Chris Whitaker has won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award with We Begin At The End (Zaffre). Meanwhile Brian McGilloway's political thriller The Last Crossing (Constable) has also been highly commended, in an unprecedented decision to recognise his "exceptional" novel.
Whitaker's novel, which tells the story of crime, punishment, love and redemption in coastal California, was chosen as the winner by a public vote, the prize academy and a panel of expert judges. He will receive £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakston's Brewery.
Northern Irish author McGilloway, whose novel is on The Troubles from the perspective of former operatives who like to think they have moved on, will also receive a beer barrel.
The announcements were made at the opening night ceremony on Thursday 22nd July for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which is a live event this year at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate.
Simon Theakston, executive director of T&R Theakston, said: “The contest for this year’s Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year award has been fiercely fought – a reflection of the outstanding quality of all the longlisted and shortlisted crime fiction published within the last year. I offer Chris Whitaker my hearty congratulations for clinching the title on his first ever nomination for his powerful and insightful We Begin at the End.”
Gary Jones, Express editor-in-chief, added: "It's a great pleasure to be associated with the world's most famous celebration of crime writing and we're thrilled the Theakston Old Peculier Festival is back this year in the flesh and better than ever. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors for crime book of the year and especially to winner Chris Whitaker."
Whitaker said: "I began writing this book as a form of therapy after being mugged and stabbed. Without doubt this story saved my life, so to win this award feels like the most wonderful, dreamlike end to a journey that has been 20 years in the making. I have read the shortlisted books, so know with some certainty that I’m not a worthy winner, but I am a grateful one, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop smiling now.”
Special presentations were also made to Ian Rankin OBE and Mark Billingham, the winners of the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award for 2021 and 2020 respectively.
Theakston added: “It was an absolute pleasure to award crime fiction legends Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham with the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution to Crime Fiction Award 2021 and 2020 respectively. They are two titans of crime fiction and richly deserving of this latest recognition of their mastery of the genre.”
Rankin said it was "a privilege and an honour" to receive the award in person. He added: “I’ve been a published writer for more than 30 years but this past year has been uniquely challenging — for writers, readers and booksellers. It’s heartening to see the Theakston Festival rise like a phoenix. Books continue to provide us with that wonderful mix of food for thought and escapism. I couldn’t be prouder to be a crime writer.”
Billingham commented: “It goes without saying that — presuming it’s not some sort of administrative error — this is an enormous honour. I’m as gobsmacked as I am grateful to be joining a list containing the likes of Ruth Rendell, P D James and Lee Child and while there are many individuals to whom I’m hugely indebted, first and foremost I want to say ‘thank you’ to the readers. Without them, there’s no point to any of it.”
This year’s festival continues until Sunday (25th July), with special guests including Mark Billingham, Ann Cleeves, Elly Griffiths, Mick Herron, Clare Mackintosh, Val Mcdermid and Richard Osman. Rankin is the programming chair.
The Crime Novel of the Year award is run by Harrogate International Festivals sponsored by T&R Theakston Ltd, in partnership with W H Smith and the Express, and is open to full-length crime novels published in paperback 1 May 2020 to 30 April 2021 by UK and Irish authors. The longlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, and representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and W H Smith.