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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Analyzing the Dagger Nominees 

I have returned from my morning activities (involving electromagnetic stimulation, poking, prodding, and coffee. I leave the rest to your imagination.) And as promised, will now take a look at the Dagger Award nominees and offer a preliminary prediction or two.

The Gold and Silver Daggers for Fiction

These are the flagship awards without a doubt. The last two years, however, the Gold Dagger winners were greeted with a tremendous amount of controversy because they were written in languages other than English and then translated. Those who grumbled wondered why the CWA--purportedly giving awards to the best in British Crime Fiction--were rewarding authors who, well, weren't writing in English. And how does one know if the translated version is the author's true voice? What book are readers actually getting?

Well, based on this year's shortlist, the "problem", if you will, isn't going away anytime soon, since 1/3 of the nominees are crime novels in translation. As I said earlier today, though, I liked the Akunin and Lucarelli novels very much, and don't have any problems with them being on the shortlist.

The other interesting thing about the shortlist is that only one US author appears on the list, Robert Littell. Last year, James Crumley took home the Silver Dagger, and James Lee Burke and Michael Connelly were nominated as well. So what happened this year? Was it a concerted effort on the part of the committee to keep things closer to home? Was it simply a matter of taste? Hard to say, of course, but it's something to note.

Anyway, the bottom line is that if a translated novel wins for the third year in a row, I expect things to go beyond mere griping and perhaps lead to some changes in how the shortlist is created. That being said...I rather think that will happen. Although the early favorites are Robert Wilson and Minette Walters, I have a sneaking suspicion one, or both, may end up empty-handed.

The Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction

True Crime is a genre that has fallen off considerably, and especially so in the UK. The only book on the list I have even remotely heard of is Erik Larson's THE DEVIL AND THE WHITE CITY, and it's easy to pick that as the favorite. So I'll say that it doesn't have a chance in hell.

The John Creasey Memorial Dagger

There simply should have been more nominees. For one thing, the Steel Dagger contains two debuts, the Historical Dagger has three and only one out of all of these--DISSOLUTION--appears on the Creasey list. Is there some rule against serious award overlap? I'm really shaking my head here. Aside from debuts from Chris Simms, Edward Wright and Babs Horton that I mentioned earlier today, Edwin Thomas's THE BLIGHTED CLIFFS was great fun. Erin Hart's HAUNTED GROUND was a wonderfully written book, one I expect will be on a fair number of US award shortlists next year. Surely the committee could have found a couple of other books worth nominating.

As for a prediction, it's probably CJ Sansom's award to lose. This book has had a tremendous buzz going for it for a while now, well before it was published in the spring. But my vote goes to William Landay. And as for Rod Duncan, it's a nice gesture to put him on the list, but he's a serious longshot to take it.

I don't have a lot to say about the Short Story Dagger except that Marion Arnott is a perennial staple and likely has a good chance to win.

The Ian Fleming Steel Dagger

This award was created out of wholesale cloth last year to highlight the best thriller. Last year's winner--John Creed's THE SIRIUS CROSSING-- was a bit of a surprise, but only to those who hadn't read it. Creed is the pseudonym of acclaimed Irish author Eoin McNamee, author of RESURRECTION MAN, THE BLUE TANGO and probably amongst my all-time favorite writers. Anyway, the shortlist was filled with big names and interesting digressions, and the current list is no different. Littell repeats his nomination here, but the biggest name on the list is Lee Child for his latest Jack Reacher novel, PERSUADER. Curiously, Dan Fesperman's THE SMALL BOAT OF GREAT SORROWS appears here when it seems--at least to me--far more suited for inclusion amongst the main list. The two debuts--Roger Jon Ellory's CANDLEMOTH and Lucretia Grindle's THE NIGHTSPINNERS--are interesting choices but likely not going to factor in the final vote.

The winner? I could see it going to PERSUADER, but my feeling is that something more espionage-y will take it. I don't expect Robert Littell to win the Gold Dagger so he might win this instead as a consolation prize.

The Ellis Peters Historical Dagger

Mike Stotter's prediction is Andrew Taylor's THE AMERICAN BOY, and to be honest, I can't really argue. I haven't read it yet but since I like historical thrillers that I can sink my teeth into, this should fit the bill quite nicely. That being said, the shortlist appears to be very strong. Tom Bradby's THE WHITE RUSSIAN really captured the flavor of Revolutionary Russia juxtaposed against a not-so-simple case of murder. I've already discussed DISSOLUTION, and Olen Steinhauer and Lee Jackson's books have had favorable reviews and press. But like the Steel, I don't really expect a first time novelist to win here, and same applies for Marcello Fois's book--yet another book in translation (one that, incidentally, I never finished.) So the race is between Bradby and Taylor, and think I'll go with the latter choice as well.

So there you have it. The results will be announced at a luncheon at the Brewery, Chiswell Street, London on Thursday 13 November. No doubt some will be happy, others far less so. But after all, if there was a consensus on award-giving, what's fun about that?




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