In 1946, the year that the Mystery Writers of America held its inaugural banquet and presented the very first Edgar Awards, Philadelphia junior high school student William Link made a friend over lunch, Richard Levinson, who shared his passion for mysteries, and magic. That encounter led to a remarkable writing collaboration of almost four decades, which brought the world the iconic TV series Columbo and Murder, She Wrote.
Link, now 84, was one of three giants of the genre honored as an MWA Grand Master at the 72nd Edgars Banquet, held Thursday night at Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel, along with novelists Jane Langton and Peter Lovesey. Lovesey, who was a college teacher when he won a contest for best first mystery novel, amused the audience with his roller-coaster experiences of being approached about having his works optioned for film, including, coincidentally, by Columbo himself, actor Peter Falk, who actually remarked to Lovesey, “There’s just one more thing...”
Link and Levinson’s credits also included a ground-breaking, but obscure TV series, Tenafly, among the first with an African-American lead. Despite this fact, its impact on diversifying the genre was minimal. The same can’t be said for African-American author Attica Locke, who wasn’t sure that the MWA would be welcoming to a “very black, very Texan,” story. Her Bluebird, Bluebird (Mulholland), featuring a black Texas Ranger as its protagonist, took home the honors as Best Novel.
In Locke’s remarks, she expressed the hope that mystery novels such as hers could help readers understand how people should “navigate shared space.” Race relations were also a major part of the life story of Chester Himes (Cotton Comes to Harlem), who actually fled to Europe in 1956 from the US to escape racial persecution; Lawrence P. Jackson’s Chester B. Himes: A Biography (Norton), won the Best Critical/Biographical category. And multiple murders motivated by greed and racism were at the center of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Penguin Random House/Doubleday), which won the Edgar for Best Fact Crime.
Noah Hawley took home his second Edgar in two years, for his teleplay for the Fargo episode, “Somebody to Love” (FX Networks/MGM), which enabled him to “make the speech I should have given last year,” (when he won Best Novel for Before the Fall). Hawley remarked that his works were all about exploring the sometimes tragic consequences of “failures to communicate.”
On the lighter side, MWA president Jeffery Deaver, the evening’s MC, honored the late Grand Master Sue Grafton’s alphabet-themed Kinsey Millhone books with a mystery writers’ abecedarian poem, which he opened with “A is for advance, which we pray to pay back.” And James Ponti, whose Vanished! (S&S/Aladdin) won Best Juvenile, actually apologized for his accomplishment to his first editor, who had told him that she was “looking for books that kids will read--not ones that win awards.”