Monday, August 14, 2017

The verdicts are in: the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists revealed

There’s fresh blood aplenty and the usual suspects were nowhere to be found as the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists were revealed earlier today. And for the first time since the inaugural award in 2010, when Greg McGee’s fish-netted alter ego Alix Bosco pseudonymously scooped the spoils, the power balance in #yeahnoir may have shifted back north of the Bombays.

Speaking as the judging convenor of this year's awards, it's been a remarkable year. After record entries last year, we really weren't sure what to expect in 2017. None of our previous winners would be in the running, nor a host of other great Kiwi crime writers who'd been multiple-times finalists. In fact, eighteen of the nineteen authors who'd been finalists in the first years of the awards were MIA.

Would 2017 be a lull in #yeahnoir?

The answer was an emphatic 'No!', thanks to a flood of fresh voices bringing lots of new, exciting storytelling to our New Zealand crime writing stocks. Entries in our fiction categories (Best Crime Novel, Best First Novel) were up fifty per cent, and we added a Best Non Fiction category too.

It seems #yeahnoir (hat tip to Steph Soper of the Book Council for coining the term) is going from strength to strength, as debut authors as well as more experienced writers from other parts of the book world turn their hands to stories entwined in crime. The pool is deepening, and widening.

Our international judging panels praised the inventiveness and variety of crime, thriller, and mystery tales that Kiwi authors were producing. Although this made the judging even tougher. “Talk about judging apples and pears,” said Paddy Richardson, a two-time past finalist and now judge of the Best Crime Novel category. “It was more like apples, asparagus, avocados, and melons!”

It's been fantastic to see that growth in numbers and variety since 'Alix Bosco' won at our first awards night back in 2010 - an event that had been postponed after the September earthquakes forced the cancellation of the Christchurch Writers & Readers Festival that year.

The Ngaio Marsh Awards are proud to have been working with WORD Christchurch since our very beginning. We've had a terrific run of awards events in Christchurch, and are looking forward to another great event to celebrate this year's finalists and announce the winners later this year.

Speaking on behalf of the Awards, we're very grateful for WORD Christchurch's ongoing support, including sponsorship of the cash prize for the winner of the Best Crime Novel category. Since those earliest days, even as they were personally dealing with their city's long and ongoing recovery from the deadly 'quakes, the likes of Rachael King, Ruth Todd, Morrin Rout, and Marianne Hargreaves have been so helpful and supportive of our Awards, and helped created some really fantastic events.

We're currently finalising the details of our 2017 event, to be held in Christchurch on 28 October.

And perhaps on that night we'll see a changing of the guard in more ways than one; while all the trophies since McGee’s inaugural prize have gone to crime writers from Christchurch, Dunedin, and Wellington, this year more than half of the finalists are from Auckland.

Ado done, here are our 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists, with judges comments:

The finalists were chosen by a panel consisting of Richardson, New Zealand book critics Greg Fleming and Stephanie Jones, renowned overseas reviewers Karen Chisholm (Australia), Ayo Onatade (UK), Janet Rudolph (USA), and Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

Pancake Money by Finn Bell (ebook): Detectives Bobby Ress and Pollo Latu are put to the test when someone starts martyring Dunedin priests in the most medieval of ways: "A brutal page-turner with compelling characters that takes a deep-dive into the psychological and a captivating examination of urban and countryside life."

Spare Me The Truth by CJ Carver (Zaffre): a man suffering memory loss, a grieving daughter, and disgraced cop all have their lives upturned as they’re plunged into a global conspiracy: “Intriguing characters, twists that keep you guessing, and at heart a complex tale of betrayal and deception – a brilliant page-turner."

Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins): private eye Johnny Molloy and reporter Caitlin O’Carolan get entangled in deadly agendas and union politics as the 1951 waterfront dispute rages: "Cullinane’s characters fizz and sparkle in this historical thriller whose cracking dialogue and ceaseless pace make it feel utterly current."

Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin): After his witness protection handler is kidnapped, ex-NYPD undercover cop Marshall Grade decides that offense is the best form of defense, infiltrating  his old haunts for answers: "Some of the tautest writing and nastiest characters around, an adrenalin-charged tale where no-one emerges unscathed."

The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby): a survivor and a perpetrator of a brutal home invasion seek to come to terms with their altered lives after the news cycle moves on: “Lyrically and sensitively written, a harrowing yet touching story that stays with you; this is brave and sophisticated storytelling.”

I was joined on this judging panel by three-time finalist Vanda Symon, US crime writer and critic Margot Kinberg, and British reviewer Chris Simmons, to choose these finalists.

Dead Lemons by Finn Bell (ebook): a wheelchair-bound man contemplating suicide or recovery in Riverton is obsessively drawn into a dangerous search for a father and daughter who went missing years before: "A wonderful new voice in crime writing delivers a tense, compelling tale centred on an original, genuine, and vulnerable character."

Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins): remarkably similar to book of the same moniker in the Best Crime Novel category: "A very impressive debut that sucks you into the story and politics of the time with laconic description and dialogue".

The Ice Shroud by Gordon Ell (Bush Press): Detective Sergeant Malcolm Buchan, the new head of CIB in the Southern Lakes, faces moral and professional challenges when the body of a woman he recognises is pulled from an icy canyon: "An intriguing plot with solid character development in a well-drawn setting; a great local debut."

The Student Body by Simon Wyatt (Mary Egan Publishing): Newly promoted Detective Sergeant Nick Knight grapples with personal demons while trying to solve the puzzling murder of a teenage girl at a school camp in the Waitakeres: “A well-executed, tense police procedural delivering a solid sense of modern New Zealand.”

Days Are Like Grass by Sue Younger (Eunoia Publishing): paediatrician Claire Bowerman ran from a shadow of kidnap and murder, but her past is uncorked when she hits the headlines after a family refuses medical treatment for their sick kid: "A really impressive and enjoyable debut, a strong character-driven story".

Jones, Auckland lawyer Darise Bennington, Hamilton true crime writer Scott Bainbridge, and Scottish crime writer Douglas Skelton selected the following finalists for the new prize.

In Dark Places by Michael Bennett (Paul Little Books): the astonishing tale of how teenage car thief Teina Pora spent decades in prison for the brutal murder of Susan Burdett, and the remarkable fight to free him: “A scintillating, expertly balanced account of one of the most grievous miscarriages of justice in New Zealand history".

The Scene of the Crime by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins): a penetrating look into the brutal and banal realities of the criminal justice system, told via twelve tales: "Braunias’ unique way of finding dark humour in tragic circumstances gave a new perspective to crimes that have been written about incessantly by others".

Double-Edged Sword by Simonne Butler with Andra Jenkin (Mary Egan): a stark look behind the scenes at the prelude and aftermath of Antoine Dixon’s notorious ‘samurai sword’ attack: "A shocking, moving, but ultimately uplifting account of a woman who endured so much yet came through it with her spirit remarkably intact".

The Many Deaths of Mary Dobie by David Hastings (AUP): a whodunit turned whydunnit illustrating the social and political tensions of 1880s New Zealand after a young woman is found near Opunake with her throat slit: "A highly impressive historical tale which balances industrious research with terrific storytelling".

Blockbuster! by Lucy Sussex (Text Publishing): the story behind how Otago Boys High old boy and wannabe playwright Fergus Hume irked Conan Doyle and wrote the bestselling crime novel of the nineteenth century: "Very enjoyable, a richly detailed, highly readable account of the world and work of Fergus Hume".

This year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists will be celebrated and the category winners announced at a special event in association with WORD Christchurch on 28 October. You can keep up with awards news on Facebook and Twitter

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