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History and humanity: 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards finalists announced


From heart-wrenching tales of families torn apart by disappearance or deportation to examinations of historic crimes, swindles, and injustices to page-whirring novels about former cops and former convicts, the finalists for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards offer a diverse array of storytelling excellence.


“When we first launched New Zealand’s own annual prizes for crime, mystery, and thriller writing in 2010, we modelled our Ngaio Marsh Awards on the Hammett Prize in North America, which celebrates literary excellence in crime writing,” says Ngaio Marsh Awards founder Craig Sisterson. “The Ngaios have never been solely about detective fiction; instead highlighting and celebrating outstanding Kiwi storytellers whose tales, fictional and factual, explore the investigation of crime or the impact or effects of crime on people and society.”


The 2023 Ngaios finalists announced today across three categories, like many previous years, says Sisterson, underline that original ethos. This year’s finalists range across an array of styles, settings, and stories, exploring important topics from radical empathy and redemption in one of the world’s most notorious psychiatric facilities to familial grief, dealing with dementia, mass surveillance, and the ongoing impact of colonisation and the Dawn Raids.


“The consistent thread throughout this diverse array of Kiwi books is quality storytelling that struck a chord with our international judging panels of crime writing experts from several countries,” says Sisterson. “As the likes of Val McDermid have said, if you want to better understand a place, read its crime fiction. Crime writing is a broad church nowadays, including but going far beyond the traditional puzzling mysteries of Dames Ngaio and Agatha Christie, and can deliver insights about society and humanity alongside rollicking reads. Many of our finalists showcase something about who we are, as people and a nation.”


The finalists for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Non-Fiction, a biennial prize previously won by filmmaker Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) for IN DARK PLACES, a book about the wrongful conviction of Teina Pora, by Kelly Dennett for THE SHORT LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE FURLONG, and most recently by Martin van Beynen for BLACK HANDS: INSIDE THE BAIN FAMILY MURDERS, are:


•     A NEW DAWN by Emeli Sione (Mila’s Books)

•     THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by Dr Gwen Adshead & Eileen Horne (Faber)

•     DOWNFALL: THE DESTRUCTION OF CHARLES MACKAY by Paul Diamond (Massey University Press)

•     THE FIX by Scott Bainbridge (Bateman Books)

•     MISSING PERSONS by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins)


Each of this year’s non-fiction finalists delivered compelling stories that immersed readers in a variety of subject matters, from historical figures and crimes to deeply personal stories.


“There were some stellar non-fiction reads this year,” said the international judging panel of Scottish journalist and true crime writer turned novelist Douglas Skelton, Auckland lawyer Darise Bennington, and Ngaios founder Craig Sisterson. “From well-researched and fascinating dissections of historic events to deeply informed and personal tales, to disturbing yet engrossing accounts of the humanity behind shocking acts, we have terrific finalists.”


The finalists for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel are:


•     ONE HEART ONE SPADE by Alistair Luke

•     TOO FAR FROM ANTIBES by Bede Scott (Penguin SEA)

•     BETTER THE BLOOD by Michael Bennett (Simon & Schuster)

•     SURVEILLANCE by Riley Chance (CopyPress Books)

•     THE SLOW ROLL by Simon Lendrum (Upstart Press)

•     PAPER CAGE by Tom Baragwanath (Text Publishing)


“There is no shortage of fresh ideas in New Zealand crime fiction, nor in breadth of style, with this year's entrants running from chilling thrillers to the cosier end of the spectrum,” says British journalist and book reviewer Louise Fairbairn, the Chair of an international judging panel for the Best First Novel category that also included South African writer Sonja van der Westhuizen, British reviewer and longtime CWA Daggers judge Ayo Onatade, and Australian podcaster and author Dani Vee. “Those debuts that particularly caught our attention were unafraid to explore difficult real-life issues and embed themselves in an authentic New Zealand of rough edges and grey areas, rather than glossy make-believe.”


Lastly, the finalists for this year’s Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel are:


•     EXIT .45 by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)

•     BLUE HOTEL by Chad Taylor (Brio Books)

•     REMEMBER ME by Charity Norman (Allen & Unwin)

•     THE DOCTOR’S WIFE by Fiona Sussman (Bateman Books)

•     BETTER THE BLOOD by Michael Bennett (Simon & Schuster)

•     BLOOD MATTERS by Renée (The Cuba Press)

•     THE SLOW ROLL by Simon Lendrum (Upstart Press)


“It’s a very strong group of finalists to emerge from a dazzlingly varied longlist,” says Sisterson. “This year’s entrants gave our international judging panels lots to chew over, and plenty of books judges enjoyed and loved didn’t become finalists. ‘Yeahnoir’, our local spin on some of the world’s most popular storytelling forms, is certainly in fine health.”


The winners of the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Awards will be announced at a special event held in association with WORD Christchurch in Spring, details and date to be confirmed soon.


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