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Making a killing: the best New Zealand crime novels revealed

Yet another Spinoff Review of Books exclusive: the longlist for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh award for best New Zealand crime fiction.

The dear old Spinoff Review of Books can exclusively reveal the longlist for the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. Now in its seventh year, the award recognises the best in New Zealand crime fiction, that flourishing, lively genre which a) has blessedly nothing to do with Victoria University or the IIML b) is too exciting to be caught up in the usual soul-searching misery of much NZ fiction, and c) includes authors who live quite handsomely from their international sales

Two of the ten longlisted books are by the same prolific author, Finn Bell. None of the past winners are in the running this year. In fact, of the 19 different authors who’ve been finalists in the first few years, only one – Ben Sanders – is a 2017 contender.

The judges wrung their hands at the task of having to narrow down the longlist and consign worthy contenders aside but justice had to be seen to be done and here are the results of their verdict.

Dead Lemons by Finn Bell: A man loses his wife, ends up in a wheelchair after a drunken road smash, then moves to a remote cottage in Southland. “A strong evocation of the rural personalities and fascinating history of the Deep South,” say ye judges.

Pancake Money by Finn Bell: Bobby Ress is a Dunedin detective with a simple life, catching bad guys before going home to his wife and daughter – until a local priest is brutally murdered. Judges: “Top shelf stuff…The Otago setting offers mood aplenty, and there’s a great, profane dynamic between the two detectives.”

Spare Me The Truth by CJ Carver (Bonnie Zaffre): Dan Forrester is struggling to adjust to the gaps in his memory following the death of his son. After a stranger approaches him saying most of what he thinks about his life is a lie, Forrester gets caught up in a conspiracy, alongside a blackmailed woman and a disgraced female cop exiled to the rural backblocks. “It takes all sorts of wild leaps – terrorism, pharmaceutical experimentation – and lands soundly,” ruled ye judges.

Red Herring by Jonothan Cullinane (HarperCollins): Noir tale set against the bloody confrontations of the 1951 Waterfront dispute. Cullinane blends real-life figures and events into his story of private eye Johnny Molloy and reporter Caitlin O’Carolan delving into a simple case that gets complicated by the powerful forces of the day. Judges: “Cracking dialogue and ceaseless pace.” Also it’s the best-designed cover of any New Zealand book published in 2016, apart from maybe The Shops.

The Revelations of Carey Ravine by Debra Daley (Quercus): An historical thriller set in 1770s London. Carey Ravine is the spirited wife of Oliver Nash, but when her husband draws them into the darker corners of society, and a stranger unearths a troubling secret, Ravine is forced to investigate the truth and confront her own illusions. “A convincing story of a tenacious heroine who faces down graft and corruption,” declared ye judges.

The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton by Katherine Hayton: 40 years after teenager Magdalene Lynton accidentally drowned in a farm tank, cancer-stricken Paul Worthington confesses to her rape and murder. But neither version rings true to part-Māori detective Ngaire Blakes. Judges: “A nicely paced, suspenseful study of a cold case investigation.”

Presumed Guilty by Mark McGinn (Merlot Publishing): Sasha Stace QC feels done after defending a political sleazebag on a rape charge. But as a High Court judgeship is dangled, her former partner – a journalist who’s been critical of politicians and police – is accused of murdering his wife. The woman he left Sasha to marry… “A captivating and superbly plotted courtroom drama,” said the bench.

Marshall’s Law by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin): After surviving a hit man while supposedly under witness protection, ex-NYPD undercover cop Marshall Grade is laying low in California but circumstances force him to return to New York. Judges: “Bone-dry prose…Terrific filmic quality…helter-skelter.”

A Straits Settlement by Brian Stoddart (Crime Wave Press): The third in the Queenstown author’s series set in 1920s Indial there’s a disappearance, a murder, and antiquities theft. “Stoddart is a marvellous prose stylist with an impressive command of dialogue, in particular,” said their honours.

The Last Time We Spoke by Fiona Sussman (Allison & Busby): Carla Reid has a nice life on her family farm but then along comes Ben Toroa, an illiterate teen caught in gang life. Judges: “A powerful, evocative novel that examines the ongoing impact of violent crime for all involved.”

The longlist is currently being considered by a panel of seven crime fiction experts from five countries. The finalists will be announced in August, along with the finalists for the best first novel and best true-crime categories. The winners will be announced at a WORD Christchurch event in October.

The Spinoff Review of Books is brought to you by Unity Books.