Annal: 2004 Gold Dagger Award for Nonfiction

Results of the Dagger Award in the year 2004.

Book:Cosa Nostra

Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia

John Dickie

The Italian-American mafia has its roots in a mysterious and powerful criminal network in Sicily. While the mythology of the mafia has been widely celebrated in American culture, the true origins of its rituals, laws, and methods have never actually been revealed. John Dickie uses startling new research to expose the secrets of the Sicilian mafia, providing a fascinating account that is more violent, frightening, and darkly comic than anything conceived in popular movies and novels. How did the Sicilian mafia begin? How did it achieve its powerful grip in Italy and America? How does it operate today?

From the mafia’s origins in the 1860s to its current tense relationship with the Berlusconi government, Cosa Nostra takes us to the inner sanctum where few have dared to go before. This is an important work of history and a revelation for anyone who ever wondered what it means to be “made” in the mob.

Book:The Italian Boy

The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London

Sarah Wise

Before his murder in 1831, the Italian Boy was one of thousands of orphans on the streets of London, moving among the livestock, hawkers, and con men, begging for pennies. Once dead, his value increased: As a highly prized “Fresh Subject” bound for the anatomist’s or surgeon’s table, he was sold to a medical college by the men who killed him. Their high-profile arrest and trial would unveil London’s furtive trade in human corpses, carried out by body-snatchers—or “resurrection men”—who robbed graves and even murdered to supply the lucrative market for cadavers. After all, a well-preserved body could fetch as much as nine guineas, the yearly salary of a working man.

At once a historical thriller and a social history, The Italian Boy meticulously reconstructs the hour-by-hour activities of the body snatchers, investigates the mysterious identity of the anonymous boy, and traces the labyrinthine twists and turns of a case that would engage society from the wealthy to the most hopeless and helpless. In the process, historian Sarah Wise draws a picture of the chaos and squalor of the city that swallowed the fourteen-year-old vagrant: In 1831, London’s poor were displaced and desperate; the wealthy were terrified, the population swelling so fast that old class borders could not possibly hold. All the while, early humanitarians were pushing legislation to protect the disenfranchised, the courts were establishing norms of punishment and execution, and doctors were pioneering the science of human anatomy.

Book:Slave

Slave: A True Account of Modern Slavery

Mende Nazer, Damien Lewis

A shocking true story of contemporary slavery: a young girl, snatched from her tribal village in Africa, survives enslavement in Sudan and London before making a courageous escape to freedom.

Mende Nazer lost her childhood at age twelve, when she was sold into slavery. It all began one horrific night in 1993, when Arab raiders swept through her Nuba village, murdering the adults and rounding up thirty-one children, including Mende.

Mende was sold to a wealthy Arab family who lived in Sudan’s capital city, Khartoum. So began her dark years of enslavement. Her Arab owners called her “Yebit,” or “black slave.” She called them “master.” She was subjected to appalling physical, sexual, and mental abuse. She slept in a shed and ate the family leftovers like a dog. She had no rights, no freedom, and no life of her own. …[more]

Book:The Swamp of Death

The Swamp of Death: A True Tale of Victorian Lies and Murder

Rebecca Gowers

In 1889, Reginald Birchall, a well-bred young Englishman, advertises in the London papers for a partner to buy a share in his Canadian horse farm. Two young men of good family—Douglas Pelly and Frederick Benwell—sign on. But when their troubled journey to Canada stalls inexplicably in Niagara Falls and Benwell mysteriously disappears, Pelly thinks Birchall might be trying to kill him. Then Benwell’s frozen body turns up near Woodstock, Ontario, with two bullets in the back of his head.

So begins The Swamp of Death, British journalist Rebecca Gowers’s investigation into a villainous scam, a murder and the ensuing trial—a fiasco of injustice and bias. Taking its name from a Victorian pulp novel that wildly sensationalized the story, Gowers’s account illuminates how staid and proper values clashed with the public’s insatiable thirst for the grizzly delights and dark drama of a heinous crime. …[more]

Book:The Trials of Hank Janson

The Trials of Hank Janson

Steve Holland

In January 1954 twelve jurors sat at the Old Bailey to hear charges of obscenity against seven crime novels written by the immensely popular Hank Janson, whose sexy thrillers had sold five million copies in only six years. Hank’s publisher and distributor were found guilty and imprisoned and an arrest warrant put out for the author.

The Trials of Hank Janson presents a full biography of that author—in reality, a man named Stephen D. Frances—from his early life, through the highs and lows he experienced with the Janson novels, to his eventual decline and death in Spain, cut off from the character he had created.

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