Round-up of the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Best Novel Award longlist. By Karen Chisholm
Two authors returning to crime writing after more than a decade are among an eclectic longlist for New Zealand’s 2018 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.
After considering a total of 69 entries in the New Zealand crime fiction awards (the Ngaio Marsh Awards) across two categories (Best Novel and Best First Novel), the longlist for Best Novel was announced in May 2018.
This longlist is a combination of new and experienced writers, whose ages range from the early 20s to early 80s; several have either won or been shortlisted for a variety of different awards in New Zealand and elsewhere. It’s a diverse group of authors who have delivered a diverse group of books. In alphabetical order by title the list is:
Paul Cleave A Killer Harvest
In 2011 Christchurch-based Paul Cleave won the second Ngaio Marsh Award with Blood Men. In 2015 he won with Five Minutes Alone and in 2016 with his ninth novel, Trust No One (Upstart Press), making him the first author to win three. He’s been shortlisted on three other occasions as well. Cleave is known for his clever combination of crime, characters and settings, with a frequent overlay of paranormal or otherwise unusual circumstances. A Killer Harvest is a classic example of this combination, centred around teenager Joshua, who has been dealt a lot of hard blows in his short life. All of which, he’s convinced, are down to a family curse. That curse had him taken from his biological parents, then his eyesight taken from him, and, in a final blow, had his adoptive father, police detective Logan, killed during an active investigation. Logan’s partner Ben managed to kill the suspect, Simon Bowers. The opportunity that comes from Logan’s death, the possibility of an eye transplant for Joshua, is given a further twist when a mistake means Ben gets one of Logan’s eyes, and one from Simon Bowers. As Joshua rediscovers sighted life, he finds himself getting glimpses of what the eyes witnessed in their previous incarnations. These include memories, truths, lies, and Ben’s motivations, which are murkier than anybody realised. An odd storyline, no two ways about it, but there is something about Cleave’s writing style, the sense of place and characters, that make the paranormal aspects he incorporates absolutely acceptable – even to the more sceptical of readers amongst us.
Paul Cleave A Killer Harvest Atria PB 2018 400pp $31.95 (You can buy A Killer Harvest from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.
Annaleese Jochems Baby
Cynthia is 21 years old, bored, and obsessed with her older fitness instructor, Anahera. When Anahera’s marriage implodes, she escapes with Cynthia and her much loved dog to the Bay of Islands. Cynthia imagines this will be a sun-soaked, loved-up life on a boat they buy with stolen money. Strange events ensue, but this is really more a story of some profoundly unlikeable people doing horrible things, with the reader standing by, hoping for consequences and doubting they will arrive. Baby is a psychological thriller that pulls no punches, is extremely discomforting reading and will keep readers off-kilter from start to finish.
Annaleese Jochems Baby Victoria University Press 2017 PB 222pp $32.95 (You can buy Baby from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.)
Alan Carter Marlborough Man
UK born Carter spent many years living and writing his Cato Kwong series in Western Australia, and has now moved to New Zealand, taking some of his writing focus with him. Set in rural New Zealand, Marlborough Man features cop Nick Chester and his family. Chester’s in witness relocation after working for many years as an undercover cop in his native UK. Despite a life spent waiting for the gangs he fought to catch up with him, life as a rural NZ cop suits him. While life’s mostly quiet with occasional flurries – a lot to do with the theft of meat in particular – there has been a spate of horrific child murders nearby, and the discovery of the body of a young boy has shaken the community to the core. Populated by great characters, set in a beautiful part of the world, Nick Chester’s life and trials will be perfect as the start of another great series from this accomplished crime writer.
Alan Carter Marlborough Man Fremantle Arts Centre Press 2017 PB 304pp $29.99 (You can buy Marlborough Man from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.)
Charity Norman See You In September
Everybody knows all about the rite-of-passage overseas trip for many young adults. In See You In September, Cassy is heading off from her parents and her home in the UK for a short break in New Zealand with her boyfriend before her best friend’s wedding. There’s something soberingly inevitable that a break-up with her boyfriend on the road leads to an encounter with a group of people who seem normal and welcoming. Which in turn leads to a visit to an idyllic, but isolated, community and entanglement in a cult. Once Cassy’s parents find out where she is, the fight is on to bring her home before the charismatic leader’s prophecy of the ‘Last Day’ comes true. Cleverly done, this novel explores the ease with which a seemingly intelligent, well-supported, well-connected young woman can slip into the control of a dangerous cult. It searches the reactions of her parents for the triggers that force her deeper into the cult and reveals the increasing panic of those parents as it explores the persuasive and carefully controlling manner that cults employ when recruiting new members.
Charity Norman See You In September Allen & Unwin 2018 PB 384pp 419.99 (You can buy See You in September from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.)
Kirsten McDougall Tess
This is a novel of psychological suspense set within a Gothic love story. Tess is on the run when she accepts a ride from lonely, mild-mannered father Lewis Rose somewhere in rural/small-town New Zealand. With nowhere else to go, Tess settles into life in Lewis’s sprawling, neglected family home, a house filled with subdued memories, threats and foreboding. This novel combines suspense with paranormal elements, seamlessly creating an ongoing sense of dread and claustrophobia and elegantly using the device of flashbacks to address moments of extreme threat and violence.
Kirsten McDougall Tess Victoria University Press 2017 PB 156pp $27.95 (You can buy Tess from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.)
Finn Bell The Easter Make Believers
Finn Bell announced himself in the 2017 Ngaio Marsh awards with two excellent self-published entries – Pancake Money and Dead Lemons, the latter winning the Best First Novel award that year. His books are not a series as such, though they have become known as ‘The Far South Series’, which refers to their setting; each of the novels heads off in very different directions. The Easter Make Believers starts out with a small-town, everyday family being taken hostage in their own home in a sudden violent attack. As local detectives Nick Cooper and Tobe White stand among the dead bodies after the raid, everyone is grateful that the wife and two young daughters have survived, but they are unable to explain how their father has vanished from a house surrounded by police. The discovery that the bodies all belong to leaders of the biggest criminal gang in the country doesn’t clarify matters one little bit and the desperate search and rescue mission that follows soon starts to collide with elements from a deeper, much older tragedy. This is one of those stories that opens with a hard-hitting flurry and never lets up. The pace doesn’t detract from a solid plot full of interesting twists and turns, and characters a reader could get attached to. You might want to be careful about that, though – Bell’s one of those authors who’s not afraid of high casualty rates.
Finn Bell The Easter Make Believers self-published 2017 199pp ebook Kindle $5.87
Stella Duffy The Hidden Room
Stella Duffy returns to crime writing with a beautifully structured piece of domestic noir that combines secrets and difficult pasts with a present-day threat, using the setting of an old house in the remote countryside to particularly good effect. Laurie and Martha have three great kids, a much-loved work-in-progress home in the country and, finally, some financial security as Laurie’s career as an architect takes off. When everything is this perfect, it seems people often have the most to lose, and Laurie has a secret that she’s been hiding from for years, and it has the power to walk back into her life and tear that happy family apart.
Stella Duffy The Hidden Room Virago 2018 PB 320pp $19.99 (You can buy The Hidden Room from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.)
Edmund Bohan The Lost Taonga
Bohan is a renowned biographer and novelist with a considerable number of titles to his name outside the crime genre. The Lost Taonga is the sixth novel in the Inspector O’Rorke series set in the 1880s and centred in New Zealand. These novels combine detailed and engaging historical settings with great characters and interesting storylines relating toevents of the time. This novel is about an ancient and sacred treasure – Ngai Tahu’s Taonga – that has been stolen. Countess Margarita Szechnyi and Boyland the Collector, aka the Butcher of Warsaw, are both keen to get hold of the relic, each for their own unique reasons, each with their own background in amateur archaeology and collecting. Inspector O’Rorke makes a later than usual entrance to the case when his friend Colonel Henry Jamieson and Henare Greaves attempt to return the Taonga to its rightful owners, taking the protagonists from secret caves in New Zealand’s south to South America, London and the Greek Isles. The good thing about this series is that you can start out at any book without too much difficulty, although Inspector O’Rorke has a backstory which is well worth seeking out.
Edmund Bohan The Lost Taonga Lucano 2017 HB 200pp $35.00
Katherine Hayton The Only Secret Left to Keep
Hayton is another prolific New Zealand writer who has a number of series available now – ranging from the extremely cosy to the current Ngaire Blakes police procedural series. The Only Secret Left to Keep is the third outing for Ngaire Blakes, preceded by The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton and The Second Stage of Grief. Set in contemporary New Zealand, The Only Secret Left harks back to 1981’s controversial Springbok tour, and all the protests and division that arose from them. When the skeletonised body of a murder victim is discovered, the question Blakes confronts is whether or not it’s a racial crime (the victim is identified as a young African-American man), whether it’s connected to the anti-Springbok protests, or whether it’s somehow connected to the dead man’s girlfriend – a young woman convicted of a double homicide in the same week that he originally disappeared. This is a series that’s gone from strength to strength across the three novels so far, with a great central character dealing with issues of her own, and strong investigative/police procedural elements.
Katherine Hayton The Only Secret Left to Keep self-published 2017 PB 282pp $16.99 (You can buy The Only Secret from Booktopia here.)
Nathan Blackwell The Sound of Her Voice
The pseudonymous author of this novel served 10 years in the New Zealand Police, seven of them as a detective in the Criminal Investigation Branch, where, according to the blurb, he ‘was exposed to human nature at its strongest and bravest, but also at its most depraved and horrific’. The Sound of Her Voice is his first novel, and it’s hard to imagine that there is not a hefty dose of personal experience built into what is a raw, emotional, gut-wrenching tale of the worst that people can do to each other and the difficulties one man has in negotiating the fragile line between right and wrong. A debut novel that will stay with readers for a long time to come.
Nathan Blackwell The Sound of Her Voice Mary Egan Publishing 2017 PB 304pp $27.99
Every year the Ngaio Marsh Awards have thrown up something unexpected, clever and challenging and this year is no exception. The Ngaio longlist is currently being considered by a judging panel of crime, thriller and suspense experts from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand, with a shortlist to be announced in mid-July for both Best Crime Novel and Best First Novel. Winners will be announced as part of a special event at the WORD Christchurch Festival, held from 29 August to 2 September.
Karen Chisholm blogs from http://www.austcrimefiction.org, where she posts book reviews well as author biographies.
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