The 14th annual Davitt Awards saw a celebration of the Australian women with a particular talent for murder, on the page, at least.
Look at any bestseller book list in Australia and abroad and names like Hannah Kent, Honey Brown, Kathy Reichs and Karin Slaughter (yes, her real name) continually pop up.
But there is an even larger band of women beyond the household names who have caught the eye of international critics, many in Australia. Last week the annual Davit Awards was held, celebrating such women and their works.
Named after Ellen Davitt, author of Australia’s first mystery novel Force and Fraud (1856), the awards, hosted by The Sisters in Crime Australia organisation, showcases the wickedly page-turning successes of female crime writers around the country. They also host November’s Scarlet Stiletto Awards, recognising the sharpest short stories.
We took a look at the Davitt winners and the women to watch out for, both home and abroad, as well as recognising the ladies standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the blokes in the run up to September’s Ned Kelly Awards, hosted by the Australian Crime Writers Association.
Women to watch out for: Australia
Scooping this year’s Davitt award for Adult Fiction, Honey Brown’s erotic psychological thriller Dark Horse is a cracking read form the author who kicked of her writing career after an accident on her cattle farm in Victoria’s Gippsland left her in a wheelchair. The mother of two’s debut apocalyptic novel Red Queen also scored the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Novel, proving there’s rich seam of dark stories stored in her scintillating mind.
Fellow Penguin author Karen Foxlee’s second novel, The Midnight Dress, revolving around the disappearance of a teenage girl during a small town celebration, took out the the Davitt for Young Adult Crime Fiction. Readings says. “The novel’s structure is intricate, with changes in time, stories within stories and multiple perspectives.”
If you want to get your kids started on the scary world of misdemeanours early Australian children’s author Storer, also at Penguin, scored the Davitt award for Best Children’s Crime Novel for her book Truly Tan: Spooked, the third in her series about mystery-solving young guns. There’s a whiff of the Famous Five about her work.
Soaked in historical detail, Hanna Kent’s debut novel and multi-award-wining publishing sensation Burial Rites, set in a remote community in Iceland, has already been translated into several foreign languages. The Davitt’s recognised this up-and-coming talent with their Debut Award, and it also took home the Reader’s Choice gong.
With a name like Savage, how could this Melbourne-based author not write about killing for a living? A six-year stint in Southeast Asia saw Savage managing an HIV/AIDS prevention program for the Australian Red Cross, and this rich geographical background infuses her series of novels about Bangkok-based detective Jayne Keeney. Her latest, The Dying Beach, just missed out on the Davitt for Best Adult Novel and is shortlisted for the Ned Kelly prize for Best Fiction.
A physician who focuses on forensic medicine, Fox has plenty of gruesome real-life research to funnel into her murder mysteries. Her latest novel, Fatal Impact, sees forensic physician and pathologist Anya Crichton join the hunt for a missing mother and sister when a young girl’s body is found stuffed in a toy box, making it onto the shortlist for this year’s Ned Kelly Award for Best Fiction.
Howell’s 15-year stint as a paramedic provided inspiration for her series of crime novels featuring Sydney homicide detective Ella Marconi. Two paramedics turn up dead in a one-month period in her latest, Deserving Death, packed full of drug deals and dodgy cops, while Ella’s previous outing, Web Of Deceit, was shortlisted for the Best Adult Novel Davitt.
Redhead kicked off her literary aspirations while table dancing at a ‘gentleman’s’ club on Melbourne’s King Street. When she discovered a former boss had sexually abused two of her friends, rather than mess with the underworld, she got revenge in print, fictionalising his death in her first novel Peepshow, one of a series featuring stripper turned private eye Simone Kirsch.
Marney’s Best Young Adult Novel Davitt award-nominated book Every Breath posits a reimagined Sherlock Holmes as boy-next-door type James Mycroft, a genius with a passion for forensics who shares some scintillating chemistry with neighbour Rachel Watts. The first in a trilogy, Every Breath has also made the Ned Kelly shortlist for Best First Fiction.
Women to watch out for: International
It’s not just Australian women making their mark on the murder game, with a bevvy of international writers also well worth checking out.
US author Kathy Reichs’ hugely best-selling Temperance Brennan novels, which kicked off with the 1997 Ellis Award for Best First Novel Déjà Dead, are the source material for popular TV series Bones, starring Emily Deschanel as Temperance alongside David Boreanaz as Special Agent Seeley Booth.
Another name made for murder, best-selling US author Karin Slaughter has two cracking series, one featuring special agent Will Trent and his partner Faith Mitchell, and the other revolving around the fictional town of Heartsdale, with paediatrician and part-time coroner Sara Linton, ex-husband and chief of police Jeffrey Tolliver and detective Lena Adams.
Scottish crime writer Val McDermid is best known for her series of thrillers featuring Dr. Tony Hill, a clinical psychologist working for the police who often teams up with Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan.
Edinburgh-based English author Kate Atkinson won the Whitbred Book of the Year award for debut novel Behind the Scenes at the Museum and her Jackson Brodie series follows the cases of the former Police inspector turned PI.
Us-based Megan Abbott pens both crime fiction and a non-fiction work on hardboiled pulp noir, The Street Was Mine. Her fiction books include the award-wining Queenpin, which flips the genre tropes on its head, revolving around female gangster Gloria Denton.
South African novelist Lauren Beukes blends element of the supernatural with her crime fiction. Her debut The Shining Girls features a time-travelling serial killer and a survivor who turns the hunt back on him, while her latest, Broken Monsters, is set in a decaying Detroit.
Australia’s leading crime writers reveal their secrets in If I Tell You…I’ll Have to Kill You, edited by Michael Robotham. Buy it here.
Whether you're a fan of crime fiction, true crime or a would-be crime writer, this collection of essays will provide laughter, understanding, insight, ideas, advices and hopefully some inspiration. Learn about Shane Maloney's near-death experience in a freezer, Leigh Redhead's adventures as a stripper and Tara Moss taking a polygraph test to prove her doubters wrong.