Tom Franklin wins the CWA Gold Dagger 2011
Tom Franklin (pictured above) is the winner of the 2011 CWA Gold Dagger and the prize of £2,500, for Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter published by Macmillan. The announcement was made at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards on 7th October 2011. Tom Franklin said “What an amazing long list! What an amazing short list! I’m truly happy just for the company, and everything else is gravy. All my thanks.”
The judges called his novel“A poignant suspense novel drenched in the languid atmosphere of small-town Mississippi where police investigate the murder of a local teenage girl.”
Synopsis: Amos, Mississippi, is a quiet town. Silas Jones is its sole law enforcement officer. The last excitement here was nearly twenty years ago, when a teenage girl disappeared on a date with Larry Ott, Silas’s one-time boyhood friend. The law couldn't prove Larry guilty, but the whole town has shunned him ever since.
Then the town's peace is shattered when someone tries to kill the reclusive Ott, another young woman goes missing, and the town’s drug dealer is murdered. Woven through the tautly written murder story is the unspoken secret that hangs over the lives of two men - one black, one white.
Judges’ comments: Larry and Silas, white and black, boyhood friends in rural Mississippi thirty years ago, are separated by an apparent crime that changes their lives. A poignant suspense novel drenched in the languid atmosphere of small-town Mississippi where police investigate the murder of a local teenage girl. The novel explores fractured friendships and families as the legacy of racism, poverty, loneliness and misplaced suspicion from decades back.
Tom Franklin is the winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship and teaches in the University of Mississippi’s MFA programme and lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, and their children. There is more information about him on the Mississippi Writers & Musicians website.
Three other authors were shortlisted for this year’s coveted prize, in alphabetical order:
Steve Hamilton The Lock Artist (Orion)
A.D. Miller Snowdrops(Atlantic Books)
Denise Mina The End of the Wasp Season (Orion)
Another four were longlisted - details at the foot of the page.
To be eligible in this round, books must have had their first UK publication between 1 June 2010 and 31 May 2011. Here are more details about the shortlisted books, and why the judges chose them:
The Lock Artist
Synopsis: Michael hit the headlines once before, a seven-year-old kid the papers called The Miracle Boy on account of how he survived the terrible incident that took his parents. But although his escape was miraculous, it left him unable to speak. Taunted as a freak, school becomes a fresh nightmare, until Michael discovers he has a special talent that makes people sit up and take notice: he can open locks.
But a teenage prank burgling the house of a rival school’s quarterback lands him in hot water and, despite his best intentions, Michael soon finds himself on a downward slope that ends with expert instruction on how to open safes. And unless he agrees to put his newfound skills to use, the mob are going to kill the father of the girl he now loves. So begins an extraordinary life of crime - at once terrifying and exhilarating - while all the while, Michael plots how to turn the tables on his employer, win back Amelia, and find the key to unlocking his traumatic childhood memories.
Judges’ comments: A beautifully-paced story told from the prison cell and perspective of “The Lock Artist”, who is serving time for the crimes he committed as a safecracker for hire. Hamilton uses a split narrative time-frame to uncover the traumatic childhood background, the long slow acquisition of lock-picking skills, and a boy’s harrowing journey into selfhood and adult responsibility.
Steve Hamilton was born and raised in the Detroit area, and currently works for IBM in upstate New York, where he lives with his wife and two children.
Synopsis: Snowdrops is an intensely riveting psychological drama that unfolds over the course of one Moscow winter, as a young Englishman’s moral compass is spun by the seductive opportunities revealed to him by a new Russia: a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical dachas and debauched nightclubs; a place where secrets – and corpses – come to light only when the deep snows start to thaw… Snowdrops is a chilling story of love and moral freefall: of the corruption, by a corrupt society, of a corruptible young man. It is taut, intense and has a momentum as irresistible to the reader as the moral danger that first enchants, then threatens to overwhelm, its narrator.
Judges’ comments: An alarming and sinister story set in decadent 1990s Moscow, and narrated by a confessional ex-pat British lawyer caught up in property scams and honey-traps. A hypnotically seductive and compelling exploration of moral danger in a society driven by greed and corruption at all levels.
A.D. (Andrew) Miller was born in London in 1974. He studied literature at Cambridge and Princeton. He worked as a television producer before joining the Economist. From 2004 to 2007 he was the magazine's Moscow correspondent, travelling widely across Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of the acclaimed family history The Earl of Petticoat Lane (Heinemann, 2006); Snowdrops is his first novel. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.
The End of the Wasp Season
Synopsis: When notorious millionaire banker Lars Anderson hangs himself from the old oak tree in front of his Kent mansion his death attracts no sympathy. One less shark is little loss to a world nursing a financial hangover. But the legacy of a life time of self-serving is widespread, the carnage most acute among those he ought to be protecting: his family. He leaves behind two deeply damaged children and a broken wife.
Meanwhile, in a wealthy suburb of Glasgow, a young woman is found savagely murdered in her home. The genteel community is stunned by what appears a vicious, random attack. When DS Alex Morrow, heavily pregnant with twins, is called in to investigate, she soon discovers that behind the murder lurks a tangled web of lies. A web that will spiral through the local community, through Scotland and ultimately right back to a swinging rope hundreds of miles away.
Judges’ comments: A complex exploration of the economic motives which link a murder in Glasgow and a suicide in suburban England; Mina’s pregnant police detective’s own complicated personal background and career history give her a rare depth of character and understanding as she leads her team’s investigation into the disturbing undercurrents and repercussions of economic recession.
Denise Mina, the critically acclaimed Glaswegian crime writer, is the author of eight novels. She also writes short stories and in 2006 wrote her first play. She is a regular contributor to TV and radio.
Richard Reynolds (Chair) has been a bookseller for over thirty years and is the organiser of regular events for readers of crime fiction at Heffers in Cambridge, including the annual Bodies in the Bookshop, and is an expert in crime fiction.
Dr Ann Ferguson is a retired consultant anaesthetist, with a great interest in the history of medicine and a longstanding love of crime fiction.
Christopher Fowler is an English thriller writer. In addition to his numerous horror and satire novels, he is also the author of the Bryant and May mysteries.
Margaret Kinsman is a London-based academic with teaching and research interests in women's writing and crime and mystery fiction. She is Executive Editor of the scholarly publication CLUES: A Journal of Detection.
Heather O’Donoghue is Reader in Old Norse literature at Linacre College, University of Oxford. She regularly reviews crime fiction for the Times Literary Supplement, and is an avid reader of crime writing of all kinds.
Zoë Watkins is the Managing Director of intellectual property development company FourteenFiftyFour. Zoë was previously Publishing Manager at Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, and is a former Chair and Judge of the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.
David Wilkerson is a Commercial Manager at the British Library in London; specialising in Publishing and Retail. He has worked for over thirty-five years in the book industry, primarily as a bookseller, and has spent almost a lifetime reading crime novels.
Four other novels were longlisted for this award. In alphabetical order they are:
Lucretia Grindle The Villa Triste (Mantle)
Mo Hayder Hanging Hill (Bantam Press)
Michael Koryta The Cypress House (Hodder & Stoughton)
M. J. McGrath White Heat (Mantle)
The Villa Triste
Synopsis: It is the Autumn of 1943. Italy signs the armistice that will take it out of the war, and slides into chaos. In Florence, two sisters, Isabella and Caterina Cammaccio, find themselves surrounded by terror and death. As the Allied advance stalls in the south, Italy is trapped under the heel of a brutal Nazi occupation. Determined to take on not only the Nazis, but also the newly resurgent Fascists, bands of Partisans rise up. Almost all of them are young. Many of them are women. They have little to rely on except ingenuity, determination, and courage. Thrust headlong into the unknown, Isabella and Caterina will test their wits and deepest beliefs as never before. As the winter grinds on, they will be forced to make the most important decisions of their lives. Their choices will reverberate for decades. In the present day, Alessandro Pallioti, one of Florence’s most senior policemen, would not normally oversee a murder …
Judges’ comments: The shocking present day murders of some surviving Partisan heroes lead a Florence police investigator deep into the past; he uncovers the absorbing story of two courageous sisters caught up in the war-time events of 1943-44, and eventually connects past crimes with current ones.
Lucretia Grindle was born in the United States and now lives in Somerset with her husband.
Synopsis: What if you found yourself divorced and penniless? With no skills and a teenage daughter to support? What if the only way to survive was to do things you never thought possible, to go places you never knew existed … These are questions Cal has never really thought about before. Married to a successful business man, she’s always been a bit of a dreamer. Until now.
Her sister Zoe is her polar opposite. A detective inspector working out of Bath Central, she loves her job, and oozes self-confidence. No one would guess that she hides a crippling secret that dates back twenty years, and which – if exposed – may destroy her. Then Cal’s daughter gets into difficulties, and Cal finds she needs cash – lots of it – fast. With no one to help her, she is forced into a criminal world of extreme pornography and illegal drugs; a world in which teenage girls can go missing. Two sisters intent on survival. Until one does something so terrifying that there’s no way back …
Judges’ comments: A thriller that digs under the surfaces of an apparently tranquil English village and finds some terrible truths about corrosive desires and deeds. Seemingly ordinary families struggle with unemployment, bankruptcy, debt, and wayward children. The investigating detective has troubled relationships with everyone from her sister to her colleagues. Danger is way too close to home, in several unsettling respects.
Mo Hayder has written some of the most terrifying crime thrillers you will ever read. Her first novel, Birdman, was hailed as ‘a first-class shocker’ by the Guardian, and her follow-up, The Treatment, was voted by The Times one of the top ten most scary thrillers ever written. Mo’s books are 100% authentic, dawing on her long research with several UK police forces and on her personal encounters with criminals and prostitutes. She now lives in England’s West Country.
The Cypress House
Hodder & Stoughton
Synopsis: Arlen Wagner has seen it in men before - a trace of smoke in their eyes that promises imminent death. He is never wrong. When Arlen and his young companion Paul Brickhill are stranded at the Cypress House with a hurricane approaching, Paul won't abandon the boarding house's enigmatic mistress Rebecca to face the storm alone. But Arlen's gift warns him that if they stay too long, they may never leave.
Judges’ comments: A compelling suspense story haunted by the paranormal and steeped in the fears and anxieties of Depression-era Florida. Strong characterisation and an isolated, storm-ridden setting drive the novel towards an unexpected ending.
Michael Koryta’s Edgar Award-nominated first novel was published when he was just twenty-one and it was followed by four more straight thrillers and then his first supernatural thriller So Cold The River in 2010. His works have been translated into twenty languages. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where he has worked as a newspaper reporter and private investigator, and in St. Petersburg, Florida.
M. J. McGrath
Synopsis: A hypnotic detective adventure story set in the mysterious Arctic. Nothing on the tundra rotted … The whole history of human settlement lay exposed there, under that big northern sky. There was nowhere here for bones to hide. On Craig Island, a vast landscape of ice north of the Arctic Circle, three travellers are hunting duck. Among them is expert Inuit hunter and guide, Edie Kiglatuk; a woman born of this harsh, beautiful terrain. The two men are tourists, experiencing Arctic life in the raw, but when one of the men is shot dead in mysterious circumstances, the local Council of Elders in the tiny settlement of Autisaq is keen to dismiss it as an accident.
Then two adventurers arrive in Autisaq hoping to search for the remains of the legendary Victorian explorer Sir James Fairfax. The men hire Edie – whose ancestor Welatok guided Fairfax – along with Edie’s stepson Joe, and two parties set off in different directions. Four days later, Joe returns to Autisaq frostbitten …
Judges’ comments: An Inuit hunter and guide is drawn into the role of investigator when a tourist is shot dead; then her stepson's expedition party, in search of the remains of a legendary Arctic explorer, goes badly wrong. In this beautiful, frozen, and harsh terrain, the meanings of life and death, and crime and punishment, are negotiated in relation to Inuit culture; tensions build when Inuit ways clash with the expectations of tourists and visitors.
M. J. McGrath was born in Essex. As Melanie McGrath she is the author of critically acclaimed, bestselling non-fiction (Silvertown and The Long Exile) and won the John Llewelyn-Rhys/Mail on Sunday award for Best New British and Commonwealth Writer under 35, for her first book Motel Nirvana. She writes for the national press and is a regular broadcaster on radio. Melanie lives and works in London. White Heat is her first novel.