Halfway Down Dominion Road*


The building in this ‘photo is Auckland’s Supreme Courthouse. It’s even more beautiful and impressive in real life than it is in the photograph. It’s also a great reminder that crime happens everywhere, including New Zealand. You wouldn’t think so, but crime happens even in a beautiful place like this. Certainly crime-fictional sorts of crime happen.

If you want a thorough, rich discussion of Kiwi crime fiction, you’ll want to go and visit Crime Watch, which is the source for all things crime-fictionally Kiwi. It’s also your stop for updates and information on the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel, New Zealand’s highest award for crime writers. For now, though, let me just make mention of a few New Zealand authors who set their novels and series here.

Perhaps the most famous of New Zealand’s crime writers is Ngaio Marsh. Her Roderick Alleyn novels take place in different countries, often England. But she also wrote stories that take place in New Zealand. For example, Died in the Wool is the story of the murder of MP Florence ‘Flossie’ Flossie Rubrick. One day, she goes to one of the sheep pens on her husband’s farm to rehearse a speech she’s planning to give. She doesn’t return until three weeks later when her body turns up in a bale of wool. The victim’s nephew asks Inspector Alleyn to investigate, and he travels to New Zealand to do so. In the process of looking into the matter, he finds out that several members of Rubrick’s family had very good reasons for wanting her dead. This murder turns out to be related to espionage, and to one family member in particular.

Another crime novelist who’s gotten quite well known is Paul Cleave. In fact, Cleave won the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel for Five Minutes Alone. His debut novel, The Cleaner is set in Christchurch, where Joe Middleton works as a janitor at the police station. Unbeknownst to everyone, he is also a serial killer known as The Carver. The story is that The Carver has killed seven victims. But Middleton knows that’s not true, because he’s only killed six. He wants to find out who the ‘copycat killer’ is, so that he can frame him for the other killings, and punish him for pretending to be The Carver. It’s not going to be as easy as it seems, though…

Paddy Richardson’s novels are also set in New Zealand. Her novels Traces of Red and Cross Fingers feature Wellington TV journalist Rebecca Thorne. In the first, Thorne begins to suspect that Connor Bligh, who is in prison for murdering his sister, her husband, and their son, might be innocent. If he is, this is the story that could ensure her place at the top of New Zealand TV journalism. So she starts asking questions and looking into the case again. As time goes on, she finds herself getting closer to the case than is safe. In Cross Fingers, Thorne investigates the thirty-year-old death of a man who dressed up as a lamb and entertained crowds during the Springboks’ 1981 tour of New Zealand. That tour was controversial, and there were many, many protests and reports of police abuse of power; so at the time, not a lot of attention was paid to the death of one person. But Thorne finds it an interesting angle, and uncovers an unsolved murder. Richardson’s standalone novels, Hunting Blind and Swimming in the Dark, are set on New Zealand’s South Island.

So is Vanda Symon’s series featuring Constable Samantha ‘Sam’ Shephard, who works with the Mataura Police. Along with the crimes she investigates, she has to deal with a difficult boss, family strain, and, in Overkill, being suspected of murder. But she has plenty of grit and determination; and, despite the fact that she doesn’t always play ‘by the book’ she’s a skilled detective.

Paul Thomas’ Tito Ihaka novels are mostly set in Auckland. Ihaka is a Māori police detective with his own way of solving cases. In Guerrilla Season, his first outing, Ihaka wants to investigate a series of deaths claimed by extremists called Aotearoa People’s Army. Ihaka isn’t sure they’re responsible, though, and starts to dig deeper. This gets him into trouble with his superiors, though, and he’s taken off that case and put onto a case of suspected blackmail. When that proves to be related, it’s clear that Ihaka has uncovered something much more than he’d suspected.

Bev Robitai’s Theatre Mysteries are also set in Auckland, at the Regent Theatre. In Murder in the Second Row, and Body on the Stage, Robitai combines murder with a look backstage at the way stage productions are planned, created, rehearsed and executed (yes, pun intended 😉 ) Readers also get to know some of the people outside the theatre who make those productions possible.

Under the pseudonym of Alix Bosco, Greg McGee has written two novels, Cut and Run and Slaughter Falls, featuring Auckland legal researcher Anna Markunas. In the first, she helps defend a young man accused of killing a rugby star. In the second, she investigates a series of deaths among a New Zealand tour group that’s visiting Brisbane. It’ll be interesting to learn if another Anna Markunas novel will be released.

And then there’s Donna Malane’s Diane Rowe novels. Rowe is a Wellington missing person expert who’s called in to identify twenty-five-year-old remains in Surrender. In My Brother’s Keeper, ex-convict Karen Mackie hires Rowe to find her fourteen-year-old daughter Sunny. As Rowe learns, Mackie was in prison for trying to kill Sunny, so the dilemma in this case is a real one.

There are plenty of other New Zealand writers, such as Cat Connor and Andrew Grant, who set their novels elsewhere. For a small country, Kiwi crime fiction leaves quite a footprint…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from The Mutton Birds’ Dominion Road.


Filed under Alix Bosco, Andrew Grant, Bev Robitai, Cat Connor, Donna Malane, Greg McGee, Ngaio Marsh, Paddy Richardson, Paul Cleave, Paul Thomas, Vanda Symon

26 responses to “Halfway Down Dominion Road*

  1. It certainly does leave quite a footprint. Hope you’re having a blast. The church is breathtakingly beautiful.

    • The conference has gone really well, Sue, thanks. And you’re right: New Zealand writers have left quite a literary ‘footprint.’ Oh, and about the buildings? There are so many beautiful buildings in Auckland. It makes for a great walking tour.

  2. I always feel bad that I’ve read so little Kiwi crime – with your excellent suggestions above, I am sure I will remedy that soon…

  3. Col

    I love Thomas and his Ihaka books – time for another one soon I think!

  4. I’ve just returned from New Zealand, Margot, where I saw a building (train station actually) in Dunedin that looked very much like this court house. Also a beautiful building.
    Love your daily posts.
    Best Regards

    • Thank you, Jill, for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoy what you find here. And aren’t some of the NZ buildings lovely? I wish I could have gotten to Dunedin during this visit; perhaps another time…

  5. I keep going back, Margot. My favourite place on this trip was Akaroa, which has a French influence. I could happily live there!

  6. The only New Zealand author I have read here is Ngaio Marsh, at least half of her books. I need to investigate the others.

  7. Margot, I have not even read Ngaio Marsh, leave alone other New Zealand writers, and it’s about time I remedied the glaring deficiency in my reading. I hope you are having a good time at the conference or convention.

    • I am, thank you, Prashant. And it is not possible to read everything good that is available. If you do get to read some New Zealand crime fiction at some point, I hope you will enjoy it.

  8. I fear Ngaio Marsh is the only one of these I’ve encountered too, and I’m not sure if I read any of the ones set in New Zealand – it’s a long time since I went through a phase of reading her. But I did read all of The Luminaries, which I feel pretty much entitles me to NZ citizenship… 😉

    Hope you’re having fun!

    • 😆 There you are , then, FictionFan – I’d say that entitles you. And I don’t think anyone can possibly read everything out there, from New Zealand or anywhere else. And thanks -I’ve been having a great time 🙂

  9. I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand, but will have to do that through books because the trip is just way too long for me. Thanks for the nice list of New Zealand authors.

    • It is a long trip, Pat. From Los Angeles, it’s about 14 hours. And that doesn’t include getting to and from the airport. It’s of course much longer from you are. But at least you can read about it.

  10. I did a blog post about Ngaio Marsh last year. The following are some interesting facts.
    Born in Christchurch, New Zealand Dame Ngaio Marsh is the author of 32 detective novels written between 1934-1982. Set in 1930s London, they were dramatised in the 1990s on a BBC television series, entitled The Inspector Alleyn Mysteries.
    Ngaio became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966, and in 1978, she won the Grand Master Award from Mystery Writers of America.
    Along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Alingham, Ngaio Marsh is known as one of the four Queens of Crime of the Golden Age 1920s-1940s.
    Her other great passion in life was the theatre. Between 1942-1969, she was theatre director with the University of Canterberry Drama Society in New Zealand where the Ngaio Marsh Theatre is now named in her honour. Her home in the Cashmere Hills, is preserved as a museum.

  11. Kathy D.

    Not surprising that the homeland of Paddy Richardson would be so hospitable. I’ve only read her books and a few of Vanda Symon’s of those set in New Zealand.
    But I will put Paul Thomas and Donna Malane on the TBR list and hope they’re available in my city’s library.

  12. I really liked another Ngaio Marsh book set in NZ: Colour Scheme – hilarious and very atmospheric.

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