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!


Book show host loves Presumed Guilty

It was great to be on Terry Toner’s, Radio Southland Book show program. He interviewed me on a range of topics from how I came to write the book, the setting and characters, the potholes of self publishing, editing and NZ crime writers. I’ll say here, what I said on his show: NZ writers are as good as any in the world and well worth a read.

Check out the discussion here and please share with others you think might be interested. The interview starts 3 minutes in.


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.


Paris Terror: Part of a master plot

The resolution in a crime story more often than not bolsters our hope that justice will ultimately prevail. Crime stories are about entertainment and escapism. But the real world never leaves us and the real world continues to challenge our belief that justice will prevail.


Where is there ever justice for the victims and their loved ones in non-fiction terror? Fuelled by a callous disregard for the value of human life, the latest strike is another against the Western World and the people in Paris in particular.  It’s another in a long catalogue of terror tactics designed to indiscriminately kill and maim. We focus on the horrible event, as it should. And the horrible event passes. Very much like the authorities who  ‘close the stable door after the horse has bolted’ in their increased military and police presence. It looks good, it appeases, but it will never be enough because it cannot be permanent. More and more of these destructive acts are developing throughout the world and will continue.

We shouldn’t be blind to the non-fiction plot. Osama bin Laden is dead, possible Jihadi John. These antagonists will always be replaced by others because the master plot is to polarize the warring factions. They want the West to abhor the Middle East, to provoke overreaction and retaliation against innocent Muslims. In turn, alienated Muslims will counteract and join extremists.

Like the great plots of fiction, this master plot of reality has endured and will continue. If social and traditional media is any indicator, Islamophobia in the West is on the rise. In Europe for example, the radical anti-Muslim right wing is gaining political strength. Prejudice and hate will continue to drive the European narrative.

In light of such a horrible terror attack in Paris, we want to do something because we feel such a sense of loss, pain, and powerlessness. What can we do? It is hard not to become a monster to defeat a monster. That difficulty is part of the great plot. At the moment, terrorists are winning the war against peace and using psychology to their advantage. There is no easy answer but this is a war that won’t be won with prejudice, lies and propaganda and making villains of Muslims. We need to write a creative counterplot. Does the West have this ingenuity? Time will tell.

Up there with the best psychological thrillers.

What’s worse than running over your neighbor’s dog? If you read The Devil’s Wire by Deborah Rogers, you’ll find out! There are surprises aplenty in this rollicking read and you might at the end, look carefully at what you really know about those closest to you. Are they who they really seem?


There’s a small cast of characters in this book but they’re all beautifully drawn by Rogers. Blunt South African antagonist, Lenise Jameson, is a bit of a favourite of mine. She provides endless suffering for protagonist Jennifer, seemingly for the careless killing of her dog who’d somehow gotten on to the road on a dark night at the very time Jennifer was concerned about not having an accident. Jennifer had been trying to rescue a loose mandarin from under foot.

But empathy for the life situation of both women is not difficult. Guilt ridden Jennifer’s relationship with needy husband Hank, is at best, running aground, and at worst, revealing a nightmare. Their only child, 12 year old McKenzie, has hateful rages towards her mother, largely it seems, due to Jennifer’s ignorance of what has been going on in the family home. Rogers is clever in showing us Jennifer’s psychology throughout e.g. sentences that paint a picture of a frantic and unsettled mind.

Meanwhile, Lenise with an adult son who does her no credit, is bereaved by the loss of her beloved pooch and soon finds herself on hard times. Early in the story Lenise is set up by an immoral rival to be fired from her real estate job. But her inability to sustain any meaningful relationship with a human being is not only down to a clumsy penchant for unsolicited advice. Her biggest flaw, one she is blind to, is her obsession about McKenzie, the daughter she wanted and never had. The more she wants that type of love and affection, the more she acts to prevent it.

Jennifer and Lenise, so different in their own way, become an unholy and dangerous alliance. They drive a carefully crafted and twisting plot that will have you on edge wondering how they get out of a horrible mess of their own creation.

When you take the characters, the plot and the liberally infused shades of dark humor, you’ll likely be wondering when you’ll be treated to more of the fine writing craft of Deborah Rogers.

Get your free book

Hello readers everywhere


If you haven’t already downloaded my  free short story Perfect Cover please do by clicking this link:

At the end of this story, you’ll see another link to get a a free full novel, the first in the Sasha Stace series, called Best Served Cold. So jump in and enjoy.


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Which terrorists beat Sony?


Sony pictures has pulled its political satire, The Interview. Why? Because major movie theatre chains report legal advice is that if anyone was attacked and killed as a result of showing the movie they’d be liable. How was that view formed? A mass shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado in 2012 during which 12 people were killed. The word is, that if people were to be harmed or killed as a result of showing The Interview, the movie chains could not claim an unforeseen tragedy – they’d be legally liable. In boycotting the movie we might think they’d succumbed to a successful act of terrorism. But by whom?

Some Americans, and perhaps many beyond their shores, believe that the sycophantic supporters of North Korean dictator and despot, Kim Jong Un, orchestrated the cyber-attack to hack Sony’s emails and documents. The thinking seems to be, if these guys can make nuclear weapons, surely they’ll have hackers who can break the security of a large American corporate.

There appears, says actor George Clooney, acceptance of the probability that North Korea is guilty. But Clooney believes the media should prove it. “This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it?”

But are these views informed by critical analysis? Or are they simply ‘reported’as newsworthy in their own right. If you get President Obama and George Clooney saying its true, it must be. Right?

Unsurprisingly the FBI and CIA have entered the fray. They tell us that somewhere in North Korea there’s a website objecting to the film with reference to it as, ‘an evil act of provocation’. Then there’s the hacking code said to be the same as that previously used by North Koreans against South Koreans. Do dumb arse criminals make dumb arse mistakes? Of course they do. Would state supported terrorist activity against a US corporate fall into dumb arse territory? Possibly. But is the evidence that the North Koreans are responsible good enough? The evidence of their complicity would be easier to put together than the hacking. Alright, look at the motivation. The film was about their leader. End of analysis!

I’m not saying the North Koreans weren’t behind this. Who really knows. And they make a great target. I’m saying the media have been a bit too quick to put that line out. Instead of analysing, they’ve pandered to big names in the Hollywood sect aggrieved with them for covering the leaked and embarrassing content made available by hackers.

How embarrassing that this large Japanese owned corporate, should be so lax in its security. Remember, the leaks were not a one off. On day 19 of the saga, the hackers were still at it, promising a “Christmas gift that will put Sony in a worse state.’ It’s not until Day 22, that an afterthought email sent to reporters, threatens to attack movie goers. Interesting that North Koreans whose instinct is to shun an open society would bring reporters to their breast. Conveniently found circumstantial evidence aside, I’m wondering who else might be responsible for this threat. There are a number of plausible suspects. The first is Sony, the alleged victim.

Sony’s possible motivation? The classical saving face and diversion strategy. It’s facing class actions for damages on multiple fronts, to say nothing about the loss of its credibility and dignity. How well would the Japanese owners cope with that? If they have to settle big claims, at least they can point to a crafty enemy being responsible, diffusing responsibility. But to be guilty of contriving the threat, Sony had to have miscalculated the reaction of the movie chains. That isn’t so much of a stretch when you think that the long-standing American response is that the country won’t give in to terrorism. Even President Obama, pushing the North Korean culpability line, said he’d wished Sony had spoken to him before acting. Perhaps that would’ve been counterproductive.

What about a competitor? Would it not be a great coup for a competitor to break into Sony’s system, expose them for appalling insecurity and publically embarrass and humiliate its executives? We couldn’t reasonably expect a competitor to fess up to such serious criminality. Would a competitor have followed that up with the terror threat? Seems unlikely, I admit. But frankly, if there was a chance of getting the movie pulled, a competitor would have more to gain by the unopposed box office sales of its own release than someone in North Korea.

What about a clever but malicious insider? Surely revenge for perceived wrongdoing by the large corporate on one of its own cannot be ruled out so easily. Within the leaked material there was a 25 page list of grievances employees had against the corporate. Maybe someone’s cut to the chase, realised court action against their employer is doomed. Instead, vengeance has been sated in another way.

The argument for a competitor or aggrieved insider being responsible is just as compelling as North Korea. Instead, the media has bought into unthinking patriotism. And why not? It’s a great story when you blame a distant enemy for your own significant failings. It’s a great story when you can galvanise your audience against a popular target for derision. And it’s a great story when you can show that ordinary business people are actually afraid of terrorism and don’t share their government’s ‘gung ho’ attitude. When you have those angles for a story, perhaps critical analysis really is less important.

Crime story – free novel

deceitfinal1Canterbury anniversary holiday and for the long weekend I’m giving away a copy of my third book Deceit.  Click on the link below and provide the coupon number JW 66L  (not case sensitive). Its redeemable for the next week. You can read it on any device including kindle or even read on line if you prefer. There’s more about the book here on this site.

Comments and reviews much appreciated here, or on Smashwords.

Happy reading


Mid life crisis excuses crime

Forty-five year old Dean Shaw, a company director and wine maker in Central Otago, NZ, has managed to get off ‘scott free’ on a charge of possessing LSD, a charge that attracts up to 6 months imprisonment. His lawyer argued that if Shaw was to be convicted he would be unable to travel overseas as part of marketing his wine.  Okay, Shaw was found by police with only 9 tabs – not enough to put him in the band of sentences that expose him to life imprisonment for dealing. Judge Neave is reported as saying Shaw appeared to be having a ‘mid life crisis’.

I don’t know about Judge Neave, but I like my wine. However, that wouldn’t make me more inclined to let Shaw walk without consequences. Was this defendant’s brain so addled that he couldn’t think through the consequences of criminal offending until after he was caught? Are judges so determined to be in touch with the fall in community standards that they overlook one of the most important  – that we take responsibility for our actions?

That decision to effectively acquit this man, despite his admission of the offence, is a slap in the face for police and, by implication, the rest of the law abiding community. It’s a clear message  not to bother bringing to court, prominent people if their offending is small scale and they have the ability to wail that they and their business will suffer for their poor judgement.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t be given a chance. I have in mind young offenders whose brain and maturity of judgement is still developing up to 25 years of age.  But a mature businessman? Come on! His age and his prominence in the community are aggravating features of this case. If anyone knows better, Shaw does.

And why wasn’t his name suppressed as well? Well it might’ve been had not our law makers finally had the sense to clarify grounds for suppressing defendant’s names. Section 200 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 says, “The fact that a defendant is well known does not, of itself, mean that publication of his or her name will result in extreme hardship…” Perhaps our legislation around discharging without conviction needs to catch up.

Identification of people of interest

It’s hard at the best of times to track down people of interest, i.e. those last seen at a place or suspected of crimes. I’m calling them people of interest. You can guess the police narrative that sits behind these pictures. Although the nearest and dearest may well recognise the people in these pictures, the quality of them is such that readers will either purposefully inspect them and work out if the image is of someone they know or they’ll flick past them. And if these people are missing and the nearest and dearest want them found, they’d be supplying quality photos.



While it’s true that items of clothing might help identify people, photos of this type should be a whole lot clearer, to allow even casual acquaintances to readily identify those within them. I can’t help but wonder what proportion of these photos proceed to useful identifications. I’d hope it was worth the effort because some hardworking cop or police administrator has had to trawl through camera footage and then work with The Press to get them published.  Surely in the interests of crime detection we can expect better?

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