Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Doin' It For Themselves: 2020 Ngaio Marsh Award longlist revealed

Doin' It For Themselves: 2020 Ngaio Marsh Award longlist revealed

A widow on the run while living with mental illness, a teenager growing up in a rural cult, and a pre-teen girl in small-town Otago inspired by Nancy Drew to investigate the murder of her schoolteacher are among a diverse array of heroines whose stories and escapades have today been named on the longlist for the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel.

“In what has been a really unusual year for so many people around the world, we’re really glad to be able to once again highlight some great Kiwi storytelling,” says founder Craig Sisterson. “So many people turned to the creative sector while in lockdown – reading books and watching films and shows for entertainment, comfort, and escape. While we were saddened to have to cancel a dozen or more library events in April and May, to help keep everyone safe, we are stoked we can now celebrate some of our local authors.”

The Ngaio Marsh Awards judges, spread throughout the world and in a variety of rāhui and lockdown situations, were impressed by the variety of this year’s entrants and the many new voices who had joined the ‘yeahnoir’ scene, says Sisterson. “Along with some wonderful debut authors, we’ve had a number of experienced writers from other genres – ranging from kids’ books to literary fiction to playwrighting and paranormal romance – bring their storytelling talents to the crime, thriller, and suspense realm for the first time.”

The Ngaio Marsh Awards have celebrated the best New Zealand crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writing since 2010. The longlist for this year’s Best Novel prize is:

  • SHADOW OF A DOUBT by SL Beaumont (Paperback Writers Publishing)
  • TRUST ME, I'M DEAD by Sherryl Clark (Verve Books)
  • WHATEVER IT TAKES by Paul Cleave (Upstart Press)
  • ONE SINGLE THING by Tina Clough (Lightpool Publishing)
  • GIRL FROM THE TREE HOUSE by Gudrun Frerichs
  • AUE by Becky Manawatu (Makaro Press)
  • THE NANCYS by RWR McDonald (Allen & Unwin)
  • HIDE by SJ Morgan (MidnightSun Publishing)
  • THE GREAT DIVIDE by LJM Owen (Echo Publishing)
  • IN THE CLEARING by JP Pomare (Hachette)
  • THE WILD CARD by Renee (Cuba Press)
  • A MADNESS OF SUNSHINE by Nalini Singh (Hachette)

The longlist is currently being considered by a judging panel of crime, thriller, and suspense writing experts from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The finalists for both this Best Novel category and Best First Novel will be announced later this year. The finalists will be celebrated, and the winners announced, as part of a special event at this year’s WORD Christchurch Festival, held from 29 October to 1 November.

For more information on this year’s longlist, or the Ngaio Marsh Awards in general, please contact founder and judging convenor Craig Sisterson, craigsisterson[at]hotmail[dot]com. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME and thoughts on COVID lockdown

SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME by Craig Sisterson (Oldcastle Books, 2020)

We are living in strange times, with many countries around the world battling a global pandemic, and lots of uncertainty. The books world has found itself in a strange place as the citizens of many nations have been in lockdown, quarantine, or 'sheltering in place', effectively asked to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus. Streaming services and e-book and audio downloads have provided a welcome relief, and plenty of entertainment for millions of people. At the same time creators are struggling. Bookshops have been closed, planned book releases delayed, events cancelled.

At the very time many people are consuming even more arts and entertainment than usual, from their home if not out and about in their cities, the artists and creators are losing their jobs, having their projects cancelled or delayed, and having many of their income streams wither away to nothing.

People need information, yet media companies are culling journalists and other staff. People are devouring books and other entertainment, yet creators are at risk.

I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and almost forgetting I've personally been caught up in it too. Some of the publications I write for have closed or cut back. My own first book, a bit of a labour of love and a culmination of more than a decade as a professional critic, interviewer, and awards judge, has actually been released during the COVID-19 crisis - though the print version has been delayed due to the lockdowns (it was at the printers as the UK went into lockdown).

I often forget that my first-ever book is out there in the world, in e-book and audio download. It doesn't feel very real, with no official book launch, no London celebration, and the many books festivals I was to attend over Spring to Autumn all cancelled. All the tangible things stripped away.

But my book is out there, I have to remind myself now and then. A celebration - I hope - of the growing stature of Australian and New Zealand crime writing on the global stage. The farthest edge of the former British Empire has been contributing to teh world of detective fiction since its earliest days, had one of the Queens of Crime, but has really taken flight in recent years (in terms of global notice). It's great to see so many terrific Aussie and Kiwi writers building overseas readerships.

My book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, is a readers' guide to the modern era of Australian and New Zealand crime fiction, film, and television. It includes more than 300 novelists, TV dramas, and films. It sits alongside the likes of British Noir, Nordic Noir, Historical Noir, and American Noir guides by Barry Forshaw - offering an overview of a slice of the global crime writing pie.

While the paperback copies won't be out there until late September, the e-book and audiobook has been getting some lovely feedback, which I do appreciate. Here's a few things said:

  • "Southern Cross Crime is a valuable and illuminative resource for crime fiction fans everywhere." - Book'd Out
  • "This is an essential purchase for crime fiction readers ... an authoritative guide to what to read ... I now have a list that will keep me busy for many years." - Mysteries in Paradise
  • "This is a great reference to have at your side when you're hunting out a different spin on crime - the books reviewed here are none of your ordinary tales. The Australia and New Zealand settings give a frisson of difference with sensibilities and attitudes that twist your expectations even while lulling you into thinking they are more of the familiar." - David Ivory

I've had several people ask on social media whether the book is out or not. To clarify, while the paperback has now been delayed to late September, the e-book & audio download are available now from KoboKindle (UK)Kindle (Australia), Apple Books, and other outlets. 

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or ask away on social media. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Antipodean Noir: recording from 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival

Really stoked that today Harrogate Festivals has today released the audio recording of the Antipodean Panel from last year's Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, as part of their featured series on great sessions from throughout the festival's history. Other sessions they've released in recent weeks include Val McDermid in conversation with Susan Calman from 2016, an audience with the legendary Colin Dexter (creator of Inspector Morse) from the first festival in 2003, and Peter Robinson and Ian Rankin in conversation back in 2012 (among several other top sessions).

I have some great memories of a wonderful hour onstage with the marvellous Jane Harper, Stella Duffy, Vanda Symon, and Christian White. Four brilliant crime writers. So many laughs, such great stories shared by all the authors. Fabulous vibe onstage. Warning: it's a group of Kiwis & Aussies, so we talk fast, we're a bit raucous, but hopefully well worth a listen for those who couldn't be there (it was a sold-out session in front of almost a thousand people). The discussion veers across a wide array of subjects, and the authors share some really remarkable insights about storytelling and much more.

Listen below, from wherever you are in the world.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020


THE MONSTERS WE MAKE by Kali White (Crooked Lane Books, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s August 1984, and paperboy Christopher Stewart has gone missing. Hours later, twelve-year-old Sammy Cox hurries home from his own paper route, red-faced and out of breath, hiding a terrible secret. 

Told through interwoven perspectives, The Monsters We Make deftly explores the effects of one crime exposing another and the secrets people keep hidden from friends, families, and sometimes, even themselves.

‘Someone out there is stealing children’ – recollections of her childhood response to the real-life, unsolved Des Moines Register paperboy kidnappings in the early 1980s have been parlayed by award-winning storyteller Kali White into her first crime novel. A disturbing story of Midwestern suburban life torn asunder when young boys go missing, The Monsters We Make is a character-centric tale that focuses on the perspectives of an adolescent boy, his older teenage sister, and a depressed local cop.

Early one morning on a late summer day in 1984, young Sammy Cox scampers terrified into a church on the south side of Des Moines, his pants wet, looking for a place to hide, before taking a long, winding route home. On the same day Sammy’s fellow paperboy Christopher Stewart, goes missing. Horrid echoes of another paperboy who vanished two years before and had never been found.

Meanwhile Sammy’s older sister Crystal, a high school newspaper editor with big plans to leave town, is hunting for a story that’ll earn her a scholarship to pay for college. As their local community is rocked by Christopher’s abduction, suspicions swirl, but progress is slow for the police, including Officer Dale Goodkind, whose failure to solve an earlier case already has him teetering, near broken.

As the weeks and months pass, the secret Sammy holds festers, and the (re)actions of the police and the community spiral into devastating consequences. Officer Goodkind's promise to himself that this time he won't fail drives him beyond dedication into obsession, and as many involved leap at any sniff of a solution lives are further upturned and violence crackles through the community.

Kali White has crafted an absorbing tale which explores the impact of crime on those involved – the police who investigate it, the families and friends of the victim, the wider community – as much as the solving of a crime or unmasking of a culprit. The Monsters We Make veers into some tough territory, including child abuse, but does so with a light rather than graphic touch. White creates an extraordinary sense of time and place, before slow-building her tale to an abrupt conclusion. A thought-provoking read from a talented storyteller.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Monday, June 1, 2020


CAUGHT BETWEEN by Jeannie McLean (2020)

Reviewed by Shauna Bickley

The body of sixteen-year-old Jasmine Dunn is washed up on a Te Atatu beach. The next day, her mother's body is found near Bethels. Tova Tan lives downstairs from the Dunns and was seen arguing with Jasmine. Known to the police, Tova becomes their main suspect. When Tova's half-brother is also implicated, her loyalty to him drags her deep into his seedy lifestyle. The police suspect Tova knows more than she's telling although an unlikely ally appears in Constable Finn McIntosh who is less inclined than his colleagues to jump to conclusions. Searching her parents' past for a truth that could save her family, Tova finds herself caught in a dangerous and illicit world where she will have to fight for her very survival.

Tova Tan is caught between her Māori heritage and her father’s Chinese culture. She is caught between her longing to fit in and her need to prove that her mother didn’t commit suicide as the police believe. She is caught between wanting to help her half-brother and her dislike of his seedy lifestyle, drug-taking, and dangerous associates. All these strands weave together and tighten around Tova when she becomes the prime suspect in a double murder.

Caught Between by Auckland author Jeannie McLean opens with the discovery of a teenage girl’s body on a rocky foreshore. Another body is discovered the following day on a deserted beach. When the bodies are identified as Juliette and Jasmin Dunn, Tova’s landlady and her teenage daughter, Tova soon becomes the focus of police attention, forcing her to do some investigating of her own.

Tova’s reticence during police questioning, and her initial reluctance to get involved in her landlady’s disappearance and murder becomes more understandable as we learn of her involvement with the police over her mother’s death, and especially as her father urges her not to communicate with them without his lawyer’s presence.

Part of the police case hinges on the fact her car was seen in the area where Jasmine’s body was found. However, Tova has never driven the car, given to her by her wealthy, estranged father, but she knows Richard, her half-brother, often borrows it without their father’s knowledge.

Determined to discover if Richard is involved Tova visits his apartment, but she is attacked on arrival. Although hurt, she escapes relatively unscathed when one of the attackers pulls the other off her and she discovers from their conversation they have been ordered not to hurt her. Once the attackers leave she finds Richard in a far worse state. After his injuries are treated at the A&E department, Tova decides he should stay with his parents, but as they arrive at their father’s large house there is an explosion in the garage.

The police find a burned body at the scene and once again Tova is involved in a murder.

Up to this point McLean’s novel follows the route of an excellent whodunit, giving us bodies, clues, red herrings, family estrangements and quarrels, but when Tova later goes to retrieve her friend’s car from her father’s house, the plot shifts and swiftly moves to become a pacy thriller. Tova is kidnapped and that scary scenario rapidly turns into a siege when the police follow and stake-out the suburban house where Tova and another family are held hostage.

Caught Between shows us the seedy world of hired heavies and drugs mixed with poor suburbs and people trying to live as best they can. This contrasts the more opulent world of exclusive neighbourhoods and gated mansions, and where the two sometimes collide in business deals and corruption.

Tova’s previous experience of a police investigation into her mother’s death has taught her to be wary of opening up and showing emotion, but during the murder investigation she begins to hope that Constable Finn McIntosh might believe her even though everyone else appears to accept that she is mixed up in the murders.

Caught Between is a police-procedural set in and around Auckland, with a mix of action-packed scenes, and, as in all great murder mysteries, a good twist at the end. McLean also adds the lightest touch of a possible romance between Tova and Finn, deepening the theme of Tova being ‘caught between’.

CAUGHT BETWEEN is available in paperback and ebook

Shauna Bickley is an author based in the Waikato, New Zealand. She writes across several genres and her latest crime novel, THE WORST LIE, is entered in the 2020 Ngaio Marsh Awards. For more information on Shauna and her crime writing, visit her website


THE AOSAWA MURDERS by Riku Onda, translated by Alison Watts (Bitter Lemon, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

On a stormy summer day the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer's, and the physician's bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only person spared injury. But the youth who emerges as the prime suspect commits suicide that October, effectively sealing his guilt while consigning his motives to mystery. 

The police are convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident, who was herself a childhood friend of Hisako’ and witness to the discovery of the murders.

Could a beautiful blind teenager really have killed her whole family? Thirty years after a horrifying 1973 gathering where 17 people died from poison-laced drinks during a party at the home of a prominent local family, Makiko Saiga is interviewed. An author and childhood neighbour of the Aosawa family, her book that she wrote as a university student a decade after that fateful day left open the implication that someone other than the prime suspect, a deliveryman who hung himself and left a confession months after the murders, may have been involved. Makiko’s not the only one to wonder about Hisako, the blind daughter and sole surviving member of the family. But what is the real truth at the heart of this tragedy?

In a book that won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel in 2006, Onda takes readers on a beguiling and unusual ride. The story unfolds from a variety of perspectives: snatches from an interview with Makiko Saiga where we only read her answers and not the unseen narrator’s questions, interviews in the same style with the housekeeper, the detective, and others involved in the original case, excerpts from Saiga’s bestselling book about the case, and segments of a new manuscript by another writer.

It's a kaleidoscopic method of storytelling, and readers may have to shake things together in their head to try to form and see some sort of clear picture from the various shards. The heat and humidity of the seaside town, known only as K___, adds to the discomforting and strange atmosphere. An unusual and absorbing tale from a bold storyteller.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Newcastle Noir online festival - Southern Cross Crime

Last year the Newcastle Noir festival invited their first set of writers from Australia & New Zealand. Undercover cop turned award-shortlisted crime writer Nathan Blackwell (author of the fantastic THE SOUND OF HER VOICE) came all the way from Auckland, which would have made him the guest who'd travelled the furthest ever in the history of Newcastle Noir - except fellow Kiwi Vanda Symon came the whole way from Dunedin, near the bottom of the South Island!

The Newcastle Noir 2019 festival goers enjoyed that panel (which also included Australian authors Helen Fitzgerald and Rachel Amphlett, who are based in the UK) so much that the organisers "knew we just had to host another group of Antipodean authors". Jacky Collins, aka Dr. Noir, was lucky enough to hear one of this year's panelists speak at Rotorua Noir last year and she just knew you’d want to hear them too! Join Craig Sisterson as he talks to Kirsten McKenzie, Helen Fitzgerald and Charity Norman (plus some other surprise special guests).

Friday, May 22, 2020


THE ACCIDENT by Linwood Barclay (Bantam, 2011)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Glen Garber, a contractor, has seen his business shaken by the housing crisis, and now his wife, Sheila, is taking a business course at night to increase her chances of landing a good-paying job. But she should have been home by now. With their eight-year-old daughter sleeping soundly, Glen soon finds his worst fears confirmed: Sheila and two others have been killed in a car accident. 

Grieving and in denial, Glen resolves to investigate the accident himself—and begins to uncover layers of lawlessness beneath the placid surface of their Connecticut suburb, secret after dangerous secret behind the closed doors. Propelled into a vortex of corruption and illegal activity, pursued by mysterious killers, and confronted by threats from neighbours he thought he knew, Glen must take his own desperate measures and go to terrifying new places in himself to avenge his wife and protect his child.

Former Toronto Star columnist Barclay has established himself over the past dozen or so years as a modern master of ‘suburban terror’, penning tales where very ordinary people find themselves entwined in dangerous events that spiral out of control.

In this novel a man who owns a construction company has to juggle grief and anger after his wife dies in a car accident, while trying to protect his eight-year-old daughter from the fallout when blame is pointed his wife's way, then realises something very sinister is happening in his town. Barclay excels at delivering page-whirring storylines that hook you in and keep the tension redlined, while also providing plenty of emotional oomph in the family relationships and the gut-punch events.

Barclay has become so consistently excellent that perhaps we take him a little for granted.

Much has been made in recent years of the 'domestic noir' boom, but Barclay and the likes of Harlan Coben were already writing exquisite tales of ordinary people getting caught up in horrifying events many years before (and of course the 'trend' dates back throughout crime writing history, with practitioners like Patricia Highsmith being a master of psychological suspense entwined with everyday characters, or Daphne du Maurier beautifully capturing terror in a domestic setting).

THE ACCIDENT is one of those stay-up-all-night novels that draws you in not just for the exciting twists but the cares and fears Barclay engenders in the reader for the characters. As Glen investigates, trying to understand what has happened and why - the official version of his wife Sheila drink-driving and killing three people including herself makes no sense to him - another 'accidental' death occurs.

Barclay ramps up the pressure on our hero to the nth degree - his business is failing, his wife is dead and is being vilified, his daughter is being bullied and ostracised at school, his in-laws are butting in, he may be sued by the widow of the other accident victims. And his wife may have unwittingly been caught up with some very dangerous people - the kind for whom 'accidents' are viable solutions.

A very good read from a very good author.

This is an expanded version of a newspaper review I wrote of this book in late 2011. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter.