Charles Cumming

Charles Cumming wins the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger

Charles Cumming has won this year’s £2,000 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, awarded by the Crime Writers Association for the year’s best thriller in the vein of Ian Fleming. His A Foreign Country beat off competition from Megan Abbott, Robert Harris and Neal Stephenson. The judges said that this Contemporary spy thriller had “… a gripping premise, expertly sustained, lots of believable spycraft and memorable supporting characters.”

Responding, he said “For spy writers, the Steel Dagger is our Booker prize, so I’m thrilled to have won such a prestigious award. Some great writers have picked up the Steel Dagger, including Henry Porter, Dan Fesperman and Tom Rob Smith. I’m honoured to have joined their ranks.”

He was presented with his cheque and dagger at the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards, which took place in a glittering ceremony at Grosvenor House, London, on Thursday.

A Foreign Country

A Foreign Country

Charles Cumming


Synopsis: Six weeks before she is due to take up her position as the first female head of MI6, Amelia Levene vanishes without a trace. Her disappearance is the gravest crisis MI6 has faced for more than a decade. There has been no ransom demand, no word from foreign intelligence services, no hint of a defection. Should news of Levene’s disappearance leak out, the consequences would be catastrophic. But for disgraced MI6 officer Thomas Kell, the crisis offers a chance for redemption. He is approached by his former employers and ordered to find her. Kell’s search takes him first to France, then North Africa, where he discovers an extraordinary secret hidden deep in Levene's past. It is a secret that could fatally compromise Britain’s national security – and for which Kell himself could pay with his life.

Charles Cumming has been described as ‘the man who most successfully gets under the skin of Britain’s intelligence agencies’ (The Times). In the summer of 1995, he was approached for recruitment by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). A year later he moved to Montreal where he began working on a novel based on his experiences with MI6. A Spy By Nature was published in the UK in 2001.

He was born in Scotland in 1971. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1994 with First Class Honours in English Literature. A Foreign Country is his sixth novel. His website is

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Ian Fleming said there was one essential criterion for a good thriller – that ‘one simply has to turn the page’. All of the other books on the shortlist for this year’s CWA Steel Dagger satisfied that test:

Dare Me

Megan Abbott


Dare Me
Megan Abbott

Synopsis: Think of everything you thought you thought you knew about cheerleading. Then think again. These girls are warriors. Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy are the unchallenged rulers of their high school kingdom. Tough, inseparable, invincible. It takes something special to upset their team hierarchy – and with the new season that something arrives in the form of Coach French. Cool, commanding, intensely charismatic, she demands fierce allegiance. With her, there are no limits. As she pushes the girls’ bodies to breaking point and hones their minds diamond-bright, as they attempt stunts that potentially threaten their lives, Coach’s own private life spins devastatingly out of control. A police investigation begins to circle, one which implicates the whole squad. As the net closes, the countdown begins. The season finale approaches: they have to be perfect. But the stakes are higher than ever before, the danger palpable, and Addy and Beth must choose where their loyalties lie. Dare Me

The Judges said: “Dark, edgy and gripping. Characters drawn with startling flaws and humanity and a narrative that keeps you guessing.”

Megan Abbott: is the Edgar®-winning author of five previous novels. Born in the Detroit area, she graduated from the University of Michigan and received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University. She has taught at NYU, the State University of New York and the New School University. This year, she is teaching at the Crime Fiction Academy at New York City’s Center for Fiction.

Her website is
Author photograph © Joshua Gaylord

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The Fear Index

Robert Harris


The Fear Index
Robert Harris

Synopsis: His name is carefully guarded from the general public but within the secretive inner circles of the ultra-rich Dr Alex Hoffmann is a legend - a visionary scientist whose computer software turns everything it touches into gold. Together with his partner, an investment banker, Hoffmann has developed a revolutionary form of artificial intelligence that tracks human emotions, enabling it to predict movements in the financial markets with uncanny accuracy. His hedge fund, based in Geneva, makes billions. Then, while he lies asleep with his wife, a sinister intruder breaches the elaborate security of their house. So begins a waking nightmare of paranoia and violence as Hoffmann attempts, with increasing desperation, to discover who is trying to destroy him. His quest forces him to confront the deepest questions of what it is to be human. By the time night falls over Geneva, the financial markets will be in turmoil and Hoffmann's world - and ours - transformed forever.

The Judges said: “Highly readable account of a scientist who once worked on the Hadron Collider and now runs a hedge fund. Intriguingly ambiguous take on the Frankenstein story.”

Robert Harris has written seven previous novels - Fatherland, Enigma, Archangel, Pompeii, Imperium, The Ghost and Lustrum. His work has been translated into thirty-seven languages. For his collaboration with Roman Polanski on the film version of The Ghost, he won both the French César and the European Film Awards for best adapted screenplay. A graduate of Cambridge University, where he studied English, he joined the BBC and later wrote for The Observer, The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is married to Gill Hornby. They have four children and live in a village near Hungerford in West Berkshire.

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Neal Stephenson

Atlantic Books

Neal Stephenson

Synopsis: Across the globe, millions of computer screens flicker with the artfully coded world of T'Rain - an addictive internet role-playing game of fantasy and adventure. But backstreet hackers have just unleashed a contagious virus called Reamde. As it rampages through the gaming world, holding hard drives hostage in the process, the computer of one powerful and dangerous man is infected, causing the carefully mediated violence of the on-line world to spill over into reality. An inimitable and compelling thriller that careers from British Columbia to South-West China via Russia and the fantasy world of T'Rain, Reamde is an irresistible epic from the unique imagination of one of today's most individual writers.

The Judges said: “A remarkable confection centred on a global computer game, it encompasses every conceivable aspect of thrillerdom. Admirable plotting, wit, characters and ambition.”

Neal Stephenson is the author of eight novels, including the cult successes Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon. He has been shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award six times, winning with Quicksilver. Four of his last five novels have been number one New York Times bestsellers. He lives in Seattle.

His website is
Author photograph © Kate Eshelby

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Corinne Turner (Administrative Chair) manages intellectual property development and is Managing Director of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd.

NJ Cooper is a crime writer and journalist and regularly speaks at crime-writing conferences and on the radio.

John Dugdale is the Sunday Times’s thriller reviewer, and writes about books more generally for the Guardian.

David Headley is an agent and owner of Goldsboro Books independent bookshop.

Robert Laycock works in various entertainment related businesses involving Intellectual Property management, publishing and film.

Fergus Fleming is one of Britain's leading popular historians and the author of five critically acclaimed histories of exploration. He is Ian Fleming’s nephew.


The other four books that were long listed are:
The Shadow Patrol by Alex Berenson (Headline)
The Dispatcher by Ryan David Jahn (Macmillan)
Uncommon Enemy by Alan Judd (Simon & Schuster)
The Child Who by Simon Lelic (Mantle)

The Shadow Patrol

Alex Berenson


The Shadow Patrol

Synopsis: A killer is on the loose … In 2009, the CIA officers in Afghanistan’s Kabul Station received information from a reliable source regarding the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But when they followed the informant to bin Laden’s apparent location, they discovered it was a deadly trap. The man blew himself up, taking the chief of station and several senior officers with him. Two years later, the station still hasn’t recovered and the situation has deteriorated. Every initiative meets with failure. No one knows who to trust. In desperation, John Wells’ old CIA bosses ask him to go over and investigate. Reluctantly, Wells agrees but what he finds when he gets there is more than a station in disarray. There is a full-blown military drug-smuggling operation underway, and worse, a traitor is leaking information to the Taliban. Americans are dying, and an American is responsible – and this is just the beginning. Only Wells stands in the traitor’s way … for now.

The Judges said: “Ex-CIA series hero investigates drug dealing and links to the Taliban by US troops in Kabul. Up-to-the-moment, well-written, believable dialogue and sketches of places.”

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The Dispatcher

Ryan David Jahn


The Dispatcher

Synopsis: Ian Hunt is the police dispatcher for the small town of Bulls Mouth, Texas. As his shift is ending he gets a call from his fourteen-year-old daughter, Maggie. Maggie, who has just been declared dead, having been snatched from her bedroom seven years ago. Her call ends in a scream. The trail leads to a local couple, but this is just the start of Ian’s battle to get his daughter back. What follows is a bullet-strewn cross-country chase, from Texas to California. The riveting new novel from the acclaimed author of Acts of Violence and Low Life is a brilliantly original and bracing thriller, about the lengths a man will go to for his daughter.

The Judges said: “A Texas police dispatcher takes a 911 call from his fourteen-year-old daughter, who was kidnapped seven years ago, presumed dead. The tension never lets up.”

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Uncommon Enemy

Alan Judd

Simon & Schuster

Uncommon Enemy

Synopsis: From a prison cell, in which he has been held on suspicion of breaking the Official Secrets Act, Charles Thoroughgood awaits not only his bail, but also the reappearance of the woman whom all the major roads in his life have led back to. After his years in the army and then with MI6, Charles has begun a new chapter in his life with the Secret Intelligence Agency, shadowing the movements of a suspected double agent. Charles knows that he has nothing to hide, and as he casts his mind over the course of recent events, he begins to suspect a more sinister motivation, both personally and politically, behind his incarceration…

The Judges said: “A spy novel of the traditional type: ultra-sad, intelligent, cool, dealing with treachery of both the personal and the political.”

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The Child Who

The Child Who

Simon Lelic


Synopsis: A quiet English town is left reeling when twelve-year-old Daniel Blake is discovered to have brutally murdered his schoolmate Felicity Forbes. For provincial solicitor Leo Curtice, the case promises to be the most high profile – and morally challenging - of his career. But as he begins his defence Leo is unprepared for the impact the public fury surrounding Felicity’s death will have on his family - and his teenage daughter Ellie, above all. While Leo struggles to get Daniel to open up, hoping to unearth the reasons for the boy’s terrible crime, the build-up of pressure on Leo’s family intensifies. As the case nears its climax, events will take their darkest turn. For Leo, nothing will ever be the same again …

The Judges said: “A provincial lawyer takes on the case of a child who has murdered another child. The subject of the book is without question a difficult one, but handled with great skill. Good thrilling read.”

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