Pre-shortlist update on reading International Dagger possibles

My last update on my progress on reading the books eligible for the International Dagger for 2011 was in February. To qualify, books have to be translated, and published in the UK between May 2010 and June 2011. Karen continuously updates her essential Euro Crime blog post of eligible titles.

These are the books on the list that I had read when I wrote my last post on the subject (links go to my reviews):

The Wings of the Sphinx by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Italy)
Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder , translated by Marlaine Delargy (Sweden)
Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum, translated by Charlotte Barslund (Norway)
1222 by Anne Holt, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Norway)
Operation Napoleon by Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Victoria Cribb (Iceland)
Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo, translated by Jethro Soutar (Argentina)
Red Wolf by Liza Marklund, translated by Neil Smith (Sweden)
The Inspector and Silence by Hakan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson (Sweden)
Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif G W Persson, translated by Paul Norlen (Sweden, not reviewed).
Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, translated by Philip Roughton (Iceland)
River of Shadows by Valerio Varesi, translated by Joseph Farrell (Italy)
Shadow Sister by Simone van der Vlugt, translated by Michele Hutchison (The Netherlands)
Silence by Jan Costin Wagner, translated by Anthea Bell (German, setting Finland)
Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom, translated by Kari Dickson (Sweden)
Bunker by Andrea Maria Shenckel, translated by Anthea Bell (Germany)

At that time, my own personal favourites to date (in no special order) were Red Wolf, Frozen Moment and Needle in a Haystack.

Since that February post, limited slightly by UK publication dates, I have read:

Splinter by Sebastian Fitzek, translated by John Brownjohn (Germany, not reviewed)
The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Sweden, review submitted to Euro Crime)
The Gallows Bird by Camilla Lackberg, translated by Steven T. Murray (Sweden, review submitted to Euro Crime)
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson (Sweden)
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett (Norway)
Blood Sisters by Alessandro Perissinotto, translated by Howard Curtis (Italy)
A Short Cut to Paradise by Teresa Solana, translated by Peter Bush (Spain, not reviewed)
Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef, translated by Alexander Smith (The Netherlands)
Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar, translated by Sonia Soto (Spain)

Of the remainder, I’ll try to read two more (if available) before the announcement of the shortlist in early May:

Summertime by Mari Jungstedt
Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

On consideration, I am not planning to read any more from the ‘pool’ but if I haven’t read any on the official shortlist when revealed, I’ll undertake to read them before the winner is announced (which will probably mean I have to read Fred Vargas’s An Uncertain Place!).

So, which are my front-runners now? (Noting that English-language publication dates have changed for some books, eg Johan Theorin’s The Quarry, bumping them into next year’s eligibility criteria).

Well, unlike the past two years, there are no stand-outs. I am going to predict that The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen, Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom and An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas will make the shortlist, on the basis of the many glowing reviews I’ve read in the “mainstream media” and on blogs. My main objection to The Leopard was its unnecessary (but mercifully not many) descriptions of nasty torture; other than that it is a very exciting book though once you have read a few of these you can see how the author’s mind works and second-guess some of the twists. As a mystery, The Leopard has flaws but it is an exciting book with a great central character and sense of local atmosphere. Three Seconds is a thriller and as such I personally would prefer a more measured story such as Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar, but I think Three Seconds has quite a bit of momentum behind it and is an exciting read if a bit unlikely in places (and a bit maudlin in others).

I think that The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell should make the shortlist. It is a deeply absorbing book, and a challenging mystery – though the solution to the “crime” is hastily dealt with. As a portrait of a man’s state of mind as he declines, and of his relationship with his heroic and independent daughter, it is the most human of the eligible books I’ve read.

I would include Frozen Moment by Camilla Cedar on my predicted shortlist. The book is a solid, satisfying mystery, a good police procedural and strong characterisation as well as very atmospheric. Even though it is a debut, it very much holds its own with the other eligible titles on the list.

Many of the other books are good reads, but in my view aren’t really “crime fiction” – for example Rendezvous by Esther Verhoef. Others of the books show their authors writing at less than their best (Anne Holt, Arnaldur Indridason, Jan Costin Wagner, Teresa Solana). Domingo Villar slightly falls into this category for me, as though his second novel is very good, I did not think it had moved on since the first. Similarly Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s Ashes to Dust is a good, solid novel but I found the character of Thora had stalled a bit compared with her very funny first outing. Shadow Sister is a good psychological novel and Blood Sisters is a promising debut. Others on the list are fine books by established authors, but lack that “special” factor (Camilla Lackberg, Hakan Nesser, Karin Fossum, Andrea Camilleri). I enjoyed most of the eligible books I’ve read (some more than others!), but none of them really stands out to me as an excellent crime novel. Red Wolf by Liza Marklund and Needle in a Haystack by Ernesto Mallo are good examples of novels about socio-political issues, and are personal favourites of mine, but objectively, I don’t see them as being on a par with some of the previous winners of a crime-fiction award (eg Johan Theorin or Arnaldur Indridason at their best).

So, here’s my predicted shortlist for this year – not necessarily my personal favourites, but a prediction:

Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen (not yet read)
Frozen Moment by Camilla Ceder
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom
An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas (not yet read)

Of these, I’d be happy if any of those that I’ve read wins, though for me Frozen Moment and The Troubled Man are the front-runners on my predicted list.

My previous posts about the International Dagger.

9 thoughts on “Pre-shortlist update on reading International Dagger possibles

  1. Maxine – Thanks for your thoughtful insights. You’ve really done, I think, an excellent job of discussing the candidates for the shortlist. It’ll be really interesting to see how closely your predicted list parallels the shortlist itself. And as always, you’ve given me a lot to think about…

  2. Interesting and very informative post. I’ve also read very little crime fiction recently that I’ve considered outstanding, my favourite crime book of this year is non-fiction/true crime, Amexica by Ed Vulliamy.

  3. Thanks, Margot and Laura. Laura, I don’t read true crime as a rule but I will check out Amexica on your recommendation, thank you.

  4. A very interesting shortlist,Maxine. I too have read the vast majority of the eligible
    titles but have not yet read Jussi Adler-Olsen or Sissel-Jo Gazan,but am
    looking forward to hearing them both speak at the Danish Embassy in London
    next month.
    My favourites are Henning Mankell+Camilla Ceder —but as regards your
    predicted shortlist–I have a feeling the judges will not be so biased towards
    Nordic authors (5 out of your 6)–and I would expect to see a Spanish or
    Italian author (or both ) on the shortlist.

  5. Maxine, I have fallen behind with my reading so I will have to do a spurt when the shortlist is announced. But of the eligible titles I have read so far [I am reading Death on a Galician Shore at the moment] Three Seconds, The Leopard, The Inspector and Silence, Red Wolf and Needle in Haystack are the outstanding candidates for the short list. From what you have written I had better read the Vargas and Mankell next despite having received a present in the post today. ;o)

  6. You put me to shame…have only read 1 of your predicted shortlist and only a couple of the others. Of course hardly any of them have been released in Australia so that is some excuse I guess. I don’t imagine I’ll read the shortlist this year because I expect there to be a couple of books on it that I’m not ready for yet – like the Nesbo one. I must admit to having had a bit of a rough trot with reading too – quite a few DNFs of late and I think it’s me being out of sorts…I’m quite looking forward to reading something other than crime later in the week when I collect the new Geraldine Brooks book from the store 🙂

  7. Simon- very interesting points! Thanks. I myself would have put Villar, Mallo and Marklund on the shortlist instead of some of the others, as I preferred those, but I think the ones I suggested were perhaps more popular. Time will tell. I’ll re-cjheck-out Gazan in light of your recommendation.

    Norman – glad it arrived OK ;-), and I hope you enjoy the Villar book, it is wonderfully atmospheric, I loved it (but crime aspect of the plot a bit one-dimensional).

    Bernadette – these geographical restrictions are so annoying, aren’t they? Many of these books have only recently come out in the UK so it has been a bit of a last spurt to the finishing post! Glad you are looking forward to Geraldine Brooks, I only tried one of hers, the one about the father from Little Women, but I could not get into it. I am not too keen on books extending other authors’ fictional characters, but this particular one won some award or other so I got it as “no 3” in a 3 for 2 offer, my usual mode of trying a different (for me) type of book. Did not really work for me on that occasion.

  8. LOL Maxine that’s the only one of Brooks’ books that I haven’t read – I totally agree that taking on some other writer’s characters is a no-no (or at least not for me).

  9. I have just purchased my copy of The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell – but I am reluctant to start reading knowing that this is the last one. You are right about Three Seconds – much more of a thriller than a crime novel.

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