Monday, February 16, 2015

The Ngaio Marsh Award: Roll of Honour

As the longlist for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel is about to be announced, it seemed fitting to create a page here on Crime Watch acknowledging all of the fantastic crime, mystery, and thriller novels that have been in the running for the Award over the years.

The Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel was established in 2010 to promote and celebrate excellence in crime, mystery and thriller writing by New Zealand authors. There have been five winners, 19 finalists, and several other longlisted books so far (note: longlists have been publicised some years). The resulting roll of honour is therefore a diverse collection of high quality fiction penned by New Zealand authors. And not a bad reading list!

I've included links to articles about the winning books, and reviews of the finalists etc where possible.


2014: WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO by Liam McIlvanney
An exceptional thriller entwined with national and workplace politics, sectarian warfare, and the changing face and influence of the newspaper industry. “In a year where we had our strongest, deepest, and most diverse long list ever, and four truly fantastic finalists, WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO got the nod for its terrific, page-turning storytelling powered by superb prose, fascinating characters, and an evocative sense of place,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “It’s the kind of book that lingers in your mind beyond the final page.”

In WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO, Glasgow stands on the precipice: of the Commonwealth Games, a national vote on Scottish independence, and an explosive rekindling of a brutal gangland war. Gerry Conway is a jaded, jobbing journo, the golden child fallen, clinging to the coat-tails of his former protégé, Martin Moir. When Moir’s body is discovered as a big story breaks, Conway steps into his shoes; a very dangerous place, as gangsters, politicians, and other predators swirl around.

The judging panel, consisting of crime fiction experts from New Zealand, Australia, and the United States, called WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO “a thought-provoking novel with very real characters and a fascinating, complex plot”. McIlvanney puts a lot into this book: the state of the news media, what it takes to be a good reporter, politics, family life, and even a New Zealand connection, said one judge. “Excellent writing makes it all fit together very nicely indeed.” Conway was described by the judges as “an unlikely hero perhaps, as the mainstream media around the world are going down the gurgler… he keeps digging away like a real reporter should, even when his bosses are less than supportive.”

Radio NZ live interview with McIlvanney following his award win
"McIlvanney is New Zealand's king of crime" - University of Glasgow news story


2013: DEATH ON DEMAND by Paul Thomas
The return of maverick policeman Tito Ihaka after a fifteen year absence from the page. “Ihaka is a tremendous character in New Zealand fiction, an anarchic knight errant of a copper who gives readers a feeling of a time bomb waiting to detonate,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “It was terrific to see Thomas bring him back in DEATH ON DEMAND, particularly as that duo forever changed the landscape of New Zealand crime writing in the mid-1990s, tearing our genre from its cosy confines into mayhem-filled modernity.”

In DEATH ON DEMAND, Ihaka’s career has been marooned in the Wairarapa, following a falling out with his Auckland bosses. But a twist in the unsolved case that kick-started his troubles finds him back in the saddle, dancing around police politics and old grudges in the big smoke while on the trail of a shadowy hitman.

The judging panel called DEATH ON DEMAND “clever, beautifully written, and highly entertaining”. One international judge praised Thomas’s “strong sense of place” in the “densely plotted and humorous tale”, while another said she “learned a lot about New Zealand: class, race, and more… this was a real classic mystery … I can’t wait to read the rest of the series”. Ihaka was described by the judges as “a unique character in the cop world”, a man whose “determination to do things his way is appealing, and so is his readiness to say exactly what he thinks, even when the result is crashing rudeness”.

"The royalty of Kiwi crime writing" - a post-award win interview with Thomas in Book Notes Unbound
Feature interview in the New Zealand Listener about DEATH ON DEMAND


2012: LUTHER: THE CALLING by Neil Cross
The book that backgrounds the soul-destroying case that led to DCI John Luther standing on the precipice during the first scene of the first episode of the award-winning BBC crime drama, Luther.

"DCI John Luther, wonderfully played onscreen in the BBC series by Idris Elba, is one of the most compelling characters to hit television screens in recent memory, but Neil Cross adds even more layers and intrigue to the hulking, volatile policeman in LUTHER: THE CALLING," said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. "While screen adaptations from popular books are relatively common, the reverse is rare – usually for good reason. LUTHER: THE CALLING, however, is a magnificent tale, tautly written yet lyrical, a prequel that hurls readers onto a dark and traumatic rollercoaster."

In LUTHER: THE CALLING, DCI Luther is renowned for having a superb case clearance rate, but is a man on the edge. A man tormented, seething on the inside after years of chasing the most depraved criminals in London’s gritty underworld, he starts to cross lines. A horrific serial killer case tears Luther's life apart, professionally and personally, and drives him towards a line over which there is no turning back.

The judging panel, consisting of crime fiction experts from the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, and New Zealand, said LUTHER: THE CALLING was “outstanding” and “a stand-out novel”. One international judge didn’t think a prequel could possibly stand on its own, but “was very pleasantly surprised”, noting Cross’s “writing, plotting, and voice” was so strong that “he could write a fresh, new book” based on a well-known TV character. LUTHER: THE CALLING is “a superbly crafted, brilliant stand-alone novel”. Cross creates “such real, credible characters, a complex plot, with brilliant dialogue,” noted another judge.

"Terror and exhilaration" - a post-award feature article in the Sunday Star-Times
"Book of the Week" feature in The Hollywood Reporter, following his Ngaio Marsh Award win


2011: BLOOD MEN by Paul Cleave
A bloody and brilliant standalone from Christchurch-based writer Cleave, who shows a real mastery for prose that crackles with freshness and energy, blending compelling characters, sly humour, a taut plotline, and a well-evoked, if malevolent, version of Christchurch. "With BLOOD MEN, Cleave shows he not only stacks up with, but in fact betters, many of the big-name international bestsellers that Kiwi readers buy in droves," said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. "It’s time New Zealanders better recognised the star in our own midst."

In BLOOD MEN, Edward Hunter is a happily-married family man with a great life but a dark past; he’s the son of a notorious serial killer who’s been in prison for 20 years, and will never be coming out. When tragedy strikes, Edward suddenly needs the help of the man he’s spent his entire life distancing himself from. And as things spiral out of control, Edward fears he’s destined to become a man of blood too.

"Cleave is an original, a writer with his own distinctive voice," said the international judging panel, which included crime fiction experts from New Zealand, Canada, and the United Kingdom. "Cleave tells a gruesomely gripping story in clean, sharp prose, with authentically laconic dialogue and flashes of very dark humour," said one judge. "The twists and turns of the fast-moving plot are often surprising but never illogical. This is world-class writing." An overseas judge called BLOOD MEN "incredibly well written ... Excellent pace and black humour. It has stayed with me for ages", while another said it painted "a detailed, dystopian picture of Christchurch which I hope is not accurate".

"Writer slays competition" - a nice small feature in The Press about Cleave winning the Ngaio
"Too dark for home market" - a good feature by Nicky Pellegrino in the Herald on Sunday


2010: CUT & RUN by Alix Bosco
A magnificent debut thriller from 'a successful writer in other media' that firmly introduces a fantastic new voice to the crime fiction canon. "CUT & RUN is a great page-turning thriller, filled with characters of depth and complexity, set right here in New Zealand,” said Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson. “It was a tough decision for the judges, given the high quality of the finalists, but Bosco’s debut is a worthy winner of the first-ever Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, which recognises the best of our contemporary crime writers, while also honouring the memory of one of our country’s true literary legends, who we have at times overlooked or underappreciated in the past."

In CUT & RUN, middle aged legal researcher Anna Markunas, who has been easing herself back into work after suffering several family tragedies, finds herself investigating the circumstances of a celebrity murder for a defence lawyer friend, and puts herself in grave danger when she suspects a rugby star killed in the arms of a beautiful socialite wasn't simply the victim of a drug deal gone wrong.

The judging panel said CUT & RUN was “complex and suspenseful with fully rounded, unique characters” and had “scenes and incidents which are jaw-droppingly good”. “I was immediately struck by the likeability and realism of the central character,” said one international judge. “She is a breath of fresh air in the crime genre, being a middle-aged woman with both flaws and considerable intelligence. The book was beautifully paced. I found it hard to put down.” Bosco did a “superb job” integrating her heroine’s personal and domestic life into a compelling thriller, “a rare feat”, said another international judge.

"Crime on the rise" - feature by Nicky Pellegrino in the Herald on Sunday
"Novelist's killer finally confesses" - terrific cover feature by Kim Knight in the Sunday Star-Times


FINALISTS (and longlisted books)
Click on any link for a review of that book


JOE VICTIM by Paul Cleave
WHERE THE DEAD MEN GO by Liam McIlvanney (winner)

Other longlisted books:
THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton
CROSS FINGERS by Paddy Richardson
ONLY THE DEAD by Ben Sanders



LITTLE SISTER by Julian Novitz
THE FACELESS by Vanda Symon
DEATH ON DEMAND by Paul Thomas (winner)



LUTHER: THE CALLING by Neil Cross (winner)
BY ANY MEANS by Ben Sanders
BOUND by Vanda Symon

Other longlisted novels:
TRACES OF RED by Paddy Richardson



BLOOD MEN by Paul Cleave (winner)
CAPTURED by Neil Cross

HUNTING BLIND by Paddy Richardson

Other longlisted novels:
SURRENDER by Donna Malane
THE FALLEN by Ben Sanders



CUT & RUN by Alix Bosco (winner)
BURIAL by Neil Cross
CONTAINMENT by Vanda Symon

Other longlisted novels:
ACCESS ROAD by Maurice Gee
BOLD BLOOD by Lindy Kelly


This page updated 15 February 2015

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