And the winner is…

…I’ve no idea. The only thing that can be virtually guaranteed is that my personal selection for best of the shortlisted novels for the UK Crime Writers Association International Dagger Award for translated crime fiction will not be the one chosen by the judges. ‘Cos I rarely get these things right. However having bothered to read all the shortlisted novels I feel I’m at least entitled to a few thoughts on the subject.

I’m actually not much of a follower of awards but when the shortlist for this particular award was announced I had already read two of the six books and had another two on my TBR shelves so I made a deliberate choice to read all six of the books prior to the announcement of the winner. At least then, I thought to myself, I can legitimately rant long and loud about how the judges got it wrong (not that I’m averse to doing this in other circumstances but having read all the possible winners would, I imagined, give my ranting some gravitas).

Alas, it is not to be.

You see the judges have made a great selection of titles for the shortlist. They are a disparate collection of sub-genres and writing styles but there is not a dud among them. Naturally there are ones I liked more than others but I simply cannot see myself moving into major rant mode even if my least preferred of the books were to take the title. For better or worse no matter how things turn out on 23 July we will not see a repeat of the month-long rant that followed the announcement of Peter Bloody Carey winning his second Booker Prize for the un-punctuated ramble that is True History of the Kelly Gang.

In fact I am quite glad that I am not judging this particular prize. It would of course be a great pleasure to crown the winner (whoever he might be) (the only dead cert is that it will be a he) (though it could in fact be a dead he and I don’t fancy crowning a corpse). But I think I might feel awful about letting down the other nominees. For heaven’s sake I’ve rated four of the six books 5 stars out of 5.

I do find it a little easier to knock out Andrea Camilleri’s August Heat (though the translation by Stephen Sartarelli might just be the best of the bunch, it is certainly exquisite) and Tonino Benacquista’s Badfellas (translated by Emily Read) which I thought were both good but not great books. But when it comes to the remaining four I’m just about down to tossing a coin (assuming I can find a four-sided coin of course).

  • I loved the conclusion to Stieg Larsson’s famous trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (translated by Reg Keeland), and even all these months after reading it I am warmed by the way it fiercely and proudly depicts strong female characters, shows a side to Sweden that most of us probably found surprising and gloried in the role that investigative journalism rarely plays but is so sorely needed these days.
  • I cried (in a good way) upon finishing Arnaldur Indriðason’s Hypothermia (translated by Victoria Cribb). I found it a sad, beautiful and a totally compelling story that shows you don’t have to have 197 plot threads to make a great book
  • Johan Theorin’s The Darkest Room (translated by Marlaine Delargy) was truly haunting (in a literal and figurative sense) and I still find myself thinking of the many absorbing characters including storm-battered island of Öland
  • And finally there is Deon Meyer’s Thirteen Hours (translated by K L Seegers) which I only read this week but found to be a simply perfect example of its sub genre and the book most likely to be hurled at the next person to sneer at me that crime fiction isn’t proper literature.

In the end my personal favourite of these wonderful books is, by the width of a bee’s private parts (to misquote Monty Python), Hypothermia, though I have oscillated frequently on the subject and am only putting an opinion in writing because it would be churlish not to.

I’ve an idea it won’t win the award though.

If the award is for the best example of the genre then I’d be hard pressed not to plump for Thirteen Hours which does, I think, most perfectly encapsulate everything that is good about crime fiction (written first in English or not) in 2010.

I wonder though if The Girl Who… might not just take it out. It’s both a great book and one that has done much for crime fiction in general and translated crime fiction in particular. And I don’t think too many people would begrudge a win by what would be a sentimental favourite.

Any way it goes the award will be going to a deserving winner and I feel very grateful to all the authors and their splendid translators for providing me many happy hours of though-provoking entertainment.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

If you’ve not yet done so you can vote at Euro Crime (see the very top of the right hand side bar) for the book you want to win the award and again for the book you think will win the award.

This entry was posted in Andrea Camilleri, Arnaldur Indriðason, Deon Meyer, Johan Theorin, Stieg Larsson, Tonino Benacqusita. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to And the winner is…

  1. Bernadette – What a terrific discussion of these books! As difficult as choosing the winner is going to be, it is wonderful that they’re all such great books. I think it’s much worse if the winner turns out to be a book that didn’t even deserve to be in the running in the first place. I’m not sure which the winner is going to be, although I think you have strong arguments for The Girl Who…. It’ll be interesting to see what happens…


  2. Kerrie says:

    Yes you have a real problem there.. I agree so many excellent contenders


  3. Maxine says:

    I concur, Bernadette, that this is too close to call. My favourites to win would be between Darkest Room and Hypothermia, with (I think) DR slightly ahead as it is more of a rounded story compared with a “series novel” – although I personally related so much to Hypothermia’s protag that I can’t be very objective about it. Hornet’s Nest is a great read but frankly it needs the other two in order to have full impact, so is not an independent book in the same respect as the others, I think – though it is a fantastically orginal trilogy and its success is well deserved. Like you, I loved its old-fashioned campaigning journalism and its heart – that society actually cares about the bad businessmen et al being exposed and it actually can make a difference. (However, I think Hornet’s had more flaws in the crime plot than some of the other contenders, eg why was Zalander so important for so long to the authorities after defecting, and hence allowed to get away with what he did? I hope this does not give away any spoilers.) I also think it contained themes that the author was planning to pick up in later novels, eg the sister’s role.


  4. kathy durkin says:

    This is such a good blog about the Dagger shortlist. I have only read two of them: TGWKTHN and Hypothermia. Like you, I loved Book III, the revealing of the conspiracy, the vindication of Salander–and, a big plus, the presence of several fantastic, strong, brilliant women characters, including Annika Giannini, but the others, too, including Erica Berger, the others in journalism, the cops, the agents, the security expert, etc. It made me think that the absurd ideas of some publishers that thrillers have to focus on strong male protagonists and make women only peripheral, either assistants or objects or potential partners for the male lead, is tossed aside by the popularity of this book with its strong women.
    And, like you, I also cried at the end of Hypothermia. I couldn’t believe I was crying while reading a mystery–a rare occurrence–but I was. And I checked online to see if Indridason wrote more books starring Erlander after this one and he did–but, as of now, they’re not translated. I would love to see what happens next.
    Have The Darkest Room on reserve at the library and, unbelievably, Thirteen Hours is not in our library system. Would like to read that soon. Badfellas is not accessible through our library and I’ll find Camilleri’s book there.
    Anyway, agreed with all of the aforementioned on what I’ve read; don’t know who’ll win the Dagger, but agree it will be a male author–dead or alive. (At first, I worried about no women authors being on the list but then realized that Fred Vargas, whose books I adore, got the Dagger for three years in a row.)


  5. Maxine says:

    I think Vargas won it three years out of four, but another woman, Dominique Manotti, won in the intervening year, Kathy 😉 . I think a woman has won every year since the award was started (previously, Arnaldur Indridason won twice when translated authors were eligible for the main dagger), so it is fair enough for a man to win this time 😉
    Totally agree on these books you highlight. I hope you managed to read Echoes from the Dead before The Darkest Room, though. TDR isn’t a direct sequel, but there are lots of nice touches that you’ll appreciate if you have read EFTD.
    I do agree about the strong women characters in Hornets’ nest – I think you also wrote about these in your excellent review of the book, Bernadette.


  6. kathy durkin says:

    I wasn’t terribly worried about no women’s names being on the International Daggers’ shortlist, as not only have women won in the past, but this year’s nominations for other CWA awards–the Dagger in the Library, the Debut Dagger, for instance, are full of women authors. And Val McDermid did win a big prize this year.
    I wouldn’t mind seeing a list of what the CWA picked for top books by women authors, in general, but for now, I’m going with Petrona’s international list and reviews and those at this terrific website blog, EuroCrime and a few others. And then drawing up a budget for the Book Depository as those books take an eon to get here to libraries and bookstores.


  7. Hi, I’m the CWA’s webmaster. We intend to launch a new CWA website (on the same address on 23rd July, and will post the results as soon as we can after they happen.

    If you use Twitter, any tweet with the hashtag #thedaggers will show up on our new site. So why not give it a go?


  8. OK, now I’ve got to read both Hypothermia and Thirteen Hours. Thanks for your comments on all of these!


  9. kathy durkin says:

    Yes, the review of Thirteen Hours is so good, but even my local crime store won’t have it until September, so international ordering may happen.


  10. JoV says:

    A surge in your blogging activities may signify the change of weather in Australia, is it winter already? 😀

    Peter “Bloody” Carey, ha ha, that really tickles my funny bones…

    Thanks for dropping by my blog, I admire your perseverence to persist with the Global Reading Challenge as not many would have successfuly gone all the way down to Antartica like you did. Such a wonderful take on Hypothermia, I must put this on my Crime fiction TBR, I think I have eyed enough crime fiction titles to join some crime fiction reading challenge next year!


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