Sandy Gingras

CWA Debut Dagger Winner

Sandy Gingras


Prize: £700, sponsored by Orion

Sandy Gingras from New Jersey has won the CWA 2012 Debut Dagger with her story Beached. Her success was announced at the CWA Daggers Awards Ceremony on 5 July 2012. The judges praised the fast pace, combined with a great voice and central character, in Sandy’s novel.

The judges also felt the field was strong enough for them to select a Highly Commended Entry. In fact, they were unable to decide between two stories, so for the first time we have a tie with both Broken-winged Bird by Renata Hill and The Watchers by Karen Catalona being Highly Commended.

Beached: Lola Polenta’s life is in free fall. Her marriage is on the rocks, she’s getting all the crappy jobs in her new career, her home is sinking into a swamp, and she’s just screwed up her first date with the sexy Detective Johansen. She thinks life can’t get any worse… then she finds a severed arm.

Read the first three chapters of Beached here.

Sandy Gingras lives on Long Beach Island (which she says is nothing but a glorified sandbar six miles out to sea in New Jersey, USA) with her husband, her son, her golden retriever and a blind cat. She used to be a therapist, but now she owns two retail stores. She designs stationery products and calendars and she writes and illustrates gift books. Work commitments meant that she was unable to travel to the Awards Ceremony, but she emailed us her reaction:

open quoteLike most writers, I’ve had many rejections of my work. After each one, my husband tells me “The Story of the Super Soaker” (which is a very large water pistol kind of thing) to make me feel better. Evidently the Super Soaker inventor had his share of rejections too. But the Super Soaker guy was like the “Little Engine that Could” of water pistol inventors. He kept on pushing on and believing in himself and trying and trying again to get his invention sold... My husband doesn’t like to see me get down on myself, and he thinks (happily) that I’m a good writer, so he repeatedly tells me this story to keep me going. It’s nice of him, but agonizing to listen to.

My first thought after I heard that I’d won the Debut Dagger was, “Thank goodness, I won’t have to listen to that stupid Super Soaker story again.” Then I went screaming around the house.

close quoteI am so happy to receive this award. It is such a great honor, and I’m so thankful, and I’ll do my very best to live up to it.

Renata Hill: Broken-Winged Bird is Renata’s second manuscript to be short-listed for the Debut Dagger Awards. When not writing, Renata runs her own mural-painting business. She and her husband live near Toronto, Canada, in a mid-century modern house with its own bomb shelter and a kitchen renovation entering its second year.

Broken-Winged Bird: In the New York of speakeasies, jazz bars, prohibition, and racial segregation, reporter Kate Marsden must decide whether to publish the biggest story of her career - or find the killer of her friend.

The judges loved the wonderful atmosphere and cinematic quality of Renata’s writing.

Karen Catalona is a Deputy District Attorney in San Francisco, California.

The Watchers: When Grace Connelly’s adoptive father is killed, the last thing he does is make her promise never to look for her biological parents. Needless to say, Grace does just that – and discovering the terrifying secret behind her birth puts her in more danger than she could ever imagine.

The judges liked Karen’s confident and pacy writing and felt the plot had the potential for real tension

The other shortlisted authors, and their entries, are:

Death by Glasgow by Jon Breakfield
Easy to Die by Sean Carpenter
One Man Army by Bram E. Gieben
Trick by Sean Hancock
Death Knell by Rob Lowe

Chasing Shadows by Lesley McLaren
The Wrong Domino by Simon Miller
Message from Panama by Britt Vasarhelyi
Port of Spain by Elizabeth Wells

Here is more information about each of these runners-up:

Jon Breakfield is a former TV writer and has drawn on his predilection for hanging out in colourful locales with suspect locals to create the backdrop for his first crime/thriller.

Death by Glasgow teams up the education, sophistication and brains of Detective Sergeant Fiona Lyon-Jones with the street sense, balls and gall of Detective Inspector Fleet Sharkey. A double-barrel with a posh lilt, partnered with a bad boy with an impenetrable accent. A marriage made in hell.

The judges described this entry as “Confident writing with vivid energy coming off the page.”

Sean Carpenter is a professional stage magician, and a former winner of the British Close-Up Magic Championships. His writing has appeared in many trade publications for other magicians. Sean is now working on his first crime novel and hopes to get it finished before his children are old enough to read it.

Easy to Die: A retired Hong Kong businessman has dementia and his fortune has disappeared. An investigator offers his services, but Stephen Pook has never handled a case alone before, and the private detective he works for will soon be found where Stephen left him: on the office floor with a knife in his chest.

The judges like the intriguing setting, and felt this was a story with a very strong opening.

Bram E. Gieben is the founder / editor of Weaponizer Press and Weaponizer Magazine. In 2011 he became a member of literary performance group Writers Bloc. His fiction has been published by Drey magazine and in the collection Finding Home (Timid Pirate Press). He is currently working on his debut novel while undertaking a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Glasgow University.

One Man Army is a fast-paced thriller set against the backdrop of a recession-hit Scotland, dealing with the spectre of the war on terror, rising immigration and the resurgence of the far right in politics. It tells the story of an unlikely partnership: Lewis MacPhaill, an English ex-prisoner with a chequered past, teams up with veteran Edinburgh detective Paul Nisbet to catch a dangerous terrorist, and to uncover the secretive far-right group who trained him.

The judges liked the gritty and unusual writing with another wonderful opening

Sean Hancock lived in London and Kenya before his family settled in Devon where Sean spent his formative years. His mother is from Somalia, East Africa, and his father is English, and so he stood out growing up in a small country town. Trick is inspired, in part, by that period of his life.

Sean is currently an Executive Producer for the BBC in Entertainment Commissioning and lives in London.

Trick is a coming of age crime novel about a group of disaffected teens who turn to crime in order to get the things they want. But can they handle the consequences?

The judges said this entry had a well drawn central character.

Rob Lowe studied English at King’s College London and St John’s College Oxford. After several years in publishing, he moved to Cornwall to work for the Eden Project. Death Knell is the first of a trilogy he plans to write featuring disreputable and disingenuous Thomas Milton.

Death Knell: Venice 1521. Thomas Milton, an English bounty hunter, is coerced into searching for Gregario Zelotti, the missing heir of a noble family. When Zelotti’s mutilated body turns up beside the Arsenal, Milton finds himself caught in a murderous campaign to destroy a whole dynasty.

The judges described this as an atmospheric story with a good sense of time and place.

Lesley McLaren left university with a degree in French and spent the next twenty years forgetting most of it while pursuing a career in retailing, manufacturing, the public sector and complementary therapy. Eventually she was able to turn a long-standing dream into a reality and now lives in the foothills of the Pyrenees where she walks her three dogs, entertains the neighbours with her rusty French, and writes novels.

Chasing Shadows: DCI “Mad Mac” MacDonald is under intense pressure to catch a brutal killer who has decapitated five men and dumped their bodies on the Northumberland moors. When MacDonald’s idiosyncratic investigative skills lead him to suspect the involvement of paranormal forces as well as the last victim’s widow and his own sergeant, he’s forced into a course of action that he and those closest to him might not survive.

The judges said this story had a good local atmosphere and rich texture to the writing.

Simon Miller: Simon was living in Cameroun when he came across the true story behind The Wrong Domino. He has also lived in Kenya and Mexico and taught history in a range of universities from Cambridge to California. He now writes full-time on the edge of Dartmoor.

The Wrong Domino: The “accidental” death of a young American photojournalist in 1956 takes maverick private eye Harry Kaplan to Cameroun. It’s 1974 (Watergate, the Arab oil embargo and the world’s first energy crisis) and Harry is happy to take a break from the present. The only snag is the Camerounian past conceals dark secrets that will derail emergency French plans to sell Iran a nuclear bomb.

The judges felt this was a big ambitious novel convincingly researched.

Britt Vasarhelyi lives with a spouse, two dogs, and a multitude of neighborhood cats on the side of a mountain overlooking the volcano and cloud forests of western Panama. Message from Panama is Britt’s first novel.

Message from Panama: When Pen Smith receives a mysterious letter summoning him to Panama, he has no idea he’ll inherit a fortune, become the target of a murderer, and embark on an adventure that will take him from Panama’s steamy jungles to its lush and dangerous mountains. Along the way, Pen will encounter Colombian narco-terrorists, meet a fascinating woman, and play poker in what may be a game for the highest stakes of his life.

The judges liked the strong opening leading to exciting action.

Elizabeth Wells was born in Trinidad, educated in England, and now lives in Canada. She has had fiction and non-fiction published in England, Canada and Australia.

Port of Spain: In 1934 a colonial civil servant is stabbed to death in a seedy Port of Spain hotel. Fifty years later Trinidad is no longer a colony, and British writer, Adam Wiley, has his own reasons for wanting to know who got away with murder and who let it happen.

The judges felt this was a clever take on the locked-room mystery with a convincing setting.

Head over to the Debut Dagger section of this website for a wealth of information about the competition, and to sign up to our free mailing list to be notified when the opening and closing dates for the 2013 competition have been decided.


The Judges for 2012 are:

Kate Burke – Editorial Director, Random House publishing
Jemima Forrester – Editor, Trade Fiction, Orion publishing
Peter James – Chair, Crime Writers’ Association
Laura Palmer – Editorial Director, Head of Zeus (Atlantic)
Ruth Tross – Editor, Mulholland Books (Hodder & Stoughton)
Caroline Wood – Agent (Felicity Bryan Associates)