Sunday, February 01, 2004

Analyzing the Edgar Nominees 

First of all, allow me the opportunity to giggle a bit at the awarding of one of the Raven Awards to Graydon Carter. OK, it's to VANITY FAIR, but still--you want convergence of all the things I talk about on this blog--crime fiction, gossip, publishing, and the New York media world--it's all encompassed in that one gesture. Too damned funny. But congratulations to Carter on the honor.

Now, to the shortlists:

In my mind, BEST NOVEL is actually about what I expected. I'd had a feeling that Ken Bruen's THE GUARDS would be on there, and had mused to myself a few days ago that they couldn't possibly nominate Michael Connelly again--but here he is. There's one well-received foreign crime novel, and one new chestnut--Ian Rankin--who gets on. And of course, the surprise--Jacqueline Winspear, who is the first debut novelist since Julia Wallis Martin (for A LIKENESS IN STONE) to make the Best Novel grade. Sadly, Laura Lippman's EVERY SECRET THING was the book I had hoped would be on the list, but instead gets the "elephant in the room" honor (normally, that would go to Dennis Lehane's SHUTTER ISLAND--since he had the honors two years ago for MYSTIC RIVER--but frankly, I doubt people were much expecting the book to make it on there--seems like mutual agreement that he's moved on to more literary pastures, and I'd be surprised if his future books are even submitted for consideration.)

BEST FIRST is interesting; I was talking to a friend this afternoon about it and had said that there were about 12 books that I could have happily had on the list. It was a particularly good year for debuts, and no doubt, some people will be miffed that William Landay's MISSION FLATS, Lono Waiwaiole's WILEY'S LAMENT, Wallace Stroby's THE BARBED-WIRE KISS, Alafair Burke's JUDGMENT CALLS and Tom Franklin's HELL AT THE BREECH didn't make the cut, among other worthy candidates. But the final list isn't that out of left field. Rebecca Pawel's novel was pretty much a shoo-in when one of the committee members waxed rhapsodic about it at some length on one of the mystery mailing lists, and its blend of history, mystery and character was astonishingly well-done considering the author is 26 years old. When I read Olen Steinhauer's book on the train home, I finished it thinking that if it made the Edgar list, I'd be totally fine with it. And so I am. Jim Hime's book has been well-reviewed and was the one debut I most wanted to read before the nominations were out, and now will have to get a rush on it. Heilbrun's book, too, has garnered some very good notices. Which leaves Martha Conway. Although it may be harsh to designate 12 BLISS STREET as the "WTF" candidate, well...at the very least, it was largely ignored, and those that did read it thought it a tad too experimental or beyond their ken.

Looking at BEST PBO, it's the usual mix of interesting books and no-notices. It's hard when you're the ugly stepchild of the mystery community, but frankly, what would do PBOs a lot of good is to get more of them in trade. Which is why I'm anointing Nina Revoyr's SOUTHLAND the front-runner. Though I haven't read it yet, it's supposed to be a very multi-layered novel with rich characterization. It's been reviewed in a lot of print publications and taken quite seriously, which is good to see. As for the other nominees, Jeff Abbott is on there again, though I think now that he's gone hardcover in the UK, his days in the PBO world are severely numbered; I believe Deadly Pleasures favorably reviewed the Christopher Hyde novel as well. I know next to nothing about Sylvia Warsh's book, but the learning curve's going up dramatically: it's the second book starring Toronto physician Rebecca Temple, whose mother-in-law is a Holocaust survivor and who gets embroiled in a mystery spanning three decades. Bloody hell, a Canadian mystery? I think I might like this book. And Joel Goldman writes legal thrillers for Pinnacle; beyond that, I know little at this point.

BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL seems quite a strong category: the Highsmith book is there, as is the Amelia Peabody compendium. Would have been nice, from a personal standpoint, to see my friend Jon Jordan make it, but alas, it wasn't to be.

BEST FACT CRIME: lots of goodies here, most of them expected from my view. I've wanted to read the Arnold Rothstein book for some time, as do I for the Mary Phagan/Leo Franks book.

As for BEST SHORT STORY: God people, what's it going to take to get a story published online to make the cut? Are you blind? There's so much good stuff that ends up in places like Plots with Guns, SHOTS, Hardluck Stories, Shred of Evidence, Thrilling Detective, 3rd Degree--you know, kind of like blogs. But I expect it may take a little while.

In the last category I feel like commenting on, the MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD--I'm glad to see Sujata Massey on the list, as she's an underrated favorite of mine. I suspect, however, that Virginia Lanier will take it, as sadly, she passed away late last year. Good writer, and endured an amazing number of health hardships.

And to end: I wish all the nominees well, and I'll see them all during Edgar Week.

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