CWA International Dagger shortlist 2011and predicted winner

The shortlist for the CWA International Dagger was announced at CrimeFest in Bristol on Friday evening (click on title to see my review):

Andrea Camilleri – The Wings of the Sphinx tr. Stephen Sartarelli
Ernesto Mallo – Needle in a Haystack tr. Jethro Soutar
Jean-Francois Parot – The Saint-Florentin Murders tr. Howard Curtis
Roslund-Hellstrom – Three Seconds tr. Kari Dickson
Valerio Varesi – River of Shadows tr. Joseph Farrell
Fred Vargas – An Uncertain Place tr. Sian Reynolds
Domingo Villar – Death on a Galician Shore tr. Sonia Soto

The full list of eligible titles is at Euro Crime. Not all these titles will have been submitted for the prize by their publishers, but immediately it can be seen that the choices are independent ones: no Mankell, Fossum or Nesbo, who one might have expected to be automatic selections, and other well-known authors are omitted (eg Lackberg, Marklund and Sigurdardottir). Of the titles selected, I’ve read five and am currently reading An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas, which I’m enjoying so far (more so than some of her previous novels). I am not sure if I’ll read The Saint-Florentin Murders, but will check it out.

Of the five I have read, any would get my vote for the winner (which will be announced at Harrogate crime festival in July). All five have many points to recommend them and a few to count against them – there is no perfect storm of a winner (such as is sometimes provided by Johan Theorin and Arnaldur Indridason, both past CWA winners in various competitions). My two favourites of the eligible titles, Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder (tr Marlaine Delargy) and Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen (tr Lisa Hartford) did not make the shortlist (note, they may not have been submitted).

On balance I think my favourite is Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo. It’s got a solid, well-constructed crime plot, engaging characters, a social-political conscience and bags of tension. The ending is a real cliffhanger which has certainly continued to puzzle me. The Argentina setting makes the book distinctive from previous years, in which European titles have won.

I’d be happy for any of these excellent novels to win the prize, but the following explains why I prefer Needle in a Haystack.

Three Seconds: a scorchingly paced thriller, very exciting to read, but for me marred by an unsympathetic protagonist, unconvincingly convoluted political machinations, and some unlikely plot elements.
The Wings of the Sphinx: a charming, readable novel but not the greatest crime plot – Montalbano relies on the intuitive flash as usual.
Death on a Galician Shore: wonderful sense of place, atmosphere and traditional life, a well-put-together novel, and lovely family relationship between three men. The weakness is in the obvious crime plot, which lacks excitement or surprises. The byplay between the police characters is amusing but not as well done as it is in the first novel (Water Blue Eyes) in the series.
River of Shadows: again, a wonderful sense of place and atmosphere, particularly the river throughout and the old villages in the last section. The protagonist is both flat and not nice or nasty enough to gel (a hint of misogyny?), and though the plot is well constructed and suitably twisty, the action of the novel is too dependent on numerous trips between towns and repeated interviews.
An Uncertain Place: The only book on the shortlist by a woman. I have not finished this book yet and am enjoying it, but it is full of Vargas’s usual eccentricites and strange “cosy”/violent/academic assessment mix that makes me regard her novels as fables or allegories, rather than “proper” crime fiction. Also, she’s won the prize too often in previous years!

Well, I was right in my prediction last year (The Darkest Room by Johan Theorin) so I don’t expect to be so prescient two years running. Time will tell.

*Post updated. Here is the official announcement from the CWA, with an explanation as to why each shortlisted book was chosen.

All my previous International Dagger posts.

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17 thoughts on “CWA International Dagger shortlist 2011and predicted winner

  1. Maxine – What a thoughtful and intelligent discussion of the shortlist. I see exactly why you think Mallo deserves to win, too. I will admit, I have a soft spot for Camilleri and for Commissario Montalbano, but looking at it objectively, I think you make well-taken points. It’ll be interesting to see whether the CWA agrees with you ;-).

    In the meantime, you’ve made me wonder a bit what goes into a publisher’s decision to submit or not submit a book to the competition. I’d like to know more about exactly how publishers make that decision…

  2. Thanks, Margot. I don’t know how they decide, but I think for most of these competitions the publisher has to pay to enter. I don’t know if that is the case for this one, though. I suppose to some extent it depends on how “on the ball” is the pubisher’s publicity dept, and their budget ;-)

    I too have a soft spot for Camilleri, but I think his earlier novels are a lot better than his recent output, which is a little flat. (Even Montalbano seems to have lost enthusiasm for those wonderful meals).

    BTW I just realised that this list has a male author called “Andrea” and a female author called “Fred”! (Though the latter is a pseudonym for something more obviously female.)

  3. Maxine- I left Crime Fest after the Int Dagger announcement due to family commitments so I have not had the opportunity to dissect the shortlist with the care you have shown. I have read six of the seven and had the seventh Parot on my Kindle, so I was able to start reading although away from home.
    I was very pleased the Mallo and Villar made the shortlist, but now wonder has the ascendancy of Nordic crime fiction waned. In 2009 five out of the six books shortlisted were from Nordic countries with three from Sweden, now in 2011 there was only the Roslund -Hellstrom among the seven books. Thanks for your analysis.

  4. The judges seem to prefer more literary novels with a sense of place
    and history –rather than a crime novel which more focuses on
    suspence and tension. I did not think the Vargas or Camilleri were
    at their best , and I can’t help thinking that the list reflects the
    judges tastes rather than reflecting the best crime fiction in translation-
    however one defines that.

  5. I’m not going to read this post yet, will try to get my hands on some of the books before July and will then come back for your thoughts. Not all these have been released here so not that easy to get for someone trying desperately not to buy loads more books (if only they were all available in eBook I’d be a happy camper).

  6. I’ve only read the Villar, but I was very pleased to see it make the list. I hadn’t realized that publishers need to actually submit the works and perhaps have to pay to do so. It would be interesting to see what the original list looked like before it was whittled down. I have the Mallo so will read it at some point (I’m tempted to start it now, but I have too many other books under way to do so without feeling guilty). I’m very curious about the Parot as it seems sort of an unlikely choice since it is a historical novel, but then I don’t have a lot of experience with the CWA list choices from previous years. I did break down and order a used copy even though I prefer to start from the beginning. I am reading the Ceder now as well as the Adler-Olsen and enjoying both by the way.

  7. Thanks for all these comments.

    Norman – completely agree that there are many excellent books being published from Scandinavia and their “ascendancy” has not diminished. Next year will doubtless show this with new titles from Theorin and Indridason (the Indridason eligible this year was an older book only just translated, and not part of his Erlunder series). If Mercy and Frozen Moment were not submitted, they should have been as in my view they should easily have made the shortlist (both Scandinavian). Other eligible Scandinavian books that didn’t make it (Mankell, Nesbo, Sigurdardottir, Lackberg, Marklund) could just as easily have done, they are no “worse” than the actual selections.

    Simon – yes exactly, I have just struggled through the Vargas, not sure whether to review it. These books I do think in some cases reflect the personalities of the judges – I think they are supposed to change every 3 years but I don’t think this has happened in all cases! It is necessary to have a fresh pair of eyes now and again or the same type of book gets a disproportionate advantage.

    Danielle – so glad you are enjoying Ceder and Adler-Olsen.

  8. Maxine-I loved the Vargas, but then I am probably as eccentric as her characters.
    Last year’s cat owning very knowledgeable new brain on the judging panel resulted in the best crime novel on the short list winning, something that has not always happened in the past.
    The prestige and extra sales from winning the ID surely outweighs any charge made by the CWA for a book to be entered? Or does it?

  9. Norman – Vargas is like an olive – love or hate, I think! I wonder if winning the ID does result in vastly increased sales? Not so sure. (Unfortunately it does not result in a vastly increased infusion of cash to the author and translator, I think the prize is fairly meagre since that rich bank pulled out as sponsor.)

  10. Thanks for this update and commentary. I have not read one of these seven, but plan to by mid-July, obtaining them as 2 from the library, one which I fortunately won, and the rest will have to purchase from the Book Depository or Amazon or used at Abe Books, although a few are pretty costly. But I’ll wait a bit to see if the prices come down.
    I am a Vargas fan, think her unequaled in creativity and imagination, who writes as far from formulaic as is possible.
    A friend read her nominated book in French, liked it much. I will, however, read it in English as soon as I can locate a copy over here.
    And look forward to upcoming comments, too.

  11. Pingback: Book Review: An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas | Petrona

  12. The entrance fee is quite low, I think it’s £15 a book? Plus sending out several copies of the book to the judges & chair. The comments are very interesting.

  13. I’m glad the bar is set so low in this case, Karen – basically £15 barely covers admin fees! I know that publishers have to pay £100s to enter some competitions. (And remember when they tried not to let Quercus enter TGWTDT for an ITV award on the grounds that the author was dead!?).
    Returning to the ID, it seems to me then, that one big issue is how “on the ball “the publisher/publicity dept is. One can only do so much encouraging and glowing reviewing! Though if the CWA were flooded with submissions they would probably have to find more judges as it’s a lot to read.

  14. I must get round to Vargas and Mallo on the TBR, but I seem to run into (ehm, accept) books I feel an obligation to read and review first. And it is not exactly as if CrimeFest made my reading choice easier – my ´get three, buy one´ principle helped a lot financially, but it takes just as long time to read a free book ;)

  15. Excellent post Maxine, as always. Have still two books to read. My favourites so far were both written originally in Spanish, but I know I’m biased.

  16. Pingback: International Dagger winner 2011 | Petrona

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