I’ve been privileged this year to serve on the panel for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel. That’s one of New Zealand’s highest awards for crime fiction, and it’s meant that I’ve read some great stories. The finalists have been chosen, and it wasn’t easy to do even that, let alone choose a winner. Here are the finalists for this year’s award:
Jacqueline Bublitz – Before You Knew My Name
The blurb: When she arrived in New York on her eighteenth birthday carrying nothing but $600 cash and a stolen camera, Alice Lee was looking for a fresh start. Now, just one month later, she is the city’s latest Jane Doe. She may be dead but that doesn’t mean her story is over.
Meanwhile, Ruby Jones is also trying to reinvent herself. After travelling halfway around the world, she’s lonelier than ever in the Big Apple. Until she stumbles upon a woman’s body by the Hudson River, and suddenly finds herself unbreakably tied to the unknown dead woman.
Alice is sure Ruby is the key to solving the mystery of her short life and tragic death. Ruby just wants to forget what she saw…but she can’t seem to stop thinking about the young woman she found. If she keeps looking, can she give this unidentified Jane Doe the ending and closure she deserves?
Paul Cleave – The Quiet People
The blurb: Cameron and Lisa Murdoch are successful New Zealand crime writers, happily married and topping bestseller lists worldwide. They have been on the promotional circuit for years, joking that no one knows how to get away with crime like they do. After all, they write about it for a living.
So when their challenging seven-year-old son Zach disappears, the police and the public naturally wonder if they have finally decided to prove what they have been saying all this time…
Are they trying to show how they can commit the perfect crime?
R.W.R. McDonald – Nancy Business
It’s been four months since Tippy, Uncle Pike and Devon were together for Christmas. Now back for the first anniversary of Tippy’s father’s death, the Nancys are reformed when Riverstone is rocked by an early morning explosion that kills three people and destroys the town hall.
A new case is born. Is the accused bomber really guilty? Is there a second bomber? And if so, does that mean a threat to destroy Riverstone Bridge is real? And is asparagus a colour? Once again, it is up to the Nancys to go against the flow and ignore police orders to get to the truth.
It’s great to be back in Nancy business again, but this time it’s all different. Uncle Pike and Devon can’t agree on anything and Tippy is learning hard truths about the world and the people she loves the most. Can the Nancys stay together to do their best work and save the town? Or will the killer strike again? When everyone is right, does that make you wrong? And can Tippy ever trust anyone again?
Kirsten McDougall – She’s a Killer
The world’s climate is in crisis and New Zealand is being divided and reshaped by privileged immigrant wealthugees. Thirty-something Alice has a near-genius IQ and lives at home with her mother with whom she communicates by Morse code. Alice’s imaginary friend, Simp, has shown up, with a running commentary on her failings. ‘I mean, can you even calculate the square root of 762 anymore?’ The last time Simp was here was when Alice was seven, on the night a fire burned down the family home. Now Simp seems to be plotting something. When Alice meets a wealthugee named Pablo, she thinks she’s found a way out of her dull existence. But then she meets Pablo’s teenage daughter, Erika an actual genius full of terrifying ambition. She’s a Killer is the story of a brilliant and stubborn slacker who is drawn into radical action. It’s about what happens when we refuse to face our most demanding problems, told by a woman who is a strange and calculating force of chaos.
Ben Sanders – The Devils You Know
Vincent needs a change. He’s spent the last fifteen years in covert operations for the US government, but after a botched and fatal mission, he decides he’s done with pulling triggers.
He lucks into a dream job in Santa Barbara as head of security for supermarket mogul Eugene Lamar: nothing more than driving the boss to and from golf, with ample downtime for surfing, or sitting by the pool contemplating life-and how to live it with a zero body count.
There he meets and is intrigued by Lamar’s daughter, the journalist Erin Jones, who’s on tour in California to promote her book about the benefits of war. Vincent’s seen his share of conflict and is sure he can change her mind – and he’d really like to make his case over drinks.
But there’s a problem: if Lamar’s business is confined to supermarkets, why does he need a panic room full of assault rifles, and a .357 revolver in his car? It doesn’t take long for Vincent to find out that Lamar owes a debt to bad people – and that’s only the start of it. He’s ensnared in a criminal enterprise, which soon brings costs in lives as well as money.
Erin wants answers, and needs Vincent’s help to get them. But how much does she already know? Is his growing attraction to her a liability? And can he keep her safe from the brutal killers who are after her father?
It seems that Santa Barbara is a sunny town full of dark talent, and Vincent will have to revert to dark talents of his own if he’s going to survive . . .
Nalini Singh – Quiet in Her Bones
When socialite Nina Rai disappeared without a trace, everyone wrote it off as another trophy wife tired of her wealthy husband. But now her bones have turned up in the shadowed green of the forest that surrounds her elite neighborhood, a haven of privilege and secrets that’s housed the same influential families for decades.
The rich live here, along with those whose job it is to make their lives easier. And somebody knows what happened to Nina one rainy night ten years ago. Her son Aarav heard a chilling scream that night, and he’s determined to uncover the ugly truth that lives beneath the moneyed elegance…but no one is ready for the murderous secrets about to crawl out of the dark.
Even the dead aren’t allowed to break the rules in this cul-de-sac.
The winner will be announced on 15 September – watch this space!
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Split Enz’ Hard Act to Follow.