Backcountry mystery outshone big city crime at WORD Christchurch Festival on Saturday evening as Alan Carter and Jennifer Lane were named the winners of the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards.
Both authors' winning books involve deadly deeds set against small towns and rural landscapes. Carter scooped the Best Novel prize for Marlborough Man (Fremantle Press), a thrilling tale centred on an ex-undercover agent from England trying to resettle into a quieter life far distanced from his dangerous past; now a country cop patrolling the seemingly idyllic valleys and waterways of the Top of the South.
“A terrific, full-throated crime thriller that puts the freshest of spins on the cop-with-a-past trope,” said the judges. “Carter is a first-class wordsmith with a particular talent for authentic dialogue. The novel’s setting wholly embraces the people and action, and the overall effect is powerful and persuasive.”
Lane is an experienced short story writer, published by magazines and journals on both sides of the Tasman, who won a New Zealand Book Month prize in 2007. Her debut novel All Our Secrets (Rosa Mira Books) grew out of one of her short stories, evolving over more than a decade of work. Gracie is a bullied adolescent from a troubled family in the fictional Australian town of Coongahoola. When the town’s famed ‘River Children’ start vanishing, Gracie knows what no-one else does: who is responsible.
“A very assured debut sitting somewhere between something aimed at older teen readers and something very readable for adults, All Our Secrets is strongly voiced, has a great sense of place, wonderfully drawn characters, and an excellent plot,” said the judging panel. “It's an absolute gem.”
The Anzac spirit is alive and well with this year’s winners, noted Ngaios founder Craig Sisterson, as both Carter and Lane spent significant chunks of their lives in Australia before choosing to make New Zealand their home. Carter, originally from the north of England, won a Ned Kelly Award for his debut crime novel in 2011, before crossing the Tasman to live on a farm in a valley in Marlborough in recent years.
“It has been another remarkable year for New Zealand crime and mystery writing,” said Sisterson. “We had a record number of entries, a big influx of exciting new voices, and the welcome return of some of our great crime storytellers from the 1990s and early 2000s, including Stella Duffy and Edmund Bohan.”
Carter won a Ngaios trophy, special edition of a Dame Ngaio book, and a $1,000 cash prize courtesy of WORD Christchurch. Lane won a trophy, book, and a cash prize from the Ngaio Marsh Awards.
“Decades ago a remarkable woman from Christchurch was renowned globally as one of the biggest names in the books world,” said Sisterson. “So it’s only fitting that awards in Dame Ngaio’s name are now showcasing just how world-class many of our modern-day Kiwi writers are too.”