CWA International Dagger shared
Monday 15 July 2013: For the first time, the judges have divided the CWA International Dagger between two books: Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds, and Alex by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne. The prizes were awarded by Janet Lawrence, who chaired the judges, and accepted by the translators Siân Reynolds and Frank Wynne, pictured above.
Why? Because, say the judges, “for all the differences between these brilliant novels, they share—among their other qualities—an original and absorbing ability to leash incredulity in the name of the fictional contract between author and reader. From the strange presuppositions of their opening pages, these stylish writers – one newly translated, the other long established, give us crime novels with superb plotting, interesting actors old and new, good dialogue in the service of characterisation, leavened by humour (sometimes of the gallows), and always an ability to upset our preconceptions. From the sometimes outlandish imagination which is Fred Vargas to the painfully explicit, but never gratuitous, violence of Pierre Lemaitre, these novels demonstrate the variety and quality of international crime writing.”
Alison Joseph added: “The International Dagger came about because the CWA became aware that international crime writing was developing its own momentum, becoming something worth celebrating on its own terms. To try to judge international crime fiction when jumbled in with UK publications simply didn’t do justice to the richness of the genre when explored within different cultures and different viewpoints. This year’s winners have borne that out. This year’s Dagger is shared between two extraordinary talents, so extraordinary that they have had to share the glory. The crime fiction emerging from France is very exciting - so exciting, that the CWA is planning to establish a French Chapter in the near future.”
Ghost Riders of Ordebec
Translated from the French by Siân Reynolds. Original title: L’armee furieuse
Synopsis: ‘People will die,’ says the panic-stricken woman outside police headquarters. She has been standing in blazing sunshine for more than an hour, and refuses to speak to anyone besides Commissaire Adamsberg. Her daughter has seen a vision: ghostly horsemen who target the most nefarious characters in Normandy. Since the middle ages there have been stories of murderers, rapists, those with serious crimes on their conscience, meeting a grizzly end following a visitation by the riders. Soon after the young woman’s vision a notoriously cruel man disappears, and the local police dismiss the matter as superstition. Although the case is far outside his jurisdiction, Adamsberg agrees to investigate the strange happenings in a village terrorised by wild rumours and ancient feuds.
Judges’ comments: ‘Using her now famous imagination to invent a crime novel from a strange pretext, Vargas resurrects the pan-European legend of 'the wild hunt', a troop of demonic ghosts who return in battalions of dark riders to punish the guilty who have escaped justice by carrying them away to destruction and damnation. Things are, of course, not what they seem, and Adamsberg has to use all his charm to persuade villagers to talk to him so he can understand what is happening, as well as depending upon Danglard for the historical and anthropological background. Vintage Fred.’
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.
Sian Reynolds is Emeritus 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. In 2010 she was promoted Officier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques.
Translated from the French by Frank Wynne. Original title: Alex
Synopsis: In kidnapping cases, the first few hours are crucial. After that, the chances of being found alive go from slim to nearly none. Alex Prévost – beautiful, resourceful, tough – may be no ordinary victim, but her time is running out. Commandant Camille Verhœven and his detectives have nothing to go on: no suspect, no lead, rapidly diminishing hope. All they know is that a girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. The enigma that is the fate of Alex will keep Verhœven guessing until the bitter, bitter end. And before long, saving her life will be the least of his worries.
Judges’ comments: ‘Using narrations from several points of view, Lemaitre begins with the urgent pursuit of a kidnapped and tortured young woman, only to unfold a nightmare of serial crimes which make the reader reinterpret and revise everything that has happened. The French Commissaire leading the squad against the clock has his own reasons for having nothing to do with this crime; yet he is drawn in by its complexities toward a kind of cure by fire. This is a police procedural, a thiller against against time, a race between hunted and hunter, and a whydunnit, written from mulitiple points of view that explore several apparently parallel stories which finally meet.’
Pierre Lemaitre was born in Paris in 1956. He worked for many years as a teacher of literature and now devotes his time to writing novels and screenplays.
Frank Wynne is a translator from French and Spanish. His translations include works by Michel Houellebecq and Marcelo Figueras’s IFFP-shortlisted Kamchatka. His website is www.terribleman.com.
In 2012-13 there were thirty-nine submissions for the International Dagger, from fourteen countries, in many subgenres. The level of competence remains high, although the fashion for religious/supernatural conspiracy novels has not inspired anything outstanding. Questions of quality led to two long discussions by the judging panel: one is whether a socially important book which is otherwise not exceptional in originality or aesthetic quality is, nonetheless, an ‘outstanding’ book; the other is the problem of exceptional violence. In both cases, the judges agree that one of crime fiction’s claims to attention is when it reveals, analyses, and publicizes issues of social concern. Crime fiction can alert its publics to failures in laws and law enforcement, on the street, in the courts, and in legislation. It can perform the work of historical memory and bring injustices to public attention. Three of the shortlisted books raise these questions: one performs the work of publicity and has called the attention of its society to a questionable change in its laws; in two, though there is terrible violence, it is employed in the service of serious questions, and is never gratuitous.
The judges regret the non-submission of several outstanding books, and wish to remind publishers of the CWA’s deadlines.
The other four books on this year’s shortlist were:
The Missing File by D A Mishani, translated by Steven Cohen (Quercus)
Two Soldiers by Roslund & Hellström, translated by Kari Dickson (Quercus)
Death in Sardinia by Marco Vichi, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach, translated by Anthea Bell (Michael Joseph)
The Missing File
D A Mishani
Translated from the Hebrew by Steven Cohen. Original title: תיק נעדר
Synopsis: A sixteen-year-old boy is missing in a Tel Aviv suburb. His mother is worried. Inspector Avraham Avraham is not. It is unheard of for children to vanish in this city. ‘He’ll be home in an hour, maybe three hours, tomorrow morning at the latest. I can assure you.’ But there’s a first time for everything. And, as time begins to pass, and the boy is still nowhere to be found, Avraham finds himself facing this horrible truth. The Missing File presents a seemingly average detective and a seemingly routine investigation, and then shows both to be far from what they seem. A supremely confident crime thriller, its unexpected resolution will force readers to question all they take for granted about innocence, guilt and the ways in which the truth can evade us.
Judges’ comments: ‘On an ordinary day, a woman reports the possible disappearance of a schoolboy. The Israeli police find her unconvincing and send her home, a decision they almost immediately regret. The lead detective is a quirky cop full of self doubt, with smothering parents on one side and a good and supportive team on the other; the lively cast includes a neighbour (briefly a suspect) without any common sense; and the end provides a deeply emotional twist.’
D. A. Mishani is an editor of Israeli fiction and international crime literature, as well as a literary scholar specialising in the history of detective literature. He lives with his wife and two children in Tel Aviv. The Missing File is his first novel.
The photograph of D. A. Mishani is by Yanay Yechieli
Steven Cohen has been a translator for over twenty years and writes for the English edition of Haaretz – the International Herald Tribune. He lives in Ra'anana, Israel.
The Missing File is published by Quercus by arrangement with Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins
Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström
Translated from the Swedish by Kari Dickson. Original title: Två Soldater
Synopsis: José Pereira heads the police’s Organized Crime and Gang Section in Råby, a southern suburb of Stockholm. Here, juvenile gang crime is a rapidly growing and all-too-real problem. Blood brothers Leon and Gabriel have spent their young lives establishing a formidable criminal enterprise – known as the Råby Warriors – which is now poised to secure domination in the area. DCI Ewert Grens is investigating a recent prison break from a maximum-security facility: an incident that is linked to the Råby Warriors – a group Grens knows more about than he first admits. All four men are on a collision course: heading toward an explosive convergence, and a revelation powerful enough to tear each of them apart.
Judges’ comments: ‘The Swedish team are in top form with this dystopia, in which the influence of international drug and arms dealing meets high rise tenements, poverty from generation to generation, and a taste of the Baltimore series, The Wire. Their sure-handed architectonic skill builds a many-stranded picture of mass alienation and mass violence in the name of social dissidence and greed for money and things. Gabriel and Leon are the two soldiers, gaoled, gangleaders, and brothers. Outstanding twists run a breathless course of describing social and family breakdown in aspiring gangsterism among Sweden's disaffected young.’
Award-winning journalist Anders Roslund and ex-criminal Börge Hellström are Sweden’s most acclaimed contemporary fiction duo. Their unique ability to combine inside knowledge of the brutal reality of criminal life with searing social criticism in complex, intelligent plots has put them at the forefront of modern Scandinavian crime writing.
Kari Dickson was born in Edinburgh, but grew up bilingually, as her mother is Norwegian. She has a BA in Scandinavian Studies and an MA in Translation. She currently teaches in the Scandinavian department at the University of Edinburgh.
Death in Sardinia
Hodder & Stoughton
Translated from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli. Original title: Il nuovo venuto
Synopsis: Florence, 1965. A man is found murdered, a pair of scissors stuck through his throat. Only one thing is known about him - he was a loan shark, who ruined and blackmailed the vulnerable men and women who would come to him for help. Inspector Bordelli prepares to launch a murder investigation. But the case will be a tough one for him, arousing mixed emotions: the desire for justice conflicting with a deep hostility for the victim. And he is missing his young police sidekick, Piras, who is convalescing at his parents' home in Sardinia. But Piras hasn't been recuperating for long before he too has a mysterious death to deal with…
Judges’ comments: ‘This straightforward and competent local investigation, set in the 1960s, lifts itself into another category by its evocative writing about time and place in a now-vanished Italy. In Inspector Bordelli’s third outing, he is without his young colleague, Piras, who is recovering at home from a gunshot wound. Despite the distance, they manage to work together, and with Piras’s father’s comrades from the Resistance. This is a fine novel that recalls the war and its repercussions as well as the challenges faced then and now by Italian detectives.’
Marco Vichi was born in Florence in 1957. The author of twelve novels and two collections of short stories, he has also written screenplays, music lyrics and for radio, and collaborated on projects for humanitarian causes. His novel Death in Florence won the Scerbanenco, Rieti, Camaiore and Azzeccagarbugli prizes. His website (in Italian) is www.marcovichi.it
Stephen Sartarelli is an award-winning translator, including last year’s winner The Potter’s Field by Andrea Camilleri. He is also the author of three books of poetry, most recently The Open Vault. He lives in France.
The Collini Case
Ferdinand von Schirach
Translated from the German by Anthea Bell. Original title: Der Fall Collini
Synopsis: A murder. A murderer. No motif. For thirty-four years Fabrizio Collini has worked diligently for Mercedes Benz. He is a quiet and respectable person until the day he visits one of Berlin's most luxurious hotels and kills an innocent man. Young attorney Caspar Leinen takes the case. Getting Collini a not-guilty verdict would make his name. But too late he discovers that Collini's victim - an industrialist of some renown - is known to him. Now Leinen is caught in a professional and personal dilemma. Collini admits the murder but won't say why he did it, forcing Leinen to defend a man who won't put up a defence. And worse, a close friend and relation of the victim insists that he give up the case. His reputation, his career and this friendship are all at risk. Then he makes a discovery that goes way beyond his own petty concerns and exposes a terrible and deadly truth at the heart of German justice…
Judges’ comments: ‘Historical thrillers set during and after WWII often explore long-planned private revenge in formerly occupied countries with histories of collaboration and resistance. Part legal thriller, part war reparation, this revelatory and polemical whydunnit called attention to a little-remarked change in Germany’s statute of limitations for Nazi crimes. The moral outrage of von Schirach’s lawyer was effective in helping turn public attention to a recently introduced loophole in German law. The Collini Case earns its place here because its popularity helped persuade Germany’s legal profession to rescind changes in the statute of limitations.’
Ferdinand von Schirach was born in Munich in 1964. Today he works as one of Germany’s most prominent defence lawyers in Berlin. His short story collections Crime and Guilt became instant bestsellers in Germany and are translated in over thirty territories.
Anthea Bell OBE has translated numerous literary works, especially children’s literature, from French, German, Danish and Polish to English. She is known for her numerous translations, including Austerlitz, one of the most significant German language works of fiction for the period since World War II, and of the French Asterix comics along with co-translator Derek Hockridge.
Photograph by Paulus Ponizak ((archive of Piper Verlag)
Janet Laurence, non-voting chair, has written two series of crime novels and the first of a new series: Deadly Inheritance, has just been published by The Mystery Press. She is also the author of Writing Crime Fiction - Making Crime Pay and chaired the CWA in 1998-99.
Karen Meek is a library assistant and founder of the Euro Crime website: www.eurocrime.co.uk
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.
To be eligible in this round, books must have had their first UK publication between 1 June 2012 and 31 May 2013.