2021 Ngaio Marsh Awards winners revealed

October 31, 2021

Tackling tough issues: 2021 Ngaio Marsh Awards winners revealed Books exploring subjects from wartime nationalism to sexual violence, terrorism to one of New Zealand’s most infamous cases, scooped the 2021 Ngaio Marsh Awards on Saturday night.

While being very different kinds of crime, thriller, and mystery stories, all four winning books examined vital questions of truth, power, crime, and justice through the prism of compelling narratives.

“In another tough year for many, including our authors and judges, this year’s winners have emerged from a superb list of finalists and diverse array of entrants as a wonderful showcase of Kiwi storytelling,” says Ngaio Marsh Awards founder Craig Sisterson, who helped present this year’s awards over a livestream event held in association with WORD Christchurch and the Words & Nerds podcast.

Brian Falkner scooped the first-ever Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Kids/YA Book for KATIPO JOE: BLITZKRIEG (Scholastic), a tale of an adolescent New Zealander recruited by British Intelligence to infiltrate the Hitler Youth in 1930s Europe. “A ripping thriller for older children and young adults that raises all sorts of questions about loyalty, nationalism, and the loss of youth in war,” said the judges.

The quality and quantity of books for younger readers entered in this year’s Ngaio Marsh Awards forced the addition of the new category ahead of plans, said Sisterson. “Getting kids engaged in reading is so vital. New Zealand has long been blessed with some amazing kids and YA authors, and we’re stoked to be able to celebrate those who chose to write tales full of crime, mystery, and thrills.”

The biennial prize for Best Non-Fiction went to South Island journalist Martin van Beynen for BLACK HANDS (Penguin), a gripping and comprehensive account of the Bain Family Murders. “A brilliant insight into the whole case; in-depth, thoughtful, and carefully constructed,” said the judges.

Nelson author Chris Stuart was stunned to win Best First Novel for FOR REASONS OF THEIR OWN (Original Sin Press), emerging from finalists including bestseller THE GIRL IN THE MIRROR. The judges said Stuart’s debut, a tale of a detective caught in a murder case entwined with terrorism and corruption in aid organisations, offered “writing and characters that cry out for an ongoing series.”

The awards evening concluded with legendary Scottish author Val McDermid revealing the winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel. From a superb quintet of finalists, Brannavan Gnanalingam scooped the spoils with SPRIGS (Lawrence & Gibson), a devastating novel that explores the impact of sexual violence on victim, perpetrators, family, and wider community. “Engaging, disturbing, and powerful storytelling,” said the international judging panel, praising how Gnanalingam took a panoramic view of an horrific crime and explored deep questions of privilege and toxic masculinity.

Accepting the award, Gnanalingam spoke of how he’d written SPRIGS as his take on a crime novel, both using and subverting some of the tropes and structures historically associated with the genre. He receives a trophy and $1,000 courtesy of WORD Christchurch, long-time partner of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. Falkner, van Beynen, and Stuart won a trophy and cash prize from the Ngaio Marsh Awards.


Listen to Lynn Freeman speaking with the winners: Standing Room Only  31 October 2021

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