The International Dagger Shortlist 2013: some thoughts

Posted: June 4, 2013 in Book Awards, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Sweden








Usually when the CWA International Dagger Shortlist is announced I have read most of the books, but this year I have only read one of them, The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas. I normally would not comment until I had read more of the books, but the  announcement on the CWA website reproduced below made me think the judges are unhappy at the quality of the shortlist. Surely if “several outstanding books” are not submitted by publishers within the deadlines some kind of failsafe system should be arranged. I can understand the organisers wanting a fee to include the books in a shortlist, but the prestige of the award will be tarnished if the shortlist becomes  a collection of books that wouldn’t have made it but X, Y and Z weren’t submitted in time. There is mention of terrible violence in two of the books, and I always wonder if this is really necessary in any circumstances. I will possibly get round to reading only one of the two violent books, but when I read in the press about the murder of April Jones, and the fact that Drummer Lee Rigby had to be identified from his dental records, I think authors and scriptwriters have some responsibility to tone down any descriptions of violence in their work.

It is a bittersweet irony that the first ever Israeli crime novel to be shortlisted D.A. Mishani’s The Missing File appears alongside a book by the grandson of Baldur von Schirach, Reichhsjugendfuhrer and then Gauleiter of Vienna, a man who served 20 years for crimes against humanity. No one could blame author Ferdinand von Schirach for the terrible crimes of his grandfather, but equally I don’t believe he can absolve his family name by writing novels, however well intentioned.

The last time Fred Vargas won this award in 2009, the shortlist included Karin Alvtegen, Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo, and Johan Theorin. Was this a stronger shortlist than that of 2013?

An analysis of International Dagger shortlists over the past five years shows 8 Swedish, 7 Italian, 6 French, two  South African, Norwegian and Icelandic, and one  German, Argentinean, Spanish and Israeli novels were nominated. 

The announcement of the winner is on 15 July therefore I hope to review more of the shortlist before then.  

From the CWA website:

“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.”

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Thanks very much for your thoughts on this. You’ve given us a lot to think about here. I couldn’t possibly agree more, too, about the whole question of extreme violence. Some of the very finest crime fiction I have ever read doesn’t get extremely violent at all.

  2. Blighty says:

    This is really interesting; I am sort of tempted by Alex but at the same time it sounds horrible…why did some publishers miss the submission deadlines? Strange as I am sure nomination alone helps sales…

  3. Barbara says:

    How odd that publishers wouldn’t submit their books for consideration. Are the deadlines and categories getting a little too muddled? Not that it’s really much of an excuse.

  4. Barbara says:

    Also … not great for nominees to hear the judges say “gee, we did our best but wish we’d had more books submitted.”

  5. We’re in the same boat with the award I am on the judging panel for this year – the whole panel agrees on a book we’d all put somewhere in our top 3 but it was not submitted (not even late) so it can’t go on the shortlist and won’t have a chance of winning. It would be nice to change the rules in future but I do understand the need for there to be a submission fee – it helps keep the award afloat and also helps weed out the dreck

    As for this year’s international dagger I have only read one – the Israeli book – which I am just off to review. I hope to read some more before mid July but won’t get to them all – and probably won’t bother with Ms Vargas as she and I do not get along 🙂

  6. kathy d. says:

    Oh, wow, I’m glad to read your comments, Norman. i was quite perplexed and somewhat perturbed by the Dagger shortlist. I am very put off by ultra-violent books and don’t bother with them.
    Like you, I’ve only read The Ghost Riders of Ordebec. As far as I’m concerned, that should win every award but obviously not all mystery fans agree.

    I am going to try to read The Collini Case because Maxine Clarke recommended it and so does Mrs. Peabody. I’ve read very good discussions of it at the latter’s blog. I think that Von Schirach isn’t trying to absolve the family name but to show that there is guilt and responsibility for war crimes and no one should go without justice. However, we need to read it to see what he’s saying.
    I’m breaking my rule about not reading about WWII to read this book, but want to see what the author has to say. (I may have to speed-read through some of it or skip passages but I want to see what it concludes.)

    I’ll see what eminent bloggers, such as yourself, say about the other entries.

    And I would love to know what book the panel wanted to see nominated, but wasn’t. Can someone tell interested bloggers in encrypted code or some other way?

  7. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Margot, Blighty, Barbara, Bernadette and Kathy for your comments.
    Since I came back from from Crimefest I have read Alex and am halfway through the Israeli book.

    I am trying hard to keep an open mind at the moment about the violence and von Schirach, difficult in his case.
    My comments on him were influenced by reading the blurb on the back cover of Last Waltz in Vienna by George Clare and something Ferdinand had said reported in the Guardian about the effect on him in his early teens of discovering his grandfather’s history. Not half as traumatic as realising my father after Munich had built a secret room in the basement behind a false wall made of stones in case the Germans took London in the inevitable war.

    Baldur von Schirach “My Fuhrer, I joyously report that Vienna has been cleansed of all Jews.”

    Bernadette, Fred Vargas is definitely a marmite author, you either love her or hate her. I do love her idiosyncratic style it is so very French, as is Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex.

    Those books that weren’t nominated in London and Australia are going to keep me guessing for a long while. 😉

  8. Peter says:

    I’m curions aout this matter because I had hoped to see Giorgio Scerbanenco’s Private Venus honored.

    While some of my favorite crime fiction addresses matters of social concern (including, to some extent, The Ghost Riders of Ordenec), I am wary of suggestions that this be a criterion for awards. This opens the way to cause-mongering.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  9. Peter says:

    Kathy, since you’re a Vargas fan, you might enjoy my interview with her, posted last week. I think The Ghost Riders of Ordebec may be her best.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    “Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home”

  10. […] first inkling that there was something notable about Ferdinand von Schirach was a comment by Norman Price from Crime Scraps Review when he pondered this year’s International Dagger […]

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