The CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2009
Winner: Echoes From The Dead by Johan Theorin
Prize: £1,000, sponsored by Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead
London, Wednesday, 21st October, 2009: JOHAN THEORIN has won the 2009 CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger. He was presented with his Dagger and a cheque for £1000 by Martine McCutcheon, at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards 2009, a prestigious event televised on ITV3 and hosted by comedian Alan Davies at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.
In accepting his award, he said: “It's surreal to be standing here - it's like having a Swede win Wimbledon! … Britain is home to most of the greatest mystery writers in the world, from Conan Doyle, Christie and Creasey and up to all the fine writers who are still alive and active today - and as a Swede I couldn’t dream of competing with them. But to my big surprise and honour, I guess I have.”
The judges described his book as ‘… a Swedish mystery in which the island where the action takes place is as much a player in the drama as the people are. Julia’s young son goes missing and 20 years later, his sandal is sent to her father Gerlof. Julia’s still fresh anguish, and the old man’s patient piecing together of fragments of the history of the island bad boy, Nils Kant, create a powerful and moving drama with a stunning denouement. The island, misty and deserted, lonely and creepy, is the backdrop which contributes so much atmosphere to a finely written intrigue.’
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The CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger is awarded in memory of CWA founder John Creasey, for first books by previously unpublished writers. The prize is sponsored by Louise Penny and Michael Whitehead. Louise Penny is author of the award-winning Armand Gamache series, and is herself a previous recipient of the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger.
The judges said: ‘This year’s shortlisted books all had one thing in common – very strongly drawn characters, both major and minor. It was good to see novels which avoided clichéd stereotypes. Settings also were unusually interesting and integral to strong plots.’. The other shortlisted books (described in more detail lower down the page) were:
David Fuller Sweetsmoke (Abacus)
James Green Bad Catholics (Luath Press)
Rod Madocks No Way To Say Goodbye (Five Leaves)
Robert Rotenberg Old City Hall (John Murray)
Dan Waddell The Blood Detective (Penguin)
Johan Theorin was born in 1963 in Gothenburg, Sweden, and has spent every summer of his life on northern Öland. His mother’s family – sailors, fishermen and farmers – have lived there for centuries, nurturing the island’s rich legacy of strange tales and folklore. He is a journalist and scriptwriter. His second novel, The Darkest Room, (in Swedish Nattfåk) has been shortlisted for the 2010 CWA International Dagger. It was voted the Best Swedish Crime Novel of 2008 and won the Glass Key award in 2009. The books form the first half of a loose quartet of novels set on the island of Öland. Echoes From The Dead was also shortlisted for this year's CWA International Dagger.
His website (in Swedish) is www.johantheorin.com
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.
Echoes from the Dead
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 ...
The shortlisted books
Synopsis: Cassius Howard, a slave, is acutely aware of his powerlessness, but refuses to see himself as a victim. He hones his skills as a master carpenter, endures the horrific treatment of his family, and, through the secret efforts of a freed black woman named Emoline Justice, learns to read. Then Emoline is murdered. Cassius is shaken by her death’s apparent senselessness—why would anyone murder an old woman who told fortunes and took in sewing? — and by the fact that no one else seems to care. As he seeks answers, he finds an unexpected ally in Quashee, a beautiful young slave newly arrived from another plantation; and a formidable adversary in his master, Hoke Howard, whom he has always before obeyed. Cassius realizes he is willing to risk everything to avenge Emoline’s death and discover the truth of her loss. His desperate search for the killer becomes a personal quest for dignity and justice.
Judges’ comments: ‘Sweetsmoke is an American Civil War drama. Cassius, a slave at Sweetsmoke tobacco plantation, is determined to track down the murderer of a freed woman, Emoline, who once helped him free his mind by teaching him to read. This literacy proves to be a key factor in enabling Cassius to solve the crime. The novel is full of gruelling anecdotes of the slave days and the distortion and corruption of all relationships between master and slave and slave and slave caused by the condition of slavery. The lyrical descriptions of the plantation and its smells and sounds, as well as the powerfully depicted slaves and owners, made for a richly textured read.’
David Fuller attended the Rhode Island School of Design as a painter and graduated from Brown University. A screenwriter for 25 years, Fuller’s credits include the films Necessary Roughness, The Heist, and Gang In Blue. The Ticket, a short that he wrote and directed, was nominated for an Imagen Award. After discovering that his ancestor, Confederate General Turner Ashby, had owned slaves, Fuller researched the Civil War for eight years. He lives in Santa Monica, CA with his wife and sons.
Synopsis: Jimmy started off a good Catholic altar boy. Yet growing up in Irish London meant walking between poverty and temptation, and what he learnt on the street wasn’t anything taught by his Church. As a cop, he did what he could to keep his patch clean, and if some called him corrupt and violent, his record was spotless and his arrest rates were high.
It’s a long time since he left the Force and disappeared, and now Jimmy is trying to go straight. But his past is about to catch up with him. When one of the volunteers at the homeless shelter where he works is brutally murdered, a bent copper tips off the most powerful crime lord in London that Jimmy is back in town. However, Jimmy has his own motives for staying put... and can he find the killer before the gangs find him?
Judges’ comments: ‘Bad Catholics centres on the almost schizophrenic morality of a Catholic ex cop, Jimmy Costello, who returns to his former patch where he works at a shelter for the homeless. When one of the workers there is murdered, he investigates the crime. He is as ruthless and vicious as the hard men and yet has a strong sense of justice as he goes about atoning for his past. Minor characters like Sister Philomena and Mr Amhurst add a very moving element to the tale as well as a pure integrity which inspires Costello to help them.’
From Bible commentaries to the world’s first and only collection of beer poetry, James Green has been writing full-time since 1997. After leaving school when he was 16, Green became a miner for about a year. It scared the living daylights out of him and he vowed to never again do anything so dangerous or dirty. He spent the next 30 years with his wife Pat raising their three children and being ‘the most ordinary people in the world’. Green’s life took a turn for the extraordinary when he quit teaching, moved to Northumberland, and took up writing ‘to keep the wolf from the door’.
No Way To Say Goodbye
Synopsis: Five steps lead up to the hidden world of the maximum security asylum. Jack Keyse is looking for the truth about what has happened to his vanished lover. He uses his professional contacts to get close to those that might be responsible and at the same time seeks forgetfulness in the chaos of his dissolute life. He comes to discover and to take vengeance but when at last he finds out the truth then his true challenge is to live with that knowledge.
This long-distilled first novel threads all this together and more. The reader is drawn by the mesmeric haunting voice of the narrator into the dark pathways of this unforgettable work. The photographs that interweave with the text bring a further layer of mystery to a story that will stay with you.
Judges’ comments: ‘No Way To Say Goodbye is set in a high security mental facility for the criminally insane. Jack Keyses works there, intent on tracking down the presumed abductor and killer of his girlfriend Rachel who disappeared without trace. The grim reality of sex offenders and their obsessions and histories is authentically and chillingly exposed here. The most frightening thing about the book was the obsessions of Keyses which turn out to be not so very different from some of the patients. A sense of edgy despair pervades this very taut novel.’
Rod Madocks has spent ten years writing this book, drawing on his experience of secure units. He is a policy officer in Mental Health Commissioning in Nottinghamshire.
Old City Hall
Synopsis: Old City Hall opens with a bang, or perhaps a stab: Canada's leading radio show host, Kevin Brace, comes to the door of his luxury condominium with his hands covered in blood and tells the newspaper delivery man: 'I killed her.' The 'her' in question is his young wife, whose body lies in the bathtub of their suite, a knife wound through the sternum.
So, if he killed her, where's the mystery? That's the question asked by the detectives plowing through what should be an openand- shut case. Even Kevin's defense attorney doesn't know what really happened, because he refuses to talk to her or to anyone else after muttering those incriminating words. With the discovery that the victim was actually a self-destructive alcoholic, and the appearance of strange fingerprints in the Brace apartment, the mystery gets more complex just as it should be getting simpler.
Judges’ comments: ‘Old City Hall is a legal drama set in Toronto. Intriguingly, it is about a man accused of murdering his wife who refuses to say anything at all about what happened that night, even to his own lawyer. He maintains a stoic silence throughout and it takes the combined efforts of the defence, the prosecution, and the police, each of whom pieces together parts of his past to reveal the truth of what actually happened. Along the way comes a touching love story and the revelation of the back stories of all the main characters which makes for a rich and complex drama.’
Robert Rotenberg is a Canadian criminal lawyer and writer, based in Toronto. His extensive experience as a criminal defence lawyer informs his writing.
The Blood Detective
Synopsis: ...And the killer has left DCI Grant Foster a cryptic clue.
However it’s not until the clue is handed to Nigel Barnes, a specialist in compiling family trees, that the message becomes spine-chillingly clear. It leads Barnes back to 1879 – and the victim of an infamous Victorian serial killer.
When a second body is discovered, Foster needs Barnes’s skills more than ever. The murderer’s clues run along the tangled bloodlines that lie between 1879 and now. And if Barnes is right about his blood-history, the killing spree has only just begun...
Judges’ comments: ‘The Blood Detective exploits the current interest in genealogy in an amusing and bloody way. Nigel, a floppy haired and engaging anorak, is engaged to assist DI Fuller in the hunt for a serial killer who appears to be punishing the descendants of a group of people who did an ancestor of his a great wrong in Victorian times. Both Fuller and Nigel are well developed characters with interesting personalities and a wealth of expertise which they learn to share. Scenes at the records offices and the people who haunt them are unforgettable.’
Dan Waddell is a journalist and author who lives in west London. He has published ten non-fiction books, including the bestselling Who Do You Think You Are?, which tied in with the successful BBC TV series. The Blood Detective is his first novel.
His web site is www.danwaddell.net
Marion Arnott (chair): - a teacher and short story writer living in Scotland . She has had a collection of short stories published by Elastic press and is a winner of a short story dagger.
Danuta Reah: crime fiction and short story writer
Chris Simmons: bookseller for Waterstone’s bookshops
To be eligible in this round, books must have had their first UK publication between 1 June 2008 and 31 May 2009.