Wednesday, 22 July 2015 08:07

Ngaio Marsh is considered to be one of the four “Queens of Crime”—women mystery writers who dominated the genre in the 1920 and 1930s.

Marsh, along with the other “queens,” Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham, helped usher in that first Golden Age of Detective Fiction and made readers take notice.

The work of each of these women writers still is in print. We honor Sayers with the crime fiction message board DorothyL and Marsh and Christie with awards named after them.

We need something named after Allingham—a Margery, perhaps?

Marsh was born in New Zealand and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966. Her most famous character was the intelligent Inspector Roderick Alleyn.

The Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel was established in 2010 with the blessing of her closest living relative, John Dacres-Manning.

The Ngaio Marsh Award is given annually for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident. This year’s winner will receive the Ngaio Marsh Award trophy, a set of Dame Ngaio’s novels courtesy of her publisher HarperCollins, and a cash prize provided by WORD Christchurch, a literary festival.

The award will be presented at a WORD Christchurch event in late September.

The award’s short list is called “The Famous Five.”

Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave (Penguin NZ)
The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing (Head of Zeus)
Swimming in the Dark by Paddy Richardson (Upstart Press)
The Children’s Pond by Tina Shaw (Pointer Press)
Fallout by Paul Thomas (Upstart Press)

In the press release, the judges praised each novel.

Cleave’s Five Minutes Alone was called “gritty and thoroughly absorbing,” a “one-sitting” novel that “evokes complex feelings regarding retribution and morality.”

Ewing’s The Petticoat Men is “an immaculately researched” take on a real-life 1870s event that is “spirited, full of strong characters” and “a joy to read.”

The panel hailed Swimming in the Dark as “an elegantly delivered, disturbing, and ultimately very human tale” that showcased Richardson’s talent for “damaged characters and tackling grey areas.”

Shaw gave a “mesmerizing” character study in The Children’s Pond, using deft and spare language to craft a tale with a sublime sense of both place and menace that is “a delight to read.” Paul Thomas’ Fallout is “compelling and character-rich,” a “superb continuation” of the Ihaka series; “excellent writing… funny, but also serious.”

For more information on the Ngaio Marsh Award, go to  or email, or to contact the Judging Convenor directly:

Saturday, 18 July 2015 07:07


(Mystery Scene will be taking an occasional look at new, small publishers. Today, we look at Polis)

Jason Pinter knew he wanted to a part of the publishing industry—even before he knew what that meant.

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His first goal was to be a writer, so as a junior in college he sent queries to a number of literary agents asking them to represent him.

It didn’t matter that he didn’t have a manuscript to show them. But he wanted to be a writer and the head of the English department told him that writers needed representation. So he thought he should find an agent who would be interested in the works he “might” write someday.

“My queries were essentially, ‘I’d love for you to represent me once I write a book.’ I figured this was foolproof. Who wouldn’t want to represent a 21-year-old writer with years of productive work ahead of him? Needless to say, the responses I did get basically said, Come back when you’ve actually written something,” said Pinter in an email to Mystery Scene.

Talk about rejections!

But that was Pinter’s first foray into publishing.

Eventually he did become an author—five novels in his Henry Parker thriller series and one book for middle-school readers—an agent, an editor, and marketing director. Pinter's previous positions include being senior marketing manager at Grove/Atlantic and the Mysterious Press, and working as an editor at Warner Books, Random House, and St. Martin’s Press.

And now, he is a publisher himself.

In 2013, Pinter took a gamble and left his job at a major publishing house to establish Polis Books. Pinter announced Polis in July 2013, and published his first title, Transit Girl by Jamie Shupak, in November 2013.

In November 2015, Polis will celebrate its second full year in business. (At left and right are some of the most recent Polis titles.)

Polis Books allows Pinter to use his experience in marketing and as an editor and an agent.

From the beginning, Pinter had a simple goal for Polis—“to publish the very best in popular fiction.”

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“I want it to be a company that has the scrappiness, progressive thinking, and flexibility of an independent press with the professionalism of a major publisher,” Pinter said.

That goal also entered into the naming of the company. Polis isn’t a word that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of books. But the name suits this new company.

“In ancient Greece, the Polis was an independent city-state that was governed by the populace and not beholden to a larger entity. They were self-governed, as well as being hubs for arts and culture. Since I envisioned Polis as being an independent whose direction was solely governed by its employees and authors, rather than a mega-corporation, and since I’ve always loved stories about ancient Greece, Polis was a perfect fit,” added Pinter.

Rather than flood the already saturated market, Polis’ steady, measured publishing approach is working. In 2014, Polis published 18 titles, 17 of which were digital, about half originals and half reissues. In 2015, Polis ramped up its print component with 19 titles scheduled for simultaneous publication in print and digital, plus another 12-15 that are solely digital (primarily reissues), about 30-35 total. Pinter anticipates publishing 50 books in 2016, two-thirds simultaneously in print and digital and the rest as digital originals or reissues.

From the beginning, Polis never wanted to join the legion of self-publishing houses that have started in the past decade.

“It never crossed my mind for Polis to be a self-publishing or vanity press. A publisher taking money from a writer is against everything I believe in. There are so many scams and ethically dubious companies out there that prey on the hopes and dreams of authors, and swindle authors out of their own money, forcing them to pay for their own books,” said Pinter.

“I believe in paying authors up front for their work, paying them royalties if the books sell, and giving them a quality product that doesn’t come out of their own pocket. Polis was never going to be a self-publishing venture or vanity press, and I would also never publish any of my own books through Polis, as I’d never want the company’s resources going directly to my own benefit. We’re a publishing house. Period,” added Pinter.

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And Pinter knew that publishing would be a tough field, so he is mindful of the lessons he has learned in his own career.

“I’ve been through the heartache of rejection, joy of publication, and dealt with authors whose books didn’t sell up to my company’s expectations and forced to let them know we wouldn’t be offering them a new deal. I think I have a pretty strong stomach, but also realistic expectations for the company. I never wanted this to be a gazillion-dollar start-up beholden to investors and committee approvals,” he said.

“I feel like in a way I was uniquely qualified to start Polis because I have an extensive professional publishing background, but I can also empathize with what my authors are going through. We’re not [a major publisher], but we don’t need to be. I believe there is room in the industry for start-ups, but at the same time it’s important that we grow slowly and organically. As long as we keep our expectations realistic we’ll do just fine, and we don’t need an announced first printing of 20,000 copies for every book to pay for a lease on Broadway.”

Currently, crime fiction comprises about 50 percent of Polis’ list, but that number likely will be more around a third of its list as the publisher continues to diversify. In addition, Polis publishes science fiction (Occupied Earth, edited by Richard J. Brewer and Gary Phillips), romance (The Scarlet Letter Society by Mary T. McCarthy), Young Adult (Ash by Shani Petroff & Darci Manley, and Extra Life by Derek Nikitas), Middle Grade (The Misshapes by Alex Flynn) and New Adult (The Lonely Hearts Club by Brenda Janowitz).

“I love crime fiction with all my heart, it’s what I’ve spent the majority of my career working on, but I also don’t want our books to be competing against each other for attention, and I don’t want any book to be our fifth-most-important mystery in a given month. And there are so many other genres I absolutely love that we can have a robust crime list while also publishing great books across the spectrum,” he said.

Polis has had a few successful breakout authors. Grant McKenzie has had several books published in the U.K., Europe, and Canada, but hadn’t received distribution in the U.S. Polis reissued two of his novels digitally—Switch and K.A.R.M.A.—for the first time here, and published a digital original, The Fear in Her Eyes, all of which have been very successful.

McKenzie has just re-signed with Polis for two new books. The first, Speak the Dead, will be published in hardcover and ebook in September. Polis also is releasing Switch for the first time in paperback in the U.S. in August.

“He’s going to be our Harlan Coben, with a little Dean Koontz DNA mixed in,” said Pinter, who added that the middle-grade comic adventure novel The Misshapes was Polis’ first hardcover publication, which received “absolutely amazing reviews, went into a second printing, and continues to reorder in hardcover.”

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Among the newest authors that Pinter cites are Leah Rhyne, author of a “terrific” young adult horror novel, Heartless, and Vincent Zandri, who’s hit the New York Times bestseller list in ebook and who “we’re looking to reintroduce to the print market in a big way” with Orchard Grove, coming in hardcover and ebook in January. Polis also has picked up Alex Segura. Polis is reissuing his first Pete Fernandez novel, the well-reviewed Silent City, in March 2016, followed by the second Fernandez novel Down the Darkest Street in April.

Segura is thrilled to be a part of the Polis list. "Working with Jason has been an absolute pleasure—I couldn't have hoped for a better home for the Pete Fernandez series. Jason is smart, forward-thinking, and knows all aspects of the industry. Most importantly, he's been very savvy in building an impressive lineup of authors. I'm honored to be part of the Polis Books team—a publisher I was already a fan of before the deal happened," said Segura.

As Polis enters its second year, Pinter is proud of his publishing house’s achievements, especially “that we’ve consistently had a very high quality of writers sign with us, and approach us about working with them. That we’re distributed by one of the largest distribution companies in the country, Publishers Group West. That our books are carried by some of the biggest chains and best independent bookstores in the country, along with many libraries, and we’ve been covered pretty well for a new, small press,” he said.

“It was very important to me, when we expanded our print distribution, that we get our books into as many outlets as possible, at it means the world to me that these stores and libraries like our books and authors enough to carry them.

“I’m proud of our authors and their books, and proud that they’ve chosen to go with me on this journey,” he added.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015 08:07

marwoodalex killernextdoor

So often, novels are so visual that they seem to be a natural fit for a film.

Not that I think being made into a film is the ultimate compliment for an author. For me, a book that forces readers to lose themselves in the plot is the ultimate compliment.

But that leads me to Alex Marwood. In 2013, the British journalist gave us one of the best debuts of the year with The Wicked Girls. An edgy story about two 11-year-old girls who were charged with murder.

After their release from prison, the girls never see each other until a coincidence brings them together 25 years later. One girl is now the quiet night supervisor of a cleaning crew for Funnland, a rundown amusement park. She has two little dogs she adores and lives with another Funnland employee given to abusive fits. The other "wicked" girl is now a newspaper reporter specializing in crime stories; she loves her husband, who is out of work, and dotes on their two children. No one, not their families, friends, or co-workers, knows about their pasts.

In my review of The Wicked Girls, I called it an “absorbing dark novel of crime and punishment, revenge, and forgiveness. Marwood delivers an insightful psychological study of the two girls and the women they became 25 years later as well as a social commentary on how economics color the way people are judged, the insidious nature of gossip, and mob mentality. The brisk plot never falters through its realistic twists.”

It surprised no one when The Wicked Girls won the Edgar Award for best paperback. And I named Marwood as one of the authors to watch—and read.

Marwood followed up that novel in 2014 with The Killer Next Door, an equally absorbing novel that has been nominated for an Anthony, Barry, and Macavity award. The winners of those awards will be announced during the 2015 Bouchercon.

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But awards aside, Marwood, left, already is making headlines.

The Killer Next Door has been optioned by producer-actor James Franco (27 Hours) and actress Ahna O’Reilly (The Help), who is making her debut as a producer and taking a role in the film.

In my review of The Killer Next Door, I said: “Desperation brings six people to a decaying Victorian apartment house where the tenants’ desolation pales to the despicable acts of one neighbor.  

“Alex Marwood’s second stand-alone novel delivers a multi-layered plot that succeeds as crime fiction, a gothic tale, and a village mystery—all with an edge. With the building substituting for a village, 'The Killer Next Door' balances an insightful look at people on society’s periphery with a deliciously creepy look at a murderer.

“While London’s Northbourne area is 'gentrifying fast,' that renewal hasn’t reached 23 Beulah Grove where vile odors seep from the pipes that are constantly clogged. But these residents crave anonymity, willing to put up with nonexistent upkeep and a disgusting landlord.”

I could so see this being made into a film and Franco and O’Reilly could do it justice.

Will The Killer Next Door eventually be made into a film? Who knows? But let’s hope so.

Meanwhile, read the novel.