Christchurch writer wins Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel

Christchurch writer Paul Cleave has become the first crime novelist to win the Ngaio Marsh Award twice.
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Christchurch writer Paul Cleave has become the first crime novelist to win the Ngaio Marsh Award twice.

The Christchurch winner of the Ngaio Marsh Award says Kiwi crime writers are not appreciated in their home country.

Paul Cleave was awarded the Ngaio Marsh Award for best New Zealand crime novel at a ceremony at the Court Theatre on Sunday night for his book Five Minutes Alone, a thriller about rape victims being helped by someone to take revenge on their attackers.

Cleave, who also won the award in 2011, said his novels get a hard time from New Zealand critics.

"I want to thank The Press and ask them to take it a little easier on me over the next few years. They have called me clumsy, unexceptional, predictable and that I lack the polish to be as good as other crime writers. But it's not all bad, they did call Five Minutes Alone satisfactory," he said.

"My goal with the new book is average to mediocre, if I can get that I have a chance of winning again next year."

He said Kiwi writers were held to a higher standard than international authors.

"I get a really hard time in New Zealand. New Zealanders don't think that New Zealanders are as good as international writers. Reviewers here hold us up to some kind of impossible standard. You can't have it both ways."

"There is a cringe factor, I think. I have sold a million books internationally and get reviewed well, but New Zealand is a very difficult market."

Cleave, who is the first person to win the award more than once, said he was surprised by the win.

"It is really shocking. I honestly did not think I had a chance of winning. The competition is really tough and there were such great writers on the shortlist. Also, I had read The Press review, so I thought I had no shot this year. Thankfully, the judges are international and not New Zealanders."

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The award was announced by former Christchurch Writers Festival programme director Ruth Todd, who agreed that Kiwi crime novelists are often neglected.

"The international judges are blown away by the standards of our crime writing. It really saddens me that so many New Zealanders read all the great crime writers from other parts of the world, but hardly ever read New Zealand crime writers."

"I challenge you to buy at least one book, either for yourself or as a gift, and see what our crime writers are doing. Many of them are becoming internationally known more than they are in their own country and I don't like that at all. New Zealand are up there with the very very best and we must support them."

Word Christchurch literary director and novelist Rachael King said the judges praised Cleave's winning book.

"Judges said of Five Minutes Alone that it is excellent, suspenseful and at times has you rooting for the killer. A fast paced thriller that is also gritty and thoroughly absorbing. Paul Cleave never fails to deliver."

Cleave won the 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award for Blood Men and has been shortlisted for the award five times. He was a finalist for the prestigious Edgar Award alongside authors like Stephen King.

This year's Ngaio Marsh Award finalists were Barbara Ewing for The Petticoat Men, Paddy Richardson for Swimming in the Dark, Tina Shaw for The Children's Pond and Paul Thomas for Fallout.

 - Stuff

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