The CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger 2005

CJ Sansom wins with Dark Fire

At a candlelit reception in the atmospheric Crypt of St Etheldreda's in Ely Place, London EC1 on Monday, October 10th, the Crime Writers' Association was delighted to announce the winner of this year's CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger – the prestigious award for the best historical crime novel of 2005.

The winner, announced by Janet Lawrence, Chair of the judges for the award, was CJ Sansom for his book, Dark Fire, published by Macmillan. Mr Sansom wins not only one of the CWA's coveted Daggers but also a prize of £3000 sponsored by the estate of Ellis Peters and her publishers, Headline and the Time Warner Book Group.

Dark Fire was described by the judges as, 'An intriguing crime novel in which a majestic mastery of historical context and detail provides the background for an engrossing mystery. A twisty plot involves murky politics, a great cast of characters with the action exploring every level of society and offering an ever-increasing pace.'

Mr Sansom was presented with his cheque and Dagger by Jane Morpeth, Head of Fiction at Headline, at the CWA's annual Dagger Awards luncheon, held in London on Tuesday, November 8th.

Iain Pears's The Portrait, a Harper Perennial Original, was Highly Recommended.

DARK FIRE by CJ Sansom, Macmillan

C J Sansom

About the author:

CJ Sansom (pictured right, accepting his award) was educated at Birmingham University, where he took a BA and then a Ph.D. in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he retrained as a solicitor and practised in Sussex, until becoming a full-time writer. Following on from his remarkable debut, DISSOLUTION, DARK FIRE is the second novel in his Shardlake series, and the third, SOVEREIGN, will be published by Macmillan in 2006. He lives in Brighton.

About the book:

Dark Fire

It is 1540 and the hottest summer of the sixteenth century. Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king's chief minister – and a new assignment ...

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother brutally murdered - the formula has disappeared.

Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client's innocence. But very soon he discovers nothing is as it seems ...

The shortlist

48 entries were submitted for the 2005 Ellis Peters Dagger, and from these a shortlist of six was drawn up. The judges commented that this was a strong year as far as entries were concerned with more enjoyable books on the list than ever. "There were a lot of very good books, a lot of fresh voices and a lot of history." The other five shortlisted books were:

The Portrait

THE PORTRAIT by Iain Pears, Harper Perennial Original

Highly Recommended

An unusual novel in which the narrator, a painter, speaks directly to his sitter, a heartless art critic, setting out the history of their turbulent relationship. Gradually the reader realises that at the heart of the matter is the relationship of both to a female painter and her tragic death. In the background is the revolution in painting that took place in the last part of the nineteenth century and the involvement of both men to it. Atmospheric, building up to a breath-taking climax and exploring creativity, criticism and the power of jealousy, this is a riveting read.

The God of Chaos

THE GOD OF CHAOS by Tom Bradby, Transworld/Bantam

Cairo, Egypt in 1942, the British High Command threatened by Rommel's seemingly remorseless advance; an unusual but riveting background for a murder mystery that sets a failed New York cop against political chicanery, treason and sexual passions and an investigation through the seedy underbelly of a city where loyalty is a luxury no one can afford.

The Palace Tiger

THE PALACE TIGER by Barbara Cleverly, Constable

Last year's winner of the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger has provided another sparkling look at the intrigues rife in an India of the nineteen-twenties where a British Empire has to grapple with large, autonomous areas not always ruled by sympathetic potentates. Joe Sandilands, on secondment from Scotland Yard, once again finds himself surrounded by a fine cast of glamorous and scheming suspects.

After the Armistice Ball

AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL by Catriona McPherson, Constable

A delightful mystery novel in the Golden Age tradition. Cash-strapped but pleasure-seeking society life in Scotland in the aftermath of the First World War is rocked by the disappearance of a famous set of diamonds in dubious circumstances. The independent minded and delightful society wife who is persuaded to look into the matter soon encounters murder. A sparkling cast of characters and a masterly grasp of the period provide a tale that never flags before its gripping climax.

Mortal Mischief

MORTAL MISCHIEF by Frank Tallis, Century

A fine example of the locked room mystery is crossed with rivalries surrounding the growth of psychoanalysis and forensic science, all set in the Vienna of 1902. the action takes in the possibilities of supernatural powers; Vienna's sophisticated social scene with its interests in art, philosophy and music; and the temptations laid in the path of a young disciple of Sigmund Freud as he assists his good friend an inspector of the Viennese police in his attempt to solve the tantalising puzzle that starts with one death but leads to others. A wealth of historical detail anchors the more sensational aspects of the story and provides a highly enjoyable read.

The judges for the 2005 competition include crime writer, Janet Laurence (Chair); Sir Bernard Ingham, writer and lecturer; Colin Murray, freelance editor; Maureen Lyle, journalist & reviewer and Jessica Mann, writer.