Thursday, December 1, 2022

Entries open for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards


In a slight break with recent tradition, the entry period for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards has opened early today, with the organisers looking forward to supporting, highlighting, and celebrating great crime writing from New Zealand authors that's been published during the past year (or two years, in the case of the biennial Best Non-Fiction prize). 

Also, after a hiatus in 2022 for the popular Mystery in the Library series, due to COVID restrictions, the Ngaios organisers are keen to bounce back with a terrific line-up of events all across New Zealand, and beyond, early next year (more than 70 free library-based events celebrating local crime writers were run in association with the Ngaio Marsh Awards between 2015-2021, across dozens of city and rural locations). 

Since 2010, the Ngaio Marsh Awards have supported, highlighted, and celebrated literary excellence in crime, mystery, and thriller writing from New Zealand storytellers.

In 2022, Ngaio Marsh Awards will be presented in the Best Novel and Best First Novel, categories. Entries can be made by publishers or authors. E-book originals and self-published authors are eligible, along with traditionally published works. Entries close 17 March.

To be eligible for consideration for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards: 

  1. The author must be a New Zealand citizen or resident; 
  2. Novels must have been published for the first time in 2022; Best Non-Fiction entries in 2021 or 2022;
  3. For the fiction categories, entered books can be crime, mystery, thriller, or suspense fiction. "Crime" is meant in a broad sense and can include violent, white collar, or geopolitical crimes. Novels that strongly address the investigation of crime or impact or effects of crime are eligible. Traditional (detective fiction, thrillers, cosy mysteries) and non-traditional (experimental, cross-genre) books may enter. E-books and self-published novels are eligible.
  4. True crime and biographies/other non-fiction related to crime or crime writing may enter Best Non-Fiction.

For more information or to enter a book, contact the Ngaio Marsh Awards through their social media accounts, email, or contact the Judging Convenor Craig Sisterson directly. 

Sunday, November 20, 2022


THE DOCTOR'S WIFE by Fiona Sussman (Bateman Books, 2022)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Nothing in Stan Andino's unremarkable life could prepare him for the day he discovers his wife in the living room, naked except for a black apron, bleaching out a stain in the carpet that only she can see. A CT scan one week later explains the seemingly inexplicable; Carmen Andino has a brain tumour. As Stan and their teenage sons grapple with the diagnosis and frightening personality changes in their wife and mother, Austin Lamb, close friend and local doctor, does everything possible to assist the family in crisis. Months later, just when it feels as though life couldn't possibly get any worse for the Andinos, the body of Austin Lamb's wife Tibbie is discovered at the bottom of the Browns Bay cliffs.

Tibbie, Carmen, and Austin have been friends for years. Tibbie and Austin partnered up, and when Carmen married Stan, he eventually blended into the group. Then Carmen and Stan had twin boys, who Austin and Tibbie dote on. The four are a unit, having the odd tiff, but solid. Then malignant cells, a forgotten cell phone, and an obsessive young man in the neighbourhood, smash open the façade of civility – exposing what churns beneath.

A body is found in the water at Browns Bay, Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland – is it there through accident, suicide, or murder? The more we find out about the people in the wide circle around the victim, more and more motives and suspects are revealed. Tibbie and Austin are well-off, she comes from a wealthy family and works voluntarily for various charities, he is a popular general practitioner. Carmen, Stan, and the boys just get by, he is a tutor at an arts centre, she a freelance writer.

I was glad I knew absolutely nothing about the story as I read, not having even read the blurb on the back cover. I guessed the first two mysteries – whose was the body that was discovered? What was behind some emerging aberrant behaviour of one of the characters? But they were like the edges of a jigsaw puzzle, and I became gripped with wanting to understand the picture that was emerging. And that picture was full of complex and damaged characters.

The curiosity is raised that awful events in childhood can result in life-long damage, hidden fears, and insecurities – or they can lead to a determination to steer a steady path. The two detectives on the case, Bandara and Stark, both have tragedies in their histories. And now they both feel excluded from their peers – but one has become empathetic, while the other behaves in a way that attracts the slur “ice queen”.

The Doctor’s Wife deals with the trauma of losing a loved one, either through death or through illness-induced alterations to their character, and the stress of caring for the chronically ill. Eliot, a lifelong patient of Austin’s, and the only son of solo mum Andrea, has diabetes, is a whiz with numbers, is conscientious to a fault, and has the unguarded manner of a child. There are those who think if Eliot were to die it would be a release for his mother, a point of view his mother would in no way understand.

And when suspects line up, and one of them is going to die soon anyway, there are others who can’t help but think if the terminal patient took the fall, wouldn’t that get everyone else off the hook, and not make much difference to them? Things spin further and further out of control for the affected families, and they start seriously falling apart. And then there are the children: having to deal with their family disintegrating, and the cruel business of navigating school when rumours are rife.

THE DOCTOR'S WIFE is well plotted, leading to a cathartic reveal, which once again shows the complexity of human nature – with the perpetrator appalled at the enormity of what they have done. The mystery is solved, some characters are going to be able to continue, others not. The natural tragedies and the crimes have passed and taken their toll. The reader is left with a lovely bit of hope, and the knowledge that Fiona Sussman is a great #YeahNoir author, and a great observer of human nature.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving former librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

Saturday, November 19, 2022


BLUE HOTEL by Chad Taylor (Brio Books, 2022)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

In 1987, leather-clad tourist Blanca Nul goes missing in small-town New Zealand. Local reporter Ray Moody, washed-up and over-imbibing, gets a scoop the foreigner modelled for a pornographic magazine. He chases the story but crashes his car and loses his job.

A year to the day after she was reported missing, Blanca is mysteriously sighted a second time. Ray sees a chance to revisit the missing person story and revive his career. The doppelganger death is identified as local goth Amber Drake and labelled a suicide, but Ray is not convinced. He discovers Amber was a risk-taker with a darker purpose. She frequented the notorious S&M club Blue Hotel where the rich and powerful engaged their fantasies in anonymity.

As he searches for the real story Ray will learn how desperate, damaged and lonely people from all walks of life can be, and that the truth is hard-won and painful.

It’s been thirteen years since readers have got to savour a brand-new book from New Zealand author Chad Taylor, whose early 2000s novels like SHIRKER and ELECTRIC earned him a deserved reputation Down Under and in Europe as a modern master of neo-noir.

Taylor’s long-awaited return, BLUE HOTEL, shows he can still be one of the most exciting voices in antipodean literature. It’s a dark and funny tale set among the excesses and economic crashes of the late 1980s while veering across diverse locations in greater Auckland. 

Ray Moody is a booze-soaked reporter who sniffs a hidden story when leather-clad Danish woman Blanca Nul creates a scene then vanishes from a pub about an hour’s drive north of the big smoke. Ray’s chase ends in catastrophe; he’s left nursing injuries and cataloguing adult classifieds for a dingy tabloid. The only media that’ll have him. He spies a second chance when another woman dressed like a Danish doppelganger vanishes on the anniversary, kickstarting a dangerous search that takes Ray from tucked-away BDSM dungeons to lofty offices of corporate raiders. 

Will chasing the story lead to redemption or ruin? 

Full of striking characters, sparkling writing, and a rich sense of time and place, BLUE HOTEL is a ripper of a read. I tore through it quickly, even as I found myself admiring and appreciating Taylor's prose along with his storytelling. While Taylor may have been in hiatus, he hasn’t lost a step.

Highly recommended. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned writer, editor, podcast host, and event chair. He's the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, author of Macavity Award-shortlisted non-fiction work SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, series editor of the DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER anthology, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.

Friday, November 18, 2022


THE PAIN TOURIST by Paul Cleave (Orenda Books, 2022)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

This dream doesn’t feel like a dream.
He tries to lift his head. Can’t do it.
There is a doorway to his left, and beyond it a brightly lit corridor. 
Somebody walks past – a nurse …

James Garrett was critically injured when he was shot following his parents’ murder, and no one expected him to waken from a deep, traumatic coma. When he does, nine years later, Detective Inspector Rebecca Kent is tasked with closing the case.

But between that, and hunting for a murderer on a spree, she’s going to need help … especially when they learn that James has lived out another life in his nine-year coma, and there are things he couldn’t possibly know.

More than fifteen years after its first publication, internationally bestselling Kiwi author Paul Cleave’s powerful debut THE CLEANER will hit screens around the world next year, having been adapted into a six-part screen drama Dark City - The Cleaner, which start filming in Canterbury soon. 

Before then, however, readers can soak into the brilliant darkness of Cleave’s world with this page-chewing new tale. One of many enticing aspects of THE PAIN TOURIST, the thirteenth novel from the Crown Prince of Antipodean Noir (who’s a three-time Ngaio Marsh Award winner who’s also been shortlisted for major prizes in the United States) is the much-awaited return of troubled investigator Theo Tate, last seen in 2014’s award-winning FIVE MINUTES ALONE. Though Tate, who’s now left the police, is really a co-star here to James Garrett, a young man who emerges from a coma nine years after he was shot the night his parents were killed in a botched home invasion. Tate investigated the original crime; the culprits never found. Now DI Rebecca Kent - familiar to readers from Cleave's excellent 2021 novel THE QUIET PEOPLE - is charged with closing the very cold case, while also hunting a dangerous killer, ‘Copy Joe’, mimicking the infamous Christchurch Carver. 

One of many things I love about Cleave's storytelling is the way his series and Christchurch-set standalone novels (ie 12 of his 13 novels so far, the exception being the excellent US-set small-town thriller WHATEVER IT TAKES) all overlap in time and place, even if the central characters change. He's created an entire, evocative word, a tainted version of his home city as seen through the eyes of characters trying to be good, or awfully bad, and many shades in between. 

In THE PAIN TOURIST, matters are further complicated by a recovering James’ eidetic recollection of an entire life he ‘lived out’ during his long coma, which seems to crossover with real events. Did he also overhear a real-life killer’s confession and blend it into his dream life? And what about the original crooks who put him in the coma in the first place - what will they do now he's woken up, years later?

Cleave delivers a superb tale, masterfully balancing multiple viewpoints, investigations, and ongoing threats – all building to a thrilling crescendo. While THE PAIN TOURIST has plenty of the Cleave trademarks – prose that crackles like a campfire, tension and twists aplenty, memorable characters pushed to their limits, and an evocative if stained version of Christchurch – it also has a few new flourishes. Shorter punchy chapters that crank the tension even higher (while still delivering in character depth and arcs), and third-person narration told from three viewpoints (Cleave usually writes in first-person, placing readers into narrator's heads, seeing the world directly through their eyes). 

An excellent read from a masterful storyteller.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned writer, editor, podcast host, and event chair. He's the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, author of Macavity Award-shortlisted non-fiction work SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, series editor of the DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER anthology, and writes about books for magazines and newspapers in several countries.

Thursday, November 17, 2022


MIRACLE by Jennifer Lane (Cloud Ink Press, 2022)

Reviewed by Karen Chisholm

Born in the middle of Australia’s biggest-ever earthquake, Miracle is fourteen when her world crumbles. Thanks to her dad’s new job at Compassionate Cremations — which falls under suspicion for Boorunga’s spate of sudden deaths — the entire town turns against their family. Miracle is tormented by her classmates, even by Oli, the boy she can’t get out of her head. She fears for her agoraphobic mother, and for her angelic, quake-damaged brother, Julian.

When Oli plays a cruel trick on Miracle, he sets off a chain of devastating events. Then her dad is arrested for a brutal attack. Miracle takes the full weight on her shoulders. How can she convince the town of her dad’s innocence?

Being a 14 year old girl is never an easy undertaking, but living in a dying town, in a family beset with problems makes Miracle's life that bit more complicated.

She's known as Miracle because she was born in the middle of Australia's biggest-ever earthquake. The same quake that so traumatised her older brother that he's been left living with an ongoing mental health / nervous issue. Her mother's agoraphobic, her father's not coping with unemployment, and the boy she really likes, Oli, is playing really cruel tricks on her. All in all, a bit of a mess. Anyone who has read Lane's first book ALL OUR SECRETS might see the ghost of Gracie in Miracle - she's a dab hand at the creation of strong, young girls, surrounded by chaotic families, stepping up and in.

Which would make you think that her father's new job at Compassionate Cremations would be a good thing, but that just ends up adding to Miracle's feelings of guilt because she's the one that pushed her father towards the job. When the Crematorium becomes the centre of town gossip about a spate of sudden deaths, and her father is arrested after a brutal attack on the boy she fancies there, the job seems less important, and her role in putting her father it, and her reactions to Oli's behaviour seems like the tipping point.

The connection that all readers will have to have to get MIRACLE to work is obviously going to be with Miracle herself. A brave, conflicted, complicated young girl, she's believable and really real - alternatively bolshie and fragile, whip smart and thick as a brick. The story really does centre around the concept of bravery, coping and pressing on. It's also about learning empathy and understanding, and finding the good in what seems like absolutely dreadful situations, and dreadful people.

The plot is cleverly constructed to keep the focus on Miracle, while all around her events seem to swirl and move into and out of focus, never quite giving the reader time to settle, or necessarily to pick up on a direction. In the early stages the role of the Crematorium, and its boss, her parents, her brother, her aunt and the extended family, and other members of the town shapeshift into and out of the main story line, with Miracle dealing with a very big signal to noise ratio at points. Her confusion is palpable, her panic very real, and the reactions of everybody around her used to highlight a complicated scenario.

At the end of the day though, as events spiral further, Oli succumbs to his injuries, and doubts start to emerge about Miracle's dad's involvement, the family pushes and shoves against each other, and Miracle finds out a lot about growing up. It's an interesting layer to place within a crime story, and one that I found utterly fascinating and disconcerting all at the same time.

Karen Chisholm is one of Australia's leading crime reviewers. She created Aust Crime Fiction in 2006, a terrific resource - please check it out. Karen also reviews for Newtown Review of Books, and is a Judge of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel. This review was first published on Karen's website; she kindly shares some of her reviews of crime and thriller novels written by Australians and New Zealanders on Crime Watch as well as on Aust Crime Fiction

Saturday, November 12, 2022


BETTER THE BLOOD by Michael Bennett (Simon & Schuster, 2022)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker


Hana Westerman is a tenacious Māori detective juggling single motherhood and the pressures of her career in Auckland’s Central Investigation Branch. When she’s led to a crime scene by a mysterious video, she discovers a man hanging in a secret room. As Hana and her team work to track down the killer, other deaths lead her to think that they are searching for New Zealand’s first serial killer.

With little to go on, Hana must use all her experience as a police officer to try and find a motive to these apparently unrelated murders. What she eventually discovers is a link to an historic crime that leads back to the brutal bloody colonisation of New Zealand.

When the pursuit becomes frighteningly personal, Hana realises that her heritage and knowledge are their only keys to finding the killer. But as the murders continue, it seems that the killer's agenda of revenge may include Hana – and her family . . .

Detective Senior Sergeant Hana Westerman is an artist, a mother, a gardener, and “the finest police officer”. She is dedicated and focussed and used to pressure. But when she is singled out by the perpetrator of what turns into a series of murders, the pressure is like nothing she, or her Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland police colleagues, have faced before.

Hana knows she is receiving information from the murderer for a reason, but what reason? The information guides her and her young partner, Stan, to two crime scenes. Hana and her team discover the murders are connected to an atrocity that occurred in the 1860s, and that there are more potential victims. She also realises the link between her and the crimes date from a terrible incident she was part of 18 years ago, an incident that led to her cutting ties with her marae and extended whānau.

Hana is deeply affected by the murder investigation; it makes her consider her life and the choices she has made. And developments start to put distance between her and Addison, her 17-year-old activist daughter. Addison has moved back in with her mother; she had been living with Jaye, Hana’s husband and also her boss. Hana is thrilled to have Addison back with her, but the timing couldn’t have been worse, with the investigation taking all of Hana’s time and attention.

What complicates matters is that both Hana and Addison feel sympathy for the murderer, not with his actions but with his cause. He believes he is restoring balance in a country that “had so much to pride itself on, but it also had so much that was and remained just plain wrong, historically and ongoing”. The novel succinctly lays out many of the injustices against Māori: the blatant appropriation of their land. The use of young Māori men as ‘cannon fodder’ in World War II. The similar use of young Māori police recruits more recently, putting them on the front line of breaking up Māori land protests. The Waitangi Tribunal settlements where tribes get 2% of what they deserve. The disproportionate number of Māori men in prison as opposed to the privileged treatment of Pākehā males in court.

BETTER THE BLOOD asks: “On which side lies evil?” and has all the elements of great mystery thriller writing: It has a strong social justice theme. It has a great sense of place, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland with “its own unique flavour”, and the bush, “he scooped a handful of rainwater from a bowl formed by the thick roots of the rimu and sprinkled it into the opening of the sack, a blessing”. And it has great characters, especially Hana. She is conflicted and stressed. When she feels danger getting closer and closer to those she loves, she finds it harder and harder to maintain clarity. And then she discovers an inner strength that has nothing to do with weapons or stamina.

BETTER THE BLOOD avoids the simple; multiple voices are presented, there is not one Māori or one Pākehā point of view. Hana’s knowledge of Māori tikanga helps her progress the investigation, and her being in a position to recognise a translation error from Te Reo to English helps her find the suspect. But she is also a cop, and the police in the current investigation are for the most part presented sympathetically, after all “Nobody welcomes a day when you go to work knowing your job might be to end a life”.

Better the Blood is a great piece of #YeahNoir. It is a debut novel, and the promotional material suggests we will be reading more of Hana Westerman, excellent!

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving former librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Giving victims a voice: debut novel sweeps 2022 Ngaio Marsh Awards


Giving victims a voice: debut novel sweeps 2022 Ngaio Marsh Awards  

History was made at a special WORD Christchurch event on Thursday night as Taranaki author Jacqueline Bublitz’s first novel was revealed as the winner of both categories of the 2022 Ngaio Marsh Awards 

In the thirteenth instalment of Aotearoa’s annual awards celebrating excellence in crime, mystery, and thriller writing, Bublitz scooped both the Best First Novel and Best Novel prizes for BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME (Allen & Unwin). It is the first time any Kiwi storyteller has won both fiction categories. 

“Beautifully heart-breaking, stylishly written, and boldly pushing the envelope of crime fiction,” said the international judging panels. “Bublitz delivers a beguiling tale with great characterisation: Alice and Ruby are wonderful. This is a tragic but warm-hearted crime novel that gives victims agency and voice.” 

Ngaio Marsh Awards founder Craig Sisterson noted that while a few excellent debuts have been shortlisted for both categories over the past several years, BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME is the first book to ever win two Ngaio Marsh Awards. Bublitz also joins Christchurch author and international bestseller Paul Cleave, a three-time Best Novel winner, as the only Kiwi storytellers with multiple Ngaios. So far. 

“It’s a remarkable achievement by Jacqueline,” added Sisterson, “especially given the strength of the Best Novel category this year, which included past Ngaios winners in Cleave and RWR McDonald, a four-time finalist in Ben Sanders, a two-time Ockhams longlistee in Kirsten McDougall, and a many-times New York Times bestseller in Nalini Singh. Our judges really loved many different books, it was a tough decision.” 

The international judging panels for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards comprised leading crime fiction critics, editors, and authors from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England, Scotland, and the United States.  

While BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME shares an inciting incident familiar to any viewer of US cop shows – a jogger in New York City finds the body of a young woman – in her debut Bublitz flips the script by taking readers deep into the lives of Alice and Ruby, the victim and the jogger, rather than the detectives. 

On Thursday night, Bublitz was presented with the Best First Novel prize by bestselling Australian author Michael Robotham, then the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel by Scottish queen of crime Val McDermid. Before the audience found out whowunnit, Robotham and McDermid had entertained attendees in a thrilling panel with past Ngaios winner JP Pomare, as part of the trio’s Crime After Crime tour of New Zealand.  

The two Ngaio Marsh Awards add to a list of accolades for Bublitz’s debut that include winning General Fiction Book of the Year at the ABIA Awards, being shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger in the UK, and winning the Debut Crime and Readers’ Choice prizes at the Davitt Awards of Sisters in Crime Australia.  

Before it was published, Bublitz worked on BEFORE YOU KNEW MY NAME for several years, including living in New York City, “ostensibly for research” in 2015, and persisting through dozens of rejections. She finally completed the novel in the aftermath of her beloved father’s death in 2019, after returning to New Zealand from two decades in Melbourne. “I realised what I was trying to say, which is look at what we lose when this kind of crime happens,” she said. “I was going through my own experience of loss and thinking about mortality, and I changed some of the narrative and became a lot more clear on Alice’s journey.” 

Bublitz’s prizes include two trophies, $1,000 courtesy of WORD Christchurch, long-time partner of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and a cash prize from the Ngaios. Her book is released in US hardcover in November.  

For more information about this year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards winner or the Ngaio Marsh Awards in general,  please contact the Judging Convenor, Craig Sisterson. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022


RAZORBLADE TEARS by SA Cosby (Headline, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

A black father and a white father join forces on a crusade for revenge against the people who murdered their gay sons, by S.A. Cosby, the award-winning author of Blacktop Wasteland.

Back in the first year of the pandemic, 2020, heist thriller-cum-rural noir BLACKTOP WASTELAND was arguably the crime novel of the year (later reinforced by it winning numerous awards in 2021) and its author SA Cosby the breakout star. It was deservedly feted across the world by readers, critics, and awards judges as heralding the arrival of a striking voice. But Cosby was no overnight success, he'd been working on his craft for twenty years before the wider reading world began to take big notice. 

BLACKTOP WASTELAND was a superb, snarling tale, bringing a fresh perspective to rural noir and infused with striking characters, plenty of action, and important underlying themes. It did leave a big question though – what would the blue-collar Virginia author do next, now he’d set the bar so high? 

Last year we got our answer, and somehow, incredibly, RAZORBLADE TEARS was even better. 

Quite simply, it's an astonishing novel. A tour de force of crime storytelling. 

Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee are two quite different men in the rural South, though they’ve a few things in common: they both know what it’s like behind bars, and they’re both fathers to gay sons who they loved but struggled to fully accept. A black man and a white man brought together by the murder of their boys, who’d married each other, Ike and Buddy Lee embark on a no-holds-barred search for those responsible. And are forced to confront their own prejudices along with those of others.

This is a Southern Gothic revenge thriller of the most outstanding kind: violent, thoughtful, emotionally hard-hitting, and brilliant. Cosby writes with a poetic ferocity, and RAZORBLADE TEARS is a modern masterpiece. Run don't walk to get it from your local bookshop or library, if you haven't devoured it already. I'll be pre-ordering anything Cosby writes in future. 

We're witnessing the ascent of a bright new star in our genre. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer who's interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at festivals on three continents. He's been a judge of Australian, Scottish, and NZ crime writing awards, and is co-founder of Rotorua Noir. He's the author of the HRF Keating award-shortlisted non-fiction book SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, and the series editor of acclaimed anthology DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER. You can heckle him on Twitter.