Belinda Bauer wins Harrogate crime novel award
A novel about a student with Asperger's syndrome who investigates a murder has won a top crime writing award.
Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer has been named crime novel of the year at the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Bauer's fourth novel, it tells the story of Patrick Fort, an anatomy student who suspects the body he is dissecting is a murder victim.
It beat books by Denise Mina, Malcolm Mackay, Elly Griffiths and Stav Sherez.
Mina was going for a hat-trick after winning the prize the previous two years in a row.
Bauer started her writing career as a journalist before winning a screenwriting competition run by Bafta in the 1990s.
She only had one script filmed - Happy Now, starring Ioan Gruffudd and Alison Steadman - but that was never released and she turned to writing novels instead.
"I'm a failed screenwriter," she said. "That became so soul-destroying, because you really pour your heart and soul into it.
"I wrote my first book Blacklands, and that was so successful that I immediately knew I could become a novelist rather than a screenwriter."
Her career change paid off when Blacklands won the British Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger Award in 2010.
Thirty per cent of all novels sold in the UK are crime stories, amounting to 17 million physical books per year, according to Nielsen Book Research.
With violent crime falling in the real world, Bauer believes readers turn to crime fiction to "test themselves".
"We actually live in a very safe, civilised society," she said. "They like to imagine what it would be like to be in that situation.
"We don't have many tests of our inner strength any more in this world. Possibly if you lived in a country that was riven by crime, you might not be quite so entertained by fictional crime."
The Harrogate ceremony also saw author and screenwriter Lynda La Plante, who is best known for creating the Prime Suspect TV series, pick up an outstanding achievement award.
"It means an incredible amount because it's from crime writers, and truthfully it was unexpected and a great honour," she said.
La Plante praised Bauer and this year's other nominees for their innovative stories and research.
"I think it's making crime writing into a more respected genre," she said. "What they're coming up with now are really fabulous detectives and characters."
La Plante is currently writing a new Prime Suspect novel, which is set in the years before the TV series.
The award ceremony kicked off the four-day Harrogate festival, which will also feature a talk by JK Rowling about writing crime fiction under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
THEAKSTONS CRIME NOVEL AWARD SHORTLIST
- Winner: Rubbernecker - Belinda Bauer
- The Red Road - Denise Mina
- The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter - Malcolm Mackay
- The Chessmen - Peter May
- Dying Fall - Elly Griffiths
- Eleven Days - Stav Sherez