While Bob Dylan was not among the hundreds in attendance at the 14th Thrillerfest Banquet, held at Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel on July 13, his nasal vocalizations, and harmonica and guitar playing, were evoked by authors Daniel Palmer and Brad Parks. The duo, the gathering’s perennial musical entertainment, captivated the crowd with “Subterranean Sandford Blues,” a Dylanesque tribute to John Sandford, the 2019 ThrillerMaster, which poked fun at the honoree.
Sandford is the first Pulitzer Prize winner to be awarded the ThrillerMaster honor. Under his real name, John Roswell Camp, he took home the 1986 Pulitzer for Feature Writing for his series, "Life on the Land: An American farm family,” written during the Midwestern farm crisis. The prize only yielded a $50/week raise from his paper, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, leading Sandford, who had the cost of college tuition to consider, to explore the potentially more lucrative world of fiction writing.
Sandford, whose 40 books have all been bestsellers, recalled his inauspicious beginnings as a novelist during his acceptance address. His first manuscript, he said, was an unpublished “feminist science fiction novel about fur traders.” Another amusing anecdote for the thriller lovers in attendance centered around his first-ever book event, for the debut of his now-iconic character Lucas Davenport in 1989's Rules of Prey; no one, Sandford said, attended the event at all. He also regaled the audience with the story of how he got his agent from a reporter he’d assigned to write about horse manure 15 years earlier—one Carl Hiaasen.
Harlan Coben, the only author to have won the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Awards, received the 2019 Silver Bullet Award, in recognition of his philanthropy; presenter James Rollins, who ruefully noted that he has only surpassed his colleague in the number of one-star Amazon reviews received, credited Coben for monetizing the use of real people’s names in fictional plots. Coben raised more than $50,000 from men and women who paid to have their names appear in his stories—money that then went to causes his wife, pediatrician Anne Armstrong-Coben, had introduced him to. Coben's current best-seller, Run Away (Grand Central), has already netted more than $100,000 for PonyPower Therapy and the Michael J. Fox Organization for Parkinson’s Research, all from the $5 per book Coben is donating for every copy sold during his book tour. "It’s a lot easier to be philanthropic when you make a lot of money,” Coben observed.
This year's Thriller Legend Award went to Margaret Marbury, editorial v-p for MIRA Books, Park Row Books, Hanover Square Press, and Inkyard Press, Harlequin’s YA imprint. The award recognizes those who have made an extraordinary contribution to International Thriller Writers, and presenter Steve Berry detailed Marbury’s crucial role in enabling ITW to survive. When the organization was struggling financially in its early years, Marbury bought the ITW’s first anthology, Thriller, for MIRA; all royalties from that book, and two others Marubury acquired, were donated by their editors and contributors to ITW. This proved to be enough money to establish an endowment, and eliminated the need for member dues. Berry credited Marbury with enabling ITW’s current robust health; the organization comprises 5,000 members, from over 50 countries, and there are more than 3 billion books in print written by ITW members.
The fiction honors were dominated by women, who took home the prizes for five of the six categories. C.J. Tudor, who won best first novel for The Chalk Man (Crown), gave the most memorable acceptance speech. Tudor proclaimed herself “gobsmacked” by the win and noted that she’d been working as a dog-walker, and just about to give up on her dream of becoming a writer, when her daughter was given some chalk as a gift for her second birthday—a present that inspired her plot, involving a creepy chalk drawing of a stick figure.
In addition, Outlander creator Diana Gabaldon was announced as the 2020 ThrillerMaster.