THE CRIME WRITERS’ ASSOCIATION®

Catherine O’Keefe wins the CWA Debut Dagger 2009

Prize: £500

The 2009 Debut Dagger competition has been won by Catherine O’Keefe with The Pathologist. The judges described it as An uncomfortable, sophisticated, read that also manages to be suspenseful.

Catherine had flown over from Canada and was awarded with her dagger at the Dagger Awards presentations, during a drinks reception held at the Tiger Tiger nightspot in London on the evening of July 15.

CJ Harper was highly commended for Backdrop, which the judges said had A likeable PI protagonist and a solid time slip plot… the 1950 Hollywood setting is sexy…

The Debut Dagger is a new-writing competition open to anyone writing in the English language who has not yet had a novel published commercially. First prize is £500 plus two free tickets to the prestigious CWA Dagger Awards and night’s stay for two in a top London hotel. Click here for more information.

The 2009 Debut Dagger Competition ran from 1st November – 7th February. Hundreds of aspiring crime novelists sent us the opening chapter(s) – up to 3000 words – and a short synopsis of their proposed crime novel, hoping this would be the deciding step in becoming a published crime writer. The shortlist was submitted to the final judging panel, who were:

Emma Beswetherick - Senior Fiction Editor, Piatkus
Julie Crisp - Senior Commissioning Editor, Macmillan
Sara O'Keeffe - Senior Commissioning Editor, Orion
Euan Thorneycroft - Authors' agent (A M Heath)
Julia Wisdom - Publishing Editor, HarperCollins
Chair: Margaret Murphy, Chair of the CWA

Catherine O’Keefe was born in the interior of British Columbia, Catherine spent most of her teens in Europe and completed a degree in Political Science at the University of Lancaster before settling down in Canada to become a vocational dinosaur – a stay-at-home mother of three.

She began writing seven years ago, has completed two manuscripts, and is working on her third, The Pathologist. Her only claim to expertise in criminal matters comes vicariously through her husband, David, who recently retired after a 32-year career as a forensic scientist.

The Pathologist

“My pathologist,” I always called him. The use of the possessive was probably a bit unusual, pathology not normally qualifying as one of those medical specialties that attract the patronage of such needy pronouns as our family doctor, her psychologist, your cardiologist, or even my urologist because, for obvious reasons, a pathologist rarely develops a personal rapport with his clientele. Even the police tend to refer to him or her as the pathologist, maintaining an emotional detachment despite their recurrent professional relationship.


Nessa Malkin blames her pathologist for everything bad that ever happened to her, including the fact that she murdered him.

Read the prologue and opening chapter of her prize-winning entry (113Kb PDF).

CJ Harper (highly commended) is the pen name of attorney Charlie Rethwisch. Harper’s first novel, The Shadow of the Dead, was shortlisted for the 2007 CWA Debut Dagger Award. Since then he has had three short stories – each starring 1950s L.A. P.I. Darrow Nash – appear in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Backdrop, which was highly commended by the judges, is his first Darrow Nash novel. He lives in the USA.

There were ten other entries on the shortlist this year. All shortlisted entrants receive a generous selection of crime novels and professional assessments of their entries, and were also invited to the awards ceremony. Those on the shortlist were:

Frank Burkett - A View from the Clock Tower (Australia)
Aoife Clifford - My First Big Book of Murder (Australia)
Madeleine Harris-Callway - The Land of Sun and Fun (Canada)
Renata Hill - Sex, Death and Chocolate (Canada)
Mick Laing - The Sirius Patrol (UK)
Susan Lindgren - Forgotten Treasures (USA)
Danielle Ramsay - Paterfamilias (UK)
Germaine Stafford - A Vine Time for Trouble (Italy)
Martin Ungless - Idiot Wind (UK)
Alan Wright - Murder at the Séance (UK)