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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Collecting Cooper

Some years ago, I was talking over coffee with a New Zealand publisher, and she observed, very ruefully, that she had brought out a crime novel by a new New Zealand author that was "absolutely brilliant," but had not done well in New Zealand.  "Yet he's a bestseller overseas," she told me with a great sigh. "Readers in Europe love him."

It's something odd about the average New Zealander who is looking for a page-turner novel.  He or she does not go for a fellow Kiwi's effort, though he or she will buy New Zealand non-fiction (as long as it is about the New Zealand environment and other New Zealanders, either "blokey" men or sports stars).  The deep suspicion is that New Zealand fiction is either pretentiously literary, or just plain bad.  Embarrassing, you know.

I strongly suspect that this is why Paul Cleave is not better known in his own country, despite those overseas sales, gushing reviews, and a raft of awards.

I picked up Collecting Cooper because I was urged by KiwiCrime blogger and energetic promoter of New Zealand crime fiction, Craig Sisterson.  And from the first page I just could not put it down.

The word has been that Cleave's books are "black," and "noir" and "violent," and I don't particularly like any of that, especially when serial killers are involved.  My problem with serial killers in fiction is that they kill for no apparent reason, and in the grubbiest, most sick-making ways possible. Simply unbelievable.

Cleave, on the other hand, is very clever. There are two serial killers involved in this book (if one doesn't count the detective), but the reasons they turned out like that are sketched out very plausibly.  They're not grotesque scarecrows.  Instead, they are real, repulsive, but understandable creatures.

And the violence is implicit, rather than explicit. Instead of wallowing in blood, Cleave leaves it to the reader's imagination.  And that is the most effective ploy possible.

Brilliant writing. I can't wait to read the next.

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