The Australian and New Zealand crime fiction scene is booming. And one of the chroniclers of that boom is Craig Sisterson, founder of New Zealand’s Ngaio Marsh Awards and former judge and supported of Australia’s Ned Kelly Awards. More importantly, Sisterson is the author of Southern Cross Crime (2020), a readers’ guide to Australian and New Zealand crime fiction. Which makes him well placed to curate Dark Deeds Down Under, a collection which in many ways serves as both a celebration of and a primer for recent Australian and NZ crime fiction.
The majority of stories in this collection feature the main characters of series by some stalwarts of the genre. Garry Disher’s Paul Hirschhausen (Sinnerman), Alan Carter’s Nick Chester (Takin’ Out the Trash), Kerry Greenwood’s baker detective Corrina Chapman (The Rooming House) and Sulari Gentil’s Rowland Sinclair (The Company of Rats) all get new outings. But so do newer authors and characters who some readers may not know so well including Dinuka McKenzie’s Kate Miles (Skin Deep), RW McDonald’s Nancys (Nancys Undercover) and Katherine Kovacic’s Alex Clayton (Water Damage). The biggest surprise is the return of Shane Maloney’s Murray Whelan, unfortunately not for a full story but rather the tantalising draft of a first chapter of an unfinished seventh outing (The Lost Murray Whelan). These are all great stories but only serve as tasters for much larger worlds. They will be catnip for lovers of the antipodean end of the genre. While they readers don’t need know these characters and their backstories, they may not land quite as well for those who are not already familiar with them.
More interesting, then, are some of the “stand alone” stories (an odd term to use for a curated collection of short stories). David Whish-Wilson’s The Cook follows a multigenerational family of addicts and dealers into the Western Australian outback, Nikki Crutchley’s Save Me is a particularly twisted look at female friendship, Fiona Sussman’s Hiding Something is an effective bit of hitchhiker terror and Lisa Fuller’s The Falls has a speculative edge that draws on an inexcusable and violent aspect of Australian history.
Overall what this collection shows is the vibrancy and increasing diversity of the Australian and New Zealand crime fiction scene. Dark Deeds Down Under is billed as ‘Volume 1’, and that is not surprising as even this group of award winning and up-and-coming authors only scratches the surface of the genre and the wave of Australian and New Zealand authors that is taking the crime fiction world by storm.