Wednesday, August 20, 2014


When the finalists for the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel were announced earlier this month, I did wonder if anyone would comment on or query the fact that THE LUMINARIES, the superb Man Booker Prize-winning novel from Eleanor Catton, hadn't made the cut from eight longlistees to four finalists. Especially as Alan Duff's FREDERICK'S COAT, another atypical 'crime novel', was a finalist.

Well, after a few days of not hearing a peep from anywhere, Philip Matthews of The Press asked the question, leading to his piece about the 2014 finalists in the Your Weekend supplement last Saturday (see right). Philip contacted me, as the Judging Convenor for the Award, asking about what was behind THE LUMINARIES missing out.

In the end, it was simple: the international judging panel praised the book, but collectively preferred the four finalists - although, as noted in Matthews' article, some of the judges had selected THE LUMINARIES as a finalist. It was that type of year, with eight excellent and very different books in the running - every single one of which was selected as a finalist by at least one judge. Four had to miss out. Close year. Tough decisions. Great books.

I thought I would include my full interview with Philip Matthews about the Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists here, as only some of it made it into the eventual article (I know what that's like as an interviewer - you only ever use part of the interview in the article), and perhaps some of you may find some of the rest of it interesting too.

PM: Do you expect people to be surprised that The Luminaries missed the shortlist given its awards success so far? 
CS: I do expect some people will be surprised THE LUMINARIES isn't a finalist, given it has deservedly won many awards already, and is a superb book in so many ways. There was nothing that disqualified it from the finalists list - it was in fact chosen as a finalist by some judges, but in a year when there were eight books that all explored and expressed crime, mystery, and thriller writing in very different ways, THE LUMINARIES, along with three other very good books, missed out. It was without a doubt the toughest year in the Award's history for the judges, and this was reflected in some very divergent opinions.

PM: Was there something about it that disqualified it from the final shortlist? Or was it never really a "crime" novel to start with?
CS: Although THE LUMINARIES is certainly not a crime novel in the "traditional" Christie, Marsh, or Chandler-esque detective fiction sense, it is a novel involving a murder mystery, and the Ngaio Marsh Award from the beginning has been focused on celebrating the best local books in the broader crime, mystery, and thriller genre. Crime is a broad church, and goes beyond detective fiction.

THE LUMINARIES certainly fell within the parameters, as did Alan Duff's FREDERICK'S COAT, which may have been a surprise finalist to some (who likewise may not have thought of it as a crime novel). I agree with Harriet Allan's comments about such books.

Last year, LITTLE SISTER by Julian Novitz was a finalist, and in previous years THE CRIME OF HUEY DUNSTAN by James McNeish and ACCESS ROAD by Maurice Gee have made the longlist. So we welcome books that span the literary and crime/mystery spectrum.

In the end, all four books that missed out on being finalists received some high praise from judges, and THE LUMINARIES received particular praise for its language and evocation of 19th century New Zealand, but more judges preferred the eventual four finalists when it came to what they personally were looking for. Eight had to go into four, and THE LUMINARIES missed out.


Have you read THE LUMINARIES? If so, how do you think it stacks up as a crime, mystery or thrillr novel? What did you most enjoy about the book? 

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