M.W. Craven wins Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2023 with The Botanist

M.W. Craven has been announced this evening as the winner of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2023, presented by Harrogate International Festivals, for The Botanist, the latest thriller featuring D.S. Washington Poe.

The Botanist, an instant Sunday Times bestseller, follows the disgraced detective as he is tasked with catching a poisoner sending the nation’s most reviled people poems and pressed flowers, whilst his close friend, pathologist Estelle Doyle, seeks his help when she is arrested for the murder of her father.

Multi-award-winning author M. W. Craven was born in Carlisle but grew up in Newcastle. He joined the army at sixteen, leaving ten years later to complete a social work degree. Seventeen years after taking up a probation officer role in Cumbria, at the rank of assistant chief officer, he became a full-time author.

He receives a £3,000 prize, as well as an engraved beer cask handcrafted by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.

M.W. Craven said on winning Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year: “This was genuinely the biggest shock of my life. It was a huge honour to be shortlisted among friends. I’m utterly thrilled, this is the biggest award for crime fiction.

A record-smashing 14,110 readers voted for their winner this year among the six shortlisted authors: Elly Griffiths (The Locked Room), Doug Johnstone (Black Hearts), Fiona Cummins (Into the Dark), Ruth Ware (The It Girl), M.W. Craven (The Botanist) and Gillian McAllister (Wrong Place Wrong Time). The judges, including Simon Theakston, Steph McGovern, Matt Nixson from the Daily Express, journalist Joe Haddow, Lisa Howells and Gaby Lee from Waterstones, met the day before the Awards Ceremony to decide the winner, with the public vote counting as the seventh judge on the panel.

Elly Griffiths is Highly Commended for the Theakston Award 2023

The judging panel had a difficult choice ahead of them and decided to recognise Elly Griffiths as Highly Commended for the penultimate mystery in her bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway series The Locked Room. Set in the early days of the pandemic, Dr Galloway is locked down in her Norfolk cottage, working to uncover why her late mother had a photo of the cottage dated years before she moved in, when DCI Nelson, who is investigating a series of deaths of women that could be murders or could be suicides, breaks curfew to visit her. Griffiths, who was Festival Programming Chair in 2017, has been nominated for the Award six times, and this is her first Highly Commended.

On receiving the Highly Commended honour, Elly Griffiths said: “I’m absolutely delighted, this has been an ambition of mine for a long time. It is the best award and to get Highly Commended is a huge honour.”

Ann Cleeves won the THeakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution Award

Craven and Griffiths were not the only writers celebrated at the ceremony, as Ann Cleeves received the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution Award in recognition of her impressive writing career.

Cleeves, the author of more than thirty-five critically acclaimed novels, is the creator of popular detectives Vera Stanhope, Jimmy Perez and Matthew Venn, who can be found on television in ITV’s Vera, BBC One’s Shetland and ITV’s The Long Call respectively. The TV series and the books they are based on have become international sensations, capturing the imaginations of millions worldwide.

She served as the first Reader-in-Residence at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in 2003 and has played a significant role in the crime writing community since then. Her book The Long Call was chosen for 2023’s Big Read, the North’s biggest book club, which takes the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival on tour to libraries across the north of England to promote literacy and reading for pleasure in local communities. In 2021 she launched the Reading for Wellbeing Project with local authorities in the North East, advocating for reading as a way to improve mental health and well-being and support access to books.

Cleeves is the latest in a line of acclaimed authors who have received the coveted award, with previous winners including Sir Ian Rankin, Lynda La Plante, James Patterson, John Grisham, Lee Child, Val McDermid, P.D. James and last year’s recipient Michael Connelly.

The announcement was made at The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, during the opening ceremony for the world’s most prestigious crime writing festival, Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (20 – 23 July), where crime fiction icons including Vaseem Khan, Val McDermid, Lee Child, Andrew Child, Ann Cleeves, Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Jewell, Ruth Ware, Chris Hammer and S.A. Cosby and more will take to the stage at the world’s biggest celebration of the genre.

Ann Cleeves said on receiving the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution Award: “The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate has always been a very special festival for me because I was in at the beginning.  I’m delighted to accept this award and to help the team celebrate 20 years of brilliant crime writing.”

Simon Theakston, Executive Director of Theakston, commented: “Tonight’s winners truly represent Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Awards’ well-earned reputation for showcasing the very best crime writing talent. The Botanist is a real encapsulation of masterful crime writing, pushing the boundaries of imagination and crafting narratives that are shaping the future of the genre. Elly Griffiths has kept crime fans alike hooked with Dr Ruth Galloway’s investigations and I’m equally thrilled she is recognised for her ability to keep us holding our breaths until the very last page.

We’re so pleased to raise a glass of Theakston Old Peculier to their wins!

Deservedly taking home the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution prize, Ann Cleeves stands as a paragon of inspiration, and her unparalleled talent has paved the way for countless aspiring crime writers; we’re delighted that we’re with her to celebrate.”

Sharon Canavar, Chief Executive of Harrogate International Festivals, added: “The judges had a tough job to pick just one winner for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of The Year as the shortlist was incredibly strong. Following a lot of discussion, the panel finally selected the incredible M.W. Craven and his locked room mystery The Botanist, and recognised the incredible Elly Griffiths’ achievement with Highly Commended for The Locked Room.

“We’re also thrilled to celebrate the work of Ann Cleeves with the Theakston Old Peculier Outstanding Contribution Award. Ann is a beacon of brilliance in this genre, and through her extraordinary characters, atmospheric settings, and masterful plots, she has captivated readers around the world, leaving an indelible mark on the landscape of crime literature.”

The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year is run by Harrogate International Festivals and sponsored by T&R Theakston Ltd, in partnership with Waterstones and Daily Express, and is open to full-length crime novels published in paperback between 1 May 2022 to 30 April 2023 by UK and Irish authors.

Hear more from M.W. Craven and Elly Griffiths and listen to their exclusive author interviews here.