The CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award 2006

Edward Wright wins with Red Sky Lament

Edward Wright

Photo Jennifer Leshnick

Edward Wright has won the this year's CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award – the prestigious prize for the best historical crime novel of 2006 &ndash for Red Sky Lament, the third in the John Ray Horn series. The first in this series, Clea's Moon, won the 2001 Debut Dagger competition.

The winner was announced by Sir Bernard Ingham – one of the judges – at a champagne reception held at the Courthouse Hotel Kempinski, on the evening of Monday 9th October. Edward Wright receives a prize of £3000, sponsored by the Estate of Ellis Peters and her publishers, the Headline Book Publishing Group and the Little, Brown Book Group.

Ed Wright grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where his father sold hardware and his mother raised three children and taught arts and crafts. After college he served as an officer in the US Navy for three years, and witnessed the final series of atmospheric nuclear tests in the South Pacific. A master's degree in journalism at Northwestern University launched him into a career as a newspaperman, working as an editor at the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.

In the early nineties, Ed swapped newspapering for fiction writing. At first success eluded him, until in 2001 the opening of Clea's Moon won the Debut Dagger and led to publication in April 2003. A second John Ray Horn book, The Silver Face (US title While I Disappear) followed in 2004, and the third, Red Sky Lament, has now won the Ellis Peters award.

Ed and his wife, Cathy, a psychotherapist, live in the Los Angeles area. He is currently writing Redemption Falls, a contemporary mystery novel set in rural East Tennessee, due out in 2007. His website is

Red Sky Lament


Los Angeles, late 1940s: all over Hollywood, the U.S. government is ordering people to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee as part of the crusade to uncover Communist influence in the movies.

John Ray Horn has little use for politics, but as a former B-movie cowboy star who fell into prison and disgrace, he knows a few things about outsiders. He agrees to help Owen Bruder, a brilliantly talented but notoriously difficult screenwriter accused of having belonged to the Communist Party. If Horn can discover Bruder's secret accuser, they might have a chance to clear his name. But no one is willing to talk. People are scared, in a Hollywood run by fear and suspicion, where a whisper is all it takes to smear an innocent man.

As Horn's search leads him to powerful figures in Hollywood, his investigation takes a sudden and deadly turn. And he finds that more people will die before all the secrets are laid bare.

Judges’ comments: ‘A deceptively straightforward, classically structured crime novel set in a Hollywood where liberals are reeling under the impact of the investigations of the McCarthy Committee into un-American Activity. The indictment of a leading left-wing screen writer prompts an investigation into who pointed the finger, which deepens into tragedy as murder follows. Political or personal? The story, with its first-class characterisation and background detail, illuminates the web of betrayal, distrust and fear that leaves no one untouched, no matter how remote they think they are from communism, and provides a compelling insight into the politics of the post-Second World War film world.’

Red Sky Lament is published by Orion in both the UK and the USA.

The CWA Ellis Peters Historical Crime Award judging panel consisted of:

Janet Laurence (Chair): Author of two crime series, one set in the eighteenth century featuring the Italian painter, Canaletto; honours degree in history.
Sir Bernard Ingham: former Chief Press Secretary to Margaret Thatcher, and author of numerous books covering both his time in politics and his beloved Yorkshire.
Maureen Lyle: Journalist and regular reviewer of crime fiction, also playwright on literary, historical and musical subjects.
Jessica Mann: Author of twenty crime novels, journalist and reviewer, whose latest book was a non-fiction account of the overseas evacuation of children during the Second World War.
Colin Murray: Long career in publishing, now works as a freelance editor, specialising in crime, science fiction and fantasy.

This year's shortlist contained a wide range of excellent novels. The other books in contention, in alphabetical order by author, was as follows:

The Pale Blue Eye

Louis Bayard - THE PALE BLUE EYE - John Murray

Judges’ comments: ‘A subtle examination of loyalties, love and duty set in West Point Cadet School in the eighteen thirties with a retired New York policeman brought in to investigate a death that looks like suicide, except that the corpse later has his heart removed. Cadet Edgar Allan Poe is enlisted as an inside aide and brings his own ebullience to the task. Superb characterisation, attractive writing and period atmosphere give the book a special appeal.’



Judges’ comments: ‘A tightly plotted and narrated ancient Egyptian investigation of Nefertiti’s mysterious disappearance as her husband, Akhenaten, prepares to welcome the world to his brand new city. There are distinct echoes of Raymond Chandler in the investigator’s search for the missing monarch with political chicanery, aristocratic jealousy and corrupt bureaucracy blocking his every effort. The book combines excellent period detail with a pacy approach more usually found in contemporary crime novels.’


Jason Goodwin - THE JANISSARY TREE - Faber & Faber

Judges’ comments: ‘A tale of the early nineteenth century Ottoman empire, with two deaths threatening the delicate balance of power in the Sultan’s court. Attractively told with the unusual choice of a eunuch as an innately charming and perceptive investigator, The Janissary Tree combines a lightly employed but deeply informed grasp of the period with an exciting plot in which the personal is entwined with the political through a cast of memorable characters.’


CJ Sansom - SOVEREIGN - Macmillan

Judges’ comments: ‘Another spellbinding story from the winner of the 2005 CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger. An intricate and beautifully worked-out plot involves Sansom’s hunchback lawyer, much against his will, in Henry VIII’s grand progress to York to quell revolutionary rumblings. Murder, political intrigue, and characters realised with an almost Dickensian relish, combine to produce a dangerous drama that twists and turns as it is played out against a marvellously realised period background.’

The Sultan

Jenny White - THE SULTAN’S SEAL - Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Judges’ comments: ‘A layered novel with a delightful mastery of atmosphere set in late nineteenth century Istanbul as the power of the once great Ottoman empire wanes. The investigation into the death of an English governess contrasts the formality and social constraints that surround the Sultan’s court and the empire bureaucrats with the more liberal attitudes of the English and highlights the fascination of Eastern mysteries for Western society. Personal relationships are entwined with political issues and the complexities of the plot mean twists are revealed right up until the end of this compelling book.’