There is some irony in the fact that a surviving copy of his first book of poetry, published in 1827,
"Tamerlane and Other Poems" sold for $662,500 to an unidentified American collector. The selling price set a new record for most expensive American literature.But during his lifetime, his income was so meager that, according to The Museum of Edgar Allan Poe, for his 1840 publication of
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, he was only paid with twenty-five free copies of his book. He would soon become a champion for the cause of higher wages for writers as well as for an international copyright law.So whose name would be a better choice for the Mystery Writers of America's annual awards for outstanding mystery writing? The organization, whose slogan is "Crime Does Not Pay - Enough," was formed in 1945 to enhance the image of the genre and increase the income of its writers.
The Edgar Awards are to mystery what the Hugos are to science fiction. A BFD. Edgars are awarded for Best Novel, Best First Novel (Americans only), Best Paperback Original, Best Fact Crime, Best Critical/Biographical, Best Short Story, Best Juvenile, Young Adult, and TV Episode/Teleplay. In addition, there is the Raven, which recognizes booksellers, the Robert L. Fish Memorial and the Mary Higgins Clark. For a complete list of all nominees in all categories see the Edgar Nominations at The Edgars.com
Rather than just list the nominees in the first three categories, I have scoured the internets and extracted the pertinent details about each nominated book. The links in the titles send you to the Goodreads page where you can find reader reviews and links to the major online retailers. Some of them have been written about in this weekly series, and links to those diaries are included. But let us start with:
"MWA's Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality."
Not that my co-editor and I have any inside information about the Edgar Awards, but Michelwln wrote about Carolyn Hart and her Death on Demand series just last month, here. I wrote about Robert Crais earlier this year when discussing Suspect.
The Best Novel award is open to hardback books published in the United States during the prior year.
This year's Best Novel nominees provide an interesting selection of works from across the entire spectrum of the mystery genre. From the cozy of Louise Penny to the noir of Ian Rankin, from historical mysteries of 1958 and 1961, to a modern day legal mystery as well as one with science fiction highlights. There are at least three that I consider to be must reads for my list. Hope you find a few for yours.
by Thomas H. Cook
Publisher by Grove Atlantic – The Mysterious Press
August 6th 2013
In this slow-burning, intricate thriller from Edgar-winner Cook (The Crime of Julian Wells), Sam Madison and his wife, Sandrine, both professors at Georgia’s Coburn College (he of literature, she of history) and parents of a grown daughter, appear to have a solid marriage. But below the surface there are problems, which culminate in Sandrine’s death from a cocktail of Demerol and vodka. While the coroner rules the death a suicide, the police suspect foul play and soon zero in on Sam as his wife’s killer. The local prosecutor is so certain of Sam’s guilt that he seeks the death penalty. In the course of the murder trial, which runs from unexpected revelations on the witness stand to torrents of legalese as the attorneys jockey for power, Sam reflects on his relationship with the brilliant, beautiful, and vexing Sandrine. Through Sam’s memories, Cook pulls off the tricky task of rendering Sandrine—a lover of ancient history, particularly Cleopatra, and the intricacies of language—as vividly as if she had never died. This crime novel, one of his best, builds to an unforeseen, but earned, climax. (Aug.)
by Matt Haig
Published by Simon & Schuster
January 1, 2013
I know that this one is going on my TBR list simply because it takes the mystery genre and marries it to science fiction. I find that terribly appealing.
Starred Review The alien comes to Earth from Vonnadoria, an almost incomprehensibly advanced world; he comes with a sinister purpose, both to destroy and to collect information, hoping to rob human beings of their future. Assuming the person of Professor Andrew Martin, a celebrated mathematician who has made a dangerous discovery, he sets coldly and calculatedly to work. But there is a problem: though disgusted at first by humans, whom he regards as motivated only by violence and greed, he gradually comes to understand that humans are more complex than that, and, most dangerous to his mission, he discovers music, poetry, and . . . love. Becoming increasingly sympathetic to humans, he will ultimately do the unthinkable. The ever-imaginative Haig—The Dead Fathers Club (2007), The Radleys (2010)—has created an extraordinary alien sensibility and, though writing with a serious purpose (the future is at stake), has great good fun with the being’s various eyebrow-raising blunders as he struggles to emulate human behavior. Haig strikes exactly the right tone of bemusement, discovery, and wonder in creating what is ultimately a sweet-spirited celebration of humanity and the trials and triumphs of being human. The result is a thought-provoking, compulsively readable delight. --Michael Cart
Booklist, via Amazon
by William Kent Krueger
Published by Simon & Schuster – Atria Books
March 26, 2013
New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.
When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.
On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, it is a moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.(less)
by Louise Penny
Published by Minotaur Books
August 27, 2013
I am taking as long as possible to finish this one, both reading and listening to it. The audiobook narrator, Ralph Cosham does an outstanding job on this series but sometimes seeing the words on a page, even if digital, enhances the story for me. Next week I will start a two part series on the Inspector Gamache novels.
Starred Review. Complex characterizations and sophisticated plotting distinguish Agatha-winner Penny's masterful ninth novel (after 2012's The Beautiful Mystery). The devastating conclusion to the previous book saw Jean-Guy Beauvoir abandon his mentor, Chief Insp. Armand Gamache of the Quebec Sûreté, and return to substance abuse. Things have never looked bleaker for the unassuming and empathic Gamache. A corrupt superior has gutted his homicide department, and the agents he now supervises treat their cases with blatant indifference. Amid all this personal and professional turmoil, Gamache lands a strange murder case. There's no obvious motive for why somebody killed elderly Constance Ouellet—the only living member of a set of quintuplets who were national celebrities in their youth—by striking her in the head with a lamp. Fair-play clues lead to a surprising solution to the murder, while Gamache's battle to save his career unfolds with subtlety and intelligence. Once again, Penny impressively balances personal courage and faith with heartbreaking choices and monstrous evil.
by Ian Rankin
Published by Hachette Book Group – Reagan Arthur Books
January 15, 2013
Not only is Rebus back, he is on sale. Currently the ebook version is available at Google Play and Amazon for $2.99. Frankly, I can't wait to get the time to return to one of my favorite series. Actually Malcom Fox, from The Complaints also makes an appearance, so it is two series, combined in one $2.99 package. Who can resist that kind of deal?
Starred Review Rebus is back! Well, you didn’t really think Rankin’s cantankerous Edinburgh copper would stay retired, did you? Rankin has moved on since Rebus’ retirement party in Exit Music (2008), beginning a new series starring another Edinburgh cop, Malcolm Fox, but Fox couldn’t be more different from Rebus: a reformed drunk rather than a functioning one; a rule follower rather than a habitual rule breaker; and, most important, an internal-affairs officer rather than a detective. Oil and water, right? So who could resist the temptation to put them together in the same novel? It turns out Rebus has been spending his time since retirement as a civilian volunteer in a cold-case unit; one of those cold cases, the 15-year-old disappearance of a young woman, turns very hot when Rebus finds a connection to several more recent disappearances. His bloodhound’s scent aroused, the detective is on the trail with a vengeance, crossing lines and bending rules just like in his salad days, which, naturally, brings him afoul of Fox, who abhors Rebus’ nonconformity and is convinced the maverick must be dirty. (Or is he just jealous of his worst enemy’s prowess as a detective?) Crime-fiction readers are trained to hate internal-affairs cops, but Rankin made us see Fox’s humanity in The Complaints (2011) and The Impossible Dead (2011); now he sets the IA guy against our favorite bullheaded maverick. Ambiguity has never tasted so bittersweet. A gutsy experiment on Rankin’s part and a completely successful one. --Bill Ott
Booklist, via Amazon
by Lori Roy
Published by Penguin Group USA – Dutton Books
June 13, 2013
Lori Roy's Bent Road won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2012.
Starred Review People get along on Alder Avenue, a peaceful Detroit community of working-class folks whose lives have centered on their church, their place in the social hierarchy, and their families. Husbands work hard; wives run the home; children are expected to be well behaved. But things are changing. It’s 1958, and some of the people on Alder are growing restive. Their all-white neighborhood is changing; factories are closing, and some men from the block are known to visit a nearby whorehouse. Then a black woman is murdered in an adjacent neighborhood, and Elizabeth, a childlike white woman who lives with her elderly immigrant father, disappears. Neighbors rally to find Elizabeth; men organize search parties; women organize meals. Everyone gossips, and some assign blame as they await Elizabeth’s return. Among the concerned neighbors are three very different women for whom Elizabeth’s disappearance becomes a catalyst for personal change: Malina, obsessive, unstable queen of the social circuit; pregnant Grace, compliant and the embodiment of her name; and Julia, Grace’s friend and opposite, whose wry humor masks doubt and terrible sadness. Roy makes every detail count as she builds her characters and gently but inexorably leads them to reexamine their own lives. What seems to begin in the glowing warmth of a homey kitchen transforms into a probing emotional drama that speaks powerfully to women about family, prejudice, power (one of the women is raped), and secrets. --Stephanie Zvirin
Booklist, via Amazon
Best First Novel
The Best First Novel, according to the MWA website: "Hardbound, paperback or e-book original. Only first-time US-born novelists are eligible for this award. This is the only category in which foreign authors may not compete."
by Matthew Guinn
Published by W.W. Norton
July 8th 2013
Dr. Jacob Thacker, a medical resident on probation for Xanax abuse and now serving as interim head of public relations at a small, prestigious medical college in Columbia, South Carolina, must come to terms with the college’s institutional sins during the Civil War years when the mutilated bones of African American cadavers are discovered buried in a basement of the historic college. Basing his work on incidents of historical medical practice in the South, first-novelist Guinn spins the tale of Nemo Johnston, the resurrection man or body-snatcher of the title, who, as a salaried slave of the college, raided the local black cemetery for fresh cadavers for use in the anatomy lab of the medical school. A historical novel (thanks to extended flashback chapters—the book’s strongest sections), a cursory look at medical ethics and race relations in the New South, a satire of PR in academia, all with a healthy dose of lurid southern gothic thrown in, Guinn’s book struggles to achieve a consistency of tone but will, nonetheless, appeal to the general reader with a taste for the macabre. --Jonathan Schwartz
Booklist via Amazon
by Roger Hobbs
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
February 12th 2013
Starred Review A first novel comes along every few years that clearly separates itself from the field, like Secretariat winning the 1973 Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. This year’s Secretariat is going to be Ghostman, a propulsive thriller that combines incredible detail and nonstoppable narrative drive. Jack White is the Ghostman, a pseudonymous loner living far off the grid who specializes in disappearing. After a high-level heist, he makes sure that all traces of the caper vanish. Only once, in Kuala Lumpur, did it all go bad. The organizer of that job, a master criminal named Marcus, blames Jack for the fiasco, so when Marcus penetrates Jack’s deep cover, it clearly means trouble. But Marcus doesn’t want to kill the Ghostman, at least not yet. What Marcus wants is for Jack to even the score by making a botched armored-car robbery in Atlantic City disappear—except, of course, for the take, which has itself disappeared but needs to be found. The clock is ticking because if the $1.2 million in freshly minted bills isn’t recovered quickly, it will explode. Naturally, there are multiple levels of double- and triple-crosses layered within the premise, and Hobbs tantalizingly reveals them—always keeping his hole cards thoroughly vested as he tracks Jack’s progress. The suspense builds inexorably, heightened rather than impeded by the supportive detail with which Hobbs undergirds the action (the backstory on those exploding bills, for example, will have readers wondering how a twentysomething author could possibly know what he knows). There’s also a jaunty, cat-and-mouse subplot involving Jack and a female FBI agent who may be more interested in Jack than the crime. Comparisons to Lee Child are inevitable here, and surely Hobbs possesses a Child-like ability for first unleashing and then shrewdly directing a tornado of a plot, but he also evokes Elmore Leonard in the subtle interplay of his characters. A triumph on every level. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Knopf knows it has a winner here and is backing Hobbs’ debut with the kind of marketing support rarely granted a first novel. Movie rights have been sold to Warner Brothers, and options have been signed by 13 publishers across the globe. --Bill Ott Booklist via Amazon
by Becky Masterman
Published by Minotaur Books
Monday Murder Mystery: Rage Against the Dying
Brigid Quinn is a retired FBI agent who was forced out over shooting an unarmed man. She spent her career undercover, working on sexual predator cases, and trained her protégé, Jessica, to follow in her footsteps. Jessica went missing while working on a serial-killer case, and Brigid never recovered from the loss. Several years later, she is happily married and living an idyllic life in Tucson when she learns that there has been an arrest in the case, but the new agent working it, Laura Coleman, thinks the confession is false. When Coleman disappears and the bureau doesn’t seem to notice, Brigid finds herself in the thick of things once again, only this time she is worried about losing another agent, her husband, and her newfound happiness. Brigid is a marvelous character, and her skills are fearsome for someone her age. Although Brigid sometimes takes things too far, stretching the bounds of credulity, it is worth the suspension of disbelief to hang with her. Fans of Lisa Gardner and Tess Gerritsen will love this book. --Stacy Alesi
Booklist via Amazon
by Jason Matthews
Published by Simon & Schuster - Scribner
June 4th 2013
Monday Murder Mystery: Sex, Spies and the CIARed Sparrow
Red Sparrow is a Russian spy who was trained by the SVR (formerly KGB) Sparrow School to run a honey trap on an unsuspecting American CIA agent who is the control for a high ranking SVR mole.
In my diary on this book, I called it, "a very smoothly written fairy tale to make Americans once more proud of the CIA." No discussion of extraordinary rendition or enhanced interrogation, simply good guys (that would be us) against the bad guys (that would be them - and a certain Senator from the blue state of California who sleeps with men to whom she is not married. Oh noes). It did get a Starred Review from Booklist.
by Kimberly McCreight
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
April 2nd 2013
Kate believes her daughter, 15-year-old Amelia, has committed suicide, jumping from the roof of her private school—until she receives an anonymous text saying simply, “Amelia didn’t jump.” Could she have been murdered? Kate, a successful attorney, is determined to find out even as she is haunted by the fear she has failed her daughter, too often putting her career ahead of her responsibilities as a mother. McCreight has written an elaborately plotted mystery that not only tells Kate’s story but also includes Amelia’s own first-person narrative along with her e-mails, texts, and Facebook posts, all of which tell a harrowing story while keeping the reader one step ahead of Kate and the police. This first novel occasionally requires a willing suspension of disbelief and comes dangerously close to melodrama near the end, but McCreight does a fine job of building suspense and creating characters, notably Kate and Amelia, whom the target audience—both adults and older teens—will care about and empathize with. --Michael Cart
Booklist via Amazon
Best Paperback Original
Best Paperback Original includes paperbacks or e-books only. Paperback or e-book first novels are not eligible for this category and must be submitted under Best First Novel.
by Lisa Ballantyne
HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow
March 19th 2013
London criminal solicitor Daniel Hunter feels a certain affinity for client Sebastian Croll, an 11-year-old charged with murdering 8-year-old Ben Stokes, his neighbor and playmate, in a nearby playground. Just as Hunter gets Sebastian’s case, he receives a last communication from Minnie Flynn, the adoptive mother from whom he became estranged years earlier, causing him to relive memories of his own difficult childhood, during which he was separated from his beloved, drug-addict mother. The chapters alternate between Hunter’s youth and the strong forensic and circumstantial case against Sebastian, who’s considered precocious yet “unsettling” even by his own defense team as he maintains his innocence and as his own troubled home life comes to light. This is a sensitive and insightful narrative that gradually builds suspense during Sebastian’s trial and Hunter’s revelations. Truth is revealed in the final pages, but Ballantyne leaves it to the reader to determine just where the guilt lies. An accomplished first novel and a good bet for book groups. --Michele Leber
by E. R. Brown
Published by Dundurn
May 14th 2013
Starred Review Tate MacLane is too smart for his own good, a sort of misguided prodigy. Prematurely graduated from high school, he was tossed out of university (“socialization issues”). Now 17, he’s working at a coffee shop in Wallace, British Columbia, a “hopeless corner of nowhere,” and dreaming of finding a way to get back to Vancouver and back to school. Along comes Randle Kennedy, a marijuana grower. Until the drug is legalized, he’s growing medical weed, and the Canadian cops tend to be lenient if they know you’re in the medicinal side of the business. But make no mistake: Randle’s a drug dealer. And young Tate is now working for him. When Tate discovers the truth about the life he’s wandered into, he knows it will take more than his keen intellect to get him out safely. Tate is a fresh narrative voice, and Randle, who could have been a fairly stereotypical drug-dealing villain, has surprising depth; he’s even a weird sort of father figure for young Tate. If you took a gritty crime novel and a coming-of-age story and squashed them together, you might get something very close to this fine book. --David Pitt
by Paul Cleave
Simon & Schuster – Atria Books
September 3rd 2013
Starred Review New Zealand author Cleave pulls out all the stops in his seventh Christchurch noir, a sequel to The Cleaner, which revealed that “the Christchurch Carver” was Joe Middleton, a police department janitor. A year after his arrest, Middleton’s incarceration and impending trial have put the issue of capital punishment back on New Zealand’s agenda, just in time for a national election. His female partner-in-crime, Melissa X, whose relationship with him is ambivalent at best, is looking for a gunman to take Middleton out before his day in court. The killer, in turn, is banking on the insanity defense to get him off the hook. And an ex-cop who was responsible for finally catching the Carver is hoping to use his inside knowledge to boost a bogus psychic’s TV show. Cleave juggles all the elements with impressive ease. Darkly humorous references to horrific violence will resonate with Dexter fans.
by Stephen King
Published by Hard Case Crime
June 4th 2013
Monday Murder Mystery: Stephen King Joyland
PW PICK A haunted carnival funhouse gives a supernatural spin to events in Thriller Award–winner King’s period murder mystery with a heart. In the summer of 1973, 21-year-old college student Devin Jones takes a job at Joyland, a North Carolina amusement park. Almost immediately, a boardwalk fortune-teller warns that Devin has “a shadow” over him, and that his destiny is intertwined with that of terminally ill Mike Ross, a 10-year-old boy who has “the sight.” Shortly after Devin meets Mike, Mike makes a cryptic comment: “It’s not white.” This proves a vital clue when Devin begins investigating an unsolved murder committed four years before at the carnival’s Horror House, and quickly stumbles into more than he bargained for. King (The Colorado Kid) brings his usual finesse to this tale’s mystery elements, and makes Dev’s handling of them crucial to the novel’s bigger coming-of-age story, in which Dev adapts to the carny life and finds true romance.
by Alex Marwood
Published by Penguin Group USA - Penguin Books
July 30th 2013
A rundown British seaside amusement park, Funnland, provides the backdrop for the pseudonymous Marwood’s memorable first novel. Thanks to U.K. rehab policies, impoverished Jade Walker and neglected Bel Oldacre—accused, arrested, and sentenced as 11-year-olds for murdering a six-year-old girl in 1986—have become in 2011 Kirsty Lindsay, a newspaper stringer with an out-of-work husband, and Amber Gordon, a big-hearted Funnland cleaner, living with a handsome, enigmatic man given to black moods. Though the law forbids the two to meet, Amber’s discovery of a teenage girl’s body—the third local murder that year—in Innfinnity, the park’s creepy hall of mirrors, and Kirsty’s assignment to get the story behind the killings bring them together again. Marwood fills this disturbing thriller with sordid red herrings and brutal reflections of lower- and middle-class economic hardships, grinding in the sadly familiar message that societal injustice cruelly distorts women’s lives.
by Marcus Sakey
Published by Amazon Publishing – Thomas and Mercer
July 16th 2013
PW PICK and Starred Review Sakey (The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes) paints a near future too close for comfort in this stunning thriller, the first in a projected series. About 1% of American children born after 1986—known as abnorms, among other names—are particularly brilliant. A tiny percentage of these are problematic, like Erik Epstein, who understood stock market movements so well he made a fortune that led to the permanent closing of the New York Stock Exchange in 2011. Nick Cooper, a divorced former soldier and a member of Equitable Services, a U.S. government agency with the responsibility of tracking and killing abnorm terrorists, plays a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the terrorists’ leader, John Smith, and with Shannon Azzi, Smith’s agent. Cooper calls Shannon “the Girl Who Walks Through Walls” for her ability to appear out of nowhere. When Cooper’s children come under threat, he pretends to defect from Equitable Services and reluctantly teams with Shannon. He soon finds his world giddily turning upside down while he sacrifices almost everything for justice and equality. In this parable of democracy’s downfall told in rapid-fire cuts, Sakey upends truths Cooper once thought self-evident, the truths people don’t seem to want any more, preferring instead, “safe lives and nice electronics and full fridges”—nothing less than the tragedy of our times.
Edgar Allan Poe was right. Mystery writers are not paid enough for the pleasure they provide. When I think of the places they have taken me and the adventures I have known as a result, it seems that they should be able to write a book and pay the rent at the same time. Truly, Crime Does Not Pay - Enough.