10 thrilling crime novels by New Zealand authors to add to your e-reader or bookshelf

If crime novels and thrillers are your favourite flavour of fiction, why not add some of these whodunnits by New Zealand authors to your reading list? Greg Fleming shares some of his most-loved crime novels from Aotearoa — great for adding to your bookshelf or loading to your tablet, e-reader or phone.

10 Crime novels

I love physical books, but these days I most often read on my iPad or phone, even if I have the book in my collection. I can pick up where I left off in a few clicks, whether on a flight or train ride or just killing a few minutes over coffee.

The good news is most contemporary crime fiction is available in ebook form — here are ten of my favourite New Zealand crime novels, in no particular order.

The Slow Roll
Simon Lendrum

One of the great crime writing debuts of recent memory, Lendrum wrote this novel during Aotearoa's Covid lockdowns.

This whip-smart novel is named after a move in poker that's considered the height of bad etiquette, revealing a winning hand just as another player begins to scoop in their chips.

Readers will warm to Lendrum's charismatic lead character, O'Malley, a part Irish, part Polynesian, self-appointed private investigator and gambler. His girlfriend, a feisty, tattooed psychology student, is just as impressive. Together, they form a formidable off-the-books investigative team. The novel also captures the verve, swagger, and dark underbelly of today's Tāmaki Makaurau.

Better the Blood
Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett (Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue) has long been involved in bringing local stories to the screen before trying his hand at a crime novel. In Better the Blood, he has weaved both a compelling crime story and a riveting polemic on colonialism, all brought to life by one-of-a-kind Māori detective Hana Westerman, who faces up against Auckland's first serial killer. This was a breakout thriller in 2022 and praised the world over. This year's sequel, Return to Blood, is even better.

American Blood
Ben Sanders

American Blood's righteous hero, Marshall Grade — an ex-cop in witness protection — was a change-up for this North Shore-based writer tackling his first thriller set in the US.

Sanders' Auckland Trilogy proved he's a good writer; with American Blood, he showed he was up there with the greats of the genre. It's all here — superb dialogue, taut, clipped descriptions, and the kind of cinematic action scenes Michael Mann would approve of. There have been many books since American Blood, including a fine sequel, Marshall's Law — but this is a great place to start exploring.

She's A Killer
Kirsten McDougall

McDougall's third novel, released in 2021, is set in a dystopian near-future when New Zealand has become a bolt-hole for rich foreigners who are escaping the effects of climate change. Alice — who narrates throughout — is dark, bitter, dangerous and funny as hell; a badly behaved malcontent with a sharp tongue and nastier imagination. It makes for an addictive and wryly comic read with a deadly serious issue at its heart.

The Call
Gavin Strawhan

The first novel from screenwriter Gavin Strawhan is a tightly plotted story that begins after a 4 am phone call from a battered mother-of-three who's tired of the beatings from her gang affiliated partner. Auckland detective Honey Chalmers is on the other end of the line. Strawhan credits a detective with giving him valuable intel on the relationship between informant and handler and doesn't put a foot wrong as he not only charts the ups and downs of that relationship but also the personal travails of Chalmers, who is dealing with divorce, a sick mother and has a dangerous gang on her trail.

The Pain Tourist
Paul Cleave

Christchurch-based Paul Cleave is one of our most successful crime writers. Earlier this year, a screen adaptation of his 2006 novel The Cleaner was released to much critical acclaim.

The Pain Tourist is my pick of his recent output. The plot involves a young man who wakes from a coma to find himself targeted by the men who killed his parents. Despite a grisly opening, Cleave keeps things moving at pace, and the violence is implied rather than dwelled upon; Cleave is clearly aware that crime writers could easily fall victim to accusations of "pain tourism" themselves. As always with Cleave, there are elements of the supernatural à la Stephen King, which Cleave includes with a light touch.

El Flamingo
by Nick Davies

El Flamingo is a very slick, often funny, novel that slipped under the radar when it was published in 2023 by an exciting Kiwi writer based in South America. This "sunset noir" begins with a chance meeting in a bar with a mysterious man in a brown fedora. Our protagonist, Lou Galloway, becomes entangled in a classic case of mistaken identity, which sees him working for a Colombian cartel as an assassin. Soon, Galloway is swept up into a strange redemption tale that includes private jets, double agents, salsa bars, a beautiful but dangerous woman and plenty of B-movie one-liners. Lots of fun.

Before You Knew My Name
by Jacqueline Bublitz

This superb debut from Taranaki author Jacqueline Bublitz won both the Best Crime Novel and Best First Novel categories at the 2022 Ngaio Marsh Awards, the first author to do so in the same year. It's a novel that never quite goes where you expect — it's a romance, a crime story, a celebration of New York, a political polemic and a tale of self-discovery and female empowerment. It's also a real page-turner.

The Doctor's Wife
by Fiona Sussman

Austin Lamb is a highly regarded Auckland doctor.

He has a nice house, enjoys fancy holidays and is, as he wryly describes it, "world famous in Rothesay Bay". When his wife is found dead at the bottom of the Brown's Bay cliffs, he's the prime suspect, but is there more to the story?

What sets The Doctor's Wife apart is Sussman's skill in setting fully rounded characters from two families in challenging real-world situations.

Dark Deeds Down Under
by Various

This excellent anthology is a collaboration between London-based Ngaio Marsh Awards founder and longtime local crime fiction advocate Craig Sisterson and Clan Destine Press publisher (and crime writer) Lindy Cameron. It features a range of Australasian crime writers from well-established names such as Australian Garry Disher to lesser-known talents such as Alan Carter and David Whish-Wilson, as well as Kiwi writers Nikki Crutchley, Fiona Sussman and the always wonderful Vanda Symon. A great way to discover new and not-so-new voices.

Reviewed by Greg Fleming

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  • 10 thrilling crime novels by New Zealand authors to add to your e-reader or bookshelf