Thursday, July 16, 2009


I was somewhat surprised that The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas won the 2009 CWA International Dagger.
The French writer's third win in four years and a French author's fourth straight win; Dominique Manotti won last year with Lorraine Connection.

I reviewed The Chalk Circle Man here and here, and despite my misgivings about this book chose a Fred Vargas book as one of my five best reads of 2008.
I am definitely a Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg fan, but nevertheless I was stunned, as in my humble opinion and more importantly that of several far more literate and erudite bloggers than I, this Vargas was not as good as several of the Nordic contenders.
I would expect that the judge's deliberations were confidential, but I would be interested to know their reasons from anyone else who thought this Vargas was better than the other nominated books.

I note that people from the blogosphere were invited to the awards ceremony at a cost of £45 per ticket. This was to include the announcement of the shortlists for the Gold Dagger, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger and the John Creasy [New Blood] award for first novels, unfortunately this was postponed till October and if I had paid my £45 I would have been slightly miffed.
Click here and scroll down for all my posts on Fred Vargas, and for a discussion of the contenders click here and here.


Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

I would certainly have been miffed too, Norman, to have paid £45 for that. What exactly did one get for the £45? There are a lot of free cultural events on in London all through the year. It also turns out that the £45 was for any punter who was prepared to pay it, so the crime-fiction-reviewing blogosphere, who have done so much to promote these books (some of which competely ignored by the main media) got no special treatment.

I don't want to get into criticising the winner because one's judgement of a book is so subjective. I don't think any of these books are great literature (despite some of the claims being made at the Friend feed discussion), they are all a bit of hokum, so it is really not very relevant to me, which of them "won". I think it was a good shortlist, but I've read qualifiers which were just as good (in my opinion) and which were not shortlisted.

I think that Shadow is a book attempting to tell a more serious story and to delve more seriously into human motivations and the effects of tragic life-events than many traditional "crime fiction" books. It aimed high. The Steig Larsson was in the "rip-roaring story" genre. The Indridason was a classic police procedural with a social (anti-racist) conscience. Nesbo's was a bit of a mix of all of the above. The Vargas - I enjoyed it although did not expect to (as I had not enjoyed the previous one by her I'd read all that much (the one where they go to Canada), and had read some relatively negative reviews of CCM before I read it), but I quite liked its odd world and little touches. It is definitely not set in the real world as we know it. So, interesting.

When I think about each book on the shortist, I find each one interesting and I smile when I think of them. So they must all have worked (for me) on some level. A great reading experience, and on the basis of it, I'll probably read next year's shortlist too (even the French ones ;-) ).

2:12 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

Hm, I said (yesterday, I think) that I did not read books because they won awards, and now I consider buying Vargas´ book. My excuse is that I have read so many reviews of it recently.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Reg / Steve said...

It's unfortunate that any loser will be viewed as a sore loser, but judging by the blogger reviews I don't understand how Fred Vargas's first novel in her series could possibly be considered the best translated crime book in the world. Personally I was rooting for Nesbø, followed closely by Alvtegen, but would have been happy if any of the Nordic books had won. (Although I don't understand the enthusiasm for Theorin -- his book put me to sleep with its downright ordinary prose.) Some people claim that the best book won and that the Scandinavians just can't cut it in comparison, but I can't see it. I haven't read this Vargas title, but I do think the dominance of the French the past 4 years is a bit suspect. It's certainly not reflected in their sales figures on Amazon UK. Or is the point of awards to buck the popular trend? Personally I believe awards should be spread around lest they become ho-hum, particularly in view of the TV deal. A friend suggests they just put Fred on the CWA payroll and mail her 1000 quid annually, basta.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Reg I can understand your disappointment and reaction.
I had read four of nominated books earlier in the year and when I read the last two books close together the Vargas and the Alvtegen I felt there was no comparison. Vargas seemed to be just finding her feet with her first Adamsberg while Karin Alvtegen's Shadow was a superb novel [helped by the translation of course] that just happened to be about crime.
In my opinion a three person voting panel is far too small and I cannot see why Ann Cleeves was a non-voting chair considering her experience and knowledge. Oops I better not say anymore ......

11:12 AM  
Blogger Reg / Steve said...

Go ahead and say it -- we love Ann! Yes, please, more judges. Perhaps including a British author and a translator. And there should also be a "residency in the UK" requirement for judges, to eliminate foreign biases... And where were the great Italian and Spanish and German crime writers? I predict they will be the next hot item. You read it on Crime Scraps!

11:27 AM  
Blogger Reg / Steve said...

P.S. Karin is working on a new novel that is NOT crime. Is there a good prize for mainstream translations?

11:29 AM  
Blogger crimeficreader said...

Reg, I believe it is only the CWA Daggers in the UK that have split out translations.

I have read three Dutch authors in translation this year and think they could be the next hit. Would love to see Esther Verheof's Close-Up on the list for next year. Not only a good story but also an excellent translation. There were nuances in there that converted to English extremely well.

2:28 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

I take second place to no one in my admiration for Fred Vargas -- most definitely one of my 'desert island' crime fiction writers -- but I am bemused by her receipt of the award. My reaction to The Chalk Circle Man was much the same as yours, Norman -- this first in the series was very much a prototype and full of promise, as those who have enjoyed the subsequent books will well recognize, and as such I enjoyed it, but it is surely not up to the level of those later works. I never supposed it would receive the award, which I rather hoped would go to Alvtegen. I hate to say it, but there does seem to have been a rather mindless process at work.

6:10 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Philip the fact that another knowledgeable reader such as yourself has had the same reaction at least confirms that I am not going mad. Or at least only a little bit.

Reg to cheer you up I just had a look at the Amazon UK crime best sellers and found your Larssons doing well with FIRE at 1, TATTOO at 2 and HORNETS at 6. Some guy called Dan Brown was at number 3.

8:27 AM  
Blogger crimeficreader said...

Philip, it says on the website "The judges commented ‘This first Adamsberg novel is already a remarkable demonstration of Vargas’s ability to open with an odd event and follow it into an unhappy past.’"

Perhaps this alludes to exactly what you say, but in this case they awarded her for her promise?

11:04 AM  
Blogger Reg / Steve said...

Yeah, I'll be crying all the way to the bank if the publisher ever decides to pay my minuscule royalty. And how about that "The Shack" guy? Has anyone read that one?

Philip, I wish Karin had won too -- Shadow is languishing too far down the list for a novel of that quality.

Latest discovery here is Brett Battles, freelance "cleaner". Check him out, all you spy aficionados.

11:11 AM  

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