I wrote to the BritishMysteries list that “The CWA Daggers for 2010 were announced on 8th October (I missed the televised ceremony). Details can be found at….

http://www.thecwa.co.uk/index.php

The Gold Dagger went to Belinda Bauer for Blacklands. Yvonne wasn’t too impressed when she reviewed this for rte….

http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/review.html?id=8347

and it is not a book I want to read. I think this is now a hackneyed theme, though I fear it is exactly the type of book which is likely to win the Dagger (as it has done of course!).

The New Writer Dagger was won by Ryan David Jahn for Acts of Violence which is on my TBR shelf.

Val McDermid got the Diamond (Lifetime Achievement) Dagger and Arianna Franklin won the Library Dagger (judged by librarians – I quite like Franklin’s work but surely there are better writers than this around?).

The biggest surprise to me was Foyle winning the People’s Detective – this is voted for by the public and he was up against Poirot/Marple/Holmes/Frost/Barnaby/Wexford/Lewis/Morse et al. It shows that there is an enormous public attachment to Foyle (which is why ITV had to reverse their decision to cancel the show of course).”

This led to some discussion and Philip contributed the fruits of his own research…..

“This news comes just after I was futzing around last night checking up on previous CWA “Dagger” winners, and found some interesting trivia about past
winners –

The Award was first established as the “Crossed Red Herring Award” in 1955 and renamed the Gold Dagger in 1960 – the Silver Dagger was instituted in
1969.

Ruth Rendell is the current “Dagger” Champion – 4 Gold Daggers (A DEMON IN MY VIEW, LIVE FLESH, A FATAL INVERSION, KING SOLOMON’S CARPET) and 1 Silver Dagger – TREE OF HANDS.

Lionel Davidson is the Gold Dagger runner-up, with three THE NIGHT OF WENCESLAS, A LONG WAY TO SHILOH, THE CHELSEA MURDERS (Davidson’s output
wasn’t huge, less than a dozen novels, which makes his 3 wins quite an achievement).

P.D. James has won three Silver Daggers, for SHROUD FOR A NIGHTINGALE, THE BLACK TOWER, and A TASTE FOR DEATH (which lost the Gold to Ruth Rendell’s LIVE FLESH!) but she has not won a Gold Dagger!

John le Carré has won two Gold Daggers – THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and THE HONOURABLE SCHOOLBOY.

Peter Lovesey has won 1 Gold Dagger (THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW) and 3 Silver Daggers (WAXWORK, THE SUMMONS, and BLOODHOUNDS).

There have been two winners of consecutive Gold Daggers: Peter Dickinson in 1968 (SKIN DEEP) and 1969 (A PRIDE OF HEROES), and Ruth Rendell for LIVE
FLESH (1986) and A FATAL INVERSION (her second Barbara Vine novel), 1987.

One prominent name in mystery fiction is missing from the Dagger winners, and it happens to be the same name that’s missing from the list of MWA Edgar
winners – AGATHA CHRISTIE. One can argue that by the time these awards were started – the mid-1950s – Christie had been around so long that she was
taken for granted (much as Rendell and James now seem to be), and that her best work was behind her, though at least three novels she wrote during
these later years – ORDEAL BY INNOCENCE, THE PALE HORSE, and ENDLESS NIGHT, were certainly worthy of consideration.”

This led me to doing some further investigation. The early years of the Daggers can only be described as an embarrassment. Here are the first awards…

1965: The Far Side of the Dollar – Ross Macdonald
1964: The Perfect Murder – H.R.F.Keating
1963: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – John le Carre
1962: When I Grow Rich – Joan Fleming
1961: The Spoilt Kill – Mary Kelly
1960: The Night of Wenceslas – Lionel Davidson
              1959: Passage of Arms – Eric Ambler
1958: Someone from the Past – Margot Bennett
1957: The Colour of Murder – Julian Symons
1956: The Second Man – Edward Grierson
1955: The Little Walls – Winston Graham

Now let me pose some ‘rivals’ –

  •                 1965 : Dover 2 – Joyce Porter
  •                 1964 : Dover 1 – Joyce Porter
  •                 1962 : Cover Her Face – P.D.James
  •                  1961: Silence Observed – Michael Innes
  •                 1959 : False Scent – Ngaio Marsh
  •                  1958 : Hide My Eyes – Margery Allingham                 
  •                  1956 : Dead Man’s Folly – Agatha Christie
  •                  1955 : Scales of Justice – Ngaio Marsh

I have excluded 1963 as Le Carre is certainly a deserving winner (though whether he truly belongs to the mystery genre is a moot point!). I have also excluded any year where there is not an obvious classic as an alternative, and done extremely little research! I think however that my point is proved with fairly devastating accuracy (if I say so myself!). Now it may be objected that I have not actually read any of the winners. This is true. But I am fairly confident in the judgement of history. That is to say that if any of these books were deserving of being remembered and cherished in the way that Marsh, Christie, Allingham, Innes, James and Porter (albeit in different degrees) are, then they would be. No, I think one can with  complete confidence that the early years of the Dagger are a complete and utter embarrassment.

The list of winners continues by and large to be a list of the totally forgotten until 1976. Yes we have one silver Dagger (a second place – abandoned in 2005) for James but that is about it. In 1976 Rendell wins the first of her three (for A Demon in My View) and from that point onwards the awards go, in almost all cases, to well-known names. Quite what led to this switch I have no idea of knowing but it would be fascinating to discover. I am not saying that I would always agree with the awards (indeed I am positive that I would not, especially as Hill only won once!) but they cease to be absurd. And the names, at least from the early part, have survived at least 30 years or so. Whether people will still be reading Rendell or Hill or Walters in 80 years as Christie and Marsh and Allingham are read today is unknowable: personally I think they will because generally quality survives. In fact it is only in the last few years that the Awards have once again sometimes become obscure. My suspicion would be that the CWA favours books and writers whom it thinks have literary merit, because literary acclaim seems to be what many of them hanker after.

The Debut Mystery Dagger (now called the John Creasey Dagger), which has been going in one form or another since 1973, is fascinating since it is possible to judge the accuracy of the award not on the basis of how good a particular book was, but on the basis of the writer’s subsequent career. The record is patchy at best which perhaps is not surprising ( I am sure my choices might prove equally erroneous). Excellent spots have been Andrew Taylor, Patricia Cornwall, Walter Mosley, Minette Walters, Janet Evanovich, Denise Mina, Louise Penny. Some writers produced excellent little sequences but have subsequently disappeared (Liza Cody, Robert Richardson, Janet Neel).  But the majority I have never heard of. There is however an inherent problem here in that some people only have one good book in them and it proves to be the first; on the other hand many writers take quite a time to get into their swing – Marsh and Allingham instantly spring to my mind as Greats who would not have won any prizes for their first books.

The Diamond Dagger Award for Lifetime Achievement was only inaugurated in 1986 and therefore excludes many of the GA greats – but quite fantastically it was never awarded to Michael Innes who died in 1994. This is scarcely believable and is the most horrific and egregious of all the many blunders which the CWA have made. Frankly none of the names on the list can hold a candle to Innes. This is not to say that it is not, in the main, a list of the great and good (and most commercial) mystery writers of the past 25 years, especially on the British side of the Atlantic. I suspect Lionel Davidson’s inclusion would puzzle most but as they gave him 3 Gold Awards they probably felt he deserved a Diamond (I think I will have to read some of his work).

Interestingly the Dagger which seems to me to make most sense at a first glance is the Ellis Peters Historical. This has only been going since 1999 and I do know nearly every name and have read several of the particular books.

I have tried to be as fair as possible in my assessment of the Daggers. Their early history, which is lamentable, has, to some extent, been redeemed over recent years. But there is still a feeling, when one looks at these lists of winners, of disrespect for the great foremothers and forefathers on whose shoulders today’s writers stand. The omission of Innes when alive ;the overlooking of Allingham, Christie, Marsh when they were writing; these are merely the most prominent examples. I have not researched many other decease dates, or publication dates, to see who else was overlooked. I think it is high time that the CWA did something about this and acknowledged its heritage. It would be a simple matter to institute a Platinum Dagger for any deceased writer whose contribution to the genre is now recognised as massive.

Finally a personal gripe: the one writer whose exclusion from any sort of award astonishes me is Ellroy. I am not outraged as I am over Innes but I still find it extraordinary!

Advertisements