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Counting Daggers

MANCHESTER, N.H., Nov. 26, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- If you're a writer, it's always good to be read, and appreciated—even better to receive prestigious international awards. This is true even if the awards are for something that you feel is rather besides the point in your work.





Last month novelist Wiley Cash—who is also a faculty member in Southern New Hampshire University's low-residence MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program—was delighted, albeit surprised, to receive a second Goldsboro Gold Dagger Award from the London-based Crime Writers' Association.

This second Dagger was for "This Dark Road to Mercy," named by the CWA as Best Crime Novel of the Year. The first was for 2012's "A Land More Kind Than Home," honored with a Debut Dagger as the year's best from a first-time novelist.

"Of course I'm deeply honored, once again," said Cash from his home in North Carolina. "But I don't know—I don't think that in either instance I set out to write a crime novel."

Cash will concede that criminal activity lies within the dramatic heart of both stories. In "This Dark Road to Mercy," a failed professional baseball player (and wayward dad) named Wade Chesterfield kidnaps his two daughters from their North Carolina foster home. He has also stolen money from the wrong people, and is hotly pursued, on one hand, by an introspective ex-detective, and on the other, a violent bounty hunter with a grudge against Chesterfield.

In "A Land More Kind Than Home," an autistic boy dies during a healing ceremony presided over by a renegade evangelical pastor with a penchant for snake handling. The pastor has the support of his congregation, including the boy's mother, but others suspect murder.

Both novels explore how the virtues of courage and faith can be bent to selfish ends, and how families and communities can be poisoned as a result.

"These stories are more about tragedy than they are crime," Cash said. "All tragedy involves crime at its point of inception, but the crime just provides a point of entry into the larger issues of the narrative."

"The critical and popular success of these two novels has established Wiley as one of the rising stars of Southern literary fiction," said novelist and essayist Benjamin Nugent, director of Southern New Hampshire's MFA program. "It's never occurred to me to call Wiley a crime writer."

So why do the English persist in calling him one? Cash thinks it might be this "Southern" thing. "I think people in general in the United Kingdom—where crime fiction is very popular, more so than here—have a real interest in the American South," he said. "It's a part of the country that's more like Europe, with its rural roots, its old feudal land-holding economy, and its class issues."

And perhaps a little more high-class cachet is assigned to "crime fiction" in the United Kingdom. "It certainly lays claim to a proud literary tradition over there," said Cash, "from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes on to the present day."

The Gold Daggers date back to 1955, and previous winners include John Le Carré and P.D. James. The 2014 award ceremony was high-class enough to be held in London's Grosvenor House Hotel, but Cash was unable to attend, since it was scheduled near the due date of his first child. Instead a BBC film crew flew to his home, and the presentation was made and filmed there.

Cash's third novel, still in progress, is based on the true history of a woman who led a textile workers' strike in North Carolina in the 1930s, and who was murdered by enemies of the labor movement.

Could yet another Dagger be added to this dining room set? "I doubt it," said Cash. "It's a novel about that strike, and not the murder, but, well, we'll see."

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CONTACT: Richard Adams Carey 603.284.7064 (h) 603.716.4278 (c) r.carey@snhu.edu http://www.snhu.edu/15057.aspSource:Southern New Hampshire UniversityMFA and Creative Writing