From the very first awards, the Mystery Writers of America’s big night, entertainingly-emceed by incoming President Brad Meltzer, was highlighted by contrasts that limned both tensions between present and future, and between opposing approaches to the genre. The Robert L. Fish Memorial Award, given for the best short story by an America author went to Jeff Soloway, for “The Wentworth Letter,” in St. Martin’s Criminal Element’s Malfeasance Occasional. In accepting the honor, Soloway observed that he was the first-ever Edgar winner for a work that had never appeared in print; his story appeared in a digital-only anthology, and his next book will also only be available in that format. Soloway used the opportunity to assert that quality digital publications “are happening.”
By coincidence, Soloway was followed by the winners of the Raven Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing, Robin and Jamie Agnew, who own the bookstore Aunt Agatha’s of Anne Arbor, Mich. The Agnew’s business is an exemplar of the independent specialty bookstore, a vanishing breed that can only be imperiled further by the digital-only trend.
And there were also quite a difference in this year’s two Grand Masters, Carolyn Hart and Robert Crais. Hart, a prolific cosy writer, spoke of the morality of the mystery story, with justice triumphant at the end, while the video intro of Crais, creator of Elvis Cole emphasized his role as screenwriter for the influential-and ethically ambiguous tv dramas Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice-replete with characters with feet, if not legs, of clay. The obligatory gallery of book covers was accompanied with the music of Jan Hammer’s Crockett’s Theme for Crais, and by a cat for Hart.
Social media was also more in evidence; the award-winners were tweeted instantly, and in presenting Hart’s honor, Hank Phillippi Ryan, quoted praise from Facebook postings. (Not to be outdone, the Mysterious Press’ Otto Penzler recited pretend tweets about Crais - “great,” “fantastic,” “magnificent.”)
The big prize, Best Novel, went to William Kent Kreuger’s Ordinary Grace (Simon & Schuster/Atria). Jason Matthews’ Red Sparrow, from another S&S imprint, Scribner, was the Best First Novel by an American Author, and Alex Marwood’s The Wicked Girls from Penguin was dubbed Best Paperback Original.
Best Young Adult winner Annabel Pitcher (for Hachette’s Ketchup Clouds) pithily commented that “Young Adult Mystery novels are no more watered down adult mysteries than young adults are watered-down adults.” Best Juvenile winner Amy Timberlake, author of Random House Children’s Books’ One Came Home), charmingly recalled entering the genre by accident, when Agatha Christie’s Elephants Can Remember, plucked off a library shelf based on its title alone, proved not to be about the big gray animals with floppy ears.
Humor continued to inform the presenters’ comments—Les Klinger noted that two of the nominees for Best Critical/Biographical did not have colons in their title, although the winner did, for the fourth straight year; plaudits went to America is Elsewhere: The Noir Tradition in the Age of Consumer Culture by Erik Dussere, Oxford University Press. And Lee Child speculated that he was chosen to announce Episode 1 of The Fall by Allan Cubitt as the winner for Best Television Episode Teleplay only because of his ability to pronounce “foreign” names like Kevin Fox and Neil Cross.
Daniel Stashower took home his third Edgar, this time for Best fact Crime winner The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War (Minotaur). John Connolly’s contribution to The Mysterious Bookshop’s Bibliomysteries, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository,” was named the Best Short story.