The Dagger Debate continues

Bob Cornwell (who was once the webmaster for the CWA’s site) shares his thoughts on the prospective rule change that would kick out translated crime novels from consideration for the Gold Dagger category after rounding up various other articles and opinions on the matter:

Here I should declare my own special interest. I am a reader and reviewer of a wide range of crime fiction who has found his own tastes more completely satisfied in recent years by crime fiction in translation. But this is not to the exclusion of the native product. I admit to blind spots (much historical crime for example) but I am full of admiration, not only for Ruth Rendell (particularly when she is writing as Barbara Vine), P.D. James, Ian Rankin and, indeed many of the authors on Selina Walker’s list (including Mark Billingham and Val McDermid at their best, just in case this is beginning to sound like a personal vendetta). My tastes also take in the disparate talents of Robert Wilson and Lee Child, Sarah Diamond and Laura Wilson.

But the recently translated work by Dominique Manotti, Jean-Claude Izzo, Gianrico Carofiglio, Arnaldur Indridason, Tonino Benacquista, Karin Fossum, Hans Werner Kattenbach, Jörg Hauser and Rafael Reig, has added to my reading a whole new range of subject matter not to mention an unusual cultural framework or two. In fact, I grew curious about the whole process of translation and was intrigued enough to seek out and question some of the translators involved. The results can be found (in precis) in CrimeTime issue 44 and (unedited) at

One thing is clear from these researches. It is that rendering every bit of “nuance, tone, atmosphere, subtleties of language” as accurately as possible is the major objective of every translator, not to mention the publishers involved. As Mike Mitchell (translator of the short-listed In Matto’s Realm by Friedrich Glauser) remarked: “If the original is a thrilling adventure story or a sparkling comedy and what comes out in English…is not a thrilling story or a sparkling comedy, then it is not a ‘faithful’ translation.”

Of course, some translators are more successful than others. It is fortunate that in Bernard Scudder (another of my interviewees), Arnaldur Indridason has found an ideal translator who works closely with the author to ensure that his original vision (which let us not forget has won Indridason in two successive years The Glass Key, a prize competed for across five Nordic countries each year) is realised as closely as possible.

But perhaps Cornwell’s best point is about what occurs in other countries with their awards:

What is surprising is that the CWA has not pointed out that the majority of crime fiction prizes in Europe also favour their home teams. Perhaps this omission is because many CWA members (along with their counterparts in the Mystery Writers of America) benefit from the dominance of, yes, translated English-language crime novels in those markets. Visit book shops in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands and you will find that the shelf space is dominated by a raft of British and American names. Rightly so perhaps, given the strength of our respective current and back catalogues. But to the point that, in the Netherlands for example, even with all those flaws in “nuance, tone, atmosphere and subtleties of language”, English-language authors take about 95% of the market? Even France with perhaps twenty or so prizes for crime fiction in its various forms – a handful open to all comers, along with one for translators! – manages to retain only about 50% of its home market. And in the UK? Well in 2004 (figures from Mike Ripley), 583 new crime titles were published, of which around 10% came from outside the UK or (north) America. I’d be surprised if actual ‘foreign’ sales figures reached even that 10% number, leaving over 90% of the market to the home, English language side. Small wonder then that the CWA move will be widely seen across the world as a protectionist and needlessly selfish measure.