Dark Horse Films header logo

News Blog

Craig Sisterson's Reviews > Double Jeopardy

Double Jeopardy by Stef Harris 30 June 2023

Craig Sisterson's Reviews > Double Jeopardy

It had been a long time between drinks, crime novel wise, for New Zealand policeman and award-winning indie filmmaker Stef Harris. Twenty years after he published his second novel, Harris returns to the page for a third outing with Double Jeopardy, a muscular, 'old school' crime thriller inspired by his time onset in Boston many years ago with Mel Gibson and Kiwi director Martin Campbell, during the shooting of the film Edge of Darkness. While Harris has spent thirty years policing the streets of New Zealand cities and small towns, in Double Jeopardy he soaks into the gun-heavier culture of American law enforcement. Frank Winter is a retired county sheriff and former Boston detective whose family was shattered many years ago. Now he's working as a late-night janitor while regularly visiting his ex-wife Mary as she slips deeper and deeper into dementia in her care home.

When Bruno Krupke is released on parole after twenty years, will Frank deliver on his well-televised drunken promise from the courthouse steps to shoot the man acquitted of killing Frank's daughter Evelyn (while convicted of other killings), if he's ever released? As more and more has been taken from Frank in the years since, he's a shell of his former self, but has little left to lose. Timid detective Nunzio Arabito, teased by his colleagues for his spreadsheet-first and technology-reliant style of investigations, is tasked with ensuring the dangerous Krupke - who couldn't be retried for Evelyn's murder even if Frank found new evidence - integrates back into society, and that Frank doesn't kill him. Krupke meanwhile swears he's just looking to get on with his life and run his fast-growing business legally selling equipment to far-right militias. All very constitutional, if worrisome.

Overall, Harris delivers an action-packed tale laced with humour, several fascinating characters, and some interesting storyline swerves along the way to an explosive conclusion. It's the kind of novel that's easy to envisage onscreen, the sort of thing Clint Eastwood or Gene Hackman may have starred in fifteen years ago as the cantankerous yet engaging lead, Frank Winter. Well worth a read

[This review was first published in the August 2023 issue of Deadly Pleasures magazine in the USA]

Craig Sisterson's Reviews > Double Jeopardy

Stef Harris is a Kiwi cop who writes crime novels

Stuff News Sharon Stephenson 20 May 2023

Desperate to be like Ernest Hemingway, Stef Harris went to Africa, contracted malaria, and picked up a pen in recovery.

Stef Harris, 60, is a front-line police officer who's served 32 years on the beat in Wellington, Christchurch and, since 2014, in Motueka. He's also the author of three published crime novels, including Double Jeopardy, which is out at the end of May.

Harris lives with his wife, retired police officer Pegeen O'Rourke-Harris, and between them they have four adult children. He tells Sharon Stephenson about working with Mel Gibson and how contracting malaria in Africa led him to writing.

Did you always want to be a writer?
I was raised by a single mother in and around Rotorua/Hamilton and was always an avid reader. I wanted to be a writer but not just any writer, I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway.

Wasn't it Hemingway who inspired you to go to Africa?
Yes. I was 19 and had just finished school when I got a job driving Kiwi tourists through Europe and Africa in a converted Belgium army truck. It was a year-long trip and I'd drive during the day and fix the vehicles at night because the roads were pretty rough. I wildly overstated my mechanical abilities but learnt on the job and did it for two years.

But you got sick?
I contracted malaria in Uganda and after some time in a Nairobi hospital spent three months in a tiny village recovering. This was the days before laptops but luckily there was a boys' school in the village, which had a good stationery shop so I bought lots of pads and pens and started writing my first book, which I completed by the time I got back to work.

You didn't have any luck getting it published?
I sent it to more than 100 publishers and back in those days it cost $30 worth of stamps each time and six months later you'd get a rejection letter. I realised the book wasn't very good.

Why did you join the police?
I know it sounds a bit cliché, but to help people. I remember on the first day at police college when all the new recruits were asked why we signed up and everyone said because they wanted to help people - 32 years later, it's still the same for me.

My job has always been as a front-line responder and if someone is having possibly the worst day of their lives, or needs a bit of help, I like being the first to turn up at their door. I've never wanted to go into management, I like being right there among the action.

Stef Harris' new crime novel Double Jeopardy is out late May.

You never stopped writing, did you?
All through my police career I've written. I wrote a few books that didn't get published until finally in 1990 The Waikikamukau Conspiracy, about a small town Māori land claim, was picked up.

You later turned that into a feature film [The Waimate Conspiracy]?
My friends, actors David McPhail and Mark Hadlow, tried to get Film Commission funding for years and when that failed, I self-funded the film, which went on to win four best film awards around the world.

That wasn't your only toe-dip into film-making?
I also wrote and directed the 2018 feature film Blue Moon, which won awards at festivals from Oslo and St Tropez to Los Angeles.

Do you ever use what you've experienced as a police officer in your novels?
I've never lifted real life events I've witnessed on the job and fictionalised them. But after 32 years of having a ringside seat to humanity, I've met a lot of different people and had a lot of experiences, which I dip into. Nothing in my books is real, but everything is true.

Your other books were set in Aotearoa, why is Boston the setting for your latest crime book?
In 2009 I won a scholarship to study with Kiwi director Martin Campbell, who directed the James Bond films GoldenEye and Casino Royale as well as the Mask of Zorro, on the Boston set of his film Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson.

I spent every day with Martin and Mel, but also got to know Boston quite well. It seemed the perfect setting for a story about a hard-bitten former Boston detective whose daughter's killer is released from prison.

How do you juggle your day job with writing?
I don't have a TV so that saves a lot of time! A year ago I gave up night shifts so I currently write in the evenings, on my days off and on weekends, whenever I can find the time.

What's next for you?
I'm currently writing a sequel to Double Jeopardy, as well as a literary novella and a short film about my childhood. I have funding from the Film Commission for that, so I hope to start filming it later this year. I could become a full-time novelist but I really still enjoy what I do and at the moment, I'm happy being both a police officer and a writer.

Interview: Stef Harris talks about Double Jeopardy

NZ Booklovers May 2023

Stef Harris is a frontline police officer having served over 30 years in Wellington, Christchurch and Nelson. Harris filmed his debut novel, The Waikikamukau Conspiracy, as a first-time director. The Waimate Conspiracy, as the film version was titled, went on to win four best film awards around the world including the Screen Directors' Guild Best Feature Film. Stef wrote and directed the 2018 feature film Blue Moon starring Mark Hadlow and Jed Brophy, which won numerous awards. Double Jeopardy is Stef Harris's third novel, and he talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about your novel Double Jeopardy.
Retired Boston Detective Frank Winter swore an oath that if ever his daughter's killer was released from prison Frank would gun him down in the street like a dog. Frank said those words to a Chanel 9 camera on the steps of the Boston Supreme Court. He was drunk at the time, in uniform and brandishing his duty .38 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver. Now Frank is a night Janitor past retirement age and he gets to find out if he was all talk.

What is Double Jeopardy in reality?
The double jeopardy clause in the fifth amendment of the constitution states no man shall be tried a second time for the same crime. So that is the main story of the book- the search for justice. But the double jeopardy theme repeats throughout the story:

Double Jeopardy is essentially a love story:
Frank Winter has been separated from his ex-wife Mary for decades but now she has dementia and he visits her every day. Some days she thinks they're still together, some days she doesn't know who he is and she bad mouths Frank. It's all very confusing except the only certain thing is Frank still loves her, so that's a form of double jeopardy.

Frank lost his daughter Evelyn in the separation, never saw her again after she was eleven years old. She was murdered when she was twenty - so when Frank sees the ghost of his murdered girl she's still eleven. And that's a double jeopardy of a kind.

The villain in this story is Barry Krupke who has served twenty years in prison. He got himself an education, made good. Now wants nothing more than to forget his past and start life over. However retired Boston cop Frank Winter is still talking about making him pay, again, - that's another double jeopardy

What inspired you to write this book?
It's a book about a murder. But the thing with murder is the victim doesn't have a voice. That leaves all the other victims - everyone who loved the victim. This is a book about a man, a victim of a murder, a father without a daughter, an ex cop, an angry broken man who will have his vengeance. It's a story as old as Shakespeare, as old as Aristotle, a simple story with complex characters.

What research was involved?
When I'm writing I am hell bent on pushing through to the end of the first draft at all costs. I never stop to research anything. I go with my gut, write down all the visceral stuff that drives the narrative forward. Once you have eighty thousand words on paper there's plenty of time to go back and double check everything and consult experts to see where you have gone wrong. But really it's the emotional heart of the story that is of paramount importance.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I signed up for the Hagley Writer's Institute in Christchurch. It's a very formal year long course, the students met every Saturday for a year with a formal commitment to produce a body of work. My process was to write a chapter of my book every week so that on course day, Saturday, I had significantly advanced the novel. I liked the structure of it, they kept me honest. The chapters are 3,000 words, no more so it was no hardship - towards the end I had to write two chapters a week to make the deadline. I was determined to have a finished first draft novel for my end of year assessment.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Well of course if Double Jeopardy was a film I'd have Neil Young create a bespoke soundtrack on electric guitar along the lines of the Jim Jarmusch film 'Dead Man' starring a young Johnny Depp. Look it up, one of the best western films ever that bizarrely very few people have ever seen.

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
That's a great idea! Mel Gibson will be Frank Winter. However the number I have for Mel is no longer working. If you see Mel ask him to give me a call, I still have the same number. . .

What did you enjoy the most about writing Double Jeopardy?
It was such an easy book to write. Once the character fell into place it flowed almost effortlessly. Frank was making up his own mind what he would do next so all I had to do was write it all down as he went along. Then along came Nunzio Arabito, a totally different style of policeman with his own agenda who started taking the story in a different direction. It was terrific fun watching the two of them knock their heads together.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
A book is never finished. You finish the first draft and it's like being halfway up Kilimanjaro, it looks like the summit is in sight but you're hallucinating. You're nowhere near. After the ninth draft you think it's all done but you still have a ways to go. It's not until you get the box of advance copies couriered to your doorstep that the pain is truly over.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
'On Writing' by Stephen King - the best book ever written on the craft of fiction, I read it at least once every year.

What's next on the agenda for you?
Right now I'm working on pre-production for a short film I'll be directing later this year. Looking for actors, deciding on a location and searching for props and trying to figure out a particularly challenging lighting plan.

Sometimes you write a character and you know you're just not finished with them yet. Frank phoned me the other day and said he was planning a fishing trip, I forget where he said he was going, I sure hope it doesn't end in more trouble.

About Double Jeopardy

"Frank Winter, an older wiser Jack Reacher"

Retired Sheriff Frank Winter swore an oath that if ever his daughter's killer was released from prison Frank would gun him down in the street like a dog. Frank said those words to a Chanel 9 camera on the steps of the Boston supreme court. He was drunk at the time, in uniform and brandishing his duty .38 calibre Smith & Wesson revolver. Now Frank's a night Janitor past retirement age and he gets to find out if he was all talk.

Author Stef Harris says:

The genesis of Double Jeopardy came about when I spent a few months working with Mel Gibson. Mel was starring in Kiwi born, Hollywood Director Martin Campbell's film 'Edge of Darkness'. Martin had directed James Bond films 'Casino Royale' and 'Goldeneye' but to me his greatest achievement was the 1984 multi Bafta Award winning series 'Edge of Darkness'. I had been selected by Martin for the Air New Zealand Scholarship in film, learning the film directing trade from the master himself. I learned a great deal about directing from Martin and as a bonus I picked up some valuable knowledge from Oscar winning director Mel Gibson also. What did I learn from Martin Campbell? I learned to be absolutely ruthless in the pursuit of my ambition to direct a movie. Martin's influence was to prove instrumental to my dream to create my own feature film 'Blue Moon'.

But it was Mel Gibson who inspired me to write Double Jeopardy. In 'Edge of Darkness', Mel played Tom Craven, a Boston policeman, obsessed with thoughts of revenge. I was completely captivated by the depth of his performance in the role. Years later I began writing 'Double Jeopardy' with the firm idea the book would be a film and Mel Gibson would play Frank Winter.

I remember being on set with Mel twelve hours a day six days a week that he was always just a regular kiwi guy. He had a huge trailer but scarcely spent any time there. Rather he would hang out with the crew and he would cheerfully talk to anyone including me. We had Boston Common roped off for a scene and a group of bystanders was lined up trying to see what was happening. Mel just walked over and told them about the film and the story and was happy to chat until he was needed in the scene. He was a gentleman like that.

One time in the story the villains were trying to run him down with a car in the street and Mel had to fire eight shots into the windscreen, to kill the driver so they would crash into the river. I tried to tell him he should hold the Glock pistol two handed like we learned at police college. Mel said "Stef, this is a movie!" I thought about that long and hard and his words. What seemed like an off the cuff remark in fact carried weight that served me well when I eventually made my own Movie, 'Blue Moon.'

When I sat down to write 'Double Jeopardy' all I needed to do was close my eyes and put Mel Gibson in the role of Frank Winter. He'd walk into a scene and say the damndest things, he'd behave instinctively, the book was a joy to write because the character was alive in my mind. I still believe I will convince Mel to play the part in the movie 'Double Jeopardy'. However I seem to have lost his phone number.

Character names are important to me. I don't want to write characters picked from a phone book, no Jack Johnsons or Matt Jacksons because a made up name carries no emotional weight . Frank Winter was a dear friend of mine, sadly deceased. We travelled together in Africa in the 1980s. Frank was a famously boisterous singer of English unaccompanied folk music. He sang songs that were four hundred years old, it was time travel of a sort. So when I was looking for a name for my story's hero, I found Frank, so every time I write his name I feel something genuine.

Similarly Nunzio Arabito is another good friend, also sadly deceased. Nunzio was a gifted Italian craftsman who made the most intricate beautiful steel gates. He once met Mussolini when he was a nine year old boy participating in a school camp. Every time I say his name I find myself smiling.

I've been a police officer for thirty years. Of course I never write about any real cases I have been involved in and never will, It wouldn't work anyway. But every life experience and everyone you talk to goes into the writing. The way cops talk, the way they think and the things villains say, all that goes in. It's the small details that count.

I've read stories where a bunch of detectives stand around eating burgers and the radio sparks up shots fired, officer needs help. In the movies they toss the burgers into the gutter and drive to the scene at crazy speeds. In real life they jump in the car and drive off at crazy speeds, still trying to choke down the burgers. The driver coats the steering wheel in ketchup, nearly crashes because of it. The other guy has onion rings all down his front and shouts into the radio but no one can understand him talking with a mouthful of burger. It's the details, the humanity that interests me.

I often think about the victims of crime. In the case of a murder there are multiple victims, the deceased and everyone who loves them. I wondered what would happen if there was a victim of murder, Frank Winter, who just wasn't going to accept the idea that the killer can one day walk away like nothing ever happened. What if one man was so consumed by rage and grief that he would actually do something about it. What if that man was a capable trained killer, a Vietnam vet, a Boston policeman, a retired Sheriff, What then?

Others say:

"Double Jeopardy is an excellent tale. A modern western no less. I read it in two sittings. I can well see this as the first of a series. Frank is a very well drawn multi-layered character - gruff and likeable, loyal loving and forgiving, and as tough as all hell. I could actually see the older Clint Eastwood playing the role."

Author Andrew Grant

"Cunning, canny, seductive, sometimes brutal, on occasion also laugh-out-loud funny, DOUBLE JEOPARDY is always human. Stefen Harris engages the reader from the get-go. Here is a masterful story, masterfully told, populated by provocative, engaging characters worth getting to know.."

Professor Richard Walter
UCLA Screenwriting School

"This is a ripper! Very brave to set a crime novel in Boston, Robert B Parker territory, but he carries it off with strong characters, dramatic situations, well paced action, cracking dialogue and nicely judged humour."

Stephen Stratford, Writer

"An exciting strong and memorable novel. The theme of the mundane nature of evil is exemplified in the petty concerns over hierarchy in the brilliantly evoked United Militia. There is so much to like! Setting, Character, plot, theme and language all combine to make 'Double Jeopardy' a sure success."

Frankie McMillan - NZ Author

Fearless opinion about all things cinema


Stars: Mark Hadlow, Jed Brophy, Olivia Hadlow and Doug Brooks.
Writer/Director: Stefen Harris.
Rating: * * * *

Review By Simon Foster, ScreenSpace, Australia.

Forty years of anger, resentment and bitter memories boil to the surface one fateful evening in a South Island gas station in the nerve-shredding two-hand crime thriller, Blue Moon. A gripping slice of Kiwi-noir that ticks all the boxes that rank truly great independent cinema, the second feature from real-life cop-turned-part-time filmmaker Stefen Harris is a supremely slick, psychologically taut and surprisingly engaging study of two desperate men and the ties that bind them.

Manning the midnight-to-dawn shift at the BP Motueka is Horace (Mark Hadlow), a middle-aged father of six teetering on the brink of financial ruin with long-in-development investment plans straining to stay together. His otherwise quiet night begins to unravel with the arrival of a blue Chevy Impala, carrying bad guy Reuben (Doug Brooks) and close to $500,000 in ill-gotten cash. Reuben's fate plays into Horace's plans for monetary redemption, albeit via compromising his own moral code, until leather-clad, shotgun-brandishing Darren (Jed Brophy) comes searching for the loot. Harris works the first-half of his film with the assured hand of a genre pro, recalling the 'small-town nobody' character beats of a James M. Cain pulp-novel and neon-and-shadow classics like The Coen Bros. Blood Simple (1981) and Carl Franklin's One False Move (1993). His blocking of scenes and building of tension in the predominantly single setting of the 24-hour convenience store is terrific.

His narrative invention doubles down on his technical prowess in Act 2, when it is revealed just how 'small-town Motueka is; Horace and Darren have some shared baggage from a past dating back to their high-school days together. The half-million dollar criminal stakes suddenly have a slow-burn emotional intensity, fuelled by a boyhood definition of masculinity that sadly still drives these grown men.

Harris did some of his most instinctive work prior to his cameras rolling with the casting of his two leads and crewing reach. As Horace, aka 'Toad', Hadlow brings real-world emotional heft to his genre-thriller everyman; as Darren, aka 'Ratty', Brophy is towering tough-guy figure. Behind the scenes on what was reportedly a 6-day/NZ$12,000.00 shoot were the likes of sound engineer Ben Dunker (Inglorious Basterds, 2009), editor Judd Resnick (YellowBrickRoad, 2010), effects techie Dan Hennah (Lord of The Rings trilogy), composer Tane Upjohn-Beatson (collaborator on Harris' 2009 debut feature, No Petrol No Diesel!) and hometown DOP Ryan O'Rourke. The result is a visually polished finished product, primed for the world market.