You’ve read Nordic, dabbled with Tartan, but what about Sunburnt Noir?
Recently, a few crime writers and readers on Twitter had a stab at coming up with a snappy identifier for Australian crime fiction. My contribution was Sunburnt, but other suggestions included Gum Leaf and Kangaroo, with the impressive-sounding Noir Australis suggested by a crime reader in Cornwall, England.
Perhaps it is only right that we struggle to sum up Australian crime fiction with a neat geographical catch-all phrase given that almost one hundred Scotlands could fit inside our borders. However, like both Nordic and Tartan Noir, Australian crime fiction has gone from strength to strength and should be enjoyed by the rest of the world as well as at home.
So let’s sample some crime fiction from Down Under.
An excellent place to start is with some Aussie names you might already know. Michael Robotham’s psychological thrillers have been published in more than fifty countries and he won the Gold Dagger, the UK’s top crime prize, with Life or Death in 2015, beating J.K. Rowling and Stephen King.
Liane Moriarty’s Suburban Noir has sold over six million books worldwide and has topped the New York Times Bestseller list. HBO is currently filming a series of Big Little Lies so why not start with that one because we know the book is always better.
Others to look out for include Candice Fox’s award-winning Hades series and her new books cowritten with James Patterson as well as Jane Harper’s The Dry, released in the U next year.
The Ned Kelly Awards
The Australian equivalent of the Edgar Awards are the Ned Kelly Awards. Named after the infamous outlaw and run by the Australian Crime Writers Association, the annual awards include Best Fiction, Best First Fiction, Best True Crime, and Short Story Award. Their shortlists are a great place to start. I suggest you begin with multiple-award winners such as Peter Corris, Peter Temple, and Garry Disher and then keep reading.
Sisters in Crime
Back in 1991, a few enterprising Aussie dames got together and, inspired by the American organization of the same name, started up Sisters in Crime Australia Inc. with the aim of encouraging emerging women writers, enjoying great writing, and having fun. They run two fantastic competitions—the Davitts—awarded each year to the best crime novels written by women (again check the shortlists) and the Scarlet Stiletto, a short-story prize (books of winners available). It’s unusual for the same book to win both a Ned Kelly and a Davitt, but it happened this year with Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay.
Given that white settlement of Australia began with a penal colony, it isn’t surprising that Australia and crime writing have always been a potent combination. The biggest-selling detective novel of the 19th century was Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, set in Melbourne. First published in 1886, it has rarely, if ever, been out of print.
If characters in period costume excite you, then Kerry Greenwood’s beloved Phryne Fisher series will be catnip. It features probably the best-dressed detective of all time (see the Netflix TV series if you don’t believe me). Also, no slouch in the sartorial stakes is the debonair Rowland Sinclair, recently introduced to US audiences with A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill.
Internationally, Australian crime fiction probably conjures up bush settings, small towns, and droughts, but our big cities also play their part. I may be biased but my home of Melbourne could put in a convincing bid for crime-fiction capital. It’s the setting for many true-crime books such as the Underbelly series by journalists John Silvester and Andrew Rule based on the recent gangland war. Melbourne is also the home of the late crime author and notorious criminal Chopper Read who wrote a series of autobiographical fictional crime novels, as well as the setting for many other great crime novels. One of my favorites is the hilarious Shane Maloney’s Murray Whelan series, last published in 1998; it is well worth hunting for. A more recent release, Andrew Nette’s Gunshine State, is a heist thriller set in Queensland, Melbourne, and Thailand.
But what about books with snow in them?
Well, we’ve got that, too. It doesn’t get much colder than Antarctica and given Australia’s proximity and involvement in the region, there’s crime fiction set there as well. Two recent examples are L.A. Larkin’s Devour and Ann Turner’s Out of the Ice.
One of the best things about reading a book is taking a trip somewhere entirely different without leaving your armchair, so save the airfare and curl up with a great Australian crime novel instead.
Bio: Aoife Clifford is an award-winning crime writer. Her first novel, All These Perfect Strangers, was published in 2016. Her short fiction has been published in Australia and the United Kingdom and will appear in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 2017. She has won a Ned Kelly and the Scarlet Stiletto and lives in Melbourne. Visit her website at aoifeclifford.com or chat to her on Twitter @aoifejclifford.