As we head towards the announcement next Sunday of which terrific Kiwi crime or mystery novel released last year will win the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award, I thought I'd glance ahead by looking at some recent and upcoming local releases that might be in the running for next year's Award.
Already this year we've seen Julie Thomas hit #1 on the local bestseller list with BLOOD, WINE, & CHOCOLATE, dislodging Eleanor Catton's Man Booker winning 'historical, astrological murder mystery' THE LUMINARIES from it's near-perpetual position the past couple of years.
There have also been debut thrillers from crime writing duo Adam Sarafis (SOMETHING IS ROTTEN), former rugby pro John Daniell (THE FIXER), and young adult author TA MacLagan (THEY CALL ME ALEXANDRA GASTONE), that could pique the judging panel's interest in various ways.
In the latter part of the year, several other intriguing tales have been or will be added to the mix by New Zealand crime writers established and new. Here's a run down of a few books to keep your eye out for:
I hadn't heard of Thomas Ryan until I earlier this year, when I read his debut thriller THE FIELD OF BLACKBIRDS. In short, I was pretty impressed. Ryan pens a nice crime/action thriller that harkens back to my teenage days of reading and loving Tom Clancy and Alistair MacLean in some ways, while still being unique.
I really enjoyed his Ryan's first book, which followed former SAS man Jeff Bradley into Kosovo as he searches for his missing vineyard manager and friend, encountering all sorts of corruption, secrets, and memorable characters. Fine storytelling that had plenty of action and intrigue. I'll post a full review soon.
So I'm looking forward to reading THE MARK OF HALAM, which has recently been released in paperback and on Kindle. Bradley returns, and now must deal with the still-smouldering ashes he left in Kosovo, which are threatening to reignite. An assassination attempt is made on an Olympic athlete, a nuclear submarine is in danger, and a global terrorist threat looms.
Cleave has been at the forefront of the resurgence in New Zealand crime writing over the past decade, winning awards in New Zealand and France, topping bestseller lists in Europe, being translated into several languages, and earning short-listings for the Edgar and Barry Awards in the United States.
For me, though, Cleave is still very under-appreciated by English-language readers, particularly in New Zealand. He's one of the finest crime writers around, in terms of prose and plotting both, though his tales do veer quite dark so won't be for everyone. I really enjoy his Theo Tate books, but his latest is a true standalone. There aren't even really any crossover cameos from characters in his other novels, as has happened in the past. This is a unique offering, and a brilliant one at that.
Jerry Grey is a crime writer who's struck down by early onset Alzheimers, and starts confessing to the murders in his books. It's the ultimate unreliable narrator - the reader, Jerry, and everyone around him all don't know what to believe or disbelieve. Cleave takes us on an exceptionally clever and head-spinning as we switch between Jerry's diary to himself as he descends into dementia, and his contemporary thoughts.
I've recently learned about this upcoming release from a debut author, and it sounds quite fascinating. Berard is a former TAB (a NZ betting agency) supervisor, and has drawn on his diverse experiences in that role over the years in his first novel.
An armed robbery unexpectedly interrupts a drug deal, kick-starting "a compelling journey into the dark world of gangs, drugs and killing and an engaging look at the mending of broken souls". A blurb from an award-winning New Zealand investigative journalist has said that INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE sweeps the reader along and keeps them guessing "until the final unravelling".
While Berard, a Canadian immigrant to New Zealand, is a new author, the publication of this book has a good pedigree, with New Zealand's top crime fiction editor being involved (he has edited three of the five finalists for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award, and several new crime novels that have come out in 2015). So I'm looking forward to trying INSIDE THE BLACK HORSE when I get my hands on a copy soon.
Looking a shade further ahead, later this year we at last have the new crime thriller from wunderkind Kiwi crime writer Ben Sanders. Still only 25 years old, this will be Sanders' fourth crime novel, even though he took a bit of a hiatus between his #1 local bestselling Auckland-set Sean Devereaux trilogy and this New Mexico tale.
AMERICAN BLOOD introduces Marshall Grade, a former New York undercover cop who's now in witness protection in New Mexico after a job goes horribly wrong. The mob wants him dead, a hit man is after him, and he's been instructed to lay low. Only, he doesn't. Wanting to atone for past mistakes, Marshall inserts himself into the search for a missing woman, creating all sorts of havoc along the way as the hunt intertwines with drugs, human trafficking, and worse.
I've had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this book, and it's really terrific. I can see why Warner Bros won a bidding war for the film rights even when it was only a part-finished manuscript. Along with a great set-up (Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper is set to star as Marshall), Sanders has really evolved his style. I really enjoyed the Devereaux books, but AMERICAN BLOOD is a significant step up from an already good writer. From the opening chapter I could sense a new maturity and depth to Sanders' writing.
I'm very curious to see how readers around the world respond to AMERICAN BLOOD.
It's certainly looking like next year's Ngaio Marsh Award judging panel will have plenty of good books to consider, as New Zealand crime writing seems to get stronger and stronger by the year.
Now if we could just get some of these other authors to return to the fold too...