Queens of crime combine: Money in the morgue

Taking over from Dame Ngaio Marsh, one of the original Queens of Crime, would be a daunting prospect for any writer, but Stella Duffy (winner of the CWA Dagger Award, and Stonewall Writer of the Year) has beautifully risen to this task in the new inspector Alleyn novel, ‘Money in the Morgue‘.

Set in New Zealand during World War Two, Marsh’s beloved detective finds himself called into a murder investigation, right in the middle of an espionage case. The novel opens when courier Mr Glossip finds himself marooned at a military hospital, thanks to a terrific storm. When the wages which Glossip has just delivered go missing, then an unexpected body turns up in the morgue, it is left to inspector Alleyn to unravel the nights mysteries. He does so with his usual charm, and perfect manners (let’s just say you wouldn’t be surprised to read that upon being asked by Alleyn to pass along the salt, a woman fainted by his feet).

His sidekick is a kind of inspector Fox substitute and cunningly, there are so many mentions of inspector Fox as Duffy talks about this man who is clearly not inspector Fox, that by the end of it you have somehow wound up concluding that this clearly not inspector Fox man, is actually Inspector Fox. There is also mention of Troy, as Alleyn tries and fails to pen a letter to her (but manages an epic three page masterwork to inspector Fox, just saying).

In many respects, Duffy is the ideal candidate to finish a novel started by Ngaio Marsh. As well as being an esteemed writer of sixteen novels (five of these being crime), like Ngaio Marsh, Duffy spent her childhood in New Zealand, moved to London, and as a producer, and scriptwriter, has had a long standing relationship with the theatre. There are some lovely references to the world of theatre, in particular Shakespeare, as Alleyn absently quotes the Bard to himself on several occasions, much to the bewilderment of the local constabulary.

As Eric Morecambe would have said to Ernie Wise you just  ‘can’t see the join’, when you read ‘Money in the Morgue’. The two writers just dovetail so perfectly. Later I learnt that Marsh wrote the first three chapters of this work, Duffy the rest, but had it not been for a sneaky look at a interview with Stella Duffy, and one tell tale passage toward the end of the novel (where Alleyn muses on New Zealand as being like a ‘living entity”, not the most 30s European attitude toward the land) I would not have picked this for myself.

There is a strong cast of characters too including shell shocked Dr Hughes, the stern yet endearing Sister Comfort, and the sparky Rosamund Farquharson. Marsh and Duffy conjure to life an intriguing array of suspects, against the dramatic backdrop of WWII New Zealand. Readers are treated to some evocative descriptions of the land, as well as some lovely insights into New Zealand culture, as seen through the eyes of a young Māori soldier, corporal Brayling. The ending is a satisfying one (all important for any mystery) and the novel is consistently packed with all the fun and endearing Alleyn moments a fan could wish for. This is a truly fantastic partnership between two queens of crime that will leave you wanting more. With any luck, another of Marsh’s unfinished works will be unearthed soon and we will be treated to another Marsh/Duffy installment in this classic series.

Money in the morgue
by Stella Duffy and Ngaio Marsh
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN:  9780008207113

Ngaio Marsh House event – Sunday 27 May 2pm

The Ngaio Marsh House and Heritage Trust is putting on an event to celebrate the Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy’s new novel “The Money in the Morgue”:

Celebrate with style and panache the publication of Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy’s new novel “The Money in the Morgue”. Be theatrical and wear your vintage clothing, fedoras or berets.
You will get to view the improvements to the Ngaio Marsh House, and then got to Cashmere Presbyterian Church for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and entertainment. Scorpio Books will have a selection of Ngaio’s book’s for purchase.

Find out more on Facebook.

Ngaio Marsh House
Ngaio Marsh House. 15 December 2015. Flickr 2015-12-15-IMG_1617

Murder in the Library! A Post Mortem

A good crowd came in from the cold on Wednesday night to hear the who – and how – dunnits of the world of crime fiction writing.

A good turnout at South Library. Photo Clare Newton

The Ngaio Marsh Awards in association with the New Zealand Book Council hosted a panel discussion with three highly successful local authors, all of whom are in the running for a Ngaio Marsh Award in September.

The night’s chair was Morrin Rout, WORD Christchurch trustee and host of the Plains FM show Bookenz.

Bill Wicks is an ex-military man and surveyor whose book Different Shadows is part of a series centred on Sergeant Harry Brent, who has been put to pasture solving cold cases while he recovers from a hunting injury. Bill uniquely sets the action in Christchurch and Queenstown. This case has something to do with a bombed latrine…

CoverKatherine Hayton works in insurance and writes fantasy and crime in her spare time. Her newest book, The Only Secret Left to Keep, is the third book in the Ngaire Blakes Mystery series, based on a Māori policewoman based in Christchurch. Highly topical, the story begins with a body found in the aftermath of the Port Hills Fires in the summer of 2017, and traces a trail of evidence back to the divisive Springbok Tour of the 1980s.

Last but certainly not least, we heard from ex-opera singer and local historian Edmund Bohan. Unfortunately he didn’t sing for us. Edmund has written six mysteries for nineteenth century Inspector O’Rorke to ponder. A Suitable Time for Vengeance and The Lost Taonga bring this popular character back for a final two books in the series.

Katherine knew she wanted to write a trilogy so she set aside parts of Ngaire’s life; backgrounding, saving confronting moments such as her relationship and an ‘I’m going to die’ moment for other books. She feels she is finished with Ngaire, but may develop another character from this into another series.

Edmund’s O’Rorke is popular with the ladies. Edmund wanted to write a sensation novel that transferred to a New Zealand setting. In New Zealand’s quite violent nineteenth century, when there was much political and religious unrest, the Inspector is dragged out of retirement to track down the ‘dreaded Linsky,’ a stealer of bodies. The overarching theme in this series is that you can never escape your past.

Bill’s protagonist Sergeant Harry Brent is ‘basically normal’, just slightly flawed. Well none of us are perfect. Harry, unlike O’Rorke, is not very good with women. He wonders if he’s tough enough for the job. It’s a tough job. Bill’s writing has a military flavour, but this series is not gory like Bill’s first nonfiction book, A Long Way to Come to Die.

All agree there is a fair bit of not pleasant research to be done in order to appear authentic. Katherine talks to American detectives online, Edmund and Bill draw on their professional experience and contacts, while all three read widely in the genre.

When it comes to publishing, each has approached a different option. Katherine publishes eBooks, while Edmund recommends the benefit of remaining with a lifelong publisher (Hazard Press), if possible, to preserve the continuity of series writing.

Bill’s wife Gabrielle was tasked with the job of editing and getting published. She embraced it gladly, saying it was much nicer than that other horrible book” (A Long Way to Go to Die – a book as gory as a Peter Jackson exhibition). Getting sponsorship from the Spinal Trust where she had worked before retirement, Bill and Gabrielle self-published. Says Gabrielle :

” I didn’t want anyone to tear Bill’s stories to bits.”

The Ngaio Marsh Awards, to be held in September as part of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival, were established by Craig Sisterson, in response to the literary elite’s (who remain unnamed, but may be publishers…) continued view of Crime Fiction as ‘not literature’, despite the genre’s rising popularity internationally.

Edmund Bohan, Katherine Hayton, Morrin Rout (chair), Bill Wicks. Photo Clare Newton

Sadly due to family illness, fourth author Justin Warren, author of Forgotten Lands, couldn’t be there.

Five cool things about The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

The Woman in the Window is a stone cold blockbuster. Even Mr Sir Stephen King has been singing its praises. In Library Land, holds/reserves are a good indicator of how popular a book is. 164 people are waiting to read the book, and 27 are waiting for the eBook. That is POPULAR.

I don’t read many thrillers or crime books, but this had me glued to the couch with nowt but copious cups of teas and Easter eggs to sustain me. Here are five things that make it cool.

It is Classic Noir

The story of The Woman in the Window is classic film noir.  Anna is a child psychologist suffering from agoraphobia, and she takes photos of her neighbours and noseys at them. So far, so Hitchcock. But it isn’t just the premise that is noir-ish. Old movies are part of the story, and Anna is often watching one, remembering previous viewings, or encouraging other people to enjoy them.

Incidentally, there is a 1944 movie called The Woman in the Window, directed by Fritz Lang.

It has a believable female lead

A recent thread on Twitter asked women to ‘Describe yourself like a male author would’. I doubt you will see A.J. Finn quoted in this thread, because he has managed that rare thing – made a convincing female lead character. Anna Fox is a compelling, nuanced character. You don’t hear much about her looks, because women don’t tend to go around thinking about how big their boobs are, or lustrous their locks. Oh, and she is a woman. Not a girl.

The Woman in the Window

It has oodles of atmosphere

Anna Fox’s world is a lonely one. She is stuck in her apartment, dosed up on medication, and drinks a lot of wine. This creates a sense of woozy uncertainty which plays with your mind, like it does with Anna’s.

It’s Twisty

So many. So good. This is the Nürburgring of thrillers! More twists than you find in a pack of Twisties!

There is a New Zealand Connection!

Daniel Mallory is a book editor and he has written his first novel under the nom de plume A.J. Finn. In NZ interviews, he has revealed as a big Ngaio Marsh fan!

“I absolutely love Ngaio Marsh!” he says. “She’s probably my favourite golden age doyenne, which is taking nothing away from Agatha Christie.

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : "Ngaio in the spotlight" [194-] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038
Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” [194-] CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038

More about A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window
By A.J. Finn
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008234164

Try not to lose your head over this series

Murder, history, politics, religious reformation. Watching Queens come and go. Good Catholics  having their saints and idols removed from churches, their monasteries dissolved and monks thrown out into the streets. And all because your Monarch, who you are fast going off, wanted a divorce and it wasn’t granted by the Pope. Oh, and murders and the solving of them of course.

It’s all here in this fabulous series of chunky reads, The Shardlake series.

We join Matthew Shardlake, barrister at Lincolns Inn. It’s 1547. Henry VIII is on the throne and has, with the help of Thomas Cromwell his right hand man, divorced his first Queen and broken away from the Church of Rome.  Matthew is clever, honourable, reliable, a reformer… and a hunchback. Cromwell knows of Shardlake’s reputation as man who can be trusted with confidential matters and who doesn’t give up until he’s sorted it, and has approached Matthew to solve a murder in a monastery that is about to be dissolved. The King’s man has been killed and he wants to know who and why. The times are extremely tenuous; there are spies everywhere. No one is safe. Anyone outspoken on religious matters is likely to end up on the rack. Shardlake just wants a quiet life. Cromwell wants answers. So starts the first book Dissolution.

Cover of Sovereign

I’m not a big fan of mucked about history, so love the way C. J. Sansom weaves his stories around the events of the time. His descriptions of the filth in the streets, the fear of the common people, the conniving of wealthy families, both Protestants and Catholics, manoeuvring their daughters and nieces into the King’s circle in the hope that their family/beliefs will benefit, the buildings, the rubbish rotting on the banks of the Thames when the tide is out, the heads on spikes outside the Tower.  That’s not even accounting for the murders Shardlake and his assistant, Jack Barak, are called on to solve.

For Tudor history its hard to go past Hilary Mantel, author of  Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, who presents us a view from inside the Royal Court and the life of Thomas Cromwell, who started life as a blacksmith’s son and achieved greatness as Henry VIII’s Chancellor. Not forgetting Susanna Gregory who also writes historical mysteries with the protaganist of Matthew Bartholomew.

Having recently sung the praises of these books to my brother (he promptly read one after the other until there were no more) and to several library customers their  response was the same, “read that one, where’s the next?” The Shardlake covers are not enticing but don’t be put off. My colleague Roberta Smith is also a fan as you can see from her blog on Serial killers.

Do you like history? A good murder mystery? Being gripped by a good story? The Shardlake series could be to your taste, methinks.

Already a fan?  What is it that got you reading the series?

Find out more

 

New year, new reads: Sci-fi, fantasy and mystery for teens

I’ve read so many YA books recently it’s difficult to choose which ones to blog about! I’ve made a list of my favourite teen reads in 2017 (all but one published last year and all highly recommended), so that frees me up to talk about some YA books from the new year.

If you like… science fiction

Cover of Martians Abroad

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

Polly is happy living in a colony on Mars, hoping one day to pilot a spaceship across the galaxy — but then her mother sends her and her twin brother to Earth to attend the prestigious Galileo Academy. Struggling to adapt (both socially and to the increase in gravity), Polly has to deal with more than just agoraphobia on her school field trips — something (or someone) seems to be targeting her and her group of friends. And each time, they’re raising the stakes…

If you like… fantasy set in Hungary

Cover of Blood Rose RebellionBlood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

Anna Arden is unusual in being born into a prestigious magical family but having no magical ability herself — instead of casting spells, she breaks them. When she breaks her sister’s debutante spell she finds herself pretty unpopular with both her family and with noble magic society in general, so Anna finds herself packed off to Hungary with her grandmother. But Hungary might not be the best place to lie low, with resentment towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire rising. Soon Anna finds herself embroiled in a plot to overthrow the magic elite — and her magic-breaking ability might just be the key.

The second book in the trilogy (Lost Crow Conspiracy) is due to be published next month, so now’s a good time to start reading.

If you like… Sweeney Todd and demon librarians

Cover of Evil LibrarianEvil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen

A silly romp of a book reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cynthia is amused when her best friend Annie falls in love with the new school librarian Mr. Gabriel, but amusement turns to horror when she realises Mr. Gabriel is actually a demon hell-bent on sucking the life force out of all the students and making Annie his demon bride. Luckily he also loves musicals, so Cynthia has until the opening night of the school production of Sweeney Todd to try and save her best friend and banish her demon(s).

If this sounds like your cup of tea be sure to grab new sequel Revenge of the Evil Librarian as well!

If you like… twisty turny books that turn your head inside out

Cover of Jane, UnlimitedJane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

This starts innocuously enough, with Jane being invited to stay at an old friend’s island mansion (as you do). Once there, however, it’s soon clear that there’s a lot more to the island that meets the eye — a cornucopia of mysteries await Jane’s investigative eye! And she investigates them all, the book gradually revealing more and more until she finally figures out the answer to the question she’s been asking all along — what really happened to her Aunt Magnolia?

If you like Jane, Unlimited then I’d also recommend Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall, which also involves aunts, mysteries and a bizarre house full of secrets, but set in Spain.

Relax and read an eBook

Check out these eBooks from OverDrive to read over summer, something from all genres.

Mystery / Thriller

Romance

Historical Fiction

Biography & Memoir

Fantasy

Find out more

Books on screen: Murder most foul, sci-fi classics and more

Read the book before you see the film/TV series, or read the source material afterwards for all the added backstories and characters (that you can absorb at your own pace)?

It’s a tricky one and the answer really depends on your own personal tastes and inclinations. Either way, here is the latest crop of works of literature that are getting a makeover for the screen.

Out now

If you’re a “read the book first” sort, you’d better get cracking before you miss –

  • Alias Grace – Canadian 6 part series directed by Sarah Polley, featuring Anna Paquin and a cameo from author Margaret Atwood. Based on the true story of a young housemaid, Grace Marks, who became embroiled in a double-murder, this series is only available on Netflix and is a rivetting watch.
  • IT – I was terrified by this book in the nineties (and the subsequent mini-series adaptation). The current film splits the tale of a group of kids fighting a malevolent entity that often takes the form of an evil clown into two films – the sequel is due in 2019.
  • Murder on the Orient Express – The Agatha Christie classic gets another film outing (the 1974 version earned Ingrid Bergman an Oscar) and with a fairly impressive cast including the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer, with Kenneth Brannagh (who also directs) as the moustachioed Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot. The original novel was published in 1934, so avoiding spoilers might prove difficult.
  • The Mountain Between Us – Kate Winslet and Idris Elba’s charter plane crashes into a mountain and that’s not the end of the drama. Based on the novel by Charles Martin.
  • The Lost City of Z – Author David Grann’s hunt for famed explorer Percy Fawcett’s expedition in the Amazon has Charlie Hunnam as the missing Fawcett, with Sienna Miller as his wife and Robert Pattinson as another member of the expedition.
  • Thank You for your Service – Biographical war drama based on the book by Washington Post journalist David Finkel. The film follows several soldiers after their return from deployment in Iraq and their struggles with PTSD and the psychological trauma of war.

Coming soon

  • Chaos walking: The Knife of Never Letting Go – Another young adult sci-fi series adaptation, this time of Patrick Ness’s widely acclaimed dystopian novel. Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland are set to star.
  • Dune –  Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi saga gets another go-around (after the 1984 film directed by David Lynch, and two miniseries’ in the early 2000s) this time with Arrival director Denis Villeneuve at the helm.
  • Break My Heart 1,000 Times – Bella Thorne will star in this “supernatural romantic thriller” based on Daniel Water’s young adult novel set in world where people can see ghosts.
  • Guernsey (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) – Mary Ann Shaffer’s 2008 bestseller set on the island of Guernsey during WWII was filmed earlier this year, with Downton Abbey stars Lily James and Jessica Brown Findlay in the cast and Mike Newell directing.
  • Ready Player One – Ernest Cline’s dystopian future/Virtual Reality/geek nostalgia-fest novel follows Wade Watts as he attempts to find an ‘easter egg’ that will bestow on him a fortune. Directed by Steven Spielberg, expect to see this everywhere in March 2018.
  • Peter Rabbit – A new animated version of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale of an adventurous bunny is due in early 2018, with voices provided by the likes of Rose Byrne, James Corden and Sam Neill.

On the radar

With the end of the Game of Thrones TV series on the distant horizon, Patrick Rothfuss is being mentioned as the next George R. R. Martin. Probably because they both have beards and neither have actually finished writing all the books in their respective series’. Lin-Manuel Miranda of super-musical, Hamilton, is producing the series for Showtime based on the first 2 novels of the as yet unfinished Kingkiller Chronicles fantasy trilogy.

Yeah! Noir!: Craig Sisterson and the Ngaio Marsh Awards

Craig Sisterson is a writer and reviewer, and a fan of great crime writing. He’s the force behind the Ngaio Marsh Awards celebrating New Zealand crime writing, starting the Awards in 2010 and now serving as the judging convenor for the prizes.

Read our interview with Craig where he talks Kiwi crime, #yeahnoir, the Ngaio Marsh Awards, and libraries.

This year, you can join in as Scorpio Books and WORD Christchurch present The Great Lit Quiz & Ngaio Marsh Awards!
To celebrate NZ Bookshop Day, put together a team of book enthusiasts for a quiz of crime novels and other genres! All tickets gain entry to the invitation-only Ngaio Marsh Awards cocktail party, where the winners will be announced. Hosted by crime writers Paul Cleave and Vanda Symon.
The Bone Line wine and nibbles provided.
Saturday, 28 October, 5.30pm Ngaio Marsh Awards; 7pm Great Lit Quiz
$80 per table (up to 5 players) by emailing rsvp@scorpiobooks.co.nz

Past and present Ngaio judges – Mike Ripley, Ayo Onatade, and Craig Sisterson. Image supplied.

Like the Ngaio Marsh Awards on Facebook

See our listing of previous winners and finalists:

Craig Sisterson

How did the idea for the Ngaio Marsh Awards come to you?

It was a culmination of a lot of little things. I’d started reading a lot while backpacking through Latin America for six months, picking up dozens of novels from hostel book exchanges and the like to pass the time on 24-hour bus rides in Argentina and Chile. The hostels tended to have plenty of ‘popular fiction’ (crime, romance, sci-fi, action thrillers etc), and I gravitated towards the crime novels, having loved mystery tales since I was a kid devouring The Hardy Boys adventures when I was at Richmond Primary School in Nelson.

Then when I was in Canada I went along to an Arthur Ellis Awards event at the Vancouver Public Library (a crime author panel where the finalists for their national crime writing awards were also announced). I met some really cool Canadian crime writers, including the great William Deverell, and had a really good chat with him afterwards about recognising and celebrating quality writing, and how the crime genre was much deeper nowadays than the stereotype of old-fashioned mysteries, potboilers, and airport thrillers.

As an aside, I spoke with the Canadians about the state of New Zealand crime writing (they were curious), and even lamented that other than Dame Ngaio and Paul Thomas’s series, and one-offs from the likes of Simon Snow, Nigel Latta, and Michael Laws, we didn’t seem to have as many crime writers as you’d expect for a country that has some really great writers (Oscar-nominated screenwriters, Man Booker listees, fabulous children’s authors, great longform journalists, etc). Or at least we didn’t have many ongoing series or crime writers putting out multiple books. It’s embarrassing to look back on that discussion now, because NZ does have a greater crime writing history than I knew about at that time, but perhaps the fact I was a keen reader who still wasn’t aware of that was telling too?

When I returned to New Zealand in October 2008, I popped into the Papatoetoe Library my first weekend to keep feeding my reading habit. By chance, a couple of crime novels on the recently returned shelf caught my eye. I picked them up, was taken by the backcover blurbs, and was surprised to read they were set in New Zealand: Cemetery Lake by Paul Cleave and The Ringmaster by Vanda Symon. Not only were they modern NZ crime novels, but each was from an author who’d published more than one novel!

CoverCover

I read them both that weekend, before I started my new job at a legal magazine (I was a lawyer before my overseas adventures). Both were terrific, really top quality stuff. Great characters and writing, coupled with page-turning action and suspense. And both books were as good if not better than many of big-name international bestsellers I’d been reading on my Latin American journey.

So my thoughts about the state of NZ crime writing began to shift. Then my new boss asked if I’d read any good books lately, as a review for our magazine hadn’t come in before deadline. So I wrote reviews of Cleave and Symon’s books, and took off from there. Soon afterwards I was reviewing crime fiction for Australian magazine Good Reading, as well as some other publications. I reviewed a few dozen crime novels for them over the next year, including Kiwi authors like Cleave, Symon, Lindy Kelly, Neil Cross, and Paddy Richardson. The Kiwi crime novels stood up really well against the well-known international stuff, and I started thinking ‘why aren’t we talking about our crime writers more?’ On top of that, I realised that while Canada, Australia, the UK, the USA, and many other countries had crime writing awards, New Zealand didn’t. Our popular fiction writers were unlikely to be listed for the NZ Book Awards, but at least our romance, sci-fi and fantasy authors had their own associations and awards. So did our children’s authors.

Our crime writers did not. That kept niggling at me the more reviews and features I wrote about the genre, and when I raised the possibility of a New Zealand crime writing award with authors, publishers, reviewers, and others in the book industry, pretty much everyone thought it was a great idea in principle. There was a gap between principle and putting it into practice though. And in the end I just got to the ‘ah bugger it, I’ll just start them myself then’ stage. By then I had lots of contacts in New Zealand and overseas, and called on various people for advice. Crime Writers Canada and the Australian Crime Writers Association were very generous and shared with me how their awards started, evolved, and were run. I cherry-picked various things to create our own awards.

Founding judge Graham Beattie, 3x winner Paul Cleave, founder Craig Sisterson, 2012 winner Neil Cross, 3x finalist Ben Sanders, Ruth Todd, Australian crime writer Michael Robotham, and 3x finalist Vanda Symon. Image supplied.

How hard was it to set up a literary prize?

How long is a piece of string?, as my mother would say. It’s really hard to answer your question. Looking back it all seemed to go quite smoothly, though that could be my rose-tinted glasses! At the time there were plenty of bumps in the road, for sure, but we just rolled with the punches, adapted, and kept on going (how many cliches can I fit in a paragraph?). We were creating something new, so there was no blueprint (other than advice from overseas peers), so if something wasn’t working or went wrong, I just changed it.

My core concern was to make sure that the awards had a good level of credibility, even if we weren’t offering the winner a big amount of prize money. I just really wanted the awards to be sustainable, not a one-off, and to have some ‘heft’, for want of a better term.

That was achieved (I think) thanks to the really top-notch judges we’ve had from the beginning, and the support of WORD Christchurch. We have a large judging panel for the Best Crime Novel prize; seven judges from New Zealand and overseas. All are crime fiction experts, so we had people who were connoisseurs of the genre and read an awful lot, weighing up the quality of our local crime tales. In the first years we had the likes of legendary British reviewer Mike Ripley (who was the Daily Telegraph’s crime reviewer for 17 years), Vice President of Crime Writers Canada Lou Allin, and doyen of the Kiwi books scene Graham Beattie on the panel.

More recently Janet Rudolph (editor of Mystery Readers International), J Kingston Pierce of Kirkus reviews, top Australian crime reviewer Karen Chisholm, and award-winning Icelandic crime writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir have served on the judging panel.

These people may not be household names, but they are extremely highly regarded within the global crime writing world, and their involvement has given the Ngaios a lot of credibility on the global stage. They read a massive amount of crime fiction, from the biggest names to new authors and many in between, and when they say our Kiwi authors are world class, that carries a lot of weight.

The other main pillar of the Ngaios from the beginning was the involvement of what is now WORD Christchurch. I wanted a cool event for our first ever Ngaio Marsh Awards presentation in 2010, and Ruth Todd and Morrin Rout of the Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival really came to the party. They were so supportive, and planned a terrific event for the Saturday night of their festival, which even included the Court Jesters doing an improv murder mystery, before the inaugural winner would be announced. The festival also put up some prize money for the winner (adding to the handcrafted trophy created by sculptor Gina Ferguson and selection of Ngaio Marsh books donated by HarperCollins, Dame Ngaio’s publisher). As Dame Ngaio was a Cantabrian herself, it was a perfect fit.

CoverThen the September earthquakes struck, the festival was cancelled, and our event postponed. Not the greatest start! But Ruth and Morrin continued to be so supportive, even as they were dealing with all the property damage and other concerns. We had offers from other festivals to hold an event in other cities, but stuck with Christchurch. We had a cool one-off event in a temporary venue that November, where the pseudonymous Alix Bosco won the inaugural prize for Cut and Run (fittingly, an author whose identity was then a mystery won our first-ever Kiwi mystery writing prize).

I get a lot of credit for starting the awards, but in truth there have been so many people involved, and it is the mana of those people that have made the awards what it is. Along with our authors, judges, and the libraries who’ve come on board with our Murder in the Library series that started in 2015, I’d like to give a nod to Marianne Hargreaves and Rachael King of WORD Christchurch, who’ve done amazing things and had to deal with me flitting about all over the world and not being the easiest to work with. Because of all those great people it hasn’t seemed all that difficult to set up and run a literary prize, even if there have been difficult moments.

Paul Cleave wins the Ngaio Marsh Award, 2015. Image supplied.
Paul Cleave wins the Ngaio Marsh Award, 2015. Image supplied.

What is it about Aotearoa that make us bat above our weight in the crime writing stakes?

Hmm… I think we have some great writers, across all different styles of storytelling. So our talented crime writers are just part of that wider group of great authors. (Seriously, whatever type of stories take your fancy, you can find great Kiwi books; compelling, page-turning, thought-provoking tales. Give some of our authors a go, whatever genre you love.)

In terms of crime writing in particular, I think our Kiwi authors often have a willingness to push the boundaries of the genre. Check out Adam Christopher‘s Ray Electromatic series that’s pure 1960s LA noir, just with a robot detective, or some of our literary-crime crossovers like Tanya Moir’s The Legend of Winstone Blackhat and Fiona Sussman’s The last time we spoke, or Paul Cleave’s latest A killer harvest which you’d call magic realism if he was a literary author. And that’s just a few examples.

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Our authors certainly don’t feel constrained by the traditional tropes of the crime genre. Many of our Kiwi crime novels also have a great, subversive sense of humour, even the tales that are dark and serious. Many of our authors also have a good touch for landscapes, whether countryside or urban. But in the end, even if many people think of crime fiction as being primarily plot-focused, the best crime fiction often comes down to character – and our Kiwi authors have created some really terrific crime characters!

Can you suggest 3 titles that epitomise #yeahnoir for readers who haven’t tried Kiwi crime?

Just three? Sheesh, that’s tough. I’d probably give you a different answer depending on what day, or time of day, you asked me, but here goes. Oh, I’ll leave aside all our terrific Ngaio Marsh Awards winners, other than to say you can’t go wrong with picking a crime novel to try from Paul Cleave, Paul Thomas, Alix Bosco, Ray Berard, Neil Cross, and Liam McIlvanney.

Instead, I’m going to choose three other books that are really great, and very ‘Kiwi’ crime reads:

CoverBound Vanda Symon: the fourth tale in a really terrific series starring young Dunedin detective Sam Shephard. A successful businessman is murdered during a brutal home invasion, with his wife tied up and left to watch. Sam’s colleagues zero in on two local crims who’ve been on the police hit list for a while, but she’s not sure it’s so cut-and-dried. Sam is a terrific crime character, and the whole series is great, but I particularly like this instalment. Vanda Symon has a nice balance of plot, character, and setting, creating a page-turner with plenty of character depth. Sam has that maverick, trouble-with-superiors essence of crime fiction top cops like Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly) and John Rebus (Ian Rankin), but as a younger woman she layers in plenty of freshness too. There’s a great sense of humour in these books, and Sam is a fierce southern lass who’s her own woman.

CoverHunting Blind Paddy Richardson: like her fellow southern crime queen, Richardson has written several really terrific crime novels, but unlike Symon she has focused on standalones rather than series books. Hunting Blind is a great place to start, a chilling thriller which centres on Stephanie, a psychiatrist whose sister vanished from a lakeside picnic seventeen years ago, fracturing the family and community. Then a new patient tells an eerily similar story, causing Stephanie to reexamine her sister’s disappearance, and sending her on a dangerous and emotional journey around the South Island, searching for long-hidden answers. This is a really terrific novel that was a Ngaio’s finalist in 2011 and really wowed our international panel. Richardson is a master at crafting layered characters who resonate with the reader, and delivers a terrific flavour of the south.

The Sound of her voice Nathan Blackwell: a superb tale from a new author who’s recently joined the #yeahnoir ranks (the Twitter hashtag for NZ crime fiction created by Steph Soper of the NZ Book Council). Blackwell is the pseudonym for a former Auckland detective who was involved in covert operations and investigated very serious real-life crimes. Whoever he is, he’s certainly hit the ground running in the crime fiction world, with a belter of a debut. Detective Matt Buchanan is burnt out, worn down by a succession of tough cases, and haunted by the unsolved disappearance of a young girl years before. Some fresh leads give him hope, but also threaten to draw him across lines that shouldn’t be crossed. Blackwell showcases the courage of Kiwi crime writers in tackling tough issues, giving readers a dark, authentic insight into the stresses the police face.

What do you think about libraries?

In short, libraries are bloody awesome!

I was a sports-loving kid growing up in Nelson, but I also loved spending time in my school and local public library. I discovered so many wonderful authors and books thanks to the librarians, and they cemented my lifelong love of reading. Libraries are so vital to communities, providing information and entertainment, cultivating learning, bringing people together. They’re egalitarian and democratic, opening up doors for anyone regardless of your background or means. Yeah, I think they’re pretty cool.

More about Craig, Ngaio Marsh, and the Ngaio Marsh Awards

Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s
Ngaio Marsh photographed during the 1940s : “Ngaio in the spotlight” CCL PhotoCD 17, IMG0038

Friend request: Social media mystery

Friend Request is the debut novel of Laura Marshall.

When I read the blurb about this book, I wanted to read it.
“Louise receives a Facebook friend request from Maria Weston.”
“Maria Weston wants to be friends.
But Maria Weston’s dead.
Isn’t she?”

Ohh, talk about goose bumps!

The novel follows Louise a woman with a troubled teenage past that has caught up with her. Can she face her past and come clean? She has a lot to lose, her son for one.

The narration is skilfully split between the present day (2016) and the past (1989) as we learn about what happened to Maria 25 years ago.

This psychological thriller has themes of social media, bullying, teenage & middle age angst and dealing with choices made in the past.

I found Louise realistic as a paranoid single Mum, but found her only reasonably likeable. I’m sure I would have found the book rather gripping if I had connected with Louise, but I ended up finding it rather flat with the ending slow and transparent.

I still think if you like psychological thrillers, like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, or Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone you should give it a try. Maybe you’ll connect with Louise and find it the gripping modern mystery it could be.

Friend request
by Laura Marshall
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9780751569155

Tania Cook
Outreach Library Assistant

Big Library Read – The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Once Lost What Happened to Lizzie Lovett?  A mystery that Christchurch City Libraries borrowers can unravel by participating in the world’s largest global eBook reading club Big Library Read from OverDrive.

Chelsea Sedoti’s debut young adult novel, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett, has been selected as the featured title for millions of readers around the world to read at the same time beginning Thursday, October 12 and concluding October 26. This title is also available as an eAudiobook.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett

Popular girl Lizzie Lovett’s disappearance is the only fascinating mystery her sleepy town has ever had.

Hawthorn has her own theory about Lizzie’s disappearance. And what better way to collect evidence than to immerse herself in Lizzie’s life? Like getting a job at the diner where Lizzie worked and hanging out with Lizzie’s boyfriend. After all, it’s not as if he killed her – or did he?

Told with a unique voice that is both hilarious and heart-wrenching, Hawthorn’s quest for proof may uncover the greatest truth is within herself.