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Greg Fleming talks about the top contenders for this year’s Ngaio Marsh crime fiction award


In my three years as one of the judges for the Ngaio Marsh awards (two as long-list judge, this year as one of the internatio­nal judges), I’ve seen first-hand the growing strength and vitality of New Zealand crime fiction.

Indeed, the Ngaios’ 10th season is shaping up to be one of the strongest fields yet. The award’s namesake, Dame Ngaio Marsh, is even nominated thanks to Stella Duffy’s ingenious collaborat­ion, completing one of the late thriller queen’s unfinished manuscript­s.

But Dame Fiona Kidman’s This Mortal Boy, based on Auckland’s 1950s Jukebox Killer case, has to be one of the favourites. The novel took out the fiction award at this year’s Ockham Book Awards and, like another novel on the long list, Jen Shieff’s The Vanishing Act, set in 1960s’ Auckland, casts a questionin­g eye on moral prejudices in our not-too-distant past.

Another strong contender is a book that’s already won Scottish Crime Novel of the Year — and is shortliste­d for other overseas crime awards — Liam Mcilvanney’s late-60s Glasgow noir The Quaker, based on the real-life — and still unsolved — Bible John killings.

Other novels, like Nikki Crutchley’s No

One Can Hear You and Ben Sanders’

The Stakes, didn’t get the attention they deserved when first published and, along with the excellent and internatio­nally marketed debut Call Me Evie from young Bay of Plenty writer J.P. Pomare, make this year a tough one for the judges.

Awards’ convener Craig Sisterson believes there are many talking points about this year’s long list, chief among them the Dame vs Dame battle. Many of the “usual suspects”, stalwarts of the Ngaios in its early years — writers like Paul Cleave, Vanda Symon, Paddy Richardson, Paul Thomas and Alix Bosco — are absent this year, so the field is wide open.

Then there’s a newer developmen­t in that there are also three Young Adult novels in contention this year, by Brian Falkner, Tina Shaw and Ella West. Sisterson admits their inclusion presents judges with a challenge.

“When you’re splitting hairs between quality stories, the connection to a story can be important. I have a lot of faith in our internatio­nal judging panel though — they’re all true book lovers as well as crime and thriller aficionado­s. I trust them to weigh up what makes a ‘best novel’ for them,” he says.

“We’ve always had some really great children’s and Young Adult authors in New Zealand, and I’m excited that some of them are choosing to write crime, mystery and thriller tales. We did ponder adding a YA/ Juvenile category to the awards this year because there were so many good YA entries [about a dozen] and may do so in future. I hope this will be the start of a trend rather than a one-off surge.

“Since our first year back in 2010, we’ve always had some overseas exposure with

When you’re splitting hairs between quality stories, the connection to a story can be important.

the Ngaios, as we had internatio­nal judges who were entrenched in their local crime writing communitie­s, for example, former Telegraph reviewer and award-winning comic crime writer Mike Ripley in the UK and Crime Writers Canada vice-president and mystery author Lou Allin.

“We’re seeing more Kiwi crime writers appearing at overseas books festivals in recent years, which is terrific. Last year we had three Ngaio winners onstage together at Bloody Scotland [Paul Cleave, Fiona Sussman, and Liam Mcilvanney] alongside Denise Mina, which was a pretty cool moment.”

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