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Alan Carter


New Zealand’s famed Marlborough Sounds are a dramatic and beautiful landscape of sea-drowned valleys. But in Marlborough Man, the new thriller from ALAN CARTER, someone sinister lurks and snatches children off the streets. The media brands the abductor as the Pied Piper, and it’s up to disgraced sergeant Nick Chester to hunt down the perpetrator. We asked the author about his previous ‘Cato Kwong’ series, the landscape of his new thriller, and how his work as a documentary director influences his writing.


Nick Chester is working as a sergeant for the Havelock police in the Marlborough Sound, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. If the river isn’t flooded and the land hasn’t slipped, it’s paradise. Unless you are also hiding from a ruthless man with a grudge, in which case, remote beauty has its own kind of danger. In the last couple of weeks, two locals have vanished. Their bodies are found, but the Pied Piper is still at large.

Marlborough Man is a gripping story about the hunter and the hunted, and about what happens when evil takes hold in a small town.



What was it like to create a new main character after having written three ‘Cato Kwong’ novels?

When I first moved into the valley in NZ the idea was to work on the fourth Cato novel, but Marlborough Man edged his way to the front. The view from my window out across the Wakamarina Valley – that river, the hills crowding in, the environment and the often unforgiving weather – is so different from Fremantle. The economy and the psyche are also very different – no boom-town expectations here; people are doing it tough. Creating a new lead character was both scary and liberating. Nick Chester, a former undercover cop from the north of England is now in hiding with his family in NZ but, of course, just waiting for his past to catch up with him. Nick and Cato are, like all good crime fiction heroes, outsiders carrying their fair share of personal baggage. Cato might be a tad more sensitive and New Age – even cultured – whereas Nick is a bit more impetuous and physical in his approach to life. That gets him both into and out of trouble.

What made you decide to buy a farm in a New Zealand valley?

We bought the place about six years earlier but couldn’t live in it until our son finished his schooling. So once he went off on his gap year, we were able to take ours. It’s a very beautiful and peaceful part of the world – pig hunters and loggers notwithstanding. It’s so green and there’s so much water. Often every corner you turn provides the wow factor.

Marlborough Man feels very grounded in the geography and landscape of New Zealand. Did you make a point of emphasising the hills and waterways of the Marlborough region or did they organically seep into your story?

Sense of place is very important to me, be it Western Australia, Shanghai or rural NZ. It becomes an extra character in the story. Obviously in this case I found it very inspiring. Obviously in this case I found it very inspiring. Nature is not just all around but sometimes it feels like it’s crowding in on you. The hills do something strange to the light and the reflections on the river. They give off steam and create their own clouds. Fogs creep up the valley. When it rains the river can rise three metres in a few hours. Landslips block the road and water rushes off the hills. Then there are the earthquakes – around 30 000 a year – some of which you feel and some you don’t. But they’re always with you, one way or another. I was shaken out of my bed by the 7.8 that swallowed the road in and out of Kaikoura. The next day our river flooded, cutting Canvastown off for a while. Marlborough Man – and Nick Chester – had to be affected by such an environment.

Was there anything you came across in your work as a documentary director and writer that influenced the creation of Marlborough Man?

The Marlborough Express is a fantastic source of daily slices of local life, and for a while there it seemed that there was a plague of young men being caught for shoplifting meat and stuffing it down their undies before doing a runner. I began to wonder if it was a specifically Marlburian crime, and it had to find its way into the book. I was also freelance researching a nature documentary (which never happened) during my first few months in the valley and it was a great way to get an insight into NZ’s natural history – another reason why nature and the environment are front and centre in Marlborough Man.

How did you go about imagining the mindset of your novel’s villain, the Pied Piper?

Sometimes I kinda get these weird, creepy thoughts in my head and I have to write them down. I find it disturbingly easy.

Are your ‘Cato Kwong’ novels more or less political than Marlborough Man? 

The Cato series is more overtly political than Marlborough Man. I often have my characters voice thoughts about recognisable current and ongoing affairs in Australian society. Marlborough Man does have reflections, like the Cato novels, on racism, and I was able to draw upon my own Geordie upbringing to place a class-war chip on Nick Chester’s shoulder.

What music, movies or other forms of media had an influence on the writing of Marlborough Man?

NZ and Australia are long overdue to take over the mantle of Scandinavian crime and TV shows. There are so many good writers and TV creators in this part of the world and some great stories being told. But in NZ’s case you’ve got the fjords and the weather to match any Nordic noir. In my writing, be it Cato or Marlborough Man, I’m drawing upon my TV background to make it as visual, atmospheric and pacy as possible.

Marlborough Man by Alan Carter is published by Fremantle Press, rrp $29.99.