My contribution to the many posts about the CWA International Dagger shortlist

Trying to calm down a bit after that last post, I see from many blogs including Karen of Euro Crime and Norman/Uriah of Crime Scraps that the CWA International Dagger shortlist has been announced. It is an excellent list, and I think impossible to say which of these books is "better" than the others. I reproduce the list from Euro Crime blog:

Karin Alvtegen – Shadow (translated by McKinley Burnett)
Stieg Larsson – The Girl Who Played With Fire (translated by Reg Keeland)
Johan Theorin – Echoes From The Dead (translated by Marlaine Delargy)
Fred Vargas – The Chalk Circle Man (translated by Sian Reynolds)
Arnaldur Indridason – Arctic Chill (translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb)
Jo Nesbo – The Redeemer (translated by Don Bartlett)

I've read four from the shortlist, and of these, after much thought, I would recommend Shadow to win the prize. (Although I haven't read these particular books by Vargas and Nesbo, I have read others by these authors, and I venture to suggest that my proposed winner would not change had I read these titles.)

Indridason's novel is part of a masterly series of books, but Arctic Chill – though I loved it –  is not quite as good as the previous novel, Draining Lake. Some of the power in Arctic Chill rests on the book being part of the series, as it requires the reader to identify with the depressive main character, rather than for the book on its own, so for this reason I would not choose it as the winner, even though I loved its sympathy for the outsiders.

The Girl Who Played With Fire is hard to judge because one does not know how it would have turned out if the author had lived to make corrections and edits to tighten it up a bit and remove one or two obvious plot howlers. Although it's an incredibly exciting read, it has one major flaw – the irrelevant first third. (This section might not be irrelevant in context of the trilogy – the third component of which is not yet published in English – or of the planned but never to happen entire series of ten books, but in terms of The Girl Who Played with Fire as a book that needs to stand alone to win a prize, it has to count against it.) I think that this thrilling, campaigning trilogy will best be judged as a trilogy, and not as separate books.

This leaves me with Echoes from the Dead and Shadow as the two front-runners. Both these books are superb. On balance I would choose Shadow because it goes further down to the line of human emotion, parable and psychology, in its relentless investigation of the price of fame – what a man will do to achieve it, and the consequences of those actions. Also, the historical perspective of the effects of a regime of terror on the most tragic character in the book – the character who never has a voice but whose story is the one that lives on in the heart of the reader – adds a dimension of sorrow that lifts the book out of formula or genre. Another plus of this book is the way that it follows through its premise to the bitter end, without sentimentality or distraction.

Nevertheless, the depiction of a mother's longstanding grief in Echoes from the Dead is truly superb. I found the author's empathy with Julia to be awesome. The character of Julia's father is also delightful and memorable, both in itself and its insight into a way of life. I found the historical aspects of this book (the back-story of the outcast which is told in the middle section) not quite as strong as the rest, though the modern story was brilliantly absorbing. Although the denouement packed a great punch, the resolution of the older story was less satisfying than the brilliantly realised modern one.

In all honesty, I'd be happy whichever of these superb books wins the prize. But if I were the judge, I would award it, by a whisker, to Shadow, Karin Alvtegen's remarkable testament of the iron-cold grip of the past, the allegories of fable, the price of fame and political manouvering, the bitter family saga and the loneliness of age, with its inevitable alienation from the modern world. (Honours shared, of course, by the able and sympathetic translator, McKinley Burnett.)

6 thoughts on “My contribution to the many posts about the CWA International Dagger shortlist

  1. An impossible choice as I would not want to annoy either of the translators Reg Keeland or McKinley Burnett or both, they are nice guys.;o)
    I don’t think The Redeemer is Jo Nesbo and Don Bartlett’s strongest book but that is only because the other three are so superb.
    I haven’t read Shadow or The Chalk Circle Man yet, but I suspect the winner will be Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin translated by Marlaine Delargy.
    As soon as I finish the book i am reading i will start the Vargas and then on to the Alvtegen.
    Thanks for the link Maxine.

  2. I have read all 6 (and reviewed 5
    of them on Amazon). I guess Stieg Larsson will
    win–but I would go for Karin Alvtegen(by a
    short head from Johan Theorin).
    But all 6 well worth the read

  3. I’ll check out your Amazon reviews, Simon. Glad to see we agree – but you may well be right about Larsson. Karen points out that none of the Euro Crime reviewers guessed correctly last year!

  4. Maxine,
    And how about an early tip for next year’s
    International Dagger. Just finished
    The Library of Shadows –Mikkel Birkegaard-
    (trans–Tiina Nunnally)–tremendous–a must read
    for both lovers of thrillers and bibliophiles.
    I would not be surprised -if it became a cult
    book!

  5. Oh, how exciting, Simon. I was lucky enough to meet Tiina Nunnally at Crime Fest last month, and she gave me a copy of this book. She was very positive about it. So now I am looking forward to reading it even more.

  6. Yup, I’ll pick Birkegaard for next year, unless the Scando boom is over by then! But then I have a bias…

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