I am the last person in the world to have heard about the CWA International Dagger award for 2009, announced last night. Fred Vargas and her translator Sian Reynolds won for The Chalk Circle Man,the most Harry Potter-esque of the shortlist. Because I go to bed at about 9 pm and wake at 6 am, and the internet (social aspect) is not part of my routine until I get home at night, everyone else had reacted to this news long before I received it via an industry email sent to my work account this afternoon. Predictably there is much comment that the winning book is (1) by an author who has already won twice; (2) the only non-Nordic book on the shortlist; and (3) is French. OK I made that last one up – but taking into account last year's winner, Dominique Manotti with Lorraine Connection, translated by Amanda Hopkinson and Ros Schwartz, with Vargas and Reynolds again for 2007 and 2006 (Wash This Blood Clean from my Hands and The Three Evangelists, respectively), Gallic honours are very high.
Incidentally, in the context of this award, "international" means "translated into English from their original language, for UK publication". Books originally written in English whatever the nationality of the author qualify for the main annual award, for example Peter Temple deservedly won in 2007.
Returning to 2009, I believe that points (1), (2) and (3) are irrelevant in deciding the winner, and although the judge's choice wasn't the book I would have selected, I think it is a fine example of contemporary crime fiction (actually it was written quite a few years ago, but never mind – most foreign-language books seem to take a while to have English translations published). Another point to bear in mind is that all the books on the shortlist have flaws - of course, all books have flaws of some kind, but crime fiction does tend to suffer from cliche, formula and incredulity somewhat more than most, and these downsides can be applied at times to all the titles on the shortlist, I think.
Looking forward, I can already imagine a few strong candidates for next year's shortlist: The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg, translated by Steven T. Murray (reviews here at Euro Crime, Reading Matters and Nordic Bookblog); The Water's Edge by Karin Fossum, translated by Charlotte Barslund; and Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard, translated by Tiina Nunally. (Strangely, these are all Scandinavian!)
Some posts about the 2009 International Dagger awards:
Lying for a Living by Meg Gardiner, MC for the awards evening (lovely pictures).
Euro Crime blog
Crime Scraps: Fred Vargas wins again!
Discussion at Friend Feed.
Mysteries in Paradise: I am not always right.
Scandinavian crime fiction: c'est dommage.
It's a Crime…or a mystery.
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.