Davitt Awards: a (long) shortlist for women’s best crime & mystery books announced

Sisters in Crime Australia has announced a rather long shortlist – 25 – for its 21st Davitt Awards for the best crime and mystery books by Australian women – nine adult novels, five Young Adult (YA) novels, six children’s novels and five non-fiction books. Twelve books from all categories are competing for the debut award. Altogether, 127 books have been in contention.

The reason is simple, according to Davitt Judges’ coordinator, Dr Philomena Horsley.

“We’ve just been bowled over by both the sheer number of books and the impressive quality of the writing – particularly the depth of YA novels,” she said.

“The YA stories range from Ellie Marney’s sophisticated novel about serial killers, the appropriately named None Shall Sleep (just optioned as a film) to Lisa Walker’s debut novel, The Girl with the Gold Bikini, which features resourceful teenage detectives.

Dr Horsley said that the themes in the adult crime novels were rich in their diversity.

“They take us from the Chinese community on the goldfields of FNQ in the late nineteenth century to 1930s Boston, World War II Prague, and contemporary Fiji, Los Angeles, rural Australia and urban Melbourne. Some are police procedurals, such as Sarah Barrie’s Deadman’s Track, while others, like Karina Kilmore’s Where the Truth Lies, features a journalist sleuth. The investigator in Sulari Gentill’s A Testament of Character is the 1930s‘ artist Rowland Sinclair on his 10th outing despite an increasingly battered body,“ she said.

“The themes from bushfires and badly behaved police to autism resonate in a way that many capital ‘L’ literary novels fail to do.”

The judges also loved the children’s novels, Dr Horsley said.

“Books such as Amelia Mellor’s The Grandest Bookshop in the World combine deep historical research with ripping story lines. Many had us laughing out loud.

“In Lian Tanner’s novel, A Clue for Clara, the hero is a scruffy chook who dreams of being a famous detective with a TV show and teams up with the daughter of the local policeman to solve crimes in the town of Little Dismal. Such a hoot! We’re betting that these sorts of books will nurture a whole new generation of crime fans.”

Dr Horsley said that the non-fiction books put personal experience with the crime and justice system – from the coroners to the courts to the prisons – at the forefront.

“Books such as Witness by Louise Milligan lay bare what happens to victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault as they journey through the criminal justice system,” she said.

“Yet again George Pell comes under scrutiny, this time by Melissa DaveyIn Snakes and Ladders, Angela Williams dissects her experience of the prison system.”

Twelve of the 47 debut books made it to the shortlist. Several are also shortlisted in other categories.

Pandemic lockdown permitting, six Davitt Awards will be presented at a gala dinner in Melbourne, Saturday 28 August, 6.30pm. Debra Oswald, award-winning playwright, screenwriter and novelist, will discuss her life in crime with Tara Mitchell, Vice-President of Sisters in Crime, before presenting the awards: Best Adult Novel; Best Young Adult Novel; Best Children’s Novel; Best Non-fiction Book; Best Debut Book (any category); and Readers’ Choice (as voted the 550+ members of Sisters in Crime Australia).

Bookings: https://sistersincrime.org.au/event/debra-oswald-to-present-21st-davitt-awards/

Voting for Readers’ Choice closes Friday 30 July. Only financial members are eligible to vote.

The Davitts are named after Ellen Davitt, the author of Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and Fraud, in 1865. They cost publishers nothing to enter.

The awards are handsome carved polished wooded trophies featuring the front cover of the winning novel under perspex. No prize money is attached.

The judging panel for 2021 comprises Philomena Horsley, winner of the 2018 Scarlet Stiletto Award and medical autopsy expert; Joy Lawn, YA expert and reviewer; Janice Simpson, author and academic; Emily Webb, true crime author and podcaster; and Sisters in Crime national co-convenors, Moraig Kisler and Tara Mitchell.

The Davitt Awards are supported by Swinburne University of Technology.


Media comment: Philomena Horsley on 0417 121 771; philomenah1@aol.com

Other information: Carmel Shute, Sisters in Crime, Secretary and National Co-convenor on admin@sistersincrime.org.auwww.sistersincrime.org.au