Daggers 2008

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The CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction

Prize: £2000, sponsor: Owatonna Media

The 2008 Crime Writers Association Non-Fiction Dagger has been won by Kester Aspden with Nationality: Wog - The Hounding of David Oluwale, published by Jonathan Cape (Random House). This award is sponsored by Owatonna Media, who have recently acquired the Eric Ambler estate.

The other five books on the shortlist were:

Francisco GoldmanThe Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop GerardiAtlantic Books
David RoseViolationHarperPress
Duncan StaffThe Lost BoyBantam Press
Kate SummerscaleThe Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill HouseBloomsbury
Peter ZimonjicInto the DarknessVintage Books (Random House)

Overall judges’ comments

‘In a large field of entries – twice as many submissions as we expected – we found the standard to be very high. The wide range of topics covered meant that a variety of criteria had to be applied to each book, with such considerations as the contribution made to non-fiction crime literature, and the likely response of a general reader. Through many hours of dedicated reading, the judges did not disagree widely on the titles that met the requirements of the award.

‘The shortlist is extremely strong – all six books are very well written indeed, and each has great merit. We appreciate that those authors not selected will be disappointed, but we wish to stress that nearly all the submissions were well written and eminently readable. We are only sorry that we cannot recognise more than the six on the shortlist.’

Here are more details about those shortlisted books, and why the judges chose them:

The Art of Political Murder

Francisco Goldman

The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed Bishop Gerardi

Atlantic Books

Judges’ comments: ‘Bishop Gerardi, who was leading an enquiry into human rights abuses in Guatemala, was viciously murdered in 1998, on the orders of the military. This book, by an American journalist born in Guatemala, is an in depth account of the seven-year investigation by the Church into this killing. A very big and thorough book by someone personally involved in the investigation.’

Synopsis: On a Sunday night in 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi, Guatemala's leading human rights activist, was bludgeoned to death in his garage. Just two days earlier, a Church-sponsored report had implicated Guatemala's government in the murders and disappearances of some 200,000 civilians. The Church, realizing that it could not rely on the legal system to look into the bishop's murder, took the controversial decision to form an investigative team of young men who called themselves Los Intocables (the Untouchables) to find the killers.

For seven years, Francisco Goldman followed Los Intocables' efforts to uncover the truth. He observed firsthand some of the most crucial developments in the case, including the killing and forced exile of witnesses, judges and lawyers. The Art of Political Murder is his mesmerising account of the investigation. In telling it, Goldman opens a window on the new Latin American reality of mara youth gangs and organized crime, and demonstrates, at the most intimate level, the difficulties of building democracy in a country awash with political corruption and criminality.

Francisco Goldman’s first novel, The Long Night of White Chickens, was awarded the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The Ordinary Seaman, his second novel, was a finalist for the International IMPAC-Dublin Literary Award. Both novels were finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Goldman’s novel The Divine Husband was published by Atlantic Books in 2006. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, and the New York Review of Books.


David Rose



Judges’ comments: ‘In 1986 Carlton Gary was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of seven elderly women in Columbus, Georgia. He insisted he was innocent. The author has followed the case for a decade, giving a wide-ranging account of a severe miscarriage of justice, arising from prejudice in the American South. An important and compelling work.’

Synopsis: Over eight terrifying months in the 1970s, seven elderly women were raped and murdered in Columbus, Georgia, a city of 200,000 people whose history and conservative values are typical of America's Deep South. The victims, who were strangled in their beds with their own stockings, were affluent and white, while the police believed from an early stage that the killer was black. In 1986, eight years after the last murder, an African-American, Carlton Gary, was convicted and sentenced to death. Though many in Columbus doubt his guilt, he is still on death row.

Award-winning reporter David Rose has followed this case for almost a decade, while Gary and his lawyers have fought his legal appeals. He has uncovered important fresh evidence that was hidden from Gary's trial and that suggests that he is innocent, including a cast of the killer's teeth, made from a savage bite wound in the last victim's breast. However, as Rose's investigation proceeded, he came to realise that the dark saga of the Columbus stocking stranglings only makes sense against the background of the city's bloodstained history of racism, lynching and unsolved, politically motivated murder.

David Rose, who now writes for The Observer and Vanity Fair, has worked at Time Out, The Guardian and BBC TV, and has investigated wrongful convictions since the early 1980s. A Climate of Fear, his book about three men wrongly convicted for murdering PC Keith Blakelock during the 1985 Tottenham riot, was described as ‘the best account of a miscarriage of justice written yet’. His other books include In the Name of the Law: The Collapse of Criminal Justice, Regions of the Heart: The Triumph and Tragedy of Alison Hargreaves and Guantanamo: America’s War on Human Rights. He is a past winner of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, David Watt Memorial Prize, the Bar Council’s Legal Reporter of the Year award, and the One World-European Union award for human rights journalism. A father of four, he lives in Oxford.

Duncan Staff

The Lost BoyThe Lost Boy

Bantam Press

Judges’ comments: ‘A beautifully written account of the search for the body of Keith Bennett, one of the victims of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady. Duncan Staff is a journalist who has had access to a wealth of Hindley’s unpublished papers since her death. The crimes and their motivations are analysed, in the light of this new material.’

Synopsis: A series of child-murders that took place in Yorkshire and Lancashire in the 1960s shocked and scandalised the country. The two people responsible, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, were tried in a sensational case and have become notorious as the human face of evil. It is a story that has captivated for forty years. Four children were murdered by Hindley and Brady, the body of one of their victims, Keith Bennett, has never been found.

In The Lost Boy, Duncan Staff has produced the nearest to a definitive book on the subject we will ever read. In 1999, Duncan Staff made a documentary on the Moors murders for BBC2. In the course of producing this programme he, as a matter of course, invited Myra Hindley to put across her side of the story. Much to his surprise, she agreed. What followed was a correspondence in which Hindley spoke candidly about some aspects of her crimes. The programme aired, concluding unquestioningly with a reaffirmation of her guilt. After her death, her estate sent Duncan Myra Hindley's unpublished papers - which proved a window into the disturbed world of Hindley and Brady.

Drawing on this unique resource, and combined with extensive research, the co-operation of the families of the victims, the police and expert witnesses Duncan Staff has written this authoritative investigation into these infamous crimes. The Lost Boy is the compelling story of some of the twentieth-century's most notorious crimes. Duncan Staff has undertaken an exhaustive, and sensitive, exploration into all aspects of these murders and their long-felt aftermath. It also presents for the first time a compelling theory about the location of the final resting place of the Moors Murderers' last victim, Keith Bennett.

Duncan Staff is a leading documentary maker and journalist who has produced and presented a number of critically acclaimed, commercially successful programmes. His work has been shown on BBC1, BBC2, Channel 4 and ITV’s World in Action. He also writes for the national press, principally The Guardian.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Kate Summerscale

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House


Judges’ comments: ‘A meticulously researched account of a mid-Victorian cause célèbre. The investigation into the murder of a three-year-old boy was led by Jack Whicher, one of the first Scotland Yard detectives, whose character and career inspired many writers, including Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. The book conjures the atmosphere and daily detail of an English country house, as the truth behind the façade is slowly revealed.’

Synopsis: It is a summer's night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows, the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them.

Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects. The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes - scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing - arouses fear and a kind of excitement. But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment.

Link to the book website.

Kate Summerscale was born in 1965. She is the author of the bestselling The Queen of Whale Cay, which won a Somerset Maugham award and was shortlisted for the Whitbread biography award. She has also judged various literary competitions including the Booker Prize. She lives in London with her son.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House, published in April 2008, won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2008.

Kate Summerscale
Into The Darkness

Peter Zimonjic

Into the Darkness

Vintage Books (Random House)

Judges’ comments: ‘A vivid personal account of the bombing of one of the London Underground trains on 7th July 2005. The author was in a following train and took part in the rescue operation. He subsequently interviewed many of those involved, weaving a comprehensive collection of highly personal stories.’

Synopsis: On the morning of 7 July 2005, Peter Zimonjic, a Canadian journalist living and working in London, was travelling on an eastbound Circle line train heading towards Edgware Road. Coming in the opposite direction was a train carrying Mohammed Sidique Khan with a bag full of explosives. As the trains passed each other in the tunnel, Sidique Khan detonated his bomb. Peter's train came to a standstill and he managed to smash the window in his carriage and crawl into the carnage where he and several others spent the next hour desperately trying to help the injured and dying.

Into the Darkness will reconstruct the story of the day at all four bomb sites based on intensive interviews with dozens of survivors. In the form of a dramatic narrative this book will document the bravery, the triumphs, the despairs, and the shortfalls that occurred on a day when the innocence of thousands of ordinary commuters was lost forever.

Peter Zimonjic was born in Toronto in 1973. He married in Dorset, England, in 1999 and immigrated to the UK in 2003. He lives in London with his wife, Donna, and daughter, Anja, where he works as a columnist and journalist.


Brian Innes (Chair): a regular non-fiction author on forensic matters

Lesley Grant-Adamson: writes crime fiction and non-fiction and author of Writing Crime and Suspense Fiction

Jean McConnell: dramatist writing about crime for television, radio and the stage; short stories; and non fiction books

Andrew Cresswell: Former Chief Crown Prosecutor for the CPS in Devon and Cornwall

Professor Allan Jamieson: Director of the Forensic Institute

Further details may be obtained from the CWA Dagger Liaison Officer, Mike Stotter, by emailing . Any queries should also be addressed to him.