Thoughts on the Dagger Nominees

First off, hoo boy.

A few years ago, it seemed like the Gold Dagger was awarded to a crime writer from another country. Think of Jose Carlos Somoza’s THE ATHENIAN MURDERS, or Henning Mankell’s FIREWALL. And people griped each year. So what do you do with a shortlist where not a single finalist set their book in Britain? And where half of them are translated novels? And where one of them is dead? And when another is Carl Hiaasen?

OK, I kid on the last point, but one does have to wonder, and I think the judging panel’s explanation may not necessarily cut it:

The judges were impressed with the number of high quality entries this year, particularly those from other countries. It was hard, they said, to distinguish one specific new novel from an established series which they knew and liked, but after lengthy discussions all agreed on the shortlist. They did note that entries from smaller publishers were particularly strong this year, as is demonstrated by the shortlist. The deliberations involved in choosing the final shortlist were occasionally heated, with judges arguing strongly for their own favourites but, with Geoff Bradley’s expert guidance, they managed to select a shortlist that disappointed no-one.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge champion of crime fiction in translation. There are some excellent, excellent writers out there that more people should be reading – and Vargas, Indridason and Fossum have quickly vaulted themselves into my own favorites list. But if you’re a Brit writer who’s actually writing about your home country, it must seem just a wee bit disheartening.

Never mind that I really have no idea who will win now. None.

So, moving onto the Creasey. First off, Jeff Lindsay should not be on there. It’s not his first book – for all I know, the sci-fi stuff he wrote with his wife might even be available in the UK – and the CWA’s already been through this ruckus before when they found out at the last minute that oops, Janet Evanovich’s ONE FOR THE MONEY wasn’t her first book, and so that’s why Laurie King’s A GRAVE TALENT got a special commendation. So can we not have this mistake again? (UPDATE: Lindsay’s name has been deleted from the Creasey shortlist, presumably because of what I wrote about above.) Otherwise, I’m actually surprised there were enough entrants to make up a shortlist of five, but that’s because I think I wasn’t paying enough attention to some of the newbies. Kunzmann’s book I have heard interesting things about, and Clare Clark’s is one I look forward to reading soon (though in the US, it’s marketed very much as fiction, not mystery.) As for Dreda Say Mitchell and David McKeowen, I guess “way under the radar” would qualify as the best way to describe them for the moment. Mitchell’s book looks incredibly fresh and promising, so I know I’ll be getting a copy soon, and McKeowen – the nom de plume for Swindon North MP Michael Wills – has been getting good notices since its publication in June.

The Steel shortlist seems to be all over the map. I’m not surprised that perennial noms Henry Porter and Daniel Silva show up yet again, although picking that particular Corso novel by Ford is a bit peculiar – if anything, it’s more of a conventional mystery and less of a thriller, but there you go. I have hopes for A GOOD DAY TO DIE because it simply kicks ass, but whether Kernick will be rewarded for bringing Dennis Milne back is, of course, up in the air.

On the short story front, although I really liked “Miss Froom” it’s not my favorite in Connolly’s collection, but still great to see it acknowledged. Edwards and Robinson make repeat appearances, and as does Ellis I believe. And Sherlock Magazine has to be happy…although it’s a mixed blessing since they aren’t exactly publishing new issues anymore.

The Dagger in the Library’s going to be a tough call, but I can’t say I’m sorry to see so many excellent writers on the shortlist – and especially Martyn Waites, because this is one writer who needs as wide an audience as, say, George Pelecanos has in the US (at least, enough that it got him on the NYT Extended several times.) Luckily I think 2006 will be a good year for Waites, with THE MERCY SEAT due out soon on both sides.

One last thing before I sign off – why on earth would the CWA list the Debut Dagger nominees by title only, and not by name? I do know a couple of the shortlistees (including Otis Twelve making his third appearance in a row) but why not make this available to everyone? Should we only armchair judge by title then? All fine, but kind of strange…