Monday, February 22, 2010

Blood Men
By Paul Cleave
Black Swan, $36.99

Reviewed by Nicky Pellegrino

He’s been heralded as the next Stephen King and has just picked up a US publishing deal so it seems Christchurch writer Paul Cleave’s star is only going to get brighter.
On the evidence of his latest book he deserves the success. Blood Men is the so, so dark story of accountant Edward Hunter who’s living the middle class dream – beautiful wife, lovely child, plans for a bigger, better house. But the secrets in Edward’s past are shallow buried. There are those in Christchurch who still recognise him as the son of a notorious serial killer jailed when he was a boy.

Then the civilised world Edward has built for himself falls apart when his wife is shot dead during a bank raid. Destroyed by grief, he makes the mistake of allowing his father back into his life and reconnects with the blackness that has always been inside him.

Cleave’s real genius is in the way he plays with the dark and light in his characters. He shows us Edward’s twisted side and yet still convinces us to like him; we see why his wife fell for him; we want him to hurt those bad guys; we sympathise even when we’re repulsed by what he does. Cleave knows exactly how to manipulate, how to hook in readers and keep them turning the pages.
The plot of Blood Men is unpredictable, shockingly so at times, and the writing fresh, fast and creepy. If what turns you off some New Zealand fiction is the sacrifice of story to wordplay then here’s the good news – Cleave manages both brilliantly. And Christchurch with its famously evil underbelly provides him with a ideal setting for a story about the darkness that lies just beneath the surface of our lives.

I’m not without a small quibble. In Blood Men there are a number of appearances from the Armed Defenders Squad…one quick Google confirms that it ought to be Armed Offenders. The mistake is repeated often enough to jar.
Aside from that this is a beautifully rounded story and a real triumph of disturbing, bleak, bloody, compelling crime writing.

Actress Bonnie Soper (left) is best known for her role as Morgan Braithwaite on TV2’s Shortland Street.

The book I love most is....My Nana’s book of Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor by R.D.Blackmore. This gorgeous old book was sent to her by her auntie Mabel from England when she was living in Athol in 1957. It has coloured illustrations and paintings separated by tissue paper and the pages are jagged where Nana had to cut them open. I love the history of the book and it’s a delightful if old-fashioned romance.

The book I'm reading now is.... I’ve just completed The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (I seem to be reading multiple books at once now, something I never used to
do). Now I’m starting on Sydney Bridge Upside Down by David Ballantyne. Apparently it’s one of New Zealand’s great unread novels and I’ve been very much looking forward to the experience of reading it.

The book I'd like to read next is...Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve been meaning to for a while. I think I must be the only one who hasn’t read it yet.

*Bonnie Soper appears in The West Auckland Cardigan Society until 27th February at the Maidment Theatre. Tickets available through or on 09 308 2383

Nicky Pellegrino, in addition to being a succcesful author of popular fiction, (her latest The Italian Wedding was published in May 2009 while her next, Recipe for Life is due from Orion in April), is also the Books Editor of the Herald on Sunday where the above review and Booklover piece were first published on 21 February..

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