Crime Scene: Round-up of the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards longlist. By Karen Chisholm
The longlist of 10 novels in the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Awards has just been announced, clearly demonstrating how strong crime fiction has become in New Zealand.
The convenor and driving force behind the Ngaio Marsh Awards is Craig Sisterson, well known for his passionate advocacy of New Zealand crime fiction in particular, but also for his support of the genre worldwide.
The 10 books longlisted have been selected from a submissions list of around 50 contenders in two categories: Best and Debut. Over the seven years since inception of the awards there have been 19 previous finalists, and only one (Ben Sanders) has returned this year.
The longlist for 2017 (in alphabetical order) is:
Finn Bell Dead Lemons
Bell combines a fragile and broken central character, wheelchair-bound after a drunken road smash, disconnected from his family and friends through his own behaviour, with an isolated, locked-in location replete with wonderful local people and secrets simmering to great effect. The sense of place is remarkably strong in something that is part thriller and part personal redemption story. (ebook 2016 283pp $3.01)
Finn Bell Pancake Money
Bobby Ress is a cop. His partner Pollo tells him he’s too much of a boy scout to be a good cop. His wife, Em, tells him he should stop being a cop. And Bobby doesn’t know what to tell his daughter any more.
In theory this is a different undertaking from Bell’s other Ngaio Marsh entry, but it explores similar themes. He uses brave character behaviour to reveal much about human nature and people’s ability to do right and wrong seemingly simultaneously. There is a particularly strong sense of place again, and plenty of ways to keep readers paying close attention. (ebook 2016 224pp $3.04)
CJ Carver Spare Me the Truth
The long-listing judges said of this one, ‘It takes all sorts of wild leaps – terrorism, pharmaceutical experimentation – and lands soundly’. Despite its thriller credentials, this novel uses connection with characters to evoke tension, building the story around two very different people – Dan the civil servant with memory loss, and Lucy the ex-cop, connecting them in a most unexpected manner. (Zaffre 2016 PB 528pp $29.99. Available from Abbey’s here or from Booktopia here.)
Jonothan Cullinane Red Herring
A blend of mystery and local history, it won’t matter if the truth behind the events and the references to real-life characters pass you by, as this novel is loaded with cracking dialogue and ceaseless pace. A noir delivery peppered with dry humour and an almost visceral sense of place and time. (HarperCollins NZ 2016 PB 320pp $32.99. Available from Abbey’s here or from Booktopia here.)
Debra Daley The Revelations of Carey Ravine
This novel delivers a strong sense of the period in which it is set, believable characters and a tenacious heroine facing down graft and corruption, combining romance, suspense and a satisfying number of dashing deeds without resorting to a formulaic swashbuckling approach. Strong characterisations underpin some serious themes at the core, which the light-hearted delivery doesn’t diminish. (Quercus 2016 PB 432pp $32.99. Available from Abbey’s here or from Booktopia here.)
Katherine Hayton The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton
A cold-case enquiry to introduce a new character for this author, this is a well-paced, well balanced, suspenseful story of past and present, guilt and conscience, centred around part-Māori detective Ngaire Blakes. (Self-published 2016 PB 300pp $24.19. Available from Booktopia here.)
Mark McGinn Presumed Guilty
A combination of legal shenanigans and classic courtroom drama is at the heart of the third book in the Sasha Stace series. Built around an intricate plot steeped in knowledge of the legal system, this is as much about graft, corruption and politics as it is a straightforward legal drama. There are also plenty of opportunities for readers new to this series to get to know Stace in particular. (Merlot 2016 ebook 347pp $2.95)
Ben Sanders Marshall’s Law
In the second of the Marshall Grade series, Ben Sanders sets the action in the hot, dry, dark corners of California. He writes a dry, noir-style story replete with action and violence, with dialogue and characters as dry, tough and pared down as the location. (Allen & Unwin 2017 PB 352pp $29.99. Available from Booktopia here.)
Brian Stoddart A Straits Settlement
The third book in its series, this time set in pre-independence India, featuring a British policeman as its central character. Le Fanu is at constant odds with police hierarchy (even after he joins them), with British society in India (he has a mixed-race lover), and with the British refusal to acknowledge the worth of any aspects of the local culture. Part history lesson, part crime fiction, this series comes with a wonderful sense of place and period, combined with a tentative, conflicted and believable character in Inspector Le Fanu. (Crime Wave Press 2016 PB 272pp $27.95. Available from Booktopia here.)
The Last Time We Spoke, Fiona Sussman
When a middle-aged white New Zealand woman is confronted by a violent home invasion that leaves her son dead, her husband brain-damaged and she herself dealing with the awful consequences of rape, connection with one of the perpetrators is the last thing you’d expect. Yet she does tentatively, cautiously and frequently dishearteningly, reach out, and The Last Time We Spoke is the story of her life falling apart, which is the start of her journey back from the brink. Not for the first time, New Zealand crime fiction has thrown up an unexpected portrayal of the aftermath of crime. In this case a story of victim and perpetrator is interwoven in a powerful, evocative and profoundly moving novel. (Allison & Busby 2016 PB 319pp $19.99. Available from Abbey’s here or from Booktopia here.)
There is much to be admired about #yeahnoir (the twitter tag to follow to keep up with crime fiction news from New Zealand). The range of styles, subject matter and approaches continues to expand with each year, and the increasing intertwining of the major cultural influences from the Māori people is something to be greatly envied and admired. The New Zealanders also have a bit of a head start when it comes to landscape and sense of place. Often, even in the middle of the most confronting crime stories, in sneaks a sense of a place that is stunningly beautiful and one that the locals are profoundly attached to.
(By way of declaration I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a number of the judging panels over recent years, including this one, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to follow the strength and variety of offerings from our nearest neighbour.)
Karen Chisholm blogs from http://www.austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews well as author biographies.