Val McDermid has been awarded the Crime Writers’ Association’s Cartier Diamond Dagger – the most prestigious crime fiction award in the UK – and it’s an honour which recognises the consistently high quality of her writing over a good many years. Her first novel appeared in 1987, and she is best known for her books about Tony Hill, which were adapted into a highly successful TV series starring Robson Green, The Wire in the Blood.
Although Val and I are almost precisely the same age, and were student contemporaries, we did not meet until about 1992, by which time we were both members of the Northern Chapter of the CWA, founded by Peter Walker a few years earlier, and a group which has introduced me to many wonderful writers who have become friends. At that stage, Val was branching out with a new series featuring the Manchester private eye Kate Brannigan, and this was the point at which her career really began to take off in a big way.
I’ve followed her career pretty closely ever since, and I well remember being present at the Awards Dinner when Val received the CWA Gold Dagger for the first Tony Hill book, The Mermaids Singing. She’d had the extraordinarily galling experience of having her publishers omit the final few pages of the book from the first edition – what could be worse for a crime writer? But it would take much more than that to stop Val from achieving success.
It’s often said that Val’s books ‘are known for their graphic depictions of violence and torture’ (this is a phrase from the Wikipedia article about her) but my view is that more emphasis should be placed on two features which I think go a long way towards explaining her success. First, her books are very intelligently composed – not in a knowingly learned way, but in a way that helps to enhance reader satisfaction. Second, she has a genuine respect for classic crime fiction, and her understanding of the appeal of complex whodunit plots helps to inform her own carefully constructed mysteries. To respect good traditions, whilst updating them, is a gift for a crime writer, and she definitely possesses that gift.
Perhaps I should mention that I have an involvement with the Diamond Dagger, to the extent that I chair a small sub-committee which sifts through nominations for the award. Once we have agreed upon a shortlist of up to seven names of great candidates, those names go forward to the CWA committee, who make the actual decision. Needless to say, I’m very much in agreement with their choice!
The photo shows Val and I, with Martyn Waites, on the stage at Bouchercon in Baltimore about fifteen months ago, when we were involved with presenting awards to various guests of honour.