Southern Cross Crime by Craig Sisterson – 2020

Craig Sisterson, founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards, journalist, reviewer, administrator of the Crime Watch blog, organiser of book events and festivals  in Aotearoa and elsewhere, tireless supporter and promoter of works of #YeahNoir – has given us a three-for-one in Southern Cross Crime. It is a handy well-informed reference book, a book to dip in and out of to cheer yourself up if you are feeling a bit bored or uninspired, and best of all, it is a luscious read from cover to cover.

Southern Cross Crime is gloriously egalitarian, describing works of lesser known, and sometimes single title, authors with as much care and gusto as those of well-established authors and literary greats. It describes cozy reads, hard boiled reads, novels with serious social commentary, straight forward whodunits, alongside raunchy reads and even horror – the only commonality being a criminal streak. The book is arranged thematically, looking at urban reads of the antipodes (Mean streets – big city crime), rural and outback reads (In the wop-wops), international settings but antipodean authors (Home and away), historical reads (Back in time), titles for young adults and juveniles (Start ‘em young) and there is a section on movies and TV programmes with themes of antipodean crime.

The descriptions of the works are set in their historical context (e.g. “While others help set the dynamite, it was undoubtedly JANE HARPER who lit the fuse …”) and in their international context (e.g. “While there are nods to Chandler and Hammett …”). Despite the huge number of entries, they manage to be exquisitely and sensitively written: “Switching between past and present, and Winstone’s fantasies and reality, Moir delivers a disturbing novel that is both subtle and hard-hitting, full of angst and breathtaking beauty” – from the description of one of my favourite novels The legend of Winstone Blackhat by Tanya Moir.

The reader also gets notes on the backgrounds and motivations of the authors, and there are in-depth interviews with a few of them at the end of the book. If you are in any doubt about the health, range or quality of antipodean crime writing, this book will sort you out – the wealth of material is added to at the end of each section with lists of further titles to explore. Southern Cross Crime is well indexed (making it just as useful as a reference book as if it had been arranged alphabetically), and includes a list of winners of antipodean crime novel awards.

I was trying to find descriptions of some of my favourite books, only to realise that they had been released since the publication of Southern Cross Crime – perhaps we can look forward to a second edition sometime in the future? At the time of writing this blog, Southern Cross Crime had been shortlisted for the H.R.F. Keating Award, to be announced at the International Crime Fiction Convention, CrimeFest, in May 2021. Kia ora!, Mr Sisterson!  

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