It’s said that writers never forgot their first review. Perennial bestseller Nelson DeMille, who was crowned 2015’s ThrillerMaster--“in recognition of his legendary career and outstanding contributions to the thriller genre"-- at Saturday night’s 10th International Thriller Writers’ Banquet, held at Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt, certainly hasn’t. In a wry acceptance speech, DeMille recalled, how 37 years ago, his debut novel, By The Rivers of Babylon, published by Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich, was reviewed in the New York Times by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, along with Ken Follett’s Eye of the Needle. After checking that Lehmann-Haupt was not among those present Saturday, DeMille crowed that although the critic panned both books, they were each still in print and their authors, commercial successes.
The light tone of his remarks, which capped a fast-paced evening, and ironically contrasted with the grim and bloody content of most of the attendees’ works, was in keeping with the spirit of the rest of the festivities. That playfulness began with a clever reworking of the Village People’s Y.M.C.A. by writers Daniel Palmer and Brad Parks. Their parody, I.T.W., mocked the discussions between David Morrell and Gayle Lynds that led to the organization’s founding in 2004, debut authors “whose dreams were still alive,” and ITW’s own online publication.
Attendees who relish deciphering codes in their suspense reads, were treated to some witty wordplay from co-presidents M.J. Rose and Lee Child, who preceded their touting of the organization’s achievements with the fruit of their hours unraveling hidden meanings; the pair noted that Pepsi Cola and Britney Spears were secretly anagrams for Episcopal and Presbyterians, and that the Church of Scientology was “rich chosen goofy cult.” Not sparing himself, Child acknowledged that his own name could be rearranged to form the words Iced Hell. (Child and Rose, in a rare display of delicacy, apparently chose not to note another anagram-that Nelson DeMille contained exactly the same letters as Smelled Online.)
There were awards as well. Bones creator Kathy Reichs was the Silver Bullet Literary Award recipient in recognition of “outstanding and meritorious achievement in the pursuit of literacy and the love of reading.” Edgar-winner Megan Abbott added an ITW honor when The Fever (Little Brown), inspired by a mass hysteria outbreak in a New York high school, was named Best Hardcover Novel. Laura McHugh’s The Weight of Blood (Spiegel & Grau), which explores the dark hidden truths of an Ozarks family, was awarded Best First Novel. Vincent Zandri’s latest Dick Moonlight novel, Moonlight Weeps (Down & Out Books), took home Best Paperback Original honors.
Sadly, there was one down note to the evening, when the passing, earlier that day, of Tom Piccirilli, was reported. Piccirilli, whose writing had been praised by PW as pitch perfect “mastery of the hard-boiled idiom,” was a two-time ITW award winner for Best Paperback Original and also the recipient of four Bram Stoker Awards.