Kathleen Antrim, past president of the International Thriller Writers, and the mistress of ceremonies at Saturday night’s 12th annual Thrillerfest banquet, promised her audience at Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel multiple surprises, and, like gifted writers in her genre, saved the best for last. Before that final reveal, which elicited enthusiastic cheers, Antrim presided over another celebration that artfully combined humor and moving tributes to ITW members who have given back to their communities.
The humor began with the first surprise: 2016 ThrillerMaster Heather Graham channeled her inner Carly Simon and sang “Nobody Writes It Better." The song was a tribute to her 2017 successor, Lee Child. Daniel Palmer and Brad Parks continued the lovefest with Beatles parodies, including “Tiny Jack Reacher,” sung to the tune of “Paperback Writer.” (The song mocked the casting of Tom Cruise in the film adaptations of Child's bestselling Jack Reacher series.)
Tom Doherty of Tor Books became the first-ever Thrillerfest Legend, an award honoring an icon in the industry. Doherty was lauded by author Jon Land for his commitment to his employees. Land referred to some of Doherty's heroics on the job, including anecdotes about Doherty ensuring his authors got paid after one of Tor's distributors went bankrupt. Land also mentioned how Doherty saw to it that no Tor employee was laid off in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown.
Lisa Gardner was honored as the 2017 Silver Bullet Literary Award recipient for her charitable work. After learning from friends in law enforcement that children from broken families are at a much higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior, she focused her efforts on early intervention for children. She joked that she made use of her reputation for writing scary books for her good causes. “If your neighbors are terrified of you, they will give money,” she said. On a more serious note, she commented that “entertainment matters” because it fosters empathy, “which we need now, more than ever.”
Noah Hawley became the first to win an ITW Best Novel Award and an Edgar for the same book: Before the Fall (Grand Central Publishing). In prepared remarks, Hawley observed that, “if you entertain your readers, they will give you permission to do more.”
Given Palmer and Parks’ satire, it was fitting that Nick Petrie’s The Drifter (Putnam) won for Best First Novel, since the book had been blurbed by Child, who wrote that while many characters have been compared to Jack Reacher, "Petrie’s Peter Ash is the real deal.”
Anne Frasier’s The Body Reader (Thomas & Mercer) was named Best Paperback Original; Joyce Carole Oates’ “Big Momma" (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine) was Best Short Story; and James Scott Bell’s Romeo’s Way (Compendium Press) won for Best E-Book Original Novel. The Best Young Adult Novel turned out to another highlight of the evening for Doherty, as the Tor-published novel Steeplejack, by A.J. Hartley, took home the award.
Antrim’s last surprise for the crowd was the naming of the 2018 ThrillerMaster: George R.R. Martin. The news arrived, serendipitously, the night before the premiere of the eagerly-awaited seventh season of Game of Thrones on HBO.