The CWA International Dagger 2009

Fred Vargas and Sîan Reynolds win for the third time

Fred Vargas

For the third time in four years, writer Fred Vargas and translator Sîan Reynolds have triumphed in the Crime Writers’ International Dagger, this time with the first in the series of Adamsberg novels, The Chalk Circle Man.

In making the award, the judges said ‘This first Adamsberg novel is already a remarkable demonstration of Vargas's ability to open with an odd event and follow it into an unhappy past.’

This Dagger is awarded for crime, thriller, suspense novels or spy fiction which have been translated into English from their original language, for UK publication. The Dagger and cheque for £1000 prize money for the author and £500 for the translator was presented at a drinks reception held at the Tiger Tiger nightspot in London on the evening of July 15 2009.

The CWA Dagger Awards are the longest established literary awards in the UK and are internationally recognised as a mark of excellence and achievement.

The other shortlisted books (described in more detail below) were:

Karin Alvtegen, Shadow, translated by McKinley Burnett, (Canongate)
Arnaldur Indriðason, Arctic Chill, translated by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb (Harvill Secker)
Stieg Larsson, The Girl who played with Fire, translated by Reg Keeland (MacLehose Quercus)
Jo Nesbø, The Redeemer, translated by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
Johan Theorin, Echoes from the Dead, translated by Marlaine Delargy (Doubleday)

Fred Vargas is the pseudonym of Frédérique Audouin-Rouzeau, who was born in 1957 in Paris (Fred is not unusual in France as an abbreviation of this feminine name). As well as being a best-selling author in France, she is by training a mediaeval archaeologist. Her books have been translated into thirty-two languages.

Read the Wikipedia article about Fred Vargas.
Read a 2004 interview in The Guardian.
Visit her publishers' websites: Harvill Secker (UK), Éditions Viviane Hamy (France).

Sîan Reynolds is Professor of French at the University of Stirling. She has written several academic texts and her translations from the French include books by Fernand Braudel and Claude Lévi-Strauss. She lives in Edinburgh.

The Chalk Circle Man

The Chalk Circle Man

Fred Vargas

Harvill Secker

Translated from the French by Siân Reynolds. Original title: L'Homme aux cercles bleus

Synopsis: Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is not like other policemen. His methods appear unorthodox in the extreme: he doesn't search for clues; he ignores obvious suspects and arrests people with cast-iron alibis; he appears permanently distracted. In spite of all this his colleagues are forced to admit that he is highly successful - a born cop. When strange blue chalk circles start appearing overnight on the pavements of Paris, the press take up the story with amusement and psychiatrists trot out their theories. Adamsberg is alone in thinking this is not a game and far from amusing. He insists on being kept informed of new circles and the increasingly bizarre objects which they contain: a pigeon's foot, four cigarette lighters, a badge proclaiming 'I Love Elvis', a hat, a doll's head. Adamsberg senses the cruelty that lies behind these seemingly random occurrences. Soon a circle with decidedly less banal contents is discovered: the body of a woman with her throat savagely cut. Adamsberg knows that other murders will follow.

Shortlisted books



Karin Alvtegen


Translated from the Swedish by McKinley Burnett. Original title: Skugga

Synopsis: Gerda Persson has lain dead in her apartment for three days before Marianne Folkesson arrives, employed by the state to close up a life with dignity and respect. She finds the apartment tidy and ordered. Gerda's life seems to have been quite ordinary. Until Marianne opens the freezer and finds it full of books, neatly stacked and wrapped in clingfilm, a thick layer of ice covering them. They are all by Axel Ragnerfeldt, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, with handwritten dedications to Gerda from the author. What story do these books have to tell, about Gerda, and more importantly about Ragnerfeldt, a man whose fame is without precedent in the nation's cultural life, but seldom gives interviews?

Judges’ comments: ‘This well-crafted novel of damage repeated from generation to generation infuses melodrama with a meditation on the cost of writing.’

Karin Alvtegen was born in Jönköping, Sweden, in 1965 and had a varied career, including work in set design for film and stage, before she started to write. She won Sweden's most prestigious crime novel award, the Glass Key, in 2000 with her novel, Missing, and further acclaim with her next two novels, Betrayal and Shame, which was shortlisted for the 2007 International Dagger. She is the great-neice of Astrid Lindgren (author of the Pippi Longstocking stories), and lives in Stockholm.

McKinley Burnett is one of the pseudonyms of Steven T. Murray (Reg Keeland is another, see below). His translation of Sidetracked by Henning Mankell won the 2001 Gold Dagger, and his translations of Karin Alvtegen’s Shame and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were shortlisted for the International Dagger in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Arctic Chill

Arctic Chill

Arnaldur Indriðason

Harvill Secker

Translated from the Icelandic by Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb. Original title: Vetrarborgin

Synopsis: On an icy January day the Reykjavik police are called to a block of flats where a body has been found in the garden: a young, dark-skinned boy, frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. Erlendur and his team embark on their investigation with little to go on but the news that the boy’s Thai half-brother is missing. The investigation soon unearths tensions simmering beneath the surface of Iceland’s outwardly liberal, multicultural society. A teacher at the boy’s school makes no secret of his anti-immigration stance; incidents are reported between Icelandic pupils and the disaffected children of incomers; and a suspected paedophile has been spotted in the area. Meanwhile, the boy’s murder forces Erlendur to confront the tragedy in his own past.

Judges’ comments: ‘Indriðason employs a recognised police-procedural form to transcend a familiar Scandinavian gloom into something more interesting - an insistent examination of Iceland’s discovery that its apparently tight little island is implicated in a world-wide social problem.’

Arnaldur Indriðason was born in 1961, the son of an Icelandic author. Having worked for many years as a journalist and critic for an Icelandic newspaper, he began writing novels. At one week in the summer of 2003, his crime novels occupied the top five spots in the Icelandic best-seller list.

Arnaldur's books have been published in 26 countries and have been translated into German, Danish, English, Italian, Czech, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese and French. Arnaldur received the Glass Key award, a literature prize for the best Nordic crime novel, in 2002 and 2003. He won the CWA Gold Dagger Award in 2005 for the novel Silence of the Grave.

Bernard Scudder lived in Reykjavík from 1977 up to his death in October 2007, working as a full-time translator. His translations encompassed sagas, ancient and modern poetry, and leading contemporary novels and plays including the 2005 Gold Dagger winner, Silence of the Grave.

After his death, the translation was completed by Victoria Cribb, who works as a freelance translator from Icelandic to English. She has an MA in Icelandic and Scandinavian Studies from UCL, a BPhil in Icelandic from the University of Iceland, and lived and worked in Iceland for a number of years as a publisher, journalist and translator.

The Girl who Played with Fire

The Girl who Played with Fire

Stieg Larsson

MacLehose Quercus

Translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland. Original title: Flickan som lekte med elden

Synopsis: Lisbeth Salander is a wanted woman. Two Millennium journalists about to expose the truth about sex trafficking in Sweden are murdered, and Salander’s prints are on the weapon. Her history of unpredictable and vengeful behaviour makes her an official danger to society – but no-one can find her.

Mikael Blomkvist, editor-in-chief of Millennium, does not believe the police. Using all his magazine staff and resources to prove Salander’s innocence, Blomkvist also uncovers her terrible past, spent in criminally corrupt institutions. Yet Salander is more avenging angel than helpless victim. She may be an expert at staying out of sight – but she has ways of tracking down her most elusive enemies.

Judges’ comments: ‘This second novel of the Millennium trilogy interweaves an unusual range of characters in a plot of remarkable complexity.’

Stieg Larsson was for twenty years graphics editor at a Swedish news agency. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the anti-racist magazine Expo from 1999. He was one of the world’s leading experts on anti-democratic, right-wing extremist and Nazi organisations. He died in 2004, shortly after delivering the three manuscripts of the Millennium Trilogy to a Swedish publisher.

Reg Keeland is one of the pseudonyms of Steven T. Murray (McKinley Burnett is another, see above). His translation of Sidetracked by Henning Mankell won the 2001 Gold Dagger, and his translations of Karin Alvtegen’s Shame and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were shortlisted for the International Dagger in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

The Redeemer

The Redeemer

Jo Nesbø

Harvill Secker

Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. Original title: Frelseren

Synopsis: A 14-year old girl is raped at one of the Salvation Army summer camps. Twelve years later, at a Christmas concert in a square in Oslo, a Salvation Army soldier is executed by a man in the crowd. A press photographer has caught a suspect on one of the photos of the concert. Beate Lønn, the identification expert, is confused by how the face can change from one photo to the next. Inspector Harry Hole’s search for the faceless man takes place on the seamy side of the city, among those who seek eternal – or just momentary – redemption. And the gunman has not yet completed his mission.

Judges’ comments: ‘Harry Hole, Nesbø's series detective, dominates an impressively twisty plot which ranges from his own career to Norway's past.’

Jo Nesbø has achieved an unparalleled success both in his native country Norway and abroad, winning the hearts of critics, booksellers and readers alike. Translated into thirty languages, awarded a whole range of awards and boasting record-breaking sales, Nesbø has been lavishly praised by international critics for broadening the scope of the contemporary crime novel, and is today regarded as one of Europe’s most important crime writers.

Don Bartlett is an experienced translator who has translated dozens of books in various genres, including eight novels and short stories by Jo Nesbø. He lives in Norfolk. His web site is

Echoes from the Dead

Echoes from the Dead

Johan Theorin


Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy. Original title: Skumtimmen

Synopsis: Can you ever come to terms with a missing child? Julia Davidsson has not. Her five-year-old son disappeared twenty years previously on the Swedish island of Öland. No trace of him has ever been found.

Until his shoe arrives in the post. It has been sent to Julia's father, a retired sea-captain still living on the island. Soon he and Julia are piecing together fragments of the past: fragments that point inexorably to a local man called Nils Kant, known to delight in the pain of others. But Nils Kant died during the 1960s. So who is the stranger seen wandering across the fields as darkness falls?

It soon becomes clear that someone wants to stop Julia’s search for the truth. And that he’s much, much closer than she thinks ...

Judges’ comments: ‘Working within the genre, Theorin evokes place and social history as well as character, while mastering the balance of clues and plot-twists.’

Johan Theorin was born in 1963 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and has spent every summer of his life on northern Öland. He is a journalist and scriptwriter. Echoes from the Dead is his first book and after being shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger went on to win the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger for the best first novel of 2009.

Marlaine Delargy works as a translator and adult learning support tutor. She has translated novels by Åsa Larsson and Johan Theorin, among others, and serves on the editorial board of the Swedish Book Review. She lives in Shropshire, England.


Ann Cleeves, non-voting chair, is an award-winning crime writer.

MaiLin Li works for Kirklees Libraries and is a freelance literature specialist and promoter.

Ruth Morse teaches English Literature at the University of Paris. She is a frequent contributor to the Times Literary Supplement.

John Murray-Browne is a bookseller.