Section 2

The Davitt Awards: Have they wounded the masculinity of Australian crime fiction?

Jessie Byrne

The Davitt Awards for crime writing by Australian women were established by Sisters in Crime Australia in 2001 in response to the low number of women winning awards within Australia’s crime-writing Ned Kelly Awards. In the 17 years since their establishment, the Davitts have garnered greater recognition for women crime writers. However, it is less clear what impact they have had on, if indeed they have wounded, the masculine nature of the crime genre itself in which solo, tough-guy private eyes solve crimes through a combination of reason and violence.

This paper provides a comparative analysis of the winners of the Ned Kelly Awards Best Fiction winners and the Davitt Awards Best Adult Novel winners. It provides a quantitative comparison of the gender of the authors within each award as well as of three narrative elements relating to the main protagonist of each novel: their gender, their occupation and their family status. These three elements, the paper argues, are useful signifiers of gendered approaches to the genre.

It concludes that the Davitt Awards have provided spaces for less masculine crime fiction within Australia through the greater recognition of female writers and protagonists and through formulating protagonists with professional and personal experiences that fall outside the limitations of hegemonic masculinity. The wounding of masculinity, however, is non-fatal, with the persistence of masculinist tropes in both the Ned Kelly and Davitt adult fiction winners.


Gender; Crime Fiction; Davitt Awards; Ned Kelly Awards; Masculinity


“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves?”

– The First History Man


In 2001, Sisters in Crime Australia established the Davitt Awards to recognise crime writing by Australian women. The decision by Sisters in Crime arose from a concern that Australia’s pre-eminent crime-writing awards, the Ned Kelly Awards, failed to recognise female crime writers.

The Davitt Awards (or Davitts, as they are known) are open to works published in the previous year written by Australian women authors. Named for Ellen Davitt (1812–1879), who wrote Australia’s first full-length mystery novel Force and Fraud (published in 1865), the Davitts have expanded from a single award in 2001 to six categories in 2017: Best Adult Novel, Best Young Adult Novel, Best Debut Crime Novel, Best Children’s Novel, Best True Crime Book, and the Readers’ Choice (from any category) (Sisters in Crime Australia n.d.-a).

The Ned Kelly Awards (known as the Neds) were established six years previously, in 1995, to recognise crime fiction and true-crime writing. They are open to Australian authors (or those with at least a residency in Australia) for works published in the previous 12 months (Australian Crime Writers Association 2018). Now managed by the Australian Crime Writers’ Association (ACWA), the awards were first conceived by a group including bookseller Peter Milne, academic Noel King, crime writer John Dale, and journalist Stuart Coupe (Australian Crime Writers Association n.d.-a). Seven categories have been awarded over the Neds’ history, including Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best True Crime, Best Teenage/Young Adult Novel, Best Non-fiction Book, Readers Vote, and the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2017, the awards categories were restricted to three book awards – Best Fiction, Best First Fiction and Best True Crime Book – the Sandra Harvey Short Story Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award (Australian Crime Writers Association n.d.-a).

The Davitts’ Best Adult Novel and the Neds’ Best Fiction (formerly Best Novel) categories attract the largest number of entries within each award set. In 2017, for example, 63 (64 per cent) of the 99 entries for the Davitt Awards were in the Best Adult Novel category, while 59 (61 per cent) of the 97 Ned Kelly Award entries were in the Best Fiction category (Books+Publishing 2017, Australian Crime Writers Association 2017, Sisters in Crime Australia 2017). Due to their numeric strength within each award set, I will examine and compare these two award categories within this paper. As both categories recognise adult crime fiction (apart from a solitary young adult book within the Ned Kelly Awards, J C Burke’s 2012 winner Pig Boy) (Burke 2011), there is also the opportunity for valid generic comparison.


An examination of the winners of the Neds’ Best Fiction award bears out Sisters in Crime’s concerns. In the years 1995-2000, in the lead-up to the establishment of the Davitts, no female writer won the award. Over the award’s history, women have hardly fared better. From 1995 to 2017, 25 books received the Neds’ Best Fiction award. (In 1996 and 1998 the awards did not proceed and in four years (1995, 2001, 2006 and 2009) there were two co-winners in each of those years (Australian Crime Writers Association n.d.-b).) Of these 25 winners, three (12 per cent) are by women and 22 (88 per cent) by men.

The Davitts’ Best Adult Novel winners provide an obvious contrast. From 2001 to 2017, there were 18 winners in the category, with two co-winners announced in 2003 (Literary Awards Australia 2010, Sisters in Crime Australia n.d.-b). All were women, in keeping with the scope of the awards.

Multiple factors feed into the bestowing of literary awards. They do so at all points along the publication chain, including acceptance for publication, marketing, media attention and reviews, submission to awards, award criteria, the judging panel and judging criteria, to name a few. As argued by Demoor, Saeys and Lievens in their study of literary prizes in Flanders, “…a literary text is embedded in a complex framework of structures in which the established power groups decide what constitutes ‘true literature’” (Demoor, Saeys, and Lievens 2008, 32). This aptly applies to the awarding of literary prizes.

It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the complex framework that sits beneath the Neds’ overwhelming failure to recognise women writers among their Best Fiction winners. The currently available data on the awards themselves also make such an analysis difficult. It is ACWA policy, for example, not to reveal the names of Ned Kelly judges – judges may do so themselves on an individual basis (Chisholm 2017). Judging criteria are not available for earlier years and criteria established by ACWA in more recent (unspecified) years remain confidential (Chisholm 2017). Nominations lists for all the Best Fiction awards are not available.

However, shortlists for this category are available for the 2008-2017 period. While this ten-year span is less than half of the awards’ twenty-three-year history, examination of the data is instructive. Over this period, 45 books were shortlisted for the Neds’ Best Fiction prize. Of these, 16 (36 per cent) were by women and 29 (64 per cent) by men. In other words, a little over a third of shortlisted books were by women. Eleven winners were named in this period (with two winners in 2006). Of these, two were by women (18 per cent) and nine (82 per cent) by men. The percentage of winning books by women was therefore half that of those books by women which were shortlisted.

On a year-by-year basis for 2008-2017, the shortlists were dominated by men. In two years no female authors were shortlisted at all and in five years women made up the minority of those shortlisted. Only in one year, 2017, did shortlisted books by women outnumber those by men. In that year, the winner was male writer Adrian McKinty for Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (McKinty 2017).

In the absence of more complete data it is impossible to draw any conclusions about how the Neds’ shortlists do or do not reflect the Neds’ nominations lists and the gender breakdown of nominated authors. However, it is clear that women were writing crime fiction in significant numbers during this period. Analysis of the Davitt Awards over the same period (2008-2017) shows that 344 books by women were nominated for the Davitts’ Best Adult Novel. Across the entire history of the Davitts (2001-2017), a total of 440 books were nominated in this category. Additionally, nominations for young adult and children’s fiction have been made over the award’s history, numbering around 150 titles.


Crime fiction, it has been argued, is one of the most masculine of literary genres, vehemently masculine according to leading women crime writers such as Sara Paretsky and Patricia Cornwell (Bradford 2015, 825). This masculinity is evident in the depiction of the genre’s lead characters. In the words of American crime writer Raymond Chandler: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honour…” (cited in Porter 2003, 97).

Chandler’s man of the mean streets has been a mainstay of crime fiction since the emergence of American hardboiled crime fiction in the 1930s (Bradford 2015, 128). The often solo male detective, however, pre-dates the depiction of Chandler’s detective. The earliest detective novels, from the mid-nineteenth century, source much of their inspiration from the 1842 establishment of London’s Metropolitan Police Force. Their protagonists were typically modelled on the officers employed in this new male-only enclave (Kayman 2003, 44), although some female detectives emerged in literature before they were appointed in real life as police officers or lawyers (Gouthro 2012, 35).

The centrality of the detective has persisted in modern crime fiction in the form of the ‘crime solver’ (often referred to generically as the ‘detective’). He is most often a man (despite the presence of notable female heroes such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Sara Paretsky’s V I Warshawski, and Australian Jennifer Rowe’s Tessa Vance). The crime solver comes in a variety of guises – detective, police officer, private eye (PI), lawyer, forensic scientist, psychological profiler, or amateur sleuth. Despite the crime solver’s many vocations, he or she has one main purpose: to undertake, as the novel’s “principle agent of coherence”, the process of detection, that is, to solve the crime (Kayman 2003, 44).

In its most traditional form, then, crime fiction is driven largely by plot, such as the three-part structure of crime-detection-solution, the clue-puzzle narrative, or the pre- and post-crime revelations of commission and detection (Knight 2003, 77, Maitland 2014, 13). Red herrings, false leads and fake culprits are a critical part of the mix. While character development occurs, as in exemplars such as Peter Temple’s Truth (the first crime novel to win the Miles Franklin Award) (Temple 2009), it is rarely allowed to detract from the genre’s essential requirements to solve the central puzzle and, more often than not, mete out justice.

A less frequent but persistent sub-genre in Australian crime fiction is the ‘criminal saga’ in which the criminal is the central character. These novels arise from the Australian readiness to valorise the criminal (Knight 1997, 49-50). (The title of the Ned Kelly Awards, named for one of Australia’s most notorious and arguably beloved bushrangers, is a case in point.) While there may be some exploration of character, the resolution of the crime is rarely the central aim of these stories. Instead, it is the planning and commission of crime and the evasion of justice that drive the narratives, such as in Garry Disher’s Wyatt series and Peter Doyle’s Billy Glasheen novels (Disher 2010, Doyle 1998, 1996).

For both the crime solver and the criminal a commitment to solution or escape requires singleness and single-mindedness. Expertise lies in “solitary brilliance” (Priestman 2003, 5). The protagonist must be driven and must be free to pursue resolution without distraction. Personal life is rarely central to the story. It is more often a brief stopover in an understocked home and a quick shag with whichever sassy, long-legged blonde (or tall and handsome brunette) is part of the latest relational dysfunction. Encumbrance by family, children or live-in partners is not the norm. Home and personal life are wayside stops in a narrative driven by external action. Family relations and domestic life are disruptions to ratiocination (reasoning to solve the crime) and the heroic nature of the chase and the chaser (Schutt 2003, 59, 64). Cynthia Crossen notes: “There’s no occupation more quintessentially macho than that of private detective. The classic male detective is a hard-bitten loner who fires words like small-calibre bullets. He has an infuriating (and admirable) disregard for what people think of him. He almost never flashes back to intimate moments with his mommy, and he never ever dithers over what to wear to nail a perp. He doesn’t actually like killing, but if he has to, he has to. He certainly never acts like a baby about it” (Crossen 1994).

As for family ties, so for the softer emotions. Sympathy and sentiment are at best distractions and are at worst weaknesses. Reason and aggression save the day. The interior life of the protagonist is of interest only insofar as it drives the story—it is rarely a matter for concern in and of itself.

Crime fiction in its most traditional form is therefore the triumph of reason over emotion, solitariness over relationship, externality over interiority, and aggression and toughness over softness. It is the triumph of dominant masculinity over femininity, other masculinities and other gendered identities. It exemplifies Raewyn Connell’s hegemonic masculinity (Connell 2005).

The aim of Sisters in Crime in establishing the Davitts was to create recognition for female crime writers – not explicitly to change this very masculine nature of the genre itself. However, an examination of the Davitts’ winning adult novels suggests that the Davitts have also produced an important side effect—they have contributed to the wounding of the masculinity of crime fiction and made spaces for a more diverse range of protagonists. In arguing this, I will compare three aspects of the Neds’ Best Fiction and the Davitts’ Best Adult Novel protagonists: their gender, their occupation, and their family status.


The Ned Kelly Awards’ Best Fiction protagonists are overwhelmingly male. Of the 25 winning books from 1995 to 2017, all feature male protagonists. Of these 22 (88 per cent) have only male protagonists, 19 (76 per cent) of these featuring solo males and three (12 per cent) in joint male partnerships. Only three of the 25 novels (12 per cent) feature female protagonists and these must share the pages with their male counterparts. There are no all-female teams and no solo females. Across the 25 novels there are a total of 32 protagonists. Of these, 29 (91 per cent) are male and three (9 per cent) are female.

The three books featuring female protagonists are spread over the awards’ history: Barry Maitland’s 1996 winner The Malcontenta, Garry Disher’s 2007 winner Chain of Evidence, and Candice Fox’s 2015 winner Eden(in which there is one female and two male protagonists). Maitland’s Kathy Kolla and Disher’s Ellen Destry are police officers whose partners are male officers of more senior rank. Despite their lower rank, they have agency within the narrative. It is Kolla’s determination to solve a suspicious death in The Malcontenta that drives the narrative (Maitland 1995). In Chain of Evidence, Destry finds herself leading an investigation into a missing child while her boss Hal Challis is in South Australia waiting for his father to die (Disher 2007). Only Fox’s police officer Eden Archer is equal in both rank (with her detective partner, Frank Bennett) and agency within the narrative. The story moves between Archer, Bennett and Archer’s criminal father Hades. Each offers a critical part of a complex puzzle of disappearances, child abuse and sexual predation (Fox 2015).

While there is a strong association between an award that is dominated by men and books that are dominated by male protagonists, a direct correlation cannot be drawn from author to character. Two of the three books written by women have male protagonists: Gabrielle Lord’s 2002 winner Death Delights and J C Burke’s 2012 winner Pig Boy (Lord 2001, Burke 2011). Similarly, two of the female protagonists were written by men (Maitland and Disher). What is consistent, however, is the seniority of male police officers over their female subordinates.

The Davitts’ Best Adult Novel winners show a more distributed gender pattern in relation to their protagonists. Of the 18 winning novels from 2001 to 2017, 12 (67 per cent) have female protagonists, with ten (56 per cent) having only female protagonists (solo and more than one) and two (11 per cent) with joint female and male leads. Eight (45 per cent) of the winners have male protagonists, with one third (six) featuring solo males. There are no all-male partnerships. Twenty-four protagonists exist across the 18 winning novels. Of these, 16 (67 per cent) are women and eight (33 per cent) are men.

As the comparison in Table 1 demonstrates, the Davitts exhibit a significant shift to the inclusion of female protagonists (with females in the majority) and a greater gender balance overall.

Table 1: Ned Kelly Best Fiction Winners (1995-2017) & Davitt Awards Best Adult Novel Winners (2001-2017)

Gender of Protagonist (n)




Solo females



Female-female leads



Female-male leads



Male-male leads



Solo males






At the same time, the more traditional motif of the solitary protagonist persists within the Davitts, with 13 of the 18 winning novels featuring solo protagonists. Women protagonists take on this solo role in seven (39 per cent) of the novels, such as in Caroline Shaw’s 2001 winnerEye to Eye, Gabrielle Lord’s 2003 winnerBaby Did a Bad, Bad Thing, and Katherine Howell’s 2011 winner Cold Justice (Shaw 2000, Lord 2004, Howell 2010). The Neds, by contrast, recognise no solo females.

Of the two Davitts’ books with mixed gender lead characters, only Alex Palmer’s 2003 joint winner Blood Redemption features a police team. The book follows an investigation by a junior female, Detective Constable Grace Riordan, and her senior partner, Detective Inspector Paul Harrigan (Palmer 2003). By contrast, Janette Turner Hospital’s 2004 winning novel, Due Preparations for the Plague, steps outside the detective genre. Its two leading characters, housepainter Lowell Hawthorne and university student Samantha Raleigh, equally share the stage in this terrorism sub-genre (Hospital 2004).

The all-female-protagonist books, Kathryn Fox’s 2005 winner Malicious Intent, Katherine Howell’s 2008 winner Frantic and Liane Moriarty’s 2015 winner Big Little Lies, do not establish a work-based hierarchy: the lead characters come from separate workplaces and professions (Fox 2004, Howell 2011, Moriarty 2014). Big Little Lies explores a different sort of hierarchy through the experiences of one of the novel’s three protagonists, Jane. A single mother and poorer than the middle-class families in the coastal New South Wales town in which the novel is set, she is made to keenly feel the pinch of social, school-ground and class hierarchy (Moriarty 2014).


The 32 protagonists of the Neds’ Best Fiction winners are almost exclusively drawn from the criminal justice system, with 24 (75 per cent) working in law enforcement (16 as police officers, four as criminological experts, and four as private eyes). A further six (19 per cent) come from the other side of the criminal justice fence i.e. they are criminals. All the criminals are male. The three female protagonists are police officers. In total, 30 (94 per cent) of the 32 protagonists are from one side or the other of the criminal justice system.

The two remaining protagonists within the ‘Other’ category are Shane Maloney’s hero Murray Whelan, a Victorian Labor Party adviser and later member of parliament (1997 winner The Brush-off), and J C Burke’s teenage hero, the pig shooter Damon Styles (2012 winner Pig Boy). Whelan assumes the traditional role of amateur (and bumbling) sleuth, but does so in the cause of his beloved party (Maloney 2004). Only Styles is not a solver of crimes. He is a youth caught up in the abuses of home life and the violence of adults, and stands accused of a crime he did not commit (Burke 2011).

The protagonists of the Davitts’ Best Adult Novel winners exhibit a much more diverse range of occupations, with an almost even split between those from within the criminal justice system and those from outside. Of the total 24 protagonists, 13 (54 per cent) are from within the criminal justice system (seven police officers, two criminological experts, and four private eyes). None are criminals. Eleven (46 per cent) are from the ‘Other’ category. Female and male protagonists are distributed across all the categories.

The ‘Other’ group encompasses a range of occupations, including, for the female characters, a professional cricketer, a paramedic, a journalist, a horse trainer, a university student, a part-time designer and mother, a part-time accountant and mother, and a fulltime mother and, for the male characters, an artist, a housepainter, and a man of mystery. As Sue Turnbull, a former national convenor of Sisters in Crime, claims, “When the Davitt awards were inaugurated 14 years ago, the heroes of women’s crime books were often PIs. Now they’re as likely to be cafe owners, yarn-bombers, financial investigators or forensic physicians” (Sisters in Crime Australia 2014).

In keeping with the puzzle format of the crime genre, a number of these ‘Other’ characters perform the role of amateur sleuth, including cricketer Marlo Shaw (Carolyn Morwood’s 2002 winner A Simple Death), gentleman artist Rowland Sinclair (Sulari Gentill’s 2012 winner A Decline in Prophets), freelance journalist Scout Davis (Maggie Groff’s 2013 winner Mad Men, Bad Girls and the Guerrilla Knitters Institute), and paramedic Sophie Phillips (Frantic) (Morwood 2001, Gentill 2011, Groff 2012, Howell 2011). Phillips is also the victim of crime: her husband has been shot and her son kidnapped. It is this that sets her on the path of finding the perpetrators, a quest that is neither a professional duty nor an interesting pastime (Howell 2011).

As a victim she is not alone among the Davitts’ protagonists. The two leads in Due Preparations for the Plagueare brought together as victims of the hijacking of a Paris to New York flight (Hospital 2004). In Big Little Lies, mother (and non-practising lawyer) Celeste is the victim of domestic violence while her friend, part-time accountant Jane, is the subject not of a criminal act but of ridicule and sexual misuse (Moriarty 2014).

Only in Honey Brown’s thriller Dark Horse is the protagonist, horse trainer Sarah Lehman, also the perpetrator of the central crime. In a moment of extreme mental disturbance she kills her unfaithful husband, from whom she’s separated, when he takes from her the one thing she has left, her beloved horse Tansy. It is an act she blanks from her memory. Brown does not valorise Lehman as a criminal, as in the criminal saga tradition, but explores the links between mental health, truth and the justice system (Brown 2013).

As Table 2 indicates, while the Neds’ protagonists are firmly entrenched in the criminal justice system, the Davitts’ protagonists come from all walks of life, including those that make space for parenthood.

Table 2

Ned Kelly Best Fiction Winners (1995-2017) & Davitt Awards Best Adult Novel Winners (2001-2017)

Occupation of Protagonist (n)



Police officer



Criminological expert



Private eye












The real-world criminal justice system is a sector dominated by men, both in terms of enforcement and criminality (Australian Institute of Criminology 2006, n.d.). In 2017, for example, only 22 per cent of sworn officers in the Australian Federal Police were women (Allen and Sibthorpe 2017). At 30 June 2016, of the 38,839 people incarcerated in adult corrective facilities across Australia, 92 per cent were men (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017). Given this and the early roots of the detective novel, it is perhaps unsurprising that mainly male protagonists dominate within the classic ‘detective’ or crime-solver genre. By contrast, the Davitts’ broader range of occupations makes space for protagonists who are outside the justice system, whether they be women or men.

Gender, family status and the protagonist

There are any number of permutations of what constitutes ‘family’. For the purpose of this paper, which seeks to examine the unencumbered nature of the crime-fiction protagonist, I have established four broad categories of family status: single (including divorced, separated and widowed), partnered, partnered with children, and non-partnered with children (single or formerly partnered). Within each of these there are of course nuances, various legal entities and the changing dynamics of family life.

Of the 32 Neds’ protagonists, 26 (81 per cent) are single, including all of the three females. Four are partnered with children (two with partnerships under stress) and two are non-partnered with children. Among the single men, three have former partners who are part of the narrative, to varying degrees. For example, for Detective Inspector Daniel Clement, the lead character of Dave Warner’s 2016 winner Before it Breaks, the story springs from Clement’s decision to follow his estranged wife to Broome so he can retain contact with his daughter Phoebe (Warner 2015).

Of the 24 Davitts’ protagonists, 18 (75 per cent) are single, four with former partners identified within the narrative. Three of the women are partnered with children and one is non-partnered with children. One woman and one man each have a partner.

In Table 3 it becomes clear that, in relation to singleness, the Davitts’ protagonists show a similar pattern to the Neds’ protagonists. Overwhelmingly, the lead characters are single and are free to pursue the crime puzzle.

Table 3

Ned Kelly Best Fiction Winners (1995-2017) & Davitt Awards Best Adult Novel Winners (2001-2017)

Family Status of Protagonist (n)









Partnered with children



Non-partnered with children






For both the Neds and the Davitts, where children and families do exist (including those who are estranged), these are most often used as one of two plot mechanisms: to spur the protagonists into the story with little thought for the consequences or to act as targets of the increasing level of threat which is a mainstay of crime fiction. In this latter role, they are the ante that is upped.

Peter Temple’s Jack Irish, for example, is flung into the world of bag-carrying and horserace-fixing following the brutal murder of his wife. (Temple won the Neds’ award in 2001 and 2003 for two of his Jack Irish series novels, Dead Point and White Dog respectively (Temple 2014, 2004). To protect the living, Katherine Howell’s Sophie Phillips, normally a law-abiding paramedic, stalks the streets of Sydney and commits her own crimes in a desperate bid to find her abducted ten-month-old son (Howell 2011). Heather Rose’s Henry Kennedy in the Davitts’ 2006 winner The Butterfly Man also must do everything to protect his partner Lili and her family. Yet the greatest threat to the ones he loves and their idyllic life on the slopes of Mount Wellington may be the secrets of his own past associated with the murder of Lord Lucan’s nanny in London in 1974 (Rose 2006).


Crime fiction is rarely defined; even those texts dedicated to its analysis fail to provide a definition. According toThe Oxford English Dictionary, crime fiction is nothing more complicated than ‘fiction that has crime as its central theme’ [my emphasis]. Crime itself is defined as ‘an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law’ (English Oxford Living Dictionaries 2017). As to sub-genres, there are many—thriller, cosy, supernatural, mystery, spy, detective, noir, hardboiled, whodunnit, historical, and police procedural, to name a few.

John Frow argues that genre is fluid and subject to renewal through specialisation or new combinations (Frow 2006, 71). Crime fiction’s sub-genres overlap and transmute and combine with other genres. Within the Australian context, Graeme Blundell maps the changes to the genre over the past twenty years, arguing it has moved from a genre largely written for entertainment, for example, to one with a strong emphasis on social commentary (Blundell 2010) (paras. 9, 10). Martin Priestman may therefore argue with some degree of accuracy that, despite a concentration on the lone (usually male) detective, “the attempt to apply rigid single-hero whodunnit rules to this genre is becoming increasingly futile” (Priestman 2003, 5).

Priestman’s view, however, is not borne out by an examination of the winners of the Ned Kelly Best Fiction awards. Overwhelmingly, the winning novels are written by men about men, who work alone and are exemplars of the criminal justice system. While the single-hero whodunnit dominates the Neds’ fiction winners list, the criminal saga—again led by solo males—is a significant sub-genre. The single exception in this list is Burke’s Pig Boy and its young hero, who struggles to find his place in the world. Perhaps coincidentally, Pig Boyis one of only three books penned by a woman and is the only young adult novel to be awarded the Best Fiction prize (Burke 2011).

The Davitts paint a somewhat different picture. Here the Best Adult Novel protagonists, written entirely by women, are most often women and are drawn equally from the criminal justice system and other occupations. Yet they continue to be mostly single, typically unencumbered by the distractions of marital fights or school lunches. The detective sub-genre continues to dominate, yet four of the 18 books—Due Preparations for the PlagueThe Butterfly ManDark Horse and Big Little Lies—are exemplars of other sub-genres (terrorism, mystery, thriller, and mummy-lit-meets-crime or domestic noir respectively) (Hospital 2004, Rose 2006, Brown 2013, Moriarty 2014). As such, they offer a broader range of lead characters than the Neds’ winners: characters with different motivations and preoccupations and characters who can as easily be women as they can be men.

This is not to claim that the Davitt Awards have singlehandedly disrupted the genre of Australian adult crime fiction, nor even that they have made a major contribution to changes in the genre. The awards exist within a historical context that has seen, over the last two hundred years at least, the rise of women’s literacy, a growth in the number of female authors, a growth in the number of women writing crime fiction, and the rise of women as the greatest readers of crime fiction – both in Australia and internationally (Bode 2009, 89, Franks 2014, 57, Zwar, Throsby, and Longden 2015, 2). Moreover, we have also seen the ongoing development of fiction targeted at female audiences, such as chick lit (Kennedy 2017, Farkas 2006). In addition, as Frow has suggested, new literary combinations have emerged, that merge the crime genre with other genres (see for example Temple’s The Broken Shore, Hospital’s Due Preparations for the Plague and Marianne Delacourt’s 2010 Davitts winner Sharp Shooter), creating sub-genres such as domestic noir and eco crime fiction (Temple 2005, Hospital 2004, Delacourt 2009, Franks, Gulddal, and Rolls 2016, 4, Beyer 2017, 5-6).

What can be claimed is that the Davitt Awards have provided recognition to female crime fiction writers. In so doing, they have awarded public value to forms of Australian crime fiction that have, for the most part, failed to receive recognition by both the Ned Kelly Awards and, in the near past, by publishers, reviewers and the mainstream media (Morris 2013, Sisters in Crime Australia 2016).

Speaking on crime fiction at the Davitt Awards dinner in 2003, Val McDermid made the claim that “it is the women who are showing genuine innovation at this point in the genre’s history” (Sisters in Crime Australia 2003). An analysis of the Ned Kelly Awards’ Best Fiction winners and the Davitt Awards’ Best Adult Novel winners suggests that McDermid is partially correct. The Davitt Awards have played a role in helping wound the masculinity of Australian crime fiction. The wound, however, is non-fatal. It remains too early to lay the lilies on the casket.


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