Monday, November 27, 2023

Character first: 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards winners deep-dive into the personal and societal impact of violence and tragedy

2023 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel winner Charity Norman (right)
with New Zealand's modern 'queen of crime' Vanda Symon

A trio of superb New Zealand writers were honoured at a special WORD Christchurch event on Friday night as they scooped the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards for books delivering rich character studies alongside exquisite crime storytelling. 

In the fourteenth instalment of Aotearoa’s annual awards celebrating excellence in crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writing, Hawke’s Bay author Charity Norman won Best Novel for Remember Me (Allen & Unwin), while renowned journalist Steve Braunias scooped Best Non-Fiction for Missing Persons (HarperCollins), and acclaimed filmmaker and author Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) made Ngaios history when he was named the winner of Best First Novel for Better the Blood (Simon & Schuster).

“It was a superb night to cap an outstanding year for the Ngaio Marsh Awards, with our terrifically strong and varied group of finalists,” says founder Craig Sisterson. “This year’s winners are world-class writers, who collectively showcase how our local take on one of the world’s most popular forms of storytelling – and our Kiwi creative artists in general – can like our sportspeople match up against the best from anywhere.”

On Friday night, following a celebratory quiz held at Tūranga in association with WORD Christchurch, Kiwi crime queen and recent Traitors NZ star Vanda Symon announced Braunias as the winner of the biennial Best Non-Fiction prize for Missing Persons, his collection of 12 extraordinary tales of death and disappearance in Aotearoa. “A fascinating investigation of where people had become lost: to society, themselves, their families,” said the judges. “His writing is so informed and informative. Braunias has put in the legwork, knows his material, and because of that manages to make each piece something personal.”

Braunias accepts the non-fiction prize
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.

Bennett became the first storyteller to collect fiction and non-fiction categories at the Ngaio Marsh Awards, having won the first-ever Best Non-Fiction prize in 2017 for In Dark Places: The Confessions of Teina Pora and an Ex-cop's Fight for Justice. Braunias was a finalist that year for The Scene of the Crime.

The judges praised Better the Blood, the tale of a Māori detective confronting her own heritage while hunting a serial killer, as an “audacious and powerful blend of history, polemic, and crime thriller” that upends the typical serial-killer sleuth dynamic while exploring the violence and legacy of colonisation.

Winning a Ngaio is the latest accolade for Bennett’s crime fiction debut, which has also been shortlisted for awards and named on ‘best of the year’ lists in the UK and US, translated into several European languages, and earlier this year became the first detective novel ever shortlisted for the Acorn Prize for Fiction.

Norman, a three-time Ngaios finalist, was “overwhelmed” when Symon announced she’d won Best Novel for Remember Me, a tale set in the Ruahine Ranges where a family and community are upturned by disturbing revelations about a young woman’s disappearance. “There’s an Olympian degree of difficulty in this novel,” said the judges. “To write about characters facing devastating, mind-altering health diagnoses and blend these everyday tragedies – all too familiar to some readers – into an elevated suspense novel, while steering clear of mawkishness and self-pity … Remember Me is an astounding piece of work.”

Norman receives $1,000 courtesy of WORD Christchurch, long-time partner of the Ngaio Marsh Awards.

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