire and oily rag didn’t get in the way of Rotorua Noir delivering a well- planned and staged event, the first of its type in New Zealand, (Kia Ora Grant Nicol and Craig Sisterson). It was a huge success and our international author guests were excited to support us. From the hugely popular creative writing classes delivered by NZ’s modern-day Queen of Crime, to the fantastic welcome on

Paul Cleave’s comedic attempt at asking questions

Te Papaiouru Marae, to the panels and interviews where authors talked about their writing lives and their books, to the literary quiz on Saturday night to the Haere Ra/farewell on Sunday, this event had the X factor.

Many of the attending authors had been to a lot of similar events around the world but all concluded this one at Rotorua was special for them. Perhaps because it was limited to eighty people (sold out 3 months before the day) perhaps it was the tenth anniversary of the Ngaio Marsh crime awards, perhaps it was because people were able to meet up or reconnect with Craig Sisterson – founder of New Zealand’s crime award, or talk to other writers they admired, or the willingness of people to generously share their time. Perhaps it was all of those reasons, and more, that made the event special. To quote from Denis the erudite legal luminary in the great movie The Castle, ‘There’s no one section. It’s just the vibe of the thing.’

International author panel

I was given the honour of chairing the last panel, a panel of international best-selling crime authors: Alex Gray, Michael Robothom, Paul Cleave and Kati Hekkapelto.

Paul Cleave, Michael Robotham,Alex Gray, Kati Hekkapelto and Mark McGinn

Naturally, I’d done a bit of prep for this, but I had a bit of an “all is lost moment” when I realised that with all the panels and interviews before me, a lot of the material I intended to use had been discussed. And because those events had been well attended, more of the same may not have been a fitting finale. I had to quickly rethink my approach.


Authors put on trial

After introducing myself I told the audience I wanted to involve them differently -they would be a jury and the four accused with me on stage faced two criminal counts. First, they were charged with the wilful infliction of psychological torture of readers, causing said readers to disassociate from their normal world of reality. Second, they were charged with the prolonged and unreasonable detention of readers, holding them in suspense before allowing cathartic release.

I continued my opening address for the prosecution to alert them that they were not the only people to be accused of these crimes and that at an appropriate time, His Honour Justice Sisterson would try the co-offending publishers at a later date. I acknowledged that in respect of the normal order of trial events, this one was unusual in that they’d already heard character evidence given for three of the accused. About that evidence, I said, ‘You may well think that the witness Jackie Collins on behalf of Gray and Hekkapelto and the witness JP Pomare on behalf of Robotham were sincere in the praise and encouraging testimonies of the accused. But I submit they were naive and misguided as will be demonstrated when the accused answer my questions.’

I administered an oath to the collective accused that they would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I proceeded to cross examine each of them, drawing out the following behaviours, all of which they had admitted to on different occasions to give credibility to the charges:

Some confessions from the witness box

Alex Gray – when she was a former Scotland employee of the Department of Health and Social Services, Alex helped (in her words) “wide boys, chancers, and parents who drank their kids’ school uniform money.” She admitted this and the fact she was scoping for writing material and victim hunting. After 16 books she was clearly the ringleader of this gang of writing reprobates.


Michael Robothom – admitted trying to muscle in on an IRA money launderer but claimed he was only doing his job at the time, as a journalist. He admitted it was unusual for a journo to be abducted by men in balaclavas, and dumped at an airport and instructed to go home. Robotham also admitted consorting with a convicted murderer and at the time, one of Australia’s most wanted men. His plea in mitigation was that he identified the man to police and gave evidence against him. He was unable to say whether Joe O’Loughlin, the protagonist in a series of JO’L books had forgiven him for inflicting him Parkinson’s Disease.

Paul Cleave – claimed not to remember his past due to writing a character with Alzheimer’s Disease. His book Trust No One featured a crime writer struggling with the disease trying to determine whether he’d committed crimes or just written about them). And although Cleave confessed to being a cat lover, he identified Santa Claus as a drug addict who shot himself up with heroin, killed his elves, and shredded them in a machine that made toys out of them. In his defence, he claimed to be 15 years-old when he wrote that.

Kati Hiekkapelto

Kati Hiekkapelto – from Finland, worked the jury for sympathy, repeatedly asking for an interpreter. But she could not deny attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, proceeding to a public sauna dressed only in a towel and studded belt and disguised with a beard. She objected to my characterisation that the hair was false but admitted to testing her punk lyrics on fifty sweaty, naked men and women at the time. She confessed to occasionally searching the inside of her car for serial killers.

The verdict

I warned the jury not to be swayed by Grey’s Scottish accent and her grandmotherly persona, that she could be considered the ring-leader of the group, and after writing 16 books admitted to working on another. I concluded with asking the jury to find all the accused guilty of being seriously good crime writers and to deliver their verdict accordingly. They did so without even retiring to the jury room.

Craig Sisterson

Honouring ‘His Honour’

I then asked ‘His Honour Justice’ Craig Sisterson and ‘Associate’ Grant Nicol on to the stage. The judge had no idea what was happening next. In another unorthodox trial procedure, I delivered one final address.

‘Fantastic though this inaugural festival has been and acknowledging the idea and great mahi of Grant and Craig to make it work, we cannot say Haere Ra without acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the Ngaio Marsh founded by our Craig. Craig describes himself as a lapsed lawyer and a wandering writer but whether those descriptions are just cause for the peculiarity of not owning a cell phone is a moot point. Tonight, we recognise a lion-hearted man in every sense of the word.

‘Craig, generous with your time, your support of us as crime writers and in other charitable causes, your generosity seems to know no bounds. I’m sure it hasn’t always been easy for you living in the UK when a huge part of your heart is often tugging at you from Aotearoa, a place you love deeply. We’re all so grateful to Helen and Maddie for helping keep you strong.

‘You’re the best networker I’ve ever met and the greatest promoter of and ambassador for NZ crime writers around the world. You have an indomitable spirit: you are a taonga and our Rangatira and tonight we honour you and say, Kia ora, mate.’

Justice was done

An emotional moment between the organisers, Grant Nicol and Craig.

Grant presented Craig with a greenstone adze pendant, and he responded in typical form, acknowledging and thanking Grant for making the event happen and for everyone attending and making Rotorua Noir a very special event. Then it was time for drinks and kai and a very happy group of authors invaded a Thai restaurant.

Rotorua Noir

The crime festival

This weekend 25 – 27  January 2019, New Zealand will host its first ever crime writers & readers festival in Rotorua.  It’s an event that sold out well before kick off. I’m very excited to be meeting some of my favourite crime writers and hearing about their current projects, having a few laughs and just kick around with great people , some with slightly warped minds and some more warped than others.


Chairing a panel

Craig Sisterson, founder of New Zealand’s Ngaio Marsh Crime Awards has asked me to chair the last panel of the festival. It will include the big names below, including New Zealand’s own Paul Cleave, perhaps the most warped mind in NZ.   It’s an  honour and privilege for me to do this. Many thanks to Grant Nicol and Craig, for all the work they’ve put into organising the festival.

The author’s titles in poems

In order of output, here are the first three authors on that panel. They’ve written enough novels for me to put each of their titles into a slightly creepy poem.

Alex Gray – 16 crime stories

As The Riverman counted Five ways to kill a man, he heard a Small weeping, Shadows of sound in the Still dark.

It was The darkest Goodbye when he carved  A pound of flesh from The Stalker, delivering a Glasgow Kiss and a warning to Keep the midnight out.

In Pitch black, he crept to the Swedish girl, The bird that did not sing  whispering, Sleep like the dead, as Only the dead can tell youNever be somewhere else.


Michael Robotham – 13 crime stories

Don’t close your eyes
The other wife said
I know The secrets she keeps.
You think your marriage is Bombproof
But it’s The Wreckage of us all.

Say you’re sorry my love, or, when I’m Lost off The night ferry, you will Bleed for me and she will be Watching  you. Your life will Shatter in a Life or death struggle when you become The suspect in her death.


Paul Cleave – ten crime stories

Trust No one The cleaner thought.

But The Blood Men were Collecting Cooper and they would take him to  The Laughterhouse on Cemetery Lake.

So  Joe Victim knew The killing hour was near and he’d have his Five minutes alone 

Before The killer harvest began.


Kati Hiekkapelto – 3 crime stories

Kati has written three  highly acclaimed novels. Her Anne Fekete series, including The Hummingbird, The Defenceless and The Exiled have been translated into eighteen languages and two were shortlisted for the Petrona Award in the UK. The Defenceless won Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year, and has been shortlisted for the prestigious Glass Key.

I look forward to reporting back on the festival soon.

Happy reading.






QC says author too observant of lawyers

It was a fantastic time at the book launch of the printed copy of Presumed Guilty in Scorpio Bookshop , Christchurch, on a Winter’s Thursday night.

Nigel Hampton QC, an icon of the New Zealand bar, and the South Island’s most eminent and tenacious criminal lawyer for decades, was there to launch my 4th book. And while they weren’t able to be present, I went to the launch fortified with best wishes from Nigel’s colleagues ‘in silk’, local QCs, Pip Hall and Chris McVeigh.

The assembled  jury came from many walks of life: an employment lawyer, a journalist and editor with Fairfax media, a literary editor, a corporate manager, consultants, a nurse, several administrators, an ex prison inspector, a current court officer, a librarian, an HR manager, general managers, a doctor and others from the health system, a couple of accountants, a social worker, people in retail, an interior designer and at least one student, although all had been students of life. Such a jury was the ideal assembly to invest their time in a mystery, and invest, they did.

Nigel Hampton opened his remarks with, “I’ve known Mark over a goodly number of years – mostly when he was a court registrar. It is evident to me now, having read this legal thriller of his, that the registrar’s role was nowhere busy enough – he has obviously spent too much time, far too much time, listening to and observing lawyers, witnesses and judges, how they comport and conduct themselves, how they act and react. Because it is the fruits of those observations which are on display, so well, in his fourth novel, a murder mystery.”

Later, on this same theme, he said, “Mark has set down a convincing replication of the ‘bitchy’, if not malicious, gossip so loved by courtroom lawyers, when not in court – and in the second part of the book, Mark captures the poisonous sotto voce comments stilettoed from one opposing lawyer to another when in court.”

At one point, and I’ve no doubt it’s his common trial tactic to present as a fair and reasonable advocate, Nigel, presented the negative. He said, “It is only a small ‘but’ Mark, none of those conversations and exchanges are quite profane enough to portray accuracy. We lawyers are a foul mouthed lot.’

To which there can be only one answer – sometimes reality is the victim of editing.

Picking up exhibit A, Nigel read a number of passages from the book, one of which he deliberately chose as a ‘tease’ and invited those attending the launch to see “just how much of a teaser I’ve made it.” He went on to describe Presumed Guilty as a book set in and around the environs of courts and a story that plays out “with all its unexpected twists and its suspenseful turns, especially as the pace picks up in the second half of the book leading to its explosive denouement.”

He concluded his address to an attentive jury, an erudite assembly and one much larger than the accustomed dozen, with a truism of trial lawyers. “A trial lawyer’s own belief (of her client’s innocence or guilt) is irrelevant; it is, always will be, an impediment to the lawyer’s role.”

And then , great craftsman and orator that he is, Nigel Hampton QC moved from advocate to judicial officer (he was once Chief Justice of Tonga) and left his attentive jury with compelling questions for their deliberation.

“But then this is the tale. And, was it an impediment here? Is he guilty or not? Is he found guilty, or not? A very different question. And who, in this tale, is truely innocent?”

Many thanks to the good guys at Scorpio for helping me make this possible and to those who gave up the comfort of warm homes to come out and offer their support.

By the way, the Cab Sav with which Nigel is toasting the book, is called The Pugilist. Those who know of his career as an advocate,  will know how fitting that is!


Consultant tells RNZ it’s their CEO’s fault

Here’s an extract of my interview today with RNZ’s internal magazine’ Soundbytes‘.


“I’m the HR Consultant who turned to crime and it’s all the fault of RNZ CEO Paul Thompson. One winter’s night in his Karori home in 2008, we were talking crime books, who our favourite authors were at the time. I clearly remember him saying that Stephen King always started with a question that began with “what if…” which led to other questions. He asked me what my starting ‘what if’ question would be if I wrote a story. I came up with, “what if someone emerged decades after a man was hanged for murder and took revenge on the surviving jurors from that old case.” That was how my story Best Served Cold was developed. I came up with that because I’d worked in courts for many years, helping run criminal jury trials in Christchurch, long before I got into HR Management.

Working with RNZ and the leadership and HR teams has been terrific. Yes, it’s got in the way of writing, but sadly, writing doesn’t pay the bills, at least not yet! One of the things I enjoy most about working at RNZ, and it was the same when I consulted to Fairfax, was working with people who were passionate about their craft. It’s like a calling for them and it’s really important to me to be able to help leaders build and maintain the right environments for those folk.

And a wee plug if I may – it was great to see Presumed Guilty on the shelves of Whitcoulls in Lambton Quay.”

Standing Room Only at RNZ


On Sunday I talked with Lynn Freeman at RNZ about courtroom drama in a high-stakes trial, the pressures evident on counsel and the dark side of the world people don’t  typically encounter.

We also discuss how Presumed Guilty is a story that weaves together the powerful forces of the judiciary, the media and the nefarious input of government officials who try and influence Sasha Stace QC and the outcome of the trial.  Enjoy the a sample of the book read on the show and the chat that follows here.


Mark McGinn talks to Booklovers

Presumed Guilty – Winning gilt edged reviews

Not only long-listed for the 2017 NZ Ngaio Marsh Crime Awards, Presumed Guilty is seen as unique in New Zealand in that it’s a genuine legal thriller with powerful characters in and out of the courtroom.

Link to buy:

Book review – Trust No one – Paul Cleave

Crime novel readers enjoy the detectives, the lawyers, the private sleuths, all invariably overcoming an antagonistic force. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t keep writing those stories, striving to tell them in unique ways, tweaking and dialing up tension with innovation. Sometimes evil wins, most times not. Some leave us with the main character in our heads long after we’ve finished the story. Jerry Grey, in “Trust No One”, is one of those characters.

Ngaio Marsh Award winner, Paul Cleave’s latest novel is no ordinary crime story. It is a psychological thriller, as far away from something formulaic in the genre as it’s possible to be. And, in my view, also daring. This story doesn’t just show insight into what living with Alzheimer’s might be like. Cleave gives us Jerry Grey’s painfully frustrating life in all its horror – moments of lucidity followed by desperation. In his unique style,  Cleave answers the question about what it’s like for someone in  the grip of a disease that wipes the brain of the very thing that allows him a living –  cognitive function.


Does it work? Big time! Not just because Cleave’s cleverly unfolds a thriller plot, constantly engaging the reader. In embracing a tough theme, he balances incredible empathy for the protagonist (and by implication, others with this disease) and he does so with the dry and dark humor ubiquitous across his other novels.

Cleave says, he struggled to come up with any title by the time he submitted his manuscript. In the end, Trust No one was suggested by publisher Atria (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) and when you read it you’ll agree it’s the right title for the story. Who can you trust when you can’t trust yourself?

As an attendee of the 10th Thrillerfest Conference in New York in early July, I was sent a digital copy of the book – a great marketing idea by the publishers but also a ‘big balls’ display to promote this book as essentially, a thriller for thriller writers – my words, not theirs.  So it was particularly interesting to hear D.P Lyle M.D. give Cleave’s book a huge rap in a craft session at that conference. You only need to run Lyle’s name through Google to see his credibility.

I’m not revealing a lot about this great story. It opens with Jerry Grey confessing to killing ‘Susan with a z’ and no one believing him. His audience is convinced Jerry’s recounting a tale from one of his books. In fact people don’t believe Susan with a z, has ever existed. Poor Jerry. A successful crime writer of twelve books whose pen name is Henry Cutter. One day a devoted family man, the next – shipped off to a nursing home 15 miles out of the city.  At 49 years of age and with early onset dementia, it can’t get much worse than this, can it? With Cleave at the keyboard, fans of his previous eight books will know that’s a rhetorical question.  

Has Jerry really become a killer? Is this appalling disease really driving him to act out Henry Cutter’s tales, rendering him unable to recall details the crime writer inside him knows are vital? Or is he, at heart and head, a clever killer with the ability to deceive. Some characters in the book certainly believe the latter.

If Cleave tormented Jerry Grey, his family, his friend Hans, his neighbors and the police in (mad as) “Batshit County”, he certainly doesn’t spare his readers. I was convinced he was playing with our minds too when he introduced an uncommon way of writing, a way that works beautifully for this story. We see Jerry’s/Henry’s point of view in the first person, second person and third person. Cleave craftily introduces Jerry’s “madness journal” to do so, creating a contemporaneous record in the form of a diary, which Jerry completes across the course of the novel. It begins with the awful realization that ‘Captain A’ is charting ‘Future Jerry’s course.  

Here’s a short sample of this journal, written after Jerry woke to see an obscenity spray-painted on a neighbor’s house: Naturally she came over and banged on your door. Of course she did. You’re the go-to guy when people have obscenities painted on their walls. Somebody spray-painted the word asshole on your door? Go see Jerry. Fucktard on your letterbox? Go see Jerry. Shitburger on your car? Go see Jerry.”  I won’t spoil the nice twist at the end of that journal’s entry, but despite the humour, I couldn’t help but connect to the distress of uncertainty someone must go through in these circumstances. You’d hope you wouldn’t be guilty, but you can’t rule it out!

As a writer, I enjoyed references to the writing craft: people asking where you get your ideas from, the editor’s concerns, the writer’s self-doubts, getting stuck, getting well through and realizing a significant rewrite is on the cards (yes, I know you outliners claim not to have the last two), last year’s book not that well reviewed. It’s all there, and appropriately so, given Jerry’s living and the fact that it’s all coming to a premature end.

I know this won’t be the end of Cleave’s crime writing, but many will understandably ask how he tops, ‘Trust No one’.  Having taken a year to recover from writing this book, he may even ponder that himself. For someone whose business is to entertain, let’s not bother to ask that, but appreciate that we, his readers, are the reason Cleave likes to make bad things happen. Let’s have more bad things!

Book review – Crime Thriller: Five minutes alone

When you pick up a book written by fellow Christchurch crime writer, Paul Cleave, you can be assured of a great read. His thrillers not only give you a terrific ride  through the often disturbing life of the characters, they can make you smile on nearly every page, at least for those of us with a slightly dark sense of humour. This is no easy thing to achieve.

5 mins alone

At the moment there’s a good debate on the value of restorative justice in New Zealand.  RJ conferences put the victim and offender together as a healing experience for the former and an opportunity for redemption for the latter. I over simplify, but you get the drift.

As Cleave’s title suggests, the premise of the book is a little different. It’s about the desire of many victims of crime, to have their five minutes alone with those who have wronged them, in effect to impart a bit of The Old Testament philosophy of an ‘eye for an eye’.

Ngaio Marsh award winner Cleave puts two main characters from former books together. One is Theodore Tate a cop who’s trying to get his life back on track after the death of his daughter and a wife who has seen better mental health. It’s Tate’s job to detect who’s killing the criminals in this story. The other is Carl Schroder an ex cop who was tormented by delusional Joe in The Cleaner and Joe Victim. Schroder is not only psychologically damaged goods, this lone wolf has a bullet lodged in his brain, inoperable and effectively a ticking time bomb on his life. He’ll never know his last seconds until it’s too late. So why not use his knowledge of crime, criminals and victims to give victims the justice so many don’t get from the system? It’s fair to say Carl Schroder’s idea of a restorative justice conference is not quite what the system intends. But good old Carl doesn’t quite get everything right. Death befalls the innocent people – those Carl is trying to help while his old mate Tate is responsible for putting an end to the unknown vigilante.

But in typical Cleave plotting, Tate has, as the cops say, “form” of his own. When the story begins only Tate (and readers of Cleave’s other books) know this secret. But don’t bet too much money on that remaining hidden. As it lurks in the background of Tate’s detection work and motivation, it makes for a fascinating read.

Cleave has written eight internationally best selling crime stories and been a finalist for the prestigous 2014 Edgar Award. Don’t be surprised if Five minutes alone is an award winner. As much as I enjoyed Joe Victim, I thought this one was even better.

Crime author interview

Craig Sisterson not only writes a great blog (Crime watch) promoting crime novels and novelists, he founded the New Zealand premiere annual award for NZ crime writers (Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel) . This year’s winner is pictured below.  It’s a great read.  To that end Craig is, I believe, MR CRIME in this growing community and has, almost on his own, furthered the ends of writers and readers of  crime novels in NZ and beyond.

Ngaio MarshIn this interview, I talk with Craig, but do check out and follow the rest of his blog for regular interesting updates.

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