A FORMER probation officer has been awarded a prestigious accolade for the best crime novel of the year.

Mike Craven, 51, has won the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Cold Dagger for his book The Puppet Show set in Shap.

The Daggers, which were announced at a glittering awards ceremony at the Grange City Hotel, in London, are regarded by the publishing world as the foremost British awards for crime-writing.

Past winners of the esteemed Gold Dagger, which is awarded for the crime novel of the year, include Ian Rankin, John le Carré, Reginald Hill and Ruth Rendell. The first in Mr Craven’s Detective Washington Poe series, The Puppet Show drew critical acclaim from crime authors such as Martina Cole and Mick Herron.

Before he turned to writing Mr Craven, who lives in Carlisle, joined the armed forces at the age of 16. He left ten years later to complete a degree in social works.

In 2015 he took voluntary redundancy from his job as Cumbria Probation Service’s assistant chief executive.

CWA Daggers are renowned for honouring the very best in crime writing and are the oldest awards in the genre.

“From a purely commercial perspective, it’s massive,” said Mr Craven. “I really didn’t expect to win. Even as the names were being announced I thought ‘Absolutely not a chance.’”

His prize-winning book The Puppet Show is the first of his novels with publisher Little, Brown, for whom he writes as MW Craven.

The Puppet Show is also his first book to feature Washington Poe; an embittered Detective Sergeant who lives in a remote cottage near Shap.

It also features Lake District stone circles in which a serial killer is burning people alive.

Judges described it as an “engrossing tale” and highlighted “the wonderfully innocent and quite brilliant data analyst Tilly Bradshaw”.

Mr Craven’s second Poe novel, Black Summer, was published in hardback last June and the paperback is out this month. The third in the series, The Curator, will be published next summer.

Craven recently finished writing number four, but is about to revisit it.

“I came down to earth with a thump the night after the awards,” he said. “ My agent has been reading Poe 4. He said ‘It needs work. We can’t send it off yet’.”

Linda Stratmann, chairperson of the CWA, said: “The winners show the incredible range and quality of authors at work in the crime writing genre today.

“The Daggers recognise both established and emerging names, and we are incredibly proud of the reputation and longevity the Daggers have, nationally and internationally.”

There is now the possible prospect of a six-episode television drama based on The Puppet Show. Mr Craven said negotiations with Studio Lambert were under way.